Irish pubs have become a familiar staple of the American bar experience. Everyone has a favorite and swears by that bar’s stalwart combination of frothy ales, sturdy food and easygoing atmosphere. The best Irish pubs are also often the oldest, offering patrons a pint-soaked timewarp and an opportunity to drink in the tipsy footsteps of famous ancestors and historical figures.
Eager to raise a pint with the ghosts of Honest Abe and Boss Tweed in their favorite Irish joints? Then rehearse your best brogue and follow along on this timeline of America’s longest-running pubs that honor the Emerald Isle. From fourth-generation, family-owned watering holes to the tavern that inspired the show Cheers, these are the country’s dustiest spots to find a dram. They sure look good for their age.
Owned and operated by the same family since 1847, this snug Baltimore spot has staked its claim as the oldest Irish pub in America. Patrick’s was founded by the owners’ great-great-uncle, who moved the business to its current location in 1862. With so much history behind the bar, it’s lucky that many of the original details are still on display, including the classic tin ceiling, oak bar and brass cash register.
“Snug” is a good word for this bar too, as its square footage is so tight that patrons are occasionally asked to pass food from the kitchen to neighboring tables. Speaking of the food, Patrick’s prides itself on its “Irish Charm with International Flavor,” which means that you’ll find bar bites here that would usually make strange bedfellows. Take a pass at the Irish nachos (fries covered in Irish cheddar and bacon), Indian samosas and the famous crab cakes—this is Baltimore after all. Don’t miss Tuesday nights, when a local historian regales the crowd with Irish folk ballads.
(Photo courtesy Meetup.com)
“We were here before you were born” is scrawled on the back wall at McSorley’s, which is heralded as the oldest (continuously operated) saloon in New York. Open since 1854, the bar serves as a living museum, from the dust-enshrined gas lamps and sawdust-streaked floor to the yellowed political posters that leave no wall space uncovered.
Very little has changed about this pub since its original Irish owner, Old John, passed away in 1910. Except for some of the clientele: McSorley’s didn’t allow women until 1970, believing men could not drink peacefully with women present. That antiquated notion has been thankfully retired. Back in the day, McSorley’s was well-known for its illustrious visitors during its 160-year-old lifespan. The bar has hosted notable figures like Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Woody Guthrie, Harry Houdini, e.e. cummings and countless other famous drinkers throughout history.
Beyond its prominent patrons, McSorley’s is perhaps best known for its simplicity of service. If you want a tome of craft beers to pore over, you’d better grab your hat and go. This dim and dusty taproom offers two kinds of ale only: light and dark. Looking for grub to accompany your ale? Brave the authentic cheese plate that’s been served the same way since the beginning: Slices of sharp cheese paired with raw onions and a sleeve of soda crackers that pay tribute to Old John’s motto for his ideal bar, “Good ale, raw onions and no ladies.” Cheers, Old John.
(Photo courtesy Robb Report)
McGillin’s is Philly’s oldest continuously operating bar and a Prohibition survivor, with taps flowing since 1860. Frequently voted one of the best Irish pubs in the country, it was named for the Irish immigrant, William “Pa” McGillin, who owned the bar and raised his 13 children upstairs.
Pa took pride in the carefully-chosen ales and stouts served at his pub, and would head down to the cellar to collect each mugful of ale straight from the keg. That commitment to good drinking continues today with the bar’s three specialty house brews: McGillin’s Real Ale, Genuine Lager and 1860 IPA. All three are brewed by Stoudt’s Brewery in Adamstown, and represent McGillin’s dedication to local Pennsylvania microbrewers.
While patrons came for Pa’s free buttered baked potatoes back in the day, today’s visitors stay for the great beer, time-worn ambiance and occasional celebrity sightings. Many famous figures have stopped in at McGillin’s over the years—from the Marx Brothers to Will Ferrell. You never know who you’ll find drinking these historic pints.
(Photo courtesy American Profile)
This iconic tavern has been open since 1882 and serves as a local landmark in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston. With true Irish roots, this legendary pub has even earned approval from the mayor of Galway City, Ireland as “the best pub outside Galway.” Home to a century’s worth of Beantown artifacts and historic murals, Doyle’s most precious asset is the original mahogany bar from the tavern’s early aughts. Sidle up to that bar and you might run into a few famous spirits from Doyle’s long history.
A haven for local and national political figures, Doyle’s has hosted countless candidates for office who stopped by to enjoy the kitchen’s Irish specialties and huge selection of beers. Notable names like JFK, Ted Kennedy and Bill Clinton have all passed through, and Ted Kennedy even dedicated a room in the bar to his grandfather, John F. “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, a beloved Irish-American mayor of Boston. Doyle’s also had the privilege of being the first pub to serve Sam Adams lager on tap, and its proximity to the brewery allows the bar to test out Sam’s new and experimental ales that aren’t available anywhere else.
(Photo courtesy Virtual Tourist)
J.J. Foley’s is a South End institution that’s been slinging suds since 1909 when it was opened by Jeremiah J. Foley, a native of County Kerry, Ireland. The area surrounding the pub was once even called Kerry Village, due to the many Irish immigrants who settled there. As a result, Foley’s has always catered to the local Irish community, and stands proudly as a fourth-generation business and the oldest family-owned bar in Boston.
The pub survived Prohibition by camouflaging itself as a shoe store and has continued to thrive since then, allowing the original owner’s grandsons to open a second location. While today you might find any manner of mixed clientele at Foley’s, including athletes, construction workers and politicians, it lives on as one of the last great Irish taprooms in Boston. Plus, you’ll still find the homemade Shepherd’s Pie on the menu, and you can bet that the Foley family isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
(Photo courtesy My Secret Boston)
Hidden away on Tipperary Hill in Syracuse, this authentic saloon has remained a landmark in the historically Irish neighborhood since opening in 1933. The area was settled by immigrants from County Tipperary, and Coleman’s continues to serve that loyal Irish population today. This pride in the local heritage manifested itself most openly in the 1920s when the first traffic signals were installed. Angered that the traffic lights featured Britain’s red hue above Ireland’s green, a group of Irish youths broke the lights repeatedly until the city gave in and placed the green on top.
Offering a score of Irish ales on tap, traditional Irish music on Sundays and specialties like corned beef and cabbage and Guinness stew, Coleman’s own authenticity extends all the way outside, where you’ll find a miniature telephone booth—for leprechauns only. If you needed yet another Irish indicator to find Coleman’s, just look for the inverted traffic lights on the way.
(Photo courtesy LocalSYR.com)
McGinley’s opened in 1934 and is a beacon of Irish culture in what may seem an unlikely area. The current owners are descendants of the Irish immigrants who started the bar and hailed from County Donegal. A staple for the local Irish community and one of the oldest family-owned pubs in the U.S., the Ace is known for its dedication to live Irish music. The original owner supposedly played a mean concertina and often invited Irish musicians to the bar for jam sessions. To this day, Tuesday nights still center around Irish tunes, often attracting some of the best Irish musicians in the world.
Plus, come St. Patrick’s Day, this Indy watering hole is the place to be. As the host of the oldest continuous St. Patrick’s Day pub event in the nation, McGinley’s offers a multi-day celebration that honors Irish culture in all its forms, from traditional food and drink to more alternative Celtic rock.
(Photo courtesy Complex)
The creators of Cheers were regulars at this legendary hangout and used the bar as inspiration for their iconic TV show. But the tavern was making an impact long before the characters Norm Peterson and Cliff Clavin hit the scene, having been opened in 1936 by Tom Bergin, who took inspiration from his Irish family roots in County Kerry. To recreate an authentic Irish atmosphere, he strove to define his pub with a warm and welcoming sense of hospitality and traditional food to match.
The tavern’s greatest claim to fame though? Definitely its specialty drink, so entrenched in its history that the establishment’s nickname is “The House of Irish Coffee.” Claiming ownership of the comforting layered cocktail of hot coffee, whiskey, sugar and cream, Tom Bergin’s is one of the premiere places to seek out this famous draught. Hollywood too has taken notice of this popular haunt, with figures like Bing Crosby, John Wayne and Julia Roberts lending their names to the countless shamrocks that adorn the tavern ceiling. Look for Cary Grant’s private booth, and be sure to add your name to the thousands of patrons above who have sipped Irish Coffee before you.
(Photo courtesy LA.com)
Think you know the booze?
Let’s start with some basics.