Gentle reader, I have downed many Guinnesses and feigned (terrible) Irish accents on many occasions. I've sat at dark-wood bars and gazed upon kitschy shamrockesque décor more times than I care to remember. But never in my traveling in our sunny counties have I come upon anything that struck me as a "real" Irish pub. Until now. Read on.
Tim Finnegan's Irish Pub: Tim Finnegan's is located in a plaza hidden behind a Quizno's, which is nestled near a Cuban restaurant in the far corner of an inlet parking lot. But under no circumstances should you give up your search; once you turn a corner and open a thick wooden door, you'll stumble into a joyous scene that seems transported straight from the Emerald Isle.
The room itself is green and narrow, the walls lined with Irish coats of arms and Guinness posters. One framed turn-of-the-19th-century painting depicts a boat full of Irish folk approaching Ellis Island.
Fire in the Kitchen, the band playing on the small stage the night I visited, is composed of a keyboardist and a rotund vocalist, who also plays a tiny guitar-like instrument. His thick Irish brogue and lovely singing voice brought a white-haired couple to their feet. Hand in hand, they whirled around the small floor to the upbeat number, their feet thudding on the dull wood. I snagged a seat at a table behind the bar. A man sitting in front of me tapped his tall Guinness glass in time with the quick cadence of the music.
"We have live music — Celtic and Irish only — on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday," Tom, co-owner of the bar, told me. He was slight and good-looking, with ears that stuck out a bit and an easy smile. "Though in Ireland, musicians get together and jam in bars. So that's what happens on Sunday — it's more a jam session than a performance."
"Anyone interesting play here?" I asked.
"We're getting the Michael Dixon band — from Key West — in here on August 20," he told me.
"Is this a good place to come and meet hot Irish guys?" I asked.
"In Ireland," he said, "we have a matchmaking festival in which an old man and old woman match up young people. It's kind of like blind dating. We're thinking of doing something like that here soon."
Fire in the Kitchen was playing a rousing version of the Irish Rovers' "Unicorn" song. "But don't you forget my unicorn..."
"Seriously, though," Tom said in his adorable accent, "too often, Irish pubs try to make their business about getting shitfaced. We're not about that — we're just about fun and community. We get single girls drinking here because they feel safe. Where else can you see an old guy from Yale casually chatting up a Jamaican guy with six-foot-long dreadlocks?" He pointed at the scene. It was true; the 60-something Q-tip seemed perfectly at ease with the Rasta and his long tresses of twisted hair. (Lisa, Tom's lovely sister and partner, told me later that the Jamaican guy's name was Rasta Mike and that he runs a club in Jamaica and coaches swimming.)
To Rasta Mike's left side, a young regular named Jack was sipping his beer at the long wooden bar.
"My 22-year-old brother has a penthouse in Ireland, right on Dublin Street," Jack said. "I don't know how he does it, but he does."
"I don't care how great this bar is," I said. "You can't compete with that."
"True," said Jack. "But you'd be surprised who you meet here."
"Meaning I once had an extended conversation with the guy who financially backs MTV. I realized he was no ordinary guy when I noticed that he was drinking $600 glasses of bourbon."
A quick-paced tune had brought a beautiful young woman with long red hair up to the front of the room, where she executed a jig straight out of Riverdance. Her upper body held perfectly still as her feet blurred upon the floor. Her hair swayed gracefully. The packed bar clapped and cheered her on. A blond-haired little boy enthusiastically bobbed by her side.
Tim Finnegan's boasts a Monday-through-Friday happy hour, delicious food, great music, and plenty of special events. But that's not what makes the place truly wonderful. At its core, this honest Irish pub — owned by a pair of charming Irish siblings — echoes another place and time. Its warm, welcoming atmosphere and authentic décor will make you want to nurse that Guinness and remain deep in the heart of Ireland for as long as possible.
Duffy's Sports Grill: Duffy's, a megamonster sports bar, is the opposite of Tim Finnegan's. It's a corporate bar that has spread like wildfire across Florida, with locations both brand-spankin' new and coming soon. I stopped in at the Deerfield Duffy's, which is a warehouse-like sports bar with immaculate décor.
From my spot at the bar — which I reached by crossing an expansive dining hall and up a couple of stairs — I counted 33 flat-screen TVs. The bartender, John — who carded me when I ordered a water — wore a yellow Duffy's shirt and informed me that the bar had every TV sports package. From my spot, I could make out NHL, NBA, WNBA, college baseball, golf, softball, and volleyball on the TVs. The walls were shamrock green, and the dining area was partitioned off with short walls, every few inches upon which sat a college or pro football helmet. Pictures, posters, jerseys, and stadium photos were clustered on each wall, clearly specifically measured for equal distance. The clientele was a mixture of races, ages, and genders; as I sat at the bar, three guys wearing Yankees caps walked in together.
Entrenched in a booth behind the bar, a young couple sat clinging to each other and furiously locking lips every time the hockey game took a commercial break.
"Duffy's sponsors Dolphins and Panthers party buses," explained John. "People park here and pay to go to the game. That way, they can drink and not have to worry; we send chaperones to watch out for them."
"Can I chaperone one of the buses?" I asked.
"If you worked here," countered John. "Plus, chaperones don't get to drink."
"Screw that, then," I said.
Since basically the only female athlete featured in the scores of photos upon the walls was Anna Kournikova (not really renowned for her tennis prowess), I decided to chat up the other pretty blond in the room. Cristina was petite with bright-red nails. Her companion, Rob, was dark-complexioned and thick.
"I came over to talk to her because I like pretty girls," I explained to Rob.
"Then why'd you pick her?" he asked, earning him a punch in the arm from Cristina.
"Earlier he said I didn't photograph well," she complained.
"I did not! I just said you look better in person!" Rob cried.
Cristina and I exchanged a glance.
"That's kind of a backhanded compliment," I said.
"Women," huffed Rob.
"I just moved here from Chicago," Cristina told me. "There are bars like this all over the place there."
"Big, warehouse-type sports bars?" I asked.
"Yeah," she said. "But honestly? In Chicago, the people are nicer."
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"Welcome to South Florida," I said.
When I returned to my spot at the bar, the seat next to mine had been occupied by a gray-haired man in a black leather jacket. He wore several chains, looked like he'd just hopped off a motorcycle, and introduced himself as Captain Jeff. Jeff told me his gig was acting as VP of a nonprofit that aims to give funerals to military vets whose families can't afford it.
"I come in here about three times a week," he said of Duffy's, giving me a steely eye. "I love it here. This is a good place."
I didn't argue. I typically don't with dudes in leather jackets.