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Susan Axelrod

Susan Axelrod's food writing career began in the kitchen; she owned a restaurant and catering business before turning to journalism more than a decade ago. By day, she is an online content producer for mainetoday.com and the Portland Press Herald. To relax, she bakes, gardens and hikes with her husband and their two dogs, preferably followed by a cocktail. Susan can be contacted at 791-6310 or saxelrod@mainetoday.com On Twitter: @susansaxelrod

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Posted: March 6, 2014

Maine’s Irish pubs: 9 authentic places to hoist a pint

Written by: Susan Axelrod - staff writer - saxelrod@mainetoday.com

St. Patrick’s Day breakfast at Brian Boru (left), a black and tan. Press Herald file photos

Well before the mass immigration of Irish from their potato-blighted home country to New York, Boston and other cities further south, Irish citizens looking for a better life found their way to Maine. These new Americans built ships and churches, labored on Portland’s waterfront and had a profound influence on the culture of the state. Among the many traditions immigrants brought with them was the Irish practice of going “down the pub” — for laughter and conversation, live music, and of course for a well-poured pint or two.

While there are a number of bars in Maine with “pub” in their names, just a handful are distinctly, authentically Irish. Here’s where you can find a warm Irish welcome, comfort food, and practiced hands who will top your Guinness with a foam shamrock.

Annie’s Irish Pub

369 Main St., Ogunquit
207-251-4335

Owner Anne Lynch grew up in Ireland, where her family has operated a pub for 60 years. She brings her long experience to her own venture on this side of the pond, which opens for the season on St. Patrick’s Day and closes down for the winter in late October. In addition to Irish-inspired food (including finnan haddie, Guinness beef stew and shepherd’s pie), and traditional Irish music, Annie’s prides itself on Craic, the Irish term for friendly banter and good times.

Black Bear Cafe

215 Roosevelt Trail (Route 302), Naples
207-693-4770

Irish native John Bohill ran restaurants there in the 1970s before emigrating to the U.S. and opening this popular lake-region spot. He hosts Sunday evening “seisuns” (Gaelic for session), informal gatherings of musicians who play Irish tunes, and leads annual “pub and music tours” back to his home country. The bar stocks a large line-up of Irish whiskeys and the signature dessert is Guinness chocolate orange cake.

Bull Feeney’s

375 Fore St., Portland | 207-773-7210

Named for famous Hollywood director John Ford (a Cape Elizabeth native born John Martin Feeney, who was nicknamed “Bull” in high school) the pub feels like it’s been there forever, but was in fact opened in 2001. The interior design is focused on Irish immigrant history and the painted walls are fun to read. Upstairs, there’s a great view of the waterfront but this is also where bands play, so it’s more raucous than the ground floor. The menu offers pub standards as well as steak and lobster.

Byrne’s Irish Pub in Bath. Press Herald file photo

Byrnes Irish Pub

38 Centre St., Bath | 207-443-6776
16 Station Ave., Brunswick | 207-729-9400

Joe and Pam Byrnes launched their first pub on St. Patrick’s Day 2008 in Bath; the second location followed two years to the day later in Brunswick. Son Patrick manages the Brunswick location while daughter Maggie manages Bath. The menu features Irish fare such as bangers and mash and shepherd’s pie, as well as sandwiches, salads and pub snacks. Side dishes include champ, a traditional dish of mashed potatoes with scallions.

Customers line up in anticipation of the annual St. Patrick’s Day breakfast at Brian Boru. Press Herald file photo

Brian Boru Public House

57 Center St., Portland | 207-870-1506

Just up the hill from Portland’s Old Port on the edge of the West End, you can’t miss the bright red building emblazoned with the giant toucan, which has been home to Irish-owned businesses since the 1880s. Inside, the two-story bar is appropriately dark and cozy, a popular place to wile away the evening playing cards or Scrabble. There’s live music most nights and Sunday brunch features the “Hangover Destroyer” — a Bloody Mary garnished with a mini cheeseburger.

The bar at Feile. Press Herald file photo

Feile Restaurant and Pub

1619 Post Rd. (Route 1), Wells | 207-251-4065

Pronounced “FAY-leh”, Feile, which means hospitality in Gaelic, the pub owned by Culinary Institute of America-trained chef Andrew Robar and his wife, Caitlin. The corned beef is brined in-house, the onion rings are freshly made and as many ingredients as possible are locally sourced. This is a contemporary Irish pub, where the food is as important as the beer.

Ryan’s Corner House

17 Western Ave., Kennebunkport | 207-967-3564

Proprietors Joe and Tracy Ryan were pub owners in Ireland; finding they missed the business, they opened their eponymous pub in Kennebunkport’s Lower Village in 2011. The menu lists more sophisticated dishes such as Connemara-style lamb chops and spicy onion-encrusted salmon, along with more standard pub fare. The large outdoor seating area features a fire pit. Closed from mid-December to St. Patrick’s Day.

Ri Ra. Press Herald file photo

Ri Ra

72 Commercial St., Portland | 207-761-4446

Tradition is literally in the walls at this popular pub on Portland’s waterfront; the interior was designed with materials salvaged from 19th century pubs and other buildings in Ireland. Thoroughly authentic dishes such as curry fries and a complete Irish breakfast share the menu with creative takes on burgers, sandwiches and other pub favorites.

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