P. Brennan's, a huge Irish Pub, opens on Columbia Pike in Arlington
By Fritz Hahn
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 25, 2010
The buzz: When most people talk about night life in Arlington, they mean the bars and clubs along the well-traveled stretch of Wilson and Clarendon boulevards between Rosslyn and Ballston.
But a few miles south, several blocks along Columbia Pike are emerging as a destination of their own. There are a couple of name-brand old-timers, such as the Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse and the Salsa Room, while more recent arrivals include Twisted Vines and the L.A. Bar and Grill. But perhaps the biggest impact will come from the new P. Brennan's, a massive Irish pub from the Irish-born partners behind the McGinty's pubs in Silver Spring and Crystal City.
More than 300 can fit in the 8,000-square-foot pub. One wall is dominated by a long wooden bar; the spacious area around it is full of booths and high tables. Overhead, a wide mezzanine level runs around three sides of the room, with dining tables and booths offering a great view of the action below.
Purists, take note: This is not your traditional dark-and-cozy Irish pub, though it still has its touches: the large map of Ireland painted on the wall, not to mention the vintage Rolling Stone covers starring U2, Sinead O'Connor, Van Morrison and other Irish musicians.
Other than the decor, though, it's like the owners have just gone down the Irish Pub Checklist. Bartenders who know the names (and drinks) of people walking in. Check. Guitarist playing "The Wild Rover" and other singalong favorites. Check. Well-poured pints of Guinness and black-and-tans. Check and double check.
"The way the balcony wraps around the room reminds me of an old-school saloon," says Jim Vital, a 32-year-old art teacher who lives in the neighborhood. And more important, he says, is the neighborhood vibe -- and the fact there's nothing like it nearby. "I like to go down to the Irish pubs in Old Town -- Murphy's and Pat Troy's -- but this is my new place."
The scene: Pop in on a Sunday between 5 and 8 p.m. and you'll hear fiddlers and guitarists playing folk music. (You can bring your own instrument and join in.) There's more Irish music on Wednesday nights, but then the schedule gets decidedly less Gaelic: singer-songwriters on Thursdays, rock covers and originals on Friday and Saturday nights, when the crowd ventures to dance a little. Tuesday night features a pub quiz at 8. Next month, Monday becomes darts night.
In your glass: The beer list is heavy on the usual Anglo-Irish beers (Guinness, Bass, Smithwick's), though two of the 16 taps will rotate seasonally. Right now, one is pouring McSorley's Irish Black Lager, the tasty dark beer served at the New York City saloon. There's a decent selection of Irish whiskey, too.
On your plate: Although the pub offers such items as burgers and Dr. Pepper-braised short ribs, the most popular food consists of nouveau takes on traditional Irish favorites. The beer batter that surrounds the haddock on the fish and chips plate is thin and flaky instead of thick and crunchy; the tartar sauce has been spiked with tangy lemon juice (almost a bit too much), and it comes with a sweet, tasty apple slaw.
Price points: Beers average $4 to $6. Appetizers are in the $9-$10 range, while entrees are about $16. There's never a cover charge for live entertainment, though that could change if P. Brennan's begins to book bands instead of solo entertainers.
At happy hour, which runs from 4 to 7 p.m. on weekdays, all rail drinks, wines and beers (except Guinness) are $1 off. The "5 for $5" menu isn't bad if you want a snack: mini burgers, a small portion of fish and chips, chicken tenders, etc.
Need to know: The pub is fully wheelchair-accessible, including the mezzanine.
Nice to know: P. Brennan's is named after "Little Pat" Brennan, a bartender who worked with the owners and passed away in 2008.