On St. Patrick's Day, when Lucky Charms leprechauns seem to wink from every corner and kelly green is the new black, it's easy to get depressed about the Hallmark-ification of Irish culture.
Last St. Patty's Day, having gotten myself into a snit about this, I Googled the words "authentic" and "Irish" on the Internet to see what I might find. My number-1 hit was a Wal-Mart ad for a personalized concrete shamrock ― $18.97, plus shipping and handling.
If you've traveled in Ireland, you know what I'm longing for on March 17: the magic and melancholy of a Connemara sunset or a seat by the fire in a snug pub. That watercolor sunset is still an ocean away, but there's good news. The cream-topped perfection of a properly poured Guinness may be right around the corner from you, now that Irish expats have opened a few new pubs in Seattle.
Paddy Coyne's Irish Pub is the most surprising of the lot. It's a slice of the Old Country in a biotech hub of concrete and steel south of Lake Union. Right in the middle of this rapidly changing construction zone, Patrick Coyne has created a cozy place to pull up a stool and listen to one of the world's oldest living languages.
Smithwick's and shepherd's pie
"Níl aon tinteán mar do thinteán féin," Coyne says in his native Irish. Translation: "There is no hearth like your own hearth." Coyne should know. He personally designed and built much of this pub, with its glowing hearth, dark wood bar, and handsome stained-glass light fixtures.
The pub might be more upscale than anything you would find in Lettermore, the Gaeltacht village on Ireland's wild Connemara coast, where Coyne grew up. But the feel of the place is down-home Irish and so is the food. The menu features crispy fish and chips, Irish stew, and golden buck ― a kind of Irish rarebit featuring cheese, toast, and bacon.
Might as well wash the meal down with an ale. Choices range from Guinness to Smithwick's ― an ale that's new to America but has been a favorite in Kilkenny since 1710. While you're sipping, Coyne may tell you how a boy from the bogs ended up in Seattle. Ireland's economy is booming now, but it wasn't in the 1980s, when Coyne moved to Boston to take a construction job. In 1992 a cousin convinced Coyne to take a look at Seattle, and he liked what he saw. Five years ago, he realized a lifelong ambition when he opened his first pub.
"With the Irish Emigrant, I wanted to create a little piece of Ireland in Seattle," Coyne says of his place in the University District. And it is a piece of Hibernia, especially on Sunday mornings in summer, when the pub opens at 6 a.m. so hurling fans can watch matches live via satellite from Ireland.
But Coyne found that after 10 p.m., the Irish Emigrant morphed into a student bar. Last July he opened his namesake Paddy Coyne's to create a more intimate gathering spot with an emphasis on traditional Irish food and drink.
Which is not to say that it's the Smithwick's or shepherd's pie or Redbreast whiskey that makes a pub authentic.
"It's the people," Coyne says with a slight cloud of homesickness passing over his bright blue eyes.
"When you come here, you will meet Irish people who were born and raised there and never lost their traditional culture," Coyne says. "People leave here feeling that this is as close to being in a real Irish pub as they will ever get in America."
So on St. Patrick's Day, whether you are Irish-born or just Irish for the day, Paddy Coyne has a seat by the fire waiting for you ― and there won't be a concrete shamrock in sight.
INFO: Paddy Coyne's Irish Pub ($; lunch and dinner daily; 1190 Thomas St.; www.paddycoynes.net or 206/405-1548); Irish Emigrant ($; breakfast and lunch Sat-Sun, dinner daily; 5260 University Way N.E.; www.irishemigrant.net or 206/525-2955)
The newest Irish pubs
The Atlantic Crossing. You'll find British and Irish patrons in this handsome yellow-brick building in the Roosevelt District. Come on the weekend for a full Irish breakfast. $. 6508 Roosevelt Way N.E.; 206/729-6266.
Celtic Swell. The owner of the pub on Alki Beach in West Seattle is from Northern Ireland, and the menu is full of family recipes, from soda bread to Ulster fry. Music is a highlight too, with traditional ("trad") sessions on Monday nights and live music on weekends. $. 2722 Alki Ave. S.W.; 206/932-7935.
Clever Dunne's. Guinness infuses this Capitol Hill pub. You'll find it in the Irish stew and the fish-and-chips batter. Come for live music many nights and all-day happy hour on Sunday. $. 1501 E. Olive Way; 206/709-8079.
Maguire's Irish Bistro. This sedate Capitol Hill hangout is one of the only smoke-free Irish pubs in town. $$. 332 15th Ave. E.; 206/328-0700.
The Ould Triangle. Enter this former biker bar and you'll find that two Irish expats have transformed it into one of the most easygoing pubs in Seattle. $. 9736 Greenwood Ave. N.; 206/706-7798.