Celtic Pubs

The closed McColgan's Irish Pub actually made the top 10 bars in Alpharetta in 2002. Interesting that the 2002 Editorial and Audience Winner was Buckhead Brewery and Grill (which by the way closed its doors in 2005). McColgan's reopened As Meehan's Alpharetta location and even though it made a good go of it, including hosting several Atlanta Celtic Festival events, it closed again in 2006.

What Makes A Celtic Pub?

   With the demise of Barney McColgan's Irish Pub a few years back, the question arose again as to what makes a successful Irish Pub. Certainly, McColgan's fit a pattern that has emerged of the American Irish Pub. It incorporated a series of theme bars that had that old-world look. It was situated in an area that was growing and had easy access, a few miles off Georgia 400. It had a good mix of Irish and regular brands, along with a mix of pub and Irish food. Fridays and Saturdays were live Celtic band nights and always seemed to be crowded. So why the failure? I have considered my own opinions and have talked with different patrons of McColgan's, even some that knew Paul. Most have their own opinion, spread evenly over a poor floor layout and inflexibility to change.
   McColgan's concept was an Irish street with different style pubs and a restaurant. But the entryway design created more confusion than met his goal. First time patrons often stood wondering which way to go. There was that sense of relief when you chose a door, realizing that any door was the right one, but still. Next the three pub layout was anchored by adjoining center bars that made it difficult for a single bartender to handle the patrons needs, forcing multiple bartenders or the requirement to always be checking around the corner. The layout also made it difficult for any Celtic band to play to the full crowd, causing heavy crowding in the smaller rooms. There were times during special events where you could pass through the crowd and hardly know there was a music group playing in the corner. It might have been better for McColgan's to have reversed the design, putting the smaller specialty pubs on the upper floor and the larger open pub and restaurant on the bottom floor. I greatly enjoyed listening to Mickle-a-do on the upper floor stage, able to hear, see, and enjoy their rollicking style without having an elbow in my eye. All in all, an interesting concept creating a bad design. Rule: A great Irish Pub must have a certain look, a touch of the blarney with a feeling of relaxed comfort; but the look must be functional.
   Next, the gastronomical repartee, that is, food. It is not enough to place a few Irish items on the menu and have Harp and Guinness on tap to call yourself an Irish pub. McColgan's had a large upstairs restaurant that was closed most of the time. With a beginning business decision to push the fuller, heavier meal concept of the restaurant, there was less enthusiasm to meet the needs of a patron just in for a pint and maybe a snack. Unless the pub is located in an area with little food choice (and McColgan's was not), competing for the tastebuds of the patron is paramount. In the last few years, many new and exciting restaurants have opened in the Old Milton Parkway area, including Buckhead Brewery (since closed itself in 2005), Pampas, and Wild Times Cafe- joining Taco Macs and many smaller restaurants and fast food establishments. The times I tasted McColgan's menu were not memorable, from lackluster appetizers to a pallid Irish Stew. This is Atlanta, people! Where a four-star restaurant is a short drive away. It might be a little more expensive, but Buckhead Brewery just down the street won medals for its hand-crafted brews and offers up Black Angus steak, New Zealand venizon, elk, bison, and quail - enough to make my mouth water. And Taco Mac across the street has an excellent beer selection and some of the best wings in town. I am not telling the pubs to go out and hire a 4-star chef; but I am saying that a pub needs to create a signature incorporating a selection of standard pub fare and specialty plates that are excellently prepared, served quickly and with a smile.
   A good Celtic pub has to have a touch of the blarney, the lilt of the isles in the voices, and the feel of a European pub in the air. It should feel comfortable and natural to just walk in and plump yourself down at the bar, order a Guinness, and relax and talk while the earth of Ireland settles in the glass. It should be neither too quiet nor too noisy, letting you carry on a conversation without shouting (other than at festival times). If live music is not playing, then there should be Celtic music whisperin' in your ear from the sound system. (Maybe even a CD juke with a mix of Celtic and local patron flavor. Please note, it doesn't have to be Celtic all the time. I personally listen to and enjoy every thing from classical to alternative and hip-hop, jig-punk, and trance on the side.)
   And while we are on the subject of music, no self-respecting Irish pub can call itself such if there is never Irish music in the place. Change your name. Talk to your patrons and make sure you know the crowd that pays the bills; but hire the local talent and bring in the touring groups. Atlanta is blessed with wonderful Celtic groups that span the breadth of the genre, from Celtic rock, pub bands, harpers and balladeers. And with over 375,000 people in Atlanta claiming to be Gaelic in some way, we need our music.

The Scottish-Irish Pub and Hearth Cookbook: Recipes and Lore from Celtic Kitchens, Kay Shaw Nelson (June 1999) Hippocrene Books; Hardcover - 272 pages

McGuire's Irish Pub Cookbook, Jessie Tirsch, McGuire Martin, Molly Martin, (July 1998), Pelican Pub Co, Hardcover - 256 pages

Banny O'Shea's
Celtic Tavern
Churchills Brit Pub
Donnelly's Irish
Durty Kelly's
Harp Irish Pub
Irish Bred Pubs
James Joyce
Limerick Junction
McDuff's Irish Pub
Meehan's Pubs
M'vorneens Irish Pub
Olde Blind Dog
O'Terrill's Pub
Paddy's Irish Pub
Ri Ra Irish Pub
Tabby's Irish Pub