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Them There Irish Pubs

by Soppy

The genuine Irish Pub. The unique Irish Pub. Even just The Irish Pub. These are all adjectives used to elevate one Irish bar above the others in what appears to be an almost saturated market. But what makes a pub or bar Irish? And what is an Irish Bar if not just a brand?

Soppy's first experience with an Irish Bar was kind of inadvertent. It was on a hitching trip round the south east of the Republic of Ireland and I ventured into Maloney's Bar in Ballycomeslowly or some such bar in some such town. Thing is, and remember as a rather skint 19 year old, I wasn't researching a web site but on a quick break to follow my football team, I don't recall seeing any shamrocks, leprechauns, Celtic football shirts, The place wasn't bedecked in green form top to toe but I must fess up here and say the punters in the town which consisted of a crossroads, a petrol station and a pub were hardly your AB1s. It was a place where the lads would meet their mates and sup a few after a busy doing whatever they do in that part of the world.

After some time down under where Paddys Day gave me an excuse to stay in to avoid the plastic paddies who would hit the bars, I moved to Germany and started frequenting The Corkonian in the old town of Cologne and this was to become the bench mark as far as Soppy and Irish Bars were confirmed. It was here I added to my Gaelic vocabulary tho I must hold my hands up and say 'pogue mahone colshie' is not guaranteed to make you many friends.

What was so special about this place then? Well, like any bar, it had a good crowd of regulars, good service, good music. Maybe even some food, I don't recall. What was good, what lifted it above the copy cats and the flock was the spontaneity. It could be dullsville, with just a few of the regulars then from somewhere in the dimly lit recesses of the bar would come the lilting sounds of an Irish ballad and slowly, one by one, other mournful voices would add to the symphony and soon the whole bar would be enveloped in the cloak of mournful introspection.

On a more crowded night, a more gung ho atmosphere would prevail and Weila Wallia and Whisky in the Jar would hang heavy with the cigarette smoke. For mainly it was a young crowd, young working class lads working the sites, spending their advance in the pub, not worrying bout the rent and thinking bout home. They gave the bar it's atmosphere, the bar lived and breathed it and absorbed the songs and ballads and in turn passed them on to the new breed.

Cologne is the German city that wears a smile and the smile is biggest in and around the Old Town and The HayMarket, both within staggering distance of the Corkonian and during the German festivals, the Corkonian was as popular as any of the more traditional bier kellers in the area with punters shoehorned in elbow to gut at the bar while spilling out into the square. For 6 months only, The Corkonian, and it's football team the Colshies, was home to Soppy. Just 6 short months.

Oh, I've mentioned Colshies twice now. The people of Cologne are also know as the Kolschers, the beer is Kolsch. You get the link...

Time moves on and the wet German winters led to the year round heat n humidity of Thailand. At the time Soppy moved to Bangkok there was no Irish Pub tho that was soon to change. Delaneys opened it's doors not long after, part of a group based in Hong Kong?, and this was Soppy's introduction to a new type of Irish Bar. Located near the sex n sin of Patpong, this was a clip together Irish Bar done from a pattern. And far from appealing to the working class lads on the sites, this bar had it's eyes set on a totally different market. The moneyed expats on expenses who worked in the glitzy towers nearby, the tourist fresh from shopping on the Patpong market, the middle class Thais who went to be seen as much as to get bladdered. These suits were as likely to break into a chorus of Rainy Night in Soho as Soppy was to buy a round, the music was down played and the Guiness was served at a premium price plus a hefty import duty. Welcome to Irish Pub as a niche.

No doubt there were already Irish bars in more expat friendly cities like Singapore, Hong Kong etc, but it was a definite step forward for the Bangkok supping scene already struggling to be seen as something other than just a place where aging, spreading single men picked up waif like young ladies. Delaney's was a bar where ladies felt comfortable in coming to without being seen as easy pickings. Before Delaney's, there was Bobbys Arms, located in a car park opposite in Patpong.

