I step out of the airport and into the brisk island air, barely containing my excitement. Admittedly, I knew little about the country save for beers and rolling green hills.
Their menu is such an accurate representation of Irish cuisine; a true ode to the old country.
As we drove through the luscious green landscape, our only predetermined plans were fittingly to visit a brewery – the brewery. St James Gate.
St. James Gate, the location of the Guinness Brewery, is the most iconic location in Ireland’s capital city. Within my first few hours in Dublin I found myself touring the building and immersing myself in the beer’s history. Established in 1759, Guinness stands as one of the oldest breweries in the world. Arthur Guinness founded an empire, and it still thrives as a quintessential part of Irish culture.
I remember trying Guinness for the first time and detesting every single thing about it. The dark molasses colour. The bitter aftertaste of coffee. The hints of malt. I had no interest in drinking it ever again. Years later, I make an exception at its headquarters. Perhaps it was the Irish taps that did it, or feeling a close connection to Mr. Guinness himself, but my opinion was transformed.
It tasted magical. The heavy dark molasses colour smelled and tasted like coffee, now my essential morning wake up call. The creamy head, alone, I would happily drink a pint of. And the slight hints of dark chocolate: perfection. My opinions, and clearly my taste buds, had evolved. For the next two weeks in the country, my meals were always accompanied by my new favourite stout.
Fast forward to life back in Canada, and dealing with months of the treacherous cold, I find myself at the brewery’s namesake in Banff, Alberta. After two years of living in Banff, I’d never been to St. James Gate Olde Irish Pub before. But, as one of the few places in Banff that serves Guinness on tap, and with my travel blues on high alert, the stop was necessary. Walking in, I felt an overwhelming sense of nostalgia. The pub, built in 1996, was originally constructed in Ireland and shipped to Banff, where it stands today. Most of the furniture and fixtures were gathered in Ireland, and the classic wooden décor and reminiscent grandmother tiles only work to authenticate the experience.
With their extensive beer, wine, and cocktail menu and their daily food and drink specials, it was a wonder it took so long to try it. Their menu is such an accurate representation of Irish cuisine; a true ode to the old country. Whether you’re craving liver, bangers and mash, or the traditional fish and chips, St. James Gate has everything you need to complete the Irish experience. They even take a spin on the classic steak and kidney pie; the Guinness and mushrooms work as a great kidney substitute for tourists and picky Canadians.
I started my meal off with the familiar: a pint of Guinness, naturally. And ventured into the unfamiliar: Irish curry. Very similar to an Indian curry dish, although still enjoyable, it left me perplexed. What exactly made it Irish curry? When I prompted the manager about it, she simply laughed, “Well, it’s not exactly Irish per se, but Indian cuisine is a big part of British and Irish culture and we wanted to reflect that.” A slight clash with the very nationalistic atmosphere, but a tasty dish nonetheless. Get the Irish-ish curry, as well as all other Irish fare for $12 dollars on Thursdays.
The portion size was just large enough for me to opt out of dessert, but the menu offers some hard-to-say-no-to sticky toffee pudding, or of course, a pint of Guinness – actually listed for a second time in the dessert menu. As we began to wrap up our meal, I asked our waiter about the country’s rowdiest holiday that’s just around the corner.
He assured us that St. James Gate is the place “everyone will be,” the live music always drawing in a jam-packed crowd; especially on St. Patrick’s Day. The pub has organized multiple local bands to start at 1pm and play until the early morning. Small prizes and giveaways (expect t-shirts and green accessories) will be handed out intermittently. Relish in the festivities with those celebrating their heritage, and all the others pretending to be Irish for the day. And definitely, definitely don’t forget to indulge in a pint of Guinness (or two or three); you’ll be one of 13 million enjoying the brew that day.