Before designing Ned Devine's, a new Herndon pub, the owners must have had a brainstorming session. We imagine it went something like this:
"How do we make this look like an Irish pub?"
"Easy. Green paint and vintage Guinness posters on the walls, Guinness and Caffrey's on draft and
shepherd's pie on the menu."
"Okay, but what if we want an Australian-themed pub?"
"Hmmm. That's a bit tougher. Just paint the walls sandy brown instead of green, and hang some boomerangs, Australian license plates and other knickknacks on the walls."
And so we came to have Ned Devine's, a bar with a split personality that celebrates two of Britain's former colonies. Despite its name, only two-thirds of the space is Ned Devine's, a faux-Irish pub. The other part, which has a separate entrance, is Ned Kelly's, an Australian-themed bar named after the fabled Aussie outlaw.
My first impression was of a strip-mall Chinese restaurant. Granted, the designers didn't have much to work with: While the dining area feels spacious, it's in a strip mall, and has those floor-to-ceiling windows on the front. The gas fireplace is a nice touch.
They've made some improvements since they opened in early 2001 -- the industrial carpet has been replaced by hardwood floors, the reception-hall chairs are now a dark oak -- but the decor still could have been ordered straight from the Generic Irish Pub catalog. Several months after opening, the owner expanded the pub to create a game room -- a pool table, foosball, Golden Tee -- which is far more attractive, with vintage photographs and dark red walls. Too bad the whole pub wasn't done like this.
Ned Kelly's is a bit nicer, with more wooden booths and bar seating, but it has also been a lot less crowded when we've been on that side, and a lot easier to find a seat and talk. The menus and beer selection are the same, making us wonder why they even bothered.
As you might expect, Ned Devine's is packed at happy hours, with a mixture of tech workers with laminated badges and local residents. Since Ned's opened, they've added more bar staff at happy hour and on weekends, which negated one of our major complaints about the place -- the service. We've still heard from people who've had drink and food orders confused, but service seems to be getting better.
Ned Devine's does have a few things going for it. The bar hosts live bands on the weekends; live music is one thing the Herndon area is sorely lacking. It also has a big-screen TV, which was showing English soccer matches on a Thursday evening. The beer selection, which includes Stella Artois and Boddington's alongside the usual suspects (Guinness, Harp, Fosters), is good for the area. The bar opens for English soccer matches on Saturdays, and, cashing in on the Australian theme, will be showing rugby and Aussie Rules as well.
At the end of the day, though, what the Dulles Corridor needs is a good bar. It doesn't need someplace with a tacky, predictable decor or bad service. It doesn't even need a pub with a theme. Just give people a decent beer selection, good food and live music and build from there.
-- Fritz Hahn (updated January 2002)