2162 University Ave. W.
St Paul, MN 55114
WELL, THE GOOD NEWS is they fixed the popcorn machine, although whoever answered the phone when I called seemed to think it was some kind of "Is your refrigerator running?" or "Do you have Prince Albert in a can?" type of joke. But seriously: piping hot popcorn served from an old school popcorn machine can make even an average bar a destination. The Dubliner, however, is no average bar.
It began life as Ace Bar back in the day, and the giant neon Ace Bar sign still looms over the bar's interior, hanging above their incredibly fancily-pantsed dart machines. More on those later, but first, the bevs.
As any self-respecting Irish bar, the Dubliner sports your standards of Irish drinking: Guinness, Harp, Smithwick's, Jameson and all manner of Glen- whiskeys. Their black and tan (your choice of either Harp or Smithwick's) is superlative, the impact of the ale on the stout lightened by a spoon, and the shots are generous. I was in Chicago this past weekend, and there, a shot of Jameson is a shot and no more. Here, it's more like a shot and a half to a double. The real prizes though are Red Breast and Black Bush, which you might not have stumbled across during your average trip to the bar.
I was introduced to Red Breast here: it's a 12-year pot-stilled Irish whiskey which exhibits none of the punch-you-in-the-face qualities you might associate with Irish whiskey. It's best enjoyed the usual way: neat, or with a little water. Can't complain about it over ice, either. Black Bush-- well, that's Protestant whiskey, to quote Jimmy McNulty from "The Wire," so I don't truck in that. My co-conspirator Max assures me it's quality. It's made by Bushmill's, and is their high-end joint. I suppose if you're Orange, it's all right. They also have all the regular stuff for drinks as well as a few other things on tap, but let's face it: you're here for the Irish, right?
The darts are top notch, although pricey at $2 for two people to play a friendly game of cricket. The plastic dart heads are all in pretty decent shape (I've seen worse), but the highlightof the machines is the motion sensitive player switching gizmo on the front. None of that barbaric button-mashing here. When your turn's over, grab your darts and do your best Morpheus impression with an astounding martial arts display, finishing by nearly karate-chopping the button but stopping just short. Voila! Player 2 is up. Don't try this once you've had a few; you're likely to embarass yourself. Even more.
Irish music here happens on the regular, but I have to confess I don't know the exact schedule. Several times it's been a solo act, one guy playing acoustic guitar and some kind of super-mandolin. I'm guessing it's Irish. Here's where I explain that I'm not super-familiar with Irish music and its instruments. Sorry. One night, there was a duo, and the man in charge of the Irish drum proved quite proficient at not just barnyard animal noises, but also some sweet Irish dancing. He even threw in "The Worm" at the end.
And then there's the popcorn. Once you start, you won't be able to stop. It's salty and delicious and a perfect complement to a beer, and Max's theory is that it takes as many calories to chew it as it contains. Wishful thinking, Sparber. Regardless, I'm so glad they got that nifty little machine fixed. Now, if only I could get it up the stairs to my place ... (McPHERSON)