Stumbling out of a movie at Tinsel Town hungry, we walked downtown for a quick bite and a pint. We travelled past the lone public washroom stall of Hastings; and past the Gastown clock as it blew smoke and chimed for 9pm. We could not find that perfect place to eat. So we ended our journey at the “Blarney Stone”, a classic pub done with a greater emphasis on its Irish tendencies. I have not been back here since Halloween pub crawl 2006. But now was lured in by the prospect of $4 pints of Bud. (Context, it is my BFF’s favourite brand of beer. And I can’t tell you why.)
Walking in on a Wednesday evening we had our pick of the place. We scurried past the bar hosting only lone, older men. But found a need to stop and gawk over, what had to be the largest projector screen I have ever seen. It was pulled down, over the stage and band equipment. On it, the Boston verses Pittsburg playoff game. We did not pay any attention to it, despite taking a seat adjacent. It’s Canucks or nothing. We also considered being brats and choosing to sit in either of the set of recliners in front of the stage. There, we would be facing the hockey viewers and obstructing their view with our eating an drinking. An awkward position for seats.
The Irish-ness of the “Blarney Stone” was present in the large, back lit Guinness sign; and a tap or two of the darker brew at both the island bar, and the one to the side. Budweiser showed their support for the greens, with their brand name centered in a clover shaped neon sign. What I was most impressed with was, the over head chalk board that spanned as wide as the entire bar. On it was a list of 100 shooters, presented by a red haired leprechaun. Shots with fun names that I would order just to be able to say them out loud. “Dirty hooker”, “Kiss me I’m Irish”, and “Poo Berry”.
On busier nights the upper deck seating is available; And booths located at the back allows ample bodies to be accommodated. Just the thing for a busy weekend. I can definitely see having a larger group gather under this roof to celebrate an event. Then, the space below the stage can be converted into a dance floor.
Taking a closer look at the set up of the “Blarney Stone”, as I walked upstairs to “break the seal”; it reminded me of a castle. Stone arches lined the upper balcony. And banners that dawned family crests hung from them. The banners depicted proud lions, sharp swords, and shining crowns. And the purple velvet “Crown Royal” throne sealed the “castle” theory.
We were impressed with the beers that landed minutes after we had sat down. These Budwisers were true pints, not just a sleeve disguised as one. The steins were heavy, with a thick rim to wrap your lips around. (That came out dirty sounding.) You felt strong and manly gripping it. (That also came out dirty…)
When I choose a pub for dinner, I go in apprehensively. I order one dish at a time and have the first be a guide for the ones to follow. And always I go in with a lowered expectation, one that does not translate from any of my fine dining experiences.
The “Mac & Cheese Sticks” spoke to us. Macaroni and cheese is an easy win. So when you deep fry them into easy to eat, finger food form; it is a no brain recipe for success. Each bite was a rich with a medley of cheeses: Dublin cheddar, mozzarella, gruyere, and Parmesan. And it broke off into a wonderfully breaded mouthful.
Sold over how great our first dish was, we went a little more ambitious and ordered the “Lamb bites”. Truthfully, I wanted to see how they represented their Irish inspired dishes. The menu promised a well seasoned and tenderly marinated piece of lamb. What we received was the the complete opposite. The waft of pungent gamey-ness announced the arrival of our next dish. Each bite was a chewy morsel, that kept going. It was tough and an insult to all the other great lamb dishes I have had in the past. We tried to finish our plate, not wanting to let it go to waste. But our server came by to ask us how it was. We honestly expressed to her all of the above negatives. She immediately got her manager. We were a little confused, as we did not ask for anything to come of our truth telling. But were delighted when the manager heard our issues and offered to take the lamb off our bill. He then allowed us to choose something else in its place. I was absolutely surprised over this level of service at a bar. Clearly the”Blarney Stone” has a policy on customer satisfaction; and it was nice to be able to see it enforced first hand.
As its replacement, we ordered a pound of honey garlic wings. After a 15 minute wait it arrived. And little did we know that the burnt smell coming from the kitchen earlier was our plate approaching the serving window. Just looking at it you could tell exactly how bad this would taste. Ends charred, meat dried, seasonings tasteless, and bites that would stick awkwardly to the back of your teeth. We choose honey garlic in hopes of having a thick and saucy wing to munch on, we were disappointed. We use to think that wings were a safe bet at any pub, but after tonight we have withdrawn this sentiment. This negative experience would have been avoided had the wings been tossed a little. By the taste of things, a brush was quickly taken over each prices with a gentle swash.
Mid way through our rough gnawing, our server and the floor manager came over to check on our satisfaction, over the replacement order. We lied through our teeth, and through pieces of the dried chicken stuck in them. We didn’t want to cause any more problems, we already had the lamb taken off the bill, and now the chicken wings were on the house. The front of house did the best they could, and the outcome of the food is not under their control, so they are not to blame. Though I strongly suggest a second look at the kitchen staff employed.
Like the food, pub service is leagues off of anything you would find at any sit down establishment. Here expect lengthy waits; and pretty servers who wander the room with a hardness, acquired from nights spent dealing with drunken customers and advances not wanted. Though with the above in mind I would question the flirting for tips and short plaid, school girl skirts. Our server was cold and stone faced. She would multitask, talking our request then checking in on the table next to us, before proceeding to fulfill our request. As a result two glasses of water made its way to our table 10 minutes after the third request for them was made.
As a side note, a salad accidentally made its way to our table. Who orders a salad at a bar?What beer partners well with greens? If you are watching what you eat, why dine at a bar? All questions that should not arise at an Irish, meat and potato, and Guinness bar.
Would I go back? – No. By chance I came back tonight, after 7 years of not even considering it. There was nothing present tonight to ever drive me to return. But I was intrigued at the Irish menu option and considered ordering authentic Irish dishes like their stews and “colcannon”, a Irish staple made with mashed potatoes, kale, cream, and butter. But after the disasters in classic and easy pub fare, I am sure I would be have only been disappointed. Though in the greater scheme of things, if you have enough booze in you everything is and tastes great. Maybe that is the way to go. Drink drunk before you decide on what to order.
Would I recommend it? No. The tap poured beers common to any pub or casual restaurant along the streets of Gastown. The wings were the worst I have ever had. And it was all below average at best. You would be better off picking up a six pack and a frozen dinner; and heading to your couch instead of a barstool here.
216 Carral St, Vancouver BC, V6B 2J1