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Bar necessities: Finn McCool’s Irish Pub

(Jesse Wang/Daily Bruin)

By Erin Nyren

Sept. 27, 2016 10:17 p.m.

Westwood’s bars, or lack thereof, can easily grow old for thirsty college students in search of a taproom suited to their tastes. Daily Bruin senior staffers Erin Nyren and William Thorne embark on a bar-sampling journey to uncover the best watering holes in Los Angeles. Over the next 10 weeks, follow along as they review bars with different styles.

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Will: “I’m really glad we’re getting an Irish pub out of the way right off the bat.”

Erin: “Oh yeah, why?”

Will: “Well, even though I’m from the UK, I haven’t really been to many Irish pubs. I usually just go to English pubs and obviously we don’t call them English pubs there, we just call them pubs. I’m wondering what sort of Irish pub this will be.”

——

Irish pubs tend to fall into one of two categories: either they’re gaudy, over-the-top and festooned with shamrocks and leprechauns, or they’re pleasant and homey with comfy chairs and good brews. Thankfully, Finn McCool’s turned out to be the latter.

I noticed the bar a few times when I walked around downtown Santa Monica. The old-fashioned gold letters on the windows spelling out events such as arm-wrestling caught my eye. I’m not a heavy drinker, but I enjoy trying new places and drinks and I’m always game to go out with friends.

Music from a live band wafted out the door as we entered. Centered around a towering but not intimidating wall of dark bottles, the bar counter was in the middle of the spacious pub. Seating ran 360 degrees around the bar. It makes an excellent casual date spot because of its extensive food menu, which features shepherd’s pie, many sandwiches and typical bar food like wings and potato skins.

The lighting was perfect – soft yet not dark enough to hide your drinking buddy. Tasteful green and gold Celtic designs along with kitschy farm implements, like trowels and old-fashioned irons, adorned the walls.

We each ordered a Car Bomb to start out – a specialty of the bar that we read about on the online menu but wasn’t listed on the menus we were given. The drink was made from a half pint of Guinness with Bushmills’ Irish whiskey and a shot of Bailey’s Irish Cream. As someone who intends to try as many different types of alcohol as possible (everything once, right?), I was excited to try Guinness and Bailey’s, both of which I’d never had before. The shot is served separately and we dropped them into our glasses somewhat fearfully, not sure if we were doing the right thing. I loved the taste of the drink – the Bailey’s gave the Guinness a perfect pinch of sweetness.

Will was dismayed by the coagulation that formed on the surface from the cream and the beer foam. Maybe we were supposed to down the concoction, but the glass filled to a whole pint when we dropped in the shot glass like a sake bomb. And drinking a whole pint of foreign liquid in one go seemed like strange way to start the night.

[Related: Columnist Ashley Jakubczyk on ‘Mixology: Specialty cocktails’]

About halfway through our drinks, we noticed the band was playing a series of covers, Simon and Garfunkel and the Beatles. I could have easily seen myself singing along with a drunken crowd – if only there had been more people in the bar.

We were a little puzzled why Finn McCool’s was so empty: we stayed until around 1:30 a.m. and only a few small groups trotted in. Perhaps Thursday is only a going-out night on college campuses. We resolved to reserve Friday nights for the rest of our expeditions.

Finn McCool’s not the type of bar you’d be likely to find many college students or pickup artists at. It’s intimate to the point that it’s more suited to a relaxed night with a good group of friends and a couple of rounds than a wild night out on the town.

We continued the libations with a Black Wednesday for me (a mixture of Larceny bourbon and black cherry soda) and an Irish Mule (whiskey, ginger beer and lime juice) for Will. I’m usually not able to notice a difference between whiskey brands, but the Larceny stood out, delicious and velvety.

We also ordered a plate of chicken tenders, which I, a great lover of chicken tenders and therefore an excellent judge, deem some of the best I’ve ever had. Piping hot fresh chicken, thin and crunchy batter and just a smidge of grease, served with honey and ranch dipping sauces, prevented us from getting too hammered. We finished the night with a pint of Guinness each, foamy and characteristically smooth and black.

Although we ended up with a tab somewhat higher than we would have wished (I’m setting a budget next time), we were still pleased with the individual prices — only $10 for a cocktail and $7 for a pint. McCool’s is less expensive than other bars in downtown Los Angeles or Santa Monica, and the unique drinks and relaxed atmosphere make it a good bet for anyone.

 

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