The Wal-Marts of nightlife

It's hard not to experience deja vu when exploring a new drinking establishment in the Rogue Valley these days.

Faux Irish pubs have multