Just last week, as 2017 was finally on its deathbed, we decided to hold a wake for the soon to be corpse. It was either that or drive a wooden stake through its heart.
And where better to have it than Griffins of Kinsale, an Irish pub on Mission Street in South Pasadena with a menu full of Emerald Isle favorites like lamb stew ($16) and shepherds Pie ($15), 20-ounce imperial pints of Guinness, Harp, Smithwick’s and Kilkenny (Lagunitas for America-firsters) and Magners hard cider for only $7. For mourners anxious to drown their sorrow even more thoroughly, Griffins’ full bar offers $6 well drinks and premium liquors including drams of Jameson Irish Whiskey for a wee bit more.
So, you might want to know, what do griffins have to do with Kinsale? And, what the hell are griffins anyhow, or Kinsale, for that matter? Of course, Harry Potter fans might know about griffins from Gryffindor, Harry’s house at Hogwarts. However, the Gryffindor crest includes a mere male lion which, although fierce, misses the impact of the true griffin’s appearance: rear half lion, front half eagle, with fierce claws and talons.
The female version, supposedly adopted as a symbol on the ancient arms of the early Griffins of County Clare, is winged. And it is a beast of this gender that is displayed on the sail of the boat that serves as the logo of the pub. Kinsale is a port city in County Cork. And, since the name of the pub’s founder is Joe Griffin, I’m guessing that he and/or his forebears are the Griffins of Kinsale commemorated in the pub’s name.
The griffin symbolizes both courage and intelligence and it’s obvious that Joe Griffin possesses both. Five years ago he opened his pub with an eye to an unfilled niche in the greater Pasadena area. Fewer and fewer of us remember Peter Monahan’s Irish Pub on South Lake Avenue, one of Pasadena’s greatest watering holes and meeting spots. Griffin’s of Kinsale is a perfect successor. As the website states:
“It is a gathering place rich with substance and the hum of busy conversation, a breeding ground for talent, a hub for people to come in contact with each other … a launching pad for local musicians and artists, a sounding board for writers. The menu goes hand in hand with the ambience of the pub, having traditional Irish fare that is heartfelt and real. In short, Joe’s pub is dedicated to the public it serves.”
So, as I thought, a perfect place for a good wake, especially on the Wednesday before the Old Year’s welcome demise. That’s because on Wednesdays, the drink and food that must be had for a proper wake are accompanied from 8 p.m. on with traditional Irish music. To make sure we got a good table, we arrived a little after 7, but it was too late. Almost every seat in the house was already taken. We managed to squeeze ourselves onto hard chairs on one side of a small round table across from the ornate bar which fortuitously, aside from the stress on my tush, turned out to be perfect once the music started.
Despite the large crowd, our servers were friendly and attentive. Our first pints arrived within a minute or two of ordering, just as we were beginning a nice chat with the occupants of the adjacent table. Of course, the conversation was contemporary — they were checking out a YouTube video of a cat nursing a litter of hedgehogs (so sweet!) and shared it with us. The room was noisy, but it was a friendly, neighborly noise.
Our burger (with cheese and bacon, served with good skin-on wedges of baked Idaho potatoes for $10) and smoked salmon boxty ($18 for three crispy potato pancakes topped with sour cream, rosettes of smoked salmon and a sprinkling of chives — you’d think it was a Hanukkah special! — flanked by sautéed green beans and sautéed carrot strips) also came promptly, along with replacement pints. Lovely!
Before the music started up, we ordered yet another entrée to share — a trio of sliders for $10: corned beef, smoked salmon and BLT. The bacon was freshly cooked and warm, the irregular slices of hot corned beef were obviously freshly cut from a brisket prepared for Griffin’s corned beef and cabbage platter ($17). There was plenty of mustard on the beef and mayo on all three, plus another side of wedges. As we finished our meal, the entertainment began to take shape.
About 10 or 11 musicians had wandered in with their instruments (fiddles, accordions, guitars) just before 8 and took seats in a circle around several mics and iPads with musical scores. The coordinators turned out to be The Dropkick Mickeys! (Michael Kelly and Padraic Conroy), a semi-itinerant duo who are booked to appear at Griffins’ every Wednesday through 2018 to run their Celtic ceili, explained by Michael on his website as “a mash up of a traditional Irish session and sing along.”
It was even more than that. Not only instrumentalists and singers (including me when they got around to Wild Mountain Thyme — actually Scottish, but I was well into my third pint and happily accepting the appropriateness of all things Celt), but two wee lasses and one not so wee one stepdancing their way through the central aisle of the pub to the strains of various reels. Like fairies, they flitted back and forth enchanting the viewers, including us, and amazingly avoiding the laden servers.
Our wake was originally planned to be a somber and dark affair at which we would bid good riddance to a year that dashed our hopes and dreams for a better, kinder and more progressive America. I envisioned our evening as one in which consumption of alcohol would gradually blur the worst of what has occurred and blunt our anger and sense of loss, at least for the night as we saturated ourselves with whiskey and listened to hauntingly sad songs like “Danny Boy,” “Carrickfergus” and “She Moved Through the Fair.”
But it was not to be. Good food, fine beer, happy patrons and excellent entertainment made mourning impossible. Like the Finnegan of the ballad at his own wake, we were brought back to life by the festive atmosphere. With such joy to be had so close to home, a glimmer of hope that 2018 might turn out to be a bit better than we expect returned.
We ordered a final round of Kilkenny for him and Magners for me, toasted the end of our “annus horibilis” as Queenie E2 once put it, and left grateful for Griffins of Kinsale and the promise of a Wednesday ceili whenever we (or you) need cheering up.
As Griffins’ menu states: Céad Míle Fáilte (a hundred thousand welcomes). And best wishes for a happy, healthy New Year.
Griffins of Kinsale
1007 Mission St., South Pasadena | (626) 799-0926
griffinsofkinsale.com | Full Bar/Major Cards