Irish Pubs of DC: A rant and a guide. Part three: The Irish Channel, Fado, and Cleveland Park
For this final part in my randomly selected tour of Irish bars in DC, I’ll continue along the Red Line to Gallery Place, and finally Cleveland Park.
The Irish Channel is another hotel bar that, unlike the Dubliner, manages to exude a strangely independent verve. It’s also where I most frequently get into arguments with the Irishness zealots. Such arguments at The Irish Channel are ironic, though, since…it’s not really an Irish Pub. Its namesake is in New Orleans, and the pub describes itself as a blend of that New Orleans flavor and Irishness (remember to keep using your bad accent for that word).
Indeed, The Irish Channel is a bizarre mock-up of an Irish-themed New Orleans pub. Which, somehow, feels original and unique. Or maybe I’m always drunk when I’m there.
The menu errs on the side of southern and not Irish, and the dishes are all pretty good. The beer selection is a little wanting, mostly generic. Nothing daring there. But the staff are all very friendly. It’s one of the rare places where I don’t mind table service, and have never found it intrusive.
The issue for me, in terms of ranking it, is that it’s not an Irish-American pub. It’s not even trying to be. So it unfairly comes in with high points across the board – good service (and a good bar if you want to avoid waiters), good food, and a lovely, engaging atmosphere.
The New Orleans slant disqualifies it from the “Irish pubs of DC” category, but it should stay on this list for two reasons. The first is that it’s a great spot, and the second is that it’s perfect for a pub crawl. You can access it via Judiciary Square, Gallery Place, or Metro Center. And if you want to careen wildly through the streets, you can walk there from Union Station. So get loaded at The Irish Times and The Dubliner then, after about 15 minutes of bumping into day workers and lunatic bums, you’ll come up on the Irish Channel as if seeing a mirage.
Then, from there, you can stick with Gallery Place and go to Fado. We’re back on track there with Irish-American pubs, and Fado is my favorite. It so eccentrically overreaches in its interior Irishness design that you can’t help but fall in love with it. It’s like Martha Stewart was forced, Clockwork Orange style, to watch every episode of The Irish R.M. 14 times and, when released, had been driven insane. I have visions of her chained in the basement screaming, Viddy well, my yuppies, viddy well!
Beers are, again, fairly generic. Where Fado wins is that it has a huge bar space, thus you can avoid table service, and some of the best Irish-themed food in DC. Their Irish breakfast is the closest you can get in the DC area to an actual Irish breakfast. In fact, it’s shockingly on the fucking mark. And inside the womb of the bar, you can almost pretend that you’re no longer in the States.
Fado, then, gets top points. 3 for service – it’s easy to avoid waiters. Though, on weekends, and many nights, you’ll have to battle bouncers and doormen. That’s part of the drill in the city, so no biggie. They get a 5 for their food. Not just the breakfast, either. I’ve yet to go wrong there. They get a 4 for atmosphere, though more thanks to the kitschy quality than anything else.
Back to the Red Line, and a few stops down the line at posh Cleveland Park. Two Irish-American bars face each other across Connecticut Avenue. First up is the old Ireland’s Four Provinces, now Ireland’s Four Fields, serving such authentic fare as “Irish Nachos” and hot dogs!
The old Four P’s (I guess now the Four F’s?) was always a suckhole. The epitome of the Irishness nonsense I complain about. It’s a pass, if you’re looking to end the tour early. Ones all around – table-service oriented, bad waiters, a coldly unwelcoming interior, and bad food.
Across the street, however, is Nanny O’Brien’s. Very much in the same school as The Irish Times, Nanny’s building looks like it’s about to slide off a cliff and vanish into the mist. It’s my favorite place for an early afternoon pint, but it gets pretty wild at night with live music and crowds of regulars. Again, capturing that same high street feel that the Times exudes.
There’s nothing worthwhile on the menu except for the American staples…but they are fine. You can get a great burger at Nanny’s, and, I swear, their Guinness tastes better than most places. The frou-frou experts say it has to do with temperatures and hose lengths and I don’t know what the fuck.
Nanny’s gets a 4 for service. They have a wait staff, and they can do okay during the off hours, but most evenings – especially weekends – sort of defaults to bar service if it’s crowded, or unless you sit in one of the deeper dining areas, away from the front bar. The interior is set up with a shotgun shack feel. They get a 3 for their food. Try the burger, but there are no other stars on the menu. They get a 4 for atmosphere.
So, let’s tally up those rankings. Three is terrible – avoid. 15 is the max (which none of the bars received).
McGinty’s (Metro stop: Silver Spring) – 6
Ri-Ra (Metro Stop: Bethesda): – 9 (note: Upper bar preferred)
Harp & Fiddle (Metro Stop: Bethesda) – 3
The Royal Mile (Metro stop: Wheaton) – 5 (a good stop for scotch freaks)
Irish Times (Metro stop: Union Station): – 7 (watch out for weekend and happy hour crowds)
Dubliner (Metro stop: Union Station) – 5
The Irish Channel (Metro stop: Gallery Place) – Special inclusion/not ranked.
Fado (Metro stop: Gallery Place) – 12 (try the Irish breakfast, and excellent for early afternoon drinking)
Four Fields (Metro stop: Cleveland Park) – 3
Nanny O’Briens (Metro stop: Cleveland Park) – 11