'Noi, it's no problem, Walk down Patpong, past the scantily dressed ladies, just walk into the dark car park, walk past the strange looking Japanese place and walk up those narrow wooden steps to the dimly lit bar.' Sorted!

Where Delaney's led, others followed. O'Reillys opened up on the corner of Thaniya and Silom, within bottle top flicking distance of Delaney's who soon changed their name to Shenanigans and I understand another name change may soon be on the cards. O'Reilly followed the tried and tested formula of an Irish Bar by numbers with lots of green, a few signposts, shamrocks. Both bars proved to be successful additions to the Bangkok elbow bending scene and a breath of fresh air to jaded drinkers who had few other choices beyond Bobby's Arms and Toby Jug. They were innovative and were adept at marketing as their customer base spread. If anything, as the customer base diversified, the bars became Irish in name only, Non Irish beers were the most popular, the music was most definitely non Irish, the Irish menu was definitely minimal...

Way way out on Sukhumvit near Soi 33, The Dubliner aims for the rich buggers who live over there and competes with the Bulls head and the Londoner for the expat baht. The success of the brand has spread across Thailand. Hua Hin has the Celtic Bar where, on the last visit, the waitresses wore Celtic football shirts, Pattaya has Shenangins, a bar run by an imaginative long timer, Chiang Mai has the Irish Pub and no doubt there are many others that need to be visited for this site.

On the way south, Penang is always worth a look see. But the Shamrock here is worth giving a wide berth. It...I dunno. Words fail me about this place.

Singapore, home to less than half of Bangkok's population has at least double the number of Irish Bars. Again, at least the ones visited so far by Soppy, following the same formulaic approach. A number of these bars seemed united under an umbrella organisation called the Singapore Craic Squad and seem to coordinate their activities. Down on trendy, well for the moment, Boat Quay, Molly Malones gets the thumbs up for having what seemed to be just a couple of guys in the bar carry their beers to the stage and start jamming! First time I'd heard that in Asia. Father Flanagans is an imaginatively named bar given it's setting in the courtyard of a one time seminary and anyway, any bar that does pies as a bar snack ain't bad in my book.

Down on the far end of Orchard, near the four floors is Muddy Murphys. It's obviously an Irish pub tho, disregard the Danish beer banner so I don't understand why they feel the need to proclaim their Irishness. And there are some other bars which have yet to be documented by Soppy tho they will be one day. Honest!

And Jakarta has a couple of it's very own. One is the plastic model kit Flanagans with every cliché you can think of under one roof. Situated in a 5 star hotel with 5 star prices this place contributes nothing to the Jakarta pub scene. Maybe I am being unduly harsh, it has only been open some 6 months... We shall see. And now for something completely different. Admittedly not really a true Irish Bar, even tho it does proclaim it's Irishness, Kelts is more a Celtic bar, adhering more to a race of people traces of whom can be found in south west England, Ireland, Spain, parts of France. Hell, they were even as far east as the former Yugoslavia at one stage. Released from the stereotype Irishness, this bar concentrates on the people and brings in images of an almost prehistoric time of runes and monoliths. While it is questionable whether this bar should have won the best bar in Jakarta award recently, they certainly deserve kudos for an innovative approach.

Even Afghanistan, home of warlords galore, has seen a couple of Irish Bars open up to tap into the numbers of expats now being enticed there. Kelt and The Irish Club, the latter opening on Paddy's Day 2003 and winning the coveted Bar of the Month from this very site, are as far removed as you can get from the little villages of Galway and Limerick but evidence that the Irish Pub as a niche is here and here to stay.

So after slagging all n sundry who have spent heaps setting up their bar, what does lill ole Soppy think makes a good bar. All the accoutrements in the world mean sod all if you don't have the people. Punters first, the rest will follow.

This story was offered by pissedupasia.com, the lifestyle website for the discerning drinker... in other words, your guide to drinking yourself silly across Asia.

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