What's the problem?
A plague has been afflicting the pub world. Beginning in the UK, where it has already fatally infected hundreds of decent, law-abiding boozers, it has now started to attack continental Europe. What is this plague? - the fake Irish pub. With their pseudo-Irish names, tacky green paint and super-cooled Guiness, they're becoming the MacDonalds of the pub trade: ubiquitous, interchangeable and utterly crap. Why have they spread so quickly and what can we, the ordinary, innocent pub-goers, do to stop them destroying our locals?

Real Irish Pubs
Once upon a time, when I was a lad, we had things called Irish pubs. Physically, they were just like any other pub, though they tended to be amongst the more old-fashioned and traditional in design. They had normal pub names, sold the same type of beer as everywhere else. In short, they were normal pubs. What made them Irish, was that a large proportion of the customers and, usually, the landlord were Irish. They would often have tradtional Irish music evenings. Not some bunch of talentless beardies knocking out stale old folk songs, but the customers taking turns to sing their song, backed by enthusiastic amateur musicians. The atmosphere was informal, friendly and genuinely conjured some of the atmosphere of pubs in Ireland, without trying to physically mimic them. Although a good percentage of the customers were Irish, there was normally a good smattering of the local community because, in general, they were pretty good pubs. Surprisingly, as it doesn't really exist in Ireland, most of them sold cask-conditioned beer. Some of the most skilled landlords in the handling of cask beer I have come across were Irish. The Regent and the Cardigan Arms were two Leeds pubs where the Irish landlords served near-perfect (now I think about, the beer in the Cardigan sometimes was perfect) pints of Tetley's.

On the continent, the first generation of Irish pubs was slightly different. They were places run by either Irish or British expatriates trying to recreate the feel of a British pub for their homesick compatriots. Depending on the local building style and the money they had available, they had some degree of physical resemblance to a real pub, but most important was the presence of some British or Irish keg beer (usually Guinness and John Bull bitter) and perhaps some British pub food. Not the best beer in the world, but good enough for someone desperate for a drop of ale in a sea of lager. These pubs weren't intended to appeal to the local population and usually didn't, being anglophone in the extreme. Given their limited target group, there wasn't room for a great number of them and it was usually limited to one or so per major city, depending on the number of people from the British Isles resident there. So while a city like Amsterdam could support 5 or 6, Düsseldorf only had 1 or 2.

Fakes appear
All this started to change as the concept of themed pubs became more popular. First in the UK the new generation of 'Irish' pubs stuck up their ugly heads. Suitably badged with a condescending or downright racist name, like Scruffy Murphy's, they were intended to appeal to the young and brainless amongst the drinking fraternity. The name alone would be enough to deter anyone Irish from entering. Inside, piles of bric-a-brac with an Irish theme, gallons of green paint and a few 'doorways of Ireland' posters were deemed enough to evoke the magical atmosphere of the Emerald Isle. Oh yes, and some nice ice cold Guinness and lovely keg Smithwicks (Kilkenny, for those of you on the continent). Mmm, delicious.

The concept of themed Irish pubs then began inevitably to seep onto the continent, partly through chains, such as O'Reilly's, and partly through opportunist publicans who saw it as a good ruse for boosting custom. Of course, this led to there being far too many such pubs to rely solely on their traditional customers, British and Irish expatriates. Now they were going for a wider group: young trendies, tourists, the sort of people so frightened by the unknown that they gratefully cling to anything vaguely familiar. Yes, they were after the McDonalds generation. Don't panic when in a foreign country, ignore the local bars and head for your nearest Irish theme pub, you know what to expect there. OK, it will be a pathetically ersatz and low-quality product, but hey, at least you won't have any nasty surprises. Guinness too cold to be tasted, overpriced and overcooked fish and chips, The Dubliners looping endlessly on the stereo. And they're spreading further and further. Go to Prague, go to Warsaw and there's a bloody Irish pub. I suppose they'll hit Vladivostock before the millenium.

I'm surprised that no-one has yet started an operation called McDonnells - it's the obvious choice of name for a chain of fast-Irish outlets. It's just another aspect of the trend for everywhere in the world to become more alike, with each country exporting the worst of its culture to everyone else. Exactly why anyone from Düsseldorf, with its brilliant altbier pubs, would want to drink badly-served Guinness or horrible Kilkenny in plastic surroundings is totally beyond me. More and more, traditional, comfortable drinking establishments are being destroyed and replaced by cheap, fake copies of the same thing. It's enough to make you cry. That the drinks on sale are as ersatz as the décor goes without saying. You won't catch any of these 'Irish' pubs selling a cask-conditioned stout or bitter. Oh no, it might intimidate the customers if they were offered anything which had any flavour.

What can I do?
If anyone wants to help eradicate this scourge of the drinking world there's only one answer: don't drink in them. I certainly don't if I can help it. Economic power is about the only one we have left, so we should use it. Wherever you are, give the local-style bars your custom and avoid whatever fad style of pub (it won't always be Irish) they are trying to force on you. If you don't, there might soon be nothing but fakes and parodies left to choose from.

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© Ron Pattinson 1998 - 2010