Hidden Gems: How to Avoid the Crowds on St. Patrick’s Day

You won't be able to get into the most popular Irish pubs this weekend. Try these instead.

Welcome to Hidden Gems, where local food blogger Marc Hurwitz (of Hidden Boston and Boston Restaurant Talk) spotlights off-the-beaten-path, under-the-radar restaurants.

MHtavernattheendoftheworldPhoto courtesy of Tavern at the End of the World

Here comes St. Patrick’s Day, and as always, you can expect Irish pubs in and around Boston to be packed with folks looking to eat fish and chips or shepherd’s pie, drink a pint or five of Guinness or Smithwick’s (pronounced “Smiddicks,” by the way), and listen to some good music. The problem is that it can be nearly impossible to get into some of the more popular Irish pubs—especially with St. Patrick’s Day being on the weekend this year—and once you do, it can be rather noisy and uncomfortable. So what are some under-the-radar pubs to check out in the Boston area? Four such places can be found ahead.

Many people have probably heard of the now-closed Tavern on the Water in Charlestown, but there is also a place on the other end of the neighborhood called Tavern at the End of the World, and the spot  is so little-known that some people who go there don’t even know it is in Charlestown (more than a few folks swear that it is in Somerville, which is a stone’s throw west of the pub). Tavern at the End of the World looks a bit like a dive bar from the outside, but the interior has some classic Irish pub touches, including plenty of dark wood, dim lighting, a wooden floor, and various posters and signs on the walls. The toasties are very good here, as are the fish and chips and shepherd’s pie, and entertainment runs from Irish music to alt-country to comedy shows and more.

Many Irish pubs can get rather loud and (at times) out of control, but if you look hard enough, you can find some that are a bit more serene, including O’Leary’s near the Brookline/Boston line. Even though it is on busy Beacon Street a few blocks down from the often-hectic Coolidge Corner, this eating and drinking establishment is usually a very mellow spot that focuses more on dining and less on drinking and entertainment. And this is one of those places where it seems perfectly fine to eat at the bar, though there are plenty of tables for dining as well, with highlights including a hearty Guinness beef stew and a terrific broiled haddock. Although it is more of a place to eat (ok, and drink), O’Leary’s does feature some live music, including traditional Irish seisuns.

If you like *really* hidden gems and don’t mind a night out at a place that is about the size of a walk-in closet, the Hillside Pub in Canton may be your place. Located in a rather odd setting between a couple of gas stations and the Route 128/138 intersection, this watering hole is not the type of place you find on your own, as it almost looks like a storage shed or a private residence—or perhaps a building that is part of one of the gas stations. The Hillside Pub is popular with Irish immigrants who live in the southern suburbs of Boston, along with workers from nearby office buildings and even hikers who have finished up their walks in the adjacent Blue Hills reservation.  Expect such items as beef and barley soup, steak tips, bar-style pizza (this place is south of Boston, after all), and burgers, and if you like scotch and whiskey, the bar has an array of options available.

One of the most authentic-feeling pubs in the Boston area has to be James’s Gate, which is an easy-to-miss spot on McBride Street (at South Street) just outside of the heart of Jamaica Plain. Its dining area is comfortable and pleasant enough, but the bar section is the real deal if you like a lot of atmosphere, with a barn-like feel, worn-looking dark wood everywhere, and a roaring fireplace during the colder months.  The restaurant menu at James’s gate borders on New American fare, with pork chops, duck breast, lamb, and mushroom ravioli offered, while the pub area features all the classics, including chips and curry, toasties, fish sandwiches, mussels, and bangers and mash. And for those who like to dine al fresco, the place also has an outdoor seating area.