Oh, the Irish pub. It’s one of those iconic places that’s on everyone’s list as they travel to Ireland.
“Yeah. We want to see the Cliffs of Moher, but we also want to be sure we go to a pub,” folks say as we plan their trip. This is soooo not a problem. For those of you that have been to Ireland, you know – the pubs are everywhere!!
Why is that? What’s the history behind the pub? And is there an etiquette to pub culture?
First a little history
Irish pubs have been around a very long time, like 1000 years. They were really considered public houses – a central place to meet with family and friends. And yes, to have an adult beverage. The pub became the working man’s place to have a drink. You see, the upper class had these fancy shmancy drinking establishments. They were pricey and discriminatory. The pub was not. While the English, who were busy keeping the Irish in their so-called place, were partaking in their expensive bottles of French wine, sitting in wing-backed chairs, the Irish – being tough and scrappy folks – were sitting on their wooden chairs by a peat fire with a dram of Irish whiskey or a pint of ale. And probably making fun of the English! Or complaining about them…or the weather. It’s just an Irish thing…
A lot of pubs were part of small grocery stores in the 19th century. You could buy your flour and tea in the front of the building and have a pint in the back. Some of these still exist. But mostly the pubs are now simply pubs.
So why is the pub so special in Ireland?
As I said, it was a place to meet up with your family, friends, neighbors, townspeople. The pub was that central meeting place just like the church. Well, maybe not just like the church. But, you get what I’m saying. It’s part of the Irish social culture, one that has been around now for generations. It’s where you’d catch up with your community. It’s where the local musicians would gather and play traditional Irish songs. It’s where community dances would take place. It’s where local gossip would be shared. It’s where people fell in love.
And, even though it has changed a bit – pubs now offer food and may have spruced up a bit on the inside – it’s still the meeting place for the locals. It’s why, as a traveler, you should go to the pubs. It’s where you can observe, and perhaps be a part of, local Irish life.
So, what should you expect when you go to a pub for the first time? Is there pub etiquette? Let’s go over a few things.
- There’s no hostess waiting to seat you, just grab a seat – at the bar or at a table.
- If you’re wearing a hat, please take it off. It’s simply not polite to wear a hat inside a building.
- Unless food is being served and you see a waiter/waitress, you’ll have to go to the bar to order your drink. You’ll be expected to pay upon getting that drink as well. No need to wave that money around. It’s seen as tacky in Ireland. Just be prepared to pay once you get that drink. No open tabs like so many places in the US.
- Yes, you can use your credit card in many pubs, but don’t buy just one drink with that card. I know many of us Americans tend to do this. I’m guilty as hell of buying one coffee at Starbucks worth $4 and putting it on my debit or credit card. Just don’t do this at all in Ireland.
- If you want a Guinness, simply ask for “a pint”. If you want a half pint, ask for “a glass”. Then, wait. Guinness is a practice in patience. And worth every second. Your bartender will pull the pint, filling it about three-quarters full, waiting for the foam to settle. Then he’ll top it off. It may take three to five minutes. I know you’re thirsty, but I promise, it’ll be worth the wait. And don’t take a swig of it right away. Because even after your bartender has topped it off and handed that beautiful black liquid over to you, it still needs to settle. You’ll know when it’s ready.
- If you want something other than Guinness, I’d suggest trying a Smithwicks. But, it’s pronounced Smithicks. So, don’t be a dorky tourist. Pronounce it correctly and the Irish will love you for it.
- Whatever you do, DO NOT order an Irish car bomb. No one drinks this in Ireland.
- If you’re with a group of friends, it’s common practice to take turns buying a round. Don’t leave until you’ve taken your turn. At the same time, if you don’t feel like having another drink, then don’t. Just be sure you’ve bought a round.
- Tipping your bartender is not customary in Ireland, so don’t. If there’s food involved, then you might leave a small tip like a few coins to your waiter or waitress. But, mostly, it’s not expected. These folks earn a living wage. What a novel idea!
- Be sure to talk to your bartender. Don’t just order your pint. Chat with him or her. It’ll be more common to see a guy. Say hello to the man or woman sitting at the bar next to you. But, don’t push yourself into the conversation. Wait to be invited in. More than likely that will happen. The Irish are some of the nicest people on the planet.
- If you want whiskey, get some good Irish whiskey. Jameson and Bushmills are the two bigger producers. But, you may want to try something like Paddy’s or Connemara. Order it neat, with a splash of water or maybe on the rocks. It’s very good!!
- Appreciate the pint. Or the whiskey. Don’t pound it. Sip it. Enjoy it. Cherish it.
- Traditional music is often played in pubs, but not every pub. So don’t expect that there will be a “session” as it’s called. Check with your B&B or hotel or your travel planner to get some tips on finding the pubs that do have music on a regular basis.
- If there is music, enjoy it. Sometimes it’s a planned affair. Other times, local musicians simply show up and the next thing you know, you’re up dancing. Go with the flow. It’s so much fun to listen to and watch the musicians as they play, to see the locals singing the traditional songs, their faces showing the emotions of the lyrics. Try to catch at least one session. So worth it!!
- Be polite. I think this goes without saying no matter where you are in the world. Say “thank you” and “you’re welcome”. Don’t be loud and obnoxious. Be respectful. Be kind. You are an ambassador of your country. Put your best foot forward as the saying goes.
- Have fun! Enjoy the craic (that’s an Irish saying for fun, good times).
- Slainte (pronounced SLAWN-chuh) – that’s Cheers in Gaelic!!