When Shelia Handel lost her way in downtown New York last Saturday afternoon, she stumbled into an Irish bar to ask for directions.
Like many New Yorkers, the unfamiliar street names of the Financial District left her confused as she searched for her final destination.
“An Irish man took me by the hand and told me how to get there,” she told the Irish Voice. This, Handel says, is why she loves the Irish spirit and tradition.
Handel, who lives in New Jersey, soon found her way to O’Hara’s Irish Bar where she joined a group of 19 people for the Downtown Alliance’s Irish food tour of Lower Manhattan.
A novel way to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, the tour took in five Irish locations in the neighborhood, sampling different Irish food and drink in every bar.
O’Hara’s on Cedar Street was the first stop, and co-owner Mike Keane said he was delighted to kick off the festivities.
“It’s nice to be involved and to see everyone out having a couple of beers and relaxing,” he said.
O’Hara’s, which opened in 1983, is just two blocks from the site of Ground Zero.
“It was a little rough after 9-11, we were closed for six months and then it was just to get re-established again, but everybody has been good about supporting us,” Keane told the Irish Voice.
Mark Victors looked dapper, and the Princeton, New Jersey resident arrived early for the event. With a striped green tie he said he was warming up for St. Patrick’s Day. “I’m holding off my green cufflinks for Thursday,” he said.
Despite not having any Irish lineage, Victors was eager to explore traditional Irish food.
“My business partner suggested the tour. I’m completely unfamiliar with it and I wanted to see what kind of cuisine it would be,” he said, adding,
“I’m expecting something more than bangers and mash!”
Liz Young, the tour guide for the day, was dressed in festive green colors for the event as she addressed the gathered crowd. Detailing a brief history of Irish cuisine, she spoke about Ireland’s long tradition of emigration to the U.S. and how an overdependence on the potato crop caused the worst famine in Irish history.
“We are trying to highlight the Irish American cuisine which is so prevalent here in New York City,” she told the Irish Voice.
Young, a seasoned expert in all things culinary, says that colcannon has to be her favorite traditional Irish dish.
As she informed the crowd about the origins of Irish food, the first helping of Irish cuisine was dished out to revelers as miniature plates of corned beef and cabbage emerged from the kitchen.
Washing it down with a helping of Guinness, Keane took to the floor and explained the merits of a good pint of stout.
“We go through a lot of Guinness here,” he told the assembled group, explaining that their use of a nitrogen mix makes O’Hara’s Guinness taste superb.
At the second location on the tour, the Bailey Pub and Brasserie, Brenda Bedeau, originally from the Caribbean, says she was interested in exploring a different type of cuisine.
“I love to cook. I like learning from different cultures so that I can take from that and apply it to my style of cooking. I am from the Caribbean so for me it’s always interesting,” she told the Irish Voice.
As the assembled group tucked into their traditional fish and chips, they listened to Bailey’s proprietor and chef Donal Crosbie explain how his career took him from humble beginnings in Ireland to co-owning multiple restaurants in New York City.
Leslie Benitez said she recalled her mother often cooking corned beef and cabbage when she was a child, something she now does for her own children.
“I always add crushed red pepper to my corned beef and cabbage, and I like to add some spices to it to jazz it up,” she says.
Walking from one location to the next, Colum Sheehan, who is currently doing genealogy work on his Irish roots, said was he was eager to explore the food of his ancestors.
“The corned beef was delicious,” he told the Irish Voice, revealing his favorite dish of the day.
The tour continued taking in the sights and tastes of lower Manhattan sampling shepherd’s pie and Jameson in the Killarney Rose. Ulysses Folk House offered oysters and Guinness, and revelers finished their Irish food tour in Stone Street’s Dubliner bar where they ate their fill of beef stew, Irish toasties and even some Miwadi squash.