It's tempting to refer to Georgeown's new Ri Ra Irish Pub as "a little piece of Ireland on M Street." The bartenders boast that everything in the pub, formerly Mie N Yu, comes from the Emerald Isle: The handsomely carved back bar and the etched mirrors were purchased in Dublin; the old statue of St. Patrick that presides in an alcove over the taps was rescued from a fire in Cork in the 1930s; the shelves of old books and vintage whiskey jugs came from estate sales and auctions across the country.
Even most of the friendly staff are imported, as you can tell from the accents, but it's a question of how long that will be the case. As a corporate chain, Ri Ra has teams of veteran bartenders that it rotates around the country to open new locations and train their employees. My most recent bartender, a native of Cork, told us how he'd come to Washington from the Ri Ra at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.
It all comes across as very tourist Ireland, the antiques and dark wood arranged just so, as if you were drinking your pint of Guinness on a movie set. But that's the Ri Ra formula, as seen at its other 10 locations. (Locally, there's another Ri Ra in Clarendon; a Bethesda pub, the first in the area, closed when this Georgetown franchise was announced.)
There are two very different sides to the building. The plush, carpeted pub, with a long wooden bar, has a nice little snug in the front window. Separated from the rest of the room by glass partitions, it would make a nice place for a small group to gather. In the very rear, there are raised areas with group-friendly booths. The restaurant, which occupies the eastern half of the premises, feels more formal, with large, crescent-shaped booths of red velvet and glamorous chandeliers. If you have to use the restroom, you'll find that Mie N Yu's notorious unisex restroom has been replaced by more conventional men's and women's toilets.
With the grand opening scheduled for Jan. 23, this is a place with much more to come. The second floor, which is being converted into an Irish whiskey lounge, should be ready around the end of the month. The first floor bar's currently open from 4 p.m. until "late" (translation: when things die down), and will eventually expand opening times to include lunch. There's no happy hour yet, though it should start after the grand opening. There are plans for live music, with Irish tunes during the week and rock bands on Fridays and Saturdays.
Beer prices are average: A variety of drafts cost $6.50 each, whether Smithwick's or Stillwater Folklore Stout. Whiskey's more of a problem: There's no whiskey menu yet, and the bartender wasn't sure what different bottles cost. I wound up with a pour of the John L. Sullivan -- a spicy blend made by the Cooley Distillery in County Louth, then aged in bourbon barrels -- but only found out it was $11 after I got the bill.
The food is another story. Appetizers cost $9 to $11, and we weren't impressed by the bland deviled Scotch eggs: deep-fried Scotch eggs with the cooked yolks scooped back in. The pastry-wrapped Irish sausage rolls didn't have enough flavor in the bangers. The Irish potato pancakes, though, had enough scallions and savory sour cream, and were the only snacks anyone mentioned after leaving.
In terms of cozy Georgetown pubs, I'll still take Martin's Tavern. But if you're looking for a place to grab happy hour with friends, this is a great option. Once the whiskey is flowing upstairs and there's a weekly Irish session, there will be even more reasons to go back.