Ceilings two stories up, huge bookshelves lining the walls, a pair of working fireplaces, a mezzanine bar overlooking the rest of the pub — Samuel Beckett’s blows the dark-and-cozy Irish stereotype out of the water.
Though several hundred people could squeeze in comfortably here, clever design keeps Samuel Beckett’s from feeling too much like a barn. A restaurant with tables of dark wood occupies the front of the space, near the huge glass windows looking onto Campbell Avenue. A glass partition screens the curving main bar from the rest of the room and makes the pub area seem more intimate, especially when you can pull up a barstool and chat about soccer with one of the bartenders, several of whom have authentic accents.
If this area looks full, follow the narrow passage at the right end of the bar to the back, where there’s a tiny eight-seat bar and a lounge area with dinner tables and couches. My favorite place, though, is the mezzanine bar, which over looks the main bar and is reached by a grand staircase. There are only a dozen stools up there, along with a small group of tables, but you can’t beat the view.
The outdoor areas are almost as generously sized, with room for dozens of diners. Skip the sidewalk tables on busy Campbell Avenue and ask for the seats facing the wide pedestrian walkway on the side of the building.
The drafts at Samuel Beckett’s mix your traditional Irish and English taps with American microbrews, including the local Flying Dog. The pub’s menu is one of the better Irish selections in the area; the potato skins are topped with Irish cheddar and crunchy Irish bacon, mussels are cooked in Kilkenny Ale. But I find myself drawn to the lamb burger, perfectly seasoned and topped with rich, creamy Cashel blue cheese.
Overall, service has been friendly — if a little harried on weekends — and crowds range from couples on double-dates to groups of women knitting at the bar. Even the “slow” nights rarely feel empty, thanks to a popular pub quiz (Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m.) and half-price burgers on Monday night.
The name is a nod to the neighboring Signature Theatre, though a more theater-literate friend jokes that the place is a little too ostentatious for a playwright whose later works were known for their minimalism. We laugh. I’ll have another Kilkenny.
-- Fritz Hahn (June 10, 2011)