Imagine how much more interesting Obama's visit would have been if he had done a double-take on being told what his pint cost. I don't know what they charge in Ollie Hayes's pub in Moneygall, but probably around €4 ($5.75) a pint. The last pint I had in Dublin I paid €4.35 ($6.25) for it.
Last week I found myself in a bar on Broadway in the Bronx with a few friends. I ordered three pints and did a quick calculation in my head. I figured the pints would be around $8 each and had $25 in my hand.
I couldn't believe it when the bartender asked for $12. I actually said, "No, I'm paying for all three." She confirmed that $12 was the right price, that the pints were $4 each (€2.80).
It was a Happy Hour special, she explained, the regular price for a pint of Guinness is $5. That's not quite €3.50. I doubt you can find a pint of Guinness for €3.50 anywhere in Ireland.
How can this be? I've often acknowledged that the taste of Guinness is better here, suggesting that it doesn't travel well. No matter how it's traveling it cannot be traveling more cheaply to the Bronx than it is to Dublin's pubs.
Every week or so there are articles in the newspapers about how the pubs are struggling to make ends meet. There are all sorts of reasons pubs are having trouble surviving, but I doubt an excessive profit margin is one of the problems. I doubt they're taking a significantly bigger share on a pint than are their Bronx counter-parts.
That leaves only the taxes. The tax on a pint of Guinness must be far greater here than it is in New York. I suppose it's not entirely a bad thing - there are definitely too many people here who drink too much.
However the government promotes the pub as an essential aspect of our tourism offering. If the pub was not so important we would not have seen President Obama having a pint in one.
So if the government wants pubs to - at a minimum - be profitable concerns, to be open for tourists who have heard about the good times a pub can provide, surely they should do what they can to ensure that the price of a pint of Guinness is not higher in Dublin than it is 3,000 miles from here.
The price of a pint of Guinness is an easy to compare cost. Every tourist who pays more for one here than he does in New York or Boston or Chicago (maybe even at the President's local) will be struck by a simple thought: "Ireland is expensive." That's counter-productive.
There may be ten reasons why Guinness tastes better in Ireland than elsewhere, but the price sure ain't one of them. We have to fix that so that tourists can enjoy the excellent taste without the bitter aftertaste of knowing they overpaid for that pint.