Monday, April 27, 2009

So...ubiqui-pubbery. "Irish" pubs in Chicago.

This is clearly a town that knew how to have bars, but what's replaced old man bars or taverns or whatever, at least in some neighborhoods, is The Brand New Old Irish Pub. Painted wooden fronts, gilt lettering, pub grub, cider on tap, dark wood interiors, maybe a fireplace. They are tyrannically similar, and often feature too much of the modern American high chair for adults, the bar stool.

One funny aspect of them is that they live in some seriously unlikely structures. The latest one I went to (I shan't name names) was inside a sleek modern building finished late last year. So this cozy Irish pub has 30 foot high ceilings and you could drive a Zamboni through the space around the bar.

In fact, they're all fake all through, is the point. Sewn out of whole cloth. Someone is making a killing selling old photos to put on the walls of these places and old Reader's Digest anthologies to stick in the bookshelves. The fake fireplace in this particular joint abuts beautiful glass windows that they covered over for that 'cozy' look.

The thing that really cracks me up about them is how they've come a long way only to be very close to the Bennigan'seses and Snuggieries of yore. The chicken strip-based menu is almost exactly the same when you squint at it, with the words "Jameson" and "bleu" and "port" added in places (and usually a "Shepherd's Pie" made with beef), and the crap-cluttered walls (sometimes skimpily so) are a very short hop from 70s fern bar and 80s Professor V. J. Cornucopia's Fantastic Foodmagorium and Great American Steakery style decoration. It can be a little depressing. They're Melman-ed; sometimes well (Fado), sometimes without nearly as much finesse or budget.

One ass-backward benefit of these places must be noted. GOOD BATHROOMS. Because they're all so new and cannot avoid ADA compliance, the women's bathrooms in these joints are capacious and not nearly as gnarly and cramped as real pub bathrooms.

And they can be more comfortable, period. It's nice there is room to breathe, to exist. Human comfort can be found in lots of inauthentic spaces that aren't particularly cool or likely or old. A local's a local, no matter what it looks like. But human comfort also exists in the organicness of a space, the way it feels well-used, well-loved, and as if it grew up around you on a human scale. Some of these places sure don't.

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