Looking for a great place to hoist a perfect pint? From Maine to Connecticut, we reveal our picks for the best Irish bar for tippling, tunes, and tasty food.
By Yankee Staff
Mar 12 2020
Even though New England’s late-winter landscape may not have brightened much by mid-March, the region still greens up in a big way each year when Saint Patrick’s Day arrives. Irish roots run deep here: In a ranking of U.S. states whose residents claim Irish ancestry, New England occupies the first five slots (Massachusetts, 22 percent; New Hampshire, 21; Rhode Island, Vermont, and Maine, 18). But visitors don’t need to time their trip to Saint Paddy’s Day to get in on the camaraderie of the Emerald Isle, since New England offers a great Irish bar scene year-round. In big cities and small towns alike, you can find plenty of places to hoist a perfectly poured pint and tap your feet to some lively music. To get you started, here are our top picks for the best Irish bar in every state.
Long a favored haunt of Boston politicians, cops, and journalists, J.J. Foley’s is the oldest family-run Irish bar in the city. It opened on East Berkeley Street in the South End in 1909, with a second location following in 1959 on Kingston Street, in the heart of downtown. Both are run by descendants of Irish-immigrant founder Jeremiah Foley, but the South End location remains the go-to for those seeking the quintessential Irish bar experience in Boston. The ceiling is pressed tin; the long bar has a traditional standing-room-only setup; the impeccable pints come courtesy of bartenders in timeless pressed white shirts and tucked-in ties. There’s also a pub side with ample seating and a menu that embraces gastropub creativity: deep-fried balls of macaroni and spicy cheese, duck poutine fries, ahi tuna salad, and more.
No less an authority than the Irish Pubs Global Federation has taken note of this little pub tucked away in western Maine, in a building formerly occupied by the Miss Naples Diner. Among all the Irish pubs in North America, the Black Bear was among just five New England pubs shortlisted for the federation’s 2017 awards — and it was the only Irish bar outside Boston to appear in two categories (best entertainment experience and best gastropub). Opened in 2004 by Waterford, Ireland, native John Bohill and his wife, Susan, the Black Bear has won a devoted following with a top-notch menu (its Guinness chocolate orange cake is famous) and a warm, family-friendly atmosphere. In summer, be sure to come on a “seisiun” night, when musician get together to play Irish tunes.
A native of County Limerick, Leo Roche wasted no time fostering the Irish spirit in Mystic after moving to this historic seaport more than a decade ago. Not only did he open a classic pub in one of Mystic’s oldest buildings, on Pearl Street, but he also helped establish a Saint Patrick’s Day parade that today is one of best in the state. With such bona fides, it’s no wonder the Harp and Hound checks all the boxes for Irish bar fans: frequent live music, simple but cozy seating, Irish libations on tap, and hearty pub fare including “black and tan” beer-battered onion rings and an Angus burger with whisky ketchup.
The Fastnet is named for a small island and lighthouse off the south coast of Ireland, which is also the namesake of a famous U.K. yacht race — giving this often-boisterous pub a strong link to sailing and the sea that makes it a perfect fit for Newport. Owned and managed by Irish natives, the Fastnet fully looks the part of a classic Irish bar (no doubt why a Hollywood crew descended upon it for the film Irrational Man in 2014). There’s a bank of windows that open onto the street, a façade hung with Irish flags, and lots of well-worn wood. But there’s also a sprawling outdoor patio and an entertainment lineup that goes well beyond Sunday’s traditional Irish music session. Among the 30-plus taps are half a dozen Irish favorites, including Guinness and Magner’s Cider; the array of whiskeys encompasses Teeling, Midleton, and Glenalough. A full menu of hearty fare is on offer daily, and on weekends you can load up on an authentic Irish breakfast — sausage, rashers, beans, and all.
The Green Mountains meet the Emerald Isle at this venerable pub, part of the Inn at Long Trail — both of which have been owned by the McGrath family since 1977. The interior is one-of-a-kind Vermont, filled with local wood and featuring a mountain boulder (yes, an actual slab of rock) protruding from the wall. But the vibe is pure Ireland, going all the way back to when McGrath’s was the first Vermont bar to serve Guinness and the first to stock Bailey’s; today it boasts the state’s largest selection of Irish whiskies. Hikers, skiers, and locals all crowd into the cozy space for a pint and to dig into a menu that includes a renowned Guinness beef stew and an “Irish Reuben” (corned beef with red cabbage and melted Swiss). Among the entertainment offerings are dart boards and live Irish music on Fridays and Saturdays most months of the year.
SEE MORE: Favorite Killington Restaurants & Bars
Situated in a picturesque yellow cottage above the Saco River, May Kelly’s Cottage is a destination unto itself. The interior of this intimate pub and restaurant is jam-packed with Irish ephemera, from flags, sports jerseys, and vintages signs to old post office counter (“Oifig an Phoist”); outdoors there’s a lovely patio with a mural depicting the famed Guinness toucans and a terrific view of the Moat Mountain range. Every Sunday musicians gather for a “seisiun,” while the kitchen keeps the Gaelic flavor going strong with standout versions of shepherd’s pie, beef stew, fish and chips, meatloaf, and more — all ideally paired with a pint of Guinness.
Where are your picks for the best Irish bar in every New England state? Let us know!
This post was first published in 2018 and has been updated.