The 10 best places in NYC to get your fill of Irish culture

Posted On Mon, March 4, 2019 By

Posted On Mon, March 4, 2019 By In Features, History, NYC Guides

St. Patrick’s Day is almost here, and though its modern iteration seems to have devolved into a daylong drinking activity, it’s still a good time to reflect on New York’s Irish heritage. Irish immigrants have been coming to New York since the colonial era, but in the 19th century, they were one of the biggest groups in the city, making up about a quarter of the population. Their cultural influence is everywhere, but there are some spots in town where it shines through the most. Here are our favorites.

Photo of McSorley’s © James and Karla Murray 

1. McSorley’s Old Ale House
15 East 7th Street between Taras Shevchenko Place and Cooper Square, East Village, Manhattan

McSorley’s is the self-proclaimed “oldest” Irish tavern in New York, and so it stands that it warrants inclusion on this list. Indeed, a trip to McSorley’s is a little bit like stepping back in time. The dark wood bar, which was first established in 1854, still features sawdust floors and Irish bartenders, and it’s decorated with old newspaper articles, firefighter helmets, and portraits of long-dead politicians like Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who were certainly in fighting condition when the pictures were first posted many decades ago. McSorley’s doesn’t exactly serve a wide selection of brews—your choices here are “light” and “dark” beer, and nothing else—or much food, beyond plates of raw onions and cheese, but it’s still a classic drinking spot, if you don’t mind having to fight off the frat bros that seem to have infiltrated it over the years.

2. Irish Repertory Theatre
132 West 22nd Street between 6th and 7th Avenue, Chelsea, Manhattan

The Off-Broadway Irish Rep (as it’s known) is dedicated to performing works by Irish and Irish American playwrights, both classic and contemporary. The theater opened in 1988 with a production of Seán O’Casey’s “The Plough and the Stars.” Recent productions have included “A Mind-Bending Evening of Beckett” by Samuel Beckett, “Beyond the Horizon” by Eugene O’Neill, and “Ernest in Love” by Oscar Wilde. In celebration of its 30th year in operation, the theater is dedicating the entire first chunk of the 2019 season to O’Casey, with a return to “The Plough and the Stars” in the spring.

Inside St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral, via Flickr cc

3. St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral
263 Mulberry Street between Prince and Jersey Streets, Nolita, Manhattan

Not to be confused with the famed Fifth Avenue St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the Old St. Patrick’s is located near Little Italy and was built between 1809 and 1815, serving as the original Cathedral of the Archdiocese of New York until the former St. Patrick’s opened in 1879. Old St. Patrick’s has a storied history among the city’s Irish population; the church catered largely to a constituency of poor and working-class Irish immigrants, so much so that it was originally the ending place for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. The cathedral is still in operation, in addition to serving as the filming location for movies like “The Godfather” and “Mean Streets.” It’s also noteworthy that beneath the basilica are catacombs for family crypts, with bodies of note including the first bishop of New York John Connolly and former Tammany Hall head John Kelly.

Irish Hunger Memorial via Wiki Commons

4. Irish Hunger Memorial
75 Battery Place between Vesey Street and North End Avenue, Battery Park, Manhattan

Artists Brian Tolle and Gail Wittwer-Laird collaborated on this sprawling memorial, installed in Battery Park in 2002. The memorial’s outdoor portion resembles the Irish countryside, featuring lush potato fields, flora, and stone walls and a stone cottage, all of which are made with materials flown in from Ireland. The memorial also includes an indoor passage lined with 19th-century news reports from Ireland’s Great Famine, in addition to contemporary reports on famine worldwide.

Molly’s Pub & Shebeen, via Flickr cc

5. Molly’s Pub & Shebeen
287 3rd Avenue between 22nd and 23rd Streets, Gramercy, Manhattan

Longtime hangout Molly’s Shebeen is a go-to spot in Gramercy for unfussy brews and tasty Irish grub. Like McSorley’s, Molly’s floors are littered with sawdust, and cozy low-lit tables and booths are made even cozier by the bar’s wood-burning fireplace. The bar itself is made of beautiful Honduran mahogany and sits under a line of antique lights, giving the whole place a classic pub feel. In addition to a full bar, Molly’s serves traditional Irish meals like lamb stew, shepherd’s pie, and corned beef and cabbage, in addition to more universal bar eats like burgers and chicken wings.

6. The Late Late
159 East Houston Street, Lower East Side, Manhattan

For a more contemporary take on the classic Irish pub, the Late Late—named after Ireland’s popular talk show, “The Late Late Show” — serves Irish-inspired drinks and dishes in a space modeled after a 1960s period Irish residence, rotary phone and all. The bar’s got a long list of Irish whiskeys available, in addition to specialty 1960s-themed cocktails like the Mrs. Robinson (Woody Creek gin, lemon, Campari, grapefruit, and St. Germain) and the Hey Joe (Absolut, Fernet Branca, Guinness Demerara, cold brew). Bites include a Dublin Cheesesteak and “Cheese toasties,”—both made with Kerrygold Cheddar— in addition to a fried chicken sandwich drizzled in Guinness BBQ sauce.


Photo courtesy of the Tenement Museum

7. Tenement Museum
103 Orchard Street between Broome and Delancey Streets, Lower East Side, Manhattan

Irish immigrants started coming to New York in colonial times, but they arrived in droves in the 19th century, particularly when the Great Famine began in 1845. Many immigrants lived in tenements on the Lower East Side, and the Tenement Museum, which was originally one such building, has striven to recreate some of these immigrants’ apartments so visitors can get a feel for what it was like back then, as well as to preserve artifacts from and photos of family members who used to take up residence in the building. The Tenement Museum’s historical residents make up a range of backgrounds, but the Moore family hailed from Ireland, and moved into the building around 1869; you can visit their apartment and look at their knicknacks. They’ve also got a slew of rotating building and neighborhood tours, so you can get a sense of what the Lower East Side for Irish immigrants looking for work and community in a new world.

8. Irish Arts Center
553 51st Street at 11th Avenue, Hells Kitchen, Manhattan

Founded in the 1970s, the Irish Arts Center is a longtime institution dedicated to cultivating and celebrating Irish arts and culture in New York. The center hosts adult, family, and children’s classes with subjects ranging from Irish language, music, dance, and theatre arts. The center also holds performances by Irish musicians, singers, and actors. In addition to the 51st Street space, the IAC recently broke ground on a new 11th Avenue multidisciplinary center with performances facilities and classrooms, which is expected to be completed in 2020.

The Dead Rabbit, via Flickr cc

9. The Dead Rabbit
30 Water Street between Broad Street and Coenties Slip, Financial District, Manhattan

The Dead Rabbit is frequently ranked the best bar in the city—nay, the world— but it’s also a solid spot in town for an Irish meal. The bar is named after the infamous 19th-century Irish American street gang and is decorated to theme, with framed Irish whiskey ads and Irish flat caps hanging on the walls. Eats include Irish classics like lamb chops with mint jelly, bangers and mash, lamb stew, and shepherd’s pie, which you can wash down with an Irish coffee or one of their many, many bespoke crafted cocktails (made with Irish whiskey, of course).

10. An Beal Bocht Cafe

445 West 238th Street, Riverdale, The Bronx

The Bronx has long been home to a thriving Irish community, so it makes sense that Riverdale’s An Beal Bocht is one of the city’s best Irish cafes and music venues. The kitchy space is outfitted with vintage Irish ads and baked bean cans, which pair well with dishes like Irish toasties, beef stew, and bangers and mash. The cafe frequently hosts live Irish and contemporary music acts, in addition to a theatre company and visual artists.

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