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Irish coffee

Irish coffee

  • 7 oz. coffee in glass coffee cup
  • Generous shot Jameson whiskey
  • 1⁄4-inch whipped cream on top

The Ould Sod

3373 Adams Avenue, Normal Heights

The Ould Sod on Adams Avenue in Normal Heights is my favorite San Diego bar. Formerly the Elbo Club, it has been operated by Tom Quinn, Ron Stout, and Mick Ward since 1989. Several years ago, Stout fell ill and is now a silent partner. Quinn and Ward both came from Ireland in the 1980s. For bartending help, they employ two additional Irishmen, Martin Brennan and Tony Finglas.

The Guinness at the Ould Sod has a reputation for being the best in town. Those in the know say it’s due to the bar’s short line between keg and tap.

But, you see, I go to the Sod to drink in hot-blooded Irish camaraderie. Many Irish folk I’ve met still carry, consciously or not, a furious resentment over Britain’s long subjugation of the Emerald Isle, the famine of the 1840s and ’50s, and the war of independence in 1919–1921. It’s as though they were there.

This chip-on-shoulder (who can blame them?) blends seamlessly into strong opinions on our own politics, both local and national, and rubs off on customers. Which is why I think of the Ould Sod as a political bar. Dittoheads and wingnuts gravitate toward the right end of the bar while “loony lefties” (I credit Ward with the phrase) sit at the opposite end, nearest the door. Sports conversations in the center often suck the energy out of each side and prevent donnybrooks. The crowd talks about Obama the socialist — and sports — Mike Aguirre’s bad manners (still) — and sports — Iraq — and sports — and an occasional book of science fiction sandwiched between Limbaugh talking points.

So bellying up to the bar might plop you into a lively disagreement. I discovered this to my embarrassment. In political discourse, I can overheat with the best of them. One particular discussion got me so rattled that my hands shook and I couldn’t even lift the beer glass to my mouth. I decided thereafter to button my lip and listen more whenever I went into the Sod. But that doesn’t seem satisfactory either, so recently I’ve been training myself to discuss things in a more rational manner. It works to a point.

The scene manifests between four in the afternoon and seven in the evening, especially on Fridays, when a gadfly steeped in political websites often visits. He torments the regulars with arcane details that flummox long-held views.

But the political hour is not the only Ould Sod. There is the television-football Sod all day Saturdays and Sundays in the fall. The Sod with the most hours per week is surely the young crowd’s turn, from early evening to closing time. Then you might see, or partake in, the chugging of Jäger Bombs (shots of Jägermeister in a glass of beer) and Irish Car Bombs (a shot of Baileys Irish Cream and Jameson in a glass three-quarters full of Guinness). Music plays, including karaoke on Thursday and Saturday nights.

I rarely show up for these extravaganzas. It’s that civic yet fiery camaraderie I crave. So the Ould Sod was where I went on Election Night last November. On this night, I wanted to watch the returns pop onto those electronic boards the television networks like so much.

A long night is what I expected, and it felt as though beer would tire me quickly. Irish Coffee came to mind. The Sod filled early with customers young and old as I let the hot coffee and smooth Jameson rise into the bones of my face. It tasted so good I ordered two more rounds. And then the evening raced to its ending. The election was called for Barack Obama by eight o’clock. Loud cheering and clapping went up all around, and suddenly John McCain was giving his concession speech. Obama’s speech was over by 9:15.

That night my bed was hard. The Jameson still imbued me with a warm glow. But that damned coffee. It kept me awake until three.

Irish Coffee on Election Night was a serendipitous discovery, but for sleep’s sake I should have stuck with beer. Jameson by itself? That’s a different story. An occasional shot now helps me enjoy mellower political discourse.

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