date published: March 13, 2006

photo by Derek KouyoumjianPanorama toasts Beantown's favorite Gaelic watering holes
by Josh B. Wardrop

If you've got March 17 circled in green pen on your calendar, and you're hoping to spend the evening out in Boston sipping Guinness (or Murphy's or Magner's.) at an authentic Irish pub surrounded by revelers. We've got bad news for you. Choosing between the dozens and dozens of Celtic watering holes to be found throughout Boston is a task of Sisyphean proportions-unless, of course, you have the inside goods on the best places to get your Irish up. The following are Panorama's suggestions for spots to have a truly festive St. Patrick's Day.

Going Southie for the Winter
As anyone who's visited Boston in March knows, South Boston (affectionately known to one and all as "Southie," and not to be confused with the South End) is pretty much Ground Zero for all things Irish in Beantown. Southie is home to the city's annual St. Paddy's Day parade, and as one would imagine, the neighborhood is also chockfull of Irish bars, many of which take advantage of the Gaelic holiday by charging a stiff cover at the door on parade day, March 19. For a taste of authentic Irish boozing on or around St. Patrick's Day, visit the L Street Tavern (195 L St., 617-268-4335, cover: $10-20), which was immortalized in the film Good Will Hunting. If you like your experience a bit more gentrified, the newly renovated Amrhein's (80 West Broadway, 617-268-6189) or Shenanigan's (332 West Broadway, 617-269-9509) represent Southie's move toward upscale pubbery.

Southie Alternatives
If negotiating the parade seems like too much effort, there are a couple of alternately strong Irish neighborhoods in Boston. Just south of the Fenway area is Jamaica Plain, which boasts several fine establishments, such as Doyle's Café (3484 Washington St., 617-524-2345, cover: $10-20)-a favorite of generations of Irish politicians and the site of a battle of bagpipe bands March 18 at 8 p.m.-the Brendan Behan Pub (378 Centre St., 617-522-5386) and James's Gate (5 McBride St., 617-983-2000), a pub named for the town in Ireland where Guinness originated. Alternately, you could visit Brighton, where generations of Boston Irish have enjoyed pubs like The Green Briar (304 Washington St., 617-789-4100, cover: $10-20), The Corrib (396 Market St., 617-787-0882) and relative newcomer Devlin's (332 Washington St., 617-779-8822), which specializes in upscale cuisine.

The BurrenNot Your Average Pub Grub
Just because it's St. Patrick's Day, that's no reason to subject yourself to the same old corned beef and cabbage-not when there's Matt Murphy's Pub (14 Harvard St., Brookline, 617-232-0188), long renowned throughout Boston for having some of the best food of the city's many Irish pubs. Whether you're searching for mainstream favorites like fish and chips (served in a twist of newspaper, Old World-style), or something more inventive like rabbit pot pie, you're bound to come out thinking you've stumbled upon a pot of culinary gold.

 Local Favorites
The wonderful thing about having roughly as many Irish pubs in Boston as there are people is that the selection ensures something for everybody's tastes. For the artistically inclined, there's The Druid (1357 Cambridge St., Cambridge, 617-497-0965) which is adorned with original Celtic oil paintings, wooden and metal sculptures, stained glass windows and antique furnishings. College students and young professionals looking to set off sparks with the opposite sex this St. Paddy's Day will likely flock to The Purple Shamrock (1 Union St., 617-227-2060, cover: $20-30) near Faneuil Hall. Meanwhile, Kennedy's Midtown (42 Province Place, 617-426-3333, cover: $15 at night) takes the Irish pub concept a bit more "upscale steakhouse," with a more mature focus on high-end wines and liquors and its tucked-away location in Downtown Crossing. And pub aficionados are delighting in the return of Cambridge's beloved Plough and Stars (912 Mass. Ave., Cambridge, 617-576-0032), which closed last June after 37 years for a much-needed facelift and rethink. Now it's back in business just in time for St. Patrick's Day, with an updated menu and the same old comfortable atmosphere.

James's GateGuinness, Lo Mein and Quesadillas
Purists would imagine that Irish pubs might be the one place where the concept of "fusion" cuisine would never take hold. But in 2006, Boston boasts a handful of spots where Celtic roots have gotten tangled up with some odd ethnic partners. Jose McIntyre's (160 Milk St., 617-451-9460, cover: $5 after 5 p.m.), for example, bills itself as Boston's only Mexican-Irish bar, with a menu that includes everything from steak tips to margaritas. Meanwhile, in 2004, popular Irish pub The Kells (161 Brighton Ave., Allston, 617-782-9082) made a radical switch when its menu was converted to all Asian cuisine (which you can wash down with a Guinness or a Mai Tai). Finally, new kid on the block Goody Glover's (50 Salem St., 617-367-6444) has stayed true to its Irish roots with its menu (as witnessed by the mussels steamed in Magner's cider) but opted to do so in the heart of the North End-Boston's own version of "Little Italy."

Kick up Your Heels
If you've got little ones in tow and are willing to have your St. Patrick's Day fun a few days early or late, you can get a true Irish experience at The Burren (247 Elm St., Somerville, 617-776-6896, open at 6 a.m. on St. Patrick's Day, cover: $20) on March 13 and 20 , as the bar offers Irish set dancing classes for children in the pub's back room. While you enjoy the food and drink, your kids can learn the basics of the high-stepping, twirling traditional dances of old Eire. The Burren is also home to live Irish music every night, including Sunday night's singer/songwriter session.

Last Call
Unfortunately, this March 17 will be the final chance for visitors to experience St. Paddy's Day in one of Boston's most distinct watering holes. At the end of March, The Littlest Bar (47 Province St.) will close its doors after 60 years of serving up drinks, camaraderie and good times to Bostonians-38 patrons at a time. The smallest capacity bar in town is losing its lease, and while owner Patrick Grace of Kilkenny, Ireland promises to reopen somewhere else in the near future, this will be the last holiday at the current spot. So, squeeze in, if you can manage it.

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