March 17, 2006

Irish Publick House Opens

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Most patrons have thrown back one too many Guinness beers to take note of the hour, but every night at Kilpatrick’s Publick House, the alarm clock stashed at the right side of the bar goes off at 11, cuing manager Abby Wen and her staff – is it coincidence that most of them are Irish? – to belt out their favorite Irish drinking song.

“It’s 11 o’clock on the dot, let’s remember Charlie Hops! One, two, three, four, five! Beer, beer, beer, tiddley beer, beer beer!”

Ordering high-end whiskey? They’ve got a song for that too: “Whiskey you’re the devil, you’re leading me astray…”

Ithaca’s new Irish pub at the corner of Seneca and Tioga has opened its doors for three weeks now – yesterday was the official ribbon-cutting – but legend has it that Kilpatrick’s really began about a century ago, when Breandan Kilpatrick journeyed from Ireland to Ithaca.

Intent on pursuing an acting career here – Ithaca was then the seat of the silent film industry – Kilpatrick tried his hand at show business. When auditions didn’t pan out, the young immigrant opened Kilpatrick’s in the tradition of the “publick houses” of his homeland; these Irish pubs drew a congeries of actors, merchants and other locals for its lively atmosphere.

The pub was supposedly shuttered during the Prohibition era, but even Wen admits that the tale could be utter “blibberish.” Nobody’s certain. Yet even decades later, Kilpatrick’s seems to have filled a much-needed niche in Ithaca’s bar scene.

“This could definitely be my place to go,” said first-timer Chris O’Brien, who owns Lincoln Street Diner. “Locals could definitely love this place.”

O’Brien, who sported a green cap that read “Ireland,” was one of three-dozen or so customers milling around the bar early Wednesday evening.

The place certainly has personality – two, as a matter of fact. One side of Kilpatrick’s offers a more intimate setting done up in an Irish Victorian style, with rich wood paneling, stained glass designs and ornate wall decorations, including a picture of St. Patrick. Several closed-off booths – “snugs” – have TVs inside and allow for greater privacy.

The other side of Kilpatrick’s, and by far the most popular, features the Irish Cottage style, named for the pubs of historic Ireland that were located in stone cottages and featured a large fireplace. Here, the bar is made of copper and seats far more people. There’s another kind of snug in the corner, although different from those on the Victorian side, which is modeled after the Irish pub tradition of cordoning off female customers.

“They went for two separate feels because they couldn’t decide,” Wen explained, referring to the ambitious group of Ithacans who decided to revive Kilpatrick’s several years ago. “I think it’s really unique.”

She said that Irish people seem to gravitate toward this place, both as employees and as patrons.

Wen, who is from South Carolina but claims Irish descent, can even speak some Gallic – “hello,” “goodbye” and “get me a beer,” she joked – and is intent on maintaining the pub’s strong Irish feel. This, among other things, means playing traditional Irish music for most of the day (the contemporary Irish music starts in the evening) and having Irish band Traonach perform often. And of course, there’s the matter of serving authentic Irish food (potatoes, bangors and cabbage, although no shepherd pie as of yet) alongside more creative fusion dishes and having the staff regale the crowd with Irish drinking tunes.

For the non-Irish, there’s the question of what constitutes the difference between a pub and a bar. That is, aside from the prevalence of Guinness, Killian’s Red, Smithwicks Irish Ale and Bass Ale at the former, as is also the case at this pub.

Waiter Dave Openshaw, who is part Irish, thinks of a pub as a place of

“community socializing, more so than your average bar.” He’s already started recognizing some regulars at the happy hours, who in turn are beginning to recognize and talk to one another.

Kilpatrick’s hopes to market itself toward a mix of local residents and college students, who seldom seem to guzzle beers in the same space. The idea is promising; not only does Kilpatrick’s serve lunch and dinner and feature happy hours, which are already drawing in all sorts of Ithacans, but, in Cornell’s case, it also offers a reprieve from the monotony of Collegetown nightlife.

But this is no Dino’s or The Palm’s, where a post-midnight arrival is expected. “We’d like this to be the place where college students start their night,” Wen said.

Charlie Hops, after all, must be toasted at 11 sharp.

Kilpatrick’s will open at 9 a.m. today in honor of St. Patrick’s Day.

Archived article by Maya Rao
Sun Staff Writer