554 Fourth Avenue, Downtown San Diego
Chris lifts up Guinness number 66.
“I’m aiming for 100,” he says. “You get five free pints for every 100 pints you drink, and your name on that ‘Guinness Century Club’ plaque.” He indicates a plaque on the wall beside the entrance.
It’s not that Chris is a heavy drinker. He’s been working at this for months.
“I like that they put nitrogen in the Guinness rather than the CO2 most beers have,” he says. “Makes it so incredibly smooth.”
I’m sitting on the stool next to him, at the blond-wood horseshoe bar in this pub right here in the heart of the Stingaree. The building is next to an alley that leads down to Ida Bailey’s famous Canary Cottage. Ida’s business is gone, but not the cottage — a hundred years ago, it was where Ida and her ladies entertained the gents of this city who could afford her rates, including, the buzz went, San Diego’s mayor.
From the signage, you could believe this bar was here in Ida’s time.
Outside, a swing sign has a painting of a toucan balancing two glasses of stout on his beak. The building’s exterior is fancy brick and carved, dark-red, wooden panels with black and gold highlights. There are even genuine gaslamp lanterns. On the façade it reads: “Dublin Square. Estd. 1759.”
Uh, 1759? That can’t be. Oh...wait. Bet that’s when Guinness was founded.
Seated inside, I’m facing a bunch of beer-pump handles. A big sign runs above the bottle-packed wall behind. “Only Guinness Porter sold here,” it says in eight-inch gold lettering.
This is where I meet Chris, who’s halfway through his Guinness number 66. The lady bartender, Devaney, brings him a plate. Two fish tacos.
“Not bad for $3.58, eh?” Chris says. “Happy hour.”
Devaney hands me a little menu. Normally, the entrée dishes here run from about $15 to $25, but happy-hour pricing is definitely in my ballpark. Everything on the appetizer list is half off, and all draft and bottled beers are $2 off.
First thing I notice is the “mini beef boxty.”
Devaney says it’s $2.98.
Wow. Never been entirely sure what a boxty is, though I’ve had it before. I know it’s Irish. Something to do with ground beef, maybe?
Turns out, “boxty” comes from the Gaelic words arán bocht ti, meaning, “poorhouse bread.”
Basically, it’s a potato pancake: mashed potato with fine-grated raw potato, fried. Very Irish.
According to the menu, this version is “sirloin tips, rolled into a potato boxty with blue cheese.”
So, I definitely want one of these. Plus, hmm…
They’ve got Derry bangers and mash (“Irish sausages, mashed potatoes, baked beans”) for about $6.50 (I’m splitting the full price here); Irish meat pies, $3.50; Guinness beef crostini (beef tips on toasted baguette with blue cheese), $5; Dublin Square sliders, with choice of cheese or curry mayo, $4.
Sliders? Devaney says you get three of them. Love the idea of curry mayo.
I order a boxty and the sliders. And a Guinness, $5 (after $2 off for happy hour). That makes me lighter by about $12, plus tax.
Looking around while I wait, notice a kinda Victorian nook with soft chairs and a fireplace. Nice.
Menu blurb says this pub is an exact copy of Tynan’s Pub in Kilkenny, Ireland, which dates back to 1702. And the horseshoe bar I’m at is a replica of Tynan Bridge House Bar in Kilkenny, from the 1800s. Made in Ireland from Irish oak and shipped over. I’m starting to realize: they brought the whole danged pub out, lock, stock, and beer barrel.
I’m mesmerized, watching Devaney pour Chris’s Guinness. “The glass must be at 45 degrees,” she says, “and you must stop at the three-quarter mark and let it settle for a minute or two.” In the final pour, she paints a shamrock in the froth. No stencil, all by tap.
Chris admires Devaney’s artwork, then tips back a couple of slurps. “See that guy there?” he asks. He’s looking at a gent who’s taking another Guinness from Devaney. “Brian. He leaves me in the dust. Ask how many Guinnesses he’s drunk here.”
“Fourteen hundred and fifty-one,” Brian says. “I started in 2007, on my 25th birthday. This one’s number 1452.”
Wow. ’Course, you have to love Guinness. I find the taste a little coppery, but it’s certainly the smoothest beer I’ve ever had. Makes Arrogant Bastard seem like barbarians at the gate.
The food comes. The boxty looks like a big tortilla, with blue cheese squiggled over the top. First bite, and I’m sold. There’s a tangy thing going on with the beef.
“It’s Guinness-braised,” Devaney says.
She brings my plate of sliders in to land. Man, they are way big for mini sliders. Come with two pots: one filled with ketchup, the other with this yellow curry mayo. Take a whiff. Oh, man. Love Indian curry! I pour it onto the patties of all three sliders.
Now, with that taste, the Guinness takes on a new life.
Some people will say that this whole shipped-out “genuine” Irish pub idea is just a tourist flytrap. Yes, it’s a bit Disneyland, a bit corporate. But I don’t mind. And did I mention the deals?
I take a last gulp from my Guinness.
“Hey, Brian,” I say. “See?”
I hold up the glass. “One down, only 1451 more to go. You’ve got competition, buddy. Better watch your back.”
Happy Hour Prices: Mini beef boxty, $2.98; Irish meat pies, $3.50; Guinness beef crostini (beef tips on toasted baguette with blue cheese), $5; Dublin Square sliders $3.98; standard breakfast and lunch; dinner prices higher, e.g.: American breakfast, $9.95; corned beef sandwich, $11.95; T-bone steak, $19.95
Kitchen Hours: 10:30 a.m.–10:30 p.m., daily (from 8:30 a.m., Saturday–Sunday; till midnight, Friday–Saturday)
Happy Hours: 4:00–7:00 p.m., Monday–Friday; 2:00 –5:00 p.m. Saturday; 11:00 am.–7:00 p.m., Sunday
Buses: 3, 11, 120
Nearest Bus Stop: Fourth and Market
Trolley: Green Line
Nearest Trolley Stop: Convention Center