Banish the nightmare of green beer. The reddishblack drink of the Irish is a pint of Guinness Stout, a deep brew with a bright, glossy head of creamy foam.
Many pints will flow this weekend in Western New York, but few spots will embody the Irish experience like the Shannon Pub, now in its third location on Niagara Falls Boulevard in Tonawanda, the site of the former Brass Rail.
There's a cozy dining room with booths, but since we were in the mood for music, we chose the bar area, where dozens of tables augment the usual bar seating.
The room is comfortable, with a lowered, dark-timbered ceiling and a tall, white arched plaster fireplace. The place was positively awash in Guinness memorabilia, everything from linked-shamrock banners hung everywhere to mirrors, neon signs, and even a couple of life-size cardboard cutouts of the Brewmasters, the zany inventors who star in Guinness TV commercials.
But although Guinness is the star of the drinks menu, you'll be, as the Irish say, spoiled for choice. Beers on tap, besides the black stuff, include Harp Lager, Smithwicks's Red Irish Ale from Kilkenny, Murphy's Stout from Cork, and, kind of humorously, Labatt Blue and Blue Light "from Canada."
In bottles, you can choose from a full 21 types of beer and beerish things, although the farther you go down the menu, the less beerish the choices become, until you reach Smirnoff Ice and Mike's Hard Lemonade. We shuddered and ordered a round of Guinness ($4.50 per pint), except for Ruth, who was in the mood for Irish coffee ($5).
The server assured us that almost every kind of Irish whiskey imaginable was behind the bar, and besides the usual suspects, I spotted my favorite, Black Bush, a single-malt from the Antrim distiller.
Our pints arrived with glistening cream-colored heads of foam, and we didn't mind that the stout itself was still a wee bit gassified, a sign of a slightly rushed "pull," as they say. The aroma was fresh, the taste smooth and satisfying. The Irish coffee was dark and sweet, with a nice whiskey kick.
The crowd at the bar ranged from couples to small groups of men or women to one group of six women who finished off dinner and lingered over desserts and beer. Most seemed to be from their 30s to their 60s, with a few twentysomethings here and there. One tall guy with raven hair who may have shared some ancestors with Bono stood alone at the bar.
On this night, the entertainment was Joe Head and Tom Callahan. Head played guitar and Callahan started with a mandolin and later broke out a bodhran, the flat Irish drum. They played such favorites as "Dirty Old Town," "The Water Is Wide," "Roddy McCorley," and got everybody pounding on the tables with "Whiskey in the Jar." They did a few American folk tunes, too, including Simon and Garfunkel's "The Boxer."
Our second round of Harp and Smithwick's went down smoothly, and then we were off into the chilly night, confident that spring will follow this weekend's blooming green.
2250 Niagara Falls Blvd.,
Scene: Weekends bring out an adult crowd to listen to Irish/folk music.
Drinks: Guinness, of course, other Irish beer and ale, many kinds of Irish whiskey, a decent wine selection, the usual mixed drinks.
Dress code: Casual. A knitted beret in the colors of the Irish flag was spotted on a woman at the bar.