Watch your diet bust out alongside your NCAA bracket while sampling the sandwiches featured at these eight pubs ideal for both tourney time and St. Patrick's Day
Madness will descend upon us Sunday. Madness, I tell you!
I'm not referring to the Orwellian political madness we've been suffering through for too long. No, the madness I'm talking about is actually fun.
It's the craziness that results every March when a double-barreled excuse to pretend it's a holiday presents itself as St. Patrick's Day overlaps with, and virtually blurs into, the “Road to the Final Four” NCAA basketball tournament. This year, March 17 — that's St. Patrick's Day if you've been living under a shamrock — happens to be “Selection Sunday,” when college conference tournaments wrap up and deserving and lucky teams are then selected for “the big dance” field of 68 teams (fingers tightly crossed, Buckeye fans).
Therefore, it's practically mandatory that I write a story organized into a tournament-bracket-style group divisible by four. This year, my thematic mash-up is a survey of “elite eight” Irish pubs with occasion-perfect food and drinks.
The following eight establishments are preeminent places to indulge in St. Patrick's Day shenanigans, as these esteemed Irish-themed places are guaranteed to be teeming with high-spirited people wearing green. But the two-for-one taverns are also perfectly suited to watch NCAA tournament games in, while being enabled by fellow fans, easy-to-see TVs, plus competition-beating dishes and libations.
The pubs vary in significant ways — each satisfies a different sensibility — but all are sports-viewing-friendly operations, all serve a great pour of draft Guinness and all take their Reuben sandwiches very seriously. In fact, the Reubens on this list are among the best in Columbus.
I know Reubens aren't really Irish. But there's a valid reason why every local Irish pub showcases a Reuben. Essentially, the sandwich is corned beef and cabbage — an Irish-American classic — in handheld form. That convenient construction allows a three-Bushmills-to-the-wind, carpe diem hero to suck back a booze-soaking-up corned beef and cabbage meal without having to deal with potentially dangerous objects, such as cutlery.
Enjoy the St. Patty's Day and basketball madness. If nothing else, it's a much-needed break — albeit a temporary one — from the soul-crushing political madness I fear will continue for a long, long, time.
Dempsey's Food and Spirits
Open since 2012, Dempsey's has the look and feel of a classic Downtown haunt that's been around for decades. Inhabiting a handsome-but-casual, long-and-narrow space with tavern-appropriate low lighting, Dempsey's is restrained in Celtic kitschy-ness — its 15 Irish whiskeys, plus a few Irish-themed knick-knacks and pictures, do most of the brogue-accented talking. An abundance of dark wood is notably expressed in polished tables and a carved back bar bearing a large mirror between stout columns with ornate Corinthian capitals. Opposite this, vintage brick walls are plastered with photos of politicos, which reflect this place's proximity to the courthouse, as well as a good chunk of its regular clientele. Although hardly a stereotypical sports bar, enough TVs are well-situated so that games can be watched from nearly every tippling perch.
The sandwich: Owner Mark Dempsey told me the delectable corned beef that stars in “The Big R” Reuben is made using his 82-year-old Irish mother's recipe. Mrs. Dempsey's formula yields thinly sliced meat that's bacon-y on its seared edges but juicy and tender in the center, which retains plenty of its original brisket character. That prime corned beef makes this Reuben hard to beat. Tab: $12.50, which includes a side, such as rosemary-scented redskin potatoes.
Price of a Guinness: $6 per pint
On St. Patrick's Day: The celebration goes all weekend at Dempsey's as Irish bands and bagpipers will entertain guests on Friday and Saturday. Bands will also play throughout a marathon Sunday party that kicks off at 7 a.m. with a $12 breakfast buffet; expect fare such as bangers and eggs.
The Three-Legged Mare
The Three-Legged Mare is so close to Nationwide Arena that I bet you can hear that CBJ cannon explode when the Blue Jackets score — hopefully pub patrons will be hearing it boom a whole lot more this year. Here's what's certain: Said patrons have come to an immense place that seamlessly combines the TV-packed open layout of a semi-upscale modern American sports bar with the polished wood, cloth-covered stools and irregular angles of a classic Irish tavern. Such a hybrid identity is happily embraced within the Three-Legged Mare's towering ceilings — the pub is every bit as much a soccer bar as a hockey hangout.
The sandwich: This Reuben is as massive as it is delicious. Arriving on well-toasted marbled rye is well-marbled, house-cured corned beef that's thinly sliced but laid on as thick as Tom Cruise's Irish accent in the movie “Far and Away.” Exhibiting a bit of culinary know-how, the juicy meat has an enticing seasoning, which hints at five-spice powder, that effectively leavens the Reuben's richness. Tab: $11.95, which includes a side, such as thin and crisp, golden-brown hand-cut fries.
Price of a Guinness: $7 for an imperial pint, which is 20 ounces
On St. Patrick's Day: “We'll be opening early and closing late on St. Patrick's day, but we're actually doing a multiday party event with bands all weekend — starting on Friday — without any cover charges,” manager John Meddles said. Pointing out there's a home Blue Jackets game on Friday, a KISS concert in Nationwide Arena on Saturday, and that Three-Legged Mare is near the Columbus St. Patrick's Day parade route, Meddles said that his pub's two-birds-with-one-stone convenience will make it an extremely popular location for revelers all weekend.
Brazenhead 5th Avenue
This large and lively link in a tiny local chain has been so inspired by one of Ireland's oldest bars — ostensibly an 800-year-old tavern — that most of the Grandview joint's old-world-style fixtures have been shipped in from the Emerald Isle. Equipped with quaint fireplaces, stained-glass windows, polished wooden furnishings, private little dining nooks, padded cloth seats, ochre walls, farmhouse accoutrements, multiple bars and quirky contours galore, this rambling operation has been so dutifully constructed to resemble the real McCoy that it might alternately have been titled “Irish Publand.” If “NCAA Tournamentland” is more your speed, there are enough TVs to get that job done, too.
The sandwich: Brazenhead's Reuben features house-roasted corned beef — and lots of it — flattered by fresh slaw with a distinct and interesting chile kick and a hint of sweetness. Unlike most on this list, its rye bread is gently toasted and seeded rather than deeply pan-crisped and marbled. Tab: $10, which includes a side such as crisp house chips.
Price of a Guinness: $5.50 a pint
On St. Patrick's Day: “It'll be nuts!” giggled bartender Rita Stucky, who said the proceedings will begin at 6 p.m. on Saturday with live Irish music. The celebration will then spill over to a day-long party on Sunday that starts at 10 a.m. and involves pipers, dancers and — to help loosen the limbs, lungs and elbows of giddy participants — $4 drink specials on green beers, baby Guinnesses and Shamrock-Shake shots. A $5 cover will be charged.
It's revealing of this tavern's tongue-in-cheek personality that it derives its name from the Gaelic phrase for “kiss my ass.” Another Pub Mahone attraction: It's the uncommon spacious Downtown watering hole that showcases sports on multiple TVs. Other features in the cube-shaped, modern room include a long bar — where you can score a top-shelf Irish whiskey flight — lit underneath with green lights; Gaelic Athletic Association pennants draped across a high ceiling; Celtic knot-riffing decorations; pew-like laminate tables; an irreverently funny tableau starring a mannequin dressed as a reverend who's had several too many; plus after-work folks letting their hair down.
The sandwich: With its comforting blanket of Swiss melted onto hunks of tender boiled cabbage rather than acidic sauerkraut, the Reuben Mahone — which is fashioned with shredded, juicy, pot roast-like house-made corned beef — is the richest-tasting sandwich on this list. Tab: $13, which includes a side such as fresh-cut and fresh-tasting skin-on fries.
Price of a Guinness: $7 for an imperial pint
On St. Patrick's Day: Manager Josh Tucker said partygoers can expect a limited-offer special menu of six Irish-style small plates that can be washed down with featured drinks such as $4 domestic bottles, $6.50 draft beers and $7.50 Irish car bombs.
Fado Pub and Kitchen
Open since September, this second Central Ohio branch of the multinational Irish-pub chain barely resembles its Easton Town Center sibling. Rather than Easton's dark and quaint, vintage-style setting, the Fado in the Dublin Bridge Park development is sleek, slick, modern and cushy. And it's huge. Spread out of several seating areas with distinct personalities — a window-filled sunroom with a tile floor and flowering, plant-like chandeliers; a much duskier main dining room rife with wood and fabric; a “whiskey kitchen”; a copper bar; a patio — the 5,700-square-foot establishment is united by sky-high ceilings, ample TVs and Irish-street-scene photographs, plus shelves and shelves of Irish whiskeys.
The sandwich: Traditional accents of clove and peppercorn flavor the long slices of real-deal corned beef stacked into Fado's Signature Reuben. Less traditional is the interesting slaw — made with red peppers and carrots, plus plenty of shredded cabbage — that stands in for sauerkraut. Add melted Swiss, tangy “Rose Marie” sauce (it's Thousand Island-esque) and hearty griddled rye, and you have a spot-hitting package. Tab: $12.95, which includes a side such as big, crisp and irresistible flour-dredged steak fries.
Price of a Guinness: $6.75 a pint
On St. Patrick's Day: Service manager Sean Radcliffe reports that Fado will get its party started Saturday (bar opens at 9 a.m.) with a high-pitched shindig that will extend to a massive tent pitched just outside. The festivities, which will continue in similar fashion on Sunday (bar opens at 8 a.m.), will be fueled by a slate of DJs, Irish bands and dancers. Beer and cocktail stations will help lubricate participants in the heated party tent, and a shortened version of the regular menu will be available. The musical merriment commences around noon each day and there's a $20 cover.
Mac's: a Proper Pub
Although nominally a Scottish pub, I've included Mac's because it serves Irish bangers, Guinness stew, plenty of Irish whiskeys and a highlighted Reuben made with house-cured meat. Another reason to include Mac's: In maintaining its convivial “Why not have another?” atmosphere for over 30 years, this Short North stalwart has remained an all-too-rare constant in an ever-changing neighborhood. To reassure old fans that a recent renovation in this spacious hangout with a lengthy bar, numerous large TVs and a game room doesn't mean that Mac's has succumbed to an area trend of tourist-courting gentrification, its website proclaims that it's “under old management” and is still “The same Mac's. Just a wee bit better.”
The sandwich: Marbled rye fried until it's crunchy as Melba toast leads to a bulging load of alluringly salty house corned beef that arrives in flavorful strands. Warm kraut, melted Swiss and Russian dressing complete the nicely proportioned ensemble. Tab: $13.95, which includes a side such as a giant pile of steak fries.
Price of a Guinness: $6.50 per pint
On St. Patrick's Day: Nothing special is planned, but as manager Beth Melic (rhymes with “Gaelic”) said to me with the rolling rhythm of an Irish poet, “Mac's is always packed on St. Patrick's Day.” So if you're looking to hoist a few right in the thumping heart of the cut-loose Short North, this will be a full-throttled place to get your Guinness on.
For nearly a quarter century, this family-owned music club and delightful Irish dive bar has provided Grandview locals with a versatile and affordable place to take a load off, grab a bite and catch a few laughs. No wonder the pub is frequented by home-away-from-home regulars. Its super-accommodating confines — which are rife with shamrocks and other “Erin go bragh” allusions — offer free popcorn, dart boards, video games, several dining tables, a few padded booths, a stage for live music and plenty of bar stools facing TVs.
The sandwich: When my friendly server warned me that this is like two whole sandwiches in one, she wasn't lying. A flat-out behemoth, Byrne's Reuben is a nine-napkins-needed testament to the pleasures of immodesty. Everything on the crisply pan-fried rye — bacon-y griddled corned beef, tart kraut, melted Swiss and Thousand Island dressing — is piled on like there's no tomorrow. Tab: $10.
Price of a Guinness: $6 for an imperial pint presented with a barista-worthy shamrock in its dark creamy foam
On St. Patrick's Day: “For the last 24 years, we've had one of the biggest, most consistent St. Patrick's Day parties in town, and that tradition will continue this year,” said Pat Byrne, who opened the pub in 1995 with brothers Rick and Brian. A tent that houses 450 Guinness enthusiasts will be erected for the weekend. After a DJ holds forth Friday night, Byrne's will reopen at 10 a.m. on both Saturday and Sunday for parties starring (respectively) three bands and two pipe-and-drum crews, and then four bands and two pipe-and-drum crews. Fiercely stout lovers of Irish stout can also enjoy a “Recovery Day” hair-of-the-dog party on Monday.
Dublin Village Tavern
There's a good reason this beloved old-school-style hangout doesn't look its age. Because while it's been serving locals only since the year 2000, the Dublin Village Tavern is located in a charmingly asymmetrical brick building estimated to have been built in the 1880s. That can't-fake-it vintage character comes shining through in this true neighborhood pub with eccentrically sectioned-off rooms, uneven ceilings, plenty of windows and wood, plus green-painted brickwork. In addition to offering several less-than-fancy TVs beaming in sports — plus an elevated green door that amusingly goes nowhere — this endearingly singular operation differs from other Irish pubs because it proudly celebrates Dublin, Ohio, way more than Dublin, Ireland.
The sandwich: If you closed your eyes and imagined an archetypal Reuben assembled with slices of nice corned beef, when you opened up your peepers again, you'd see the satisfying sandwich served in the Dublin Village Tavern. Tab: $10, which includes a side such as fun-to-munch and mostly crunchy lattice-cut house chips.
Price of a Guinness: $5.75 per pint
On St. Patrick's Day: “We'll open a little early, and will later have entertainment from Irish step dancers — and we are going to be slammed,” bartender Ashley Wright said. Along with a boisterous influx of out-and-about carousers, expect an abbreviated menu of pub-grub favorites to be offered for riverdancing sustenance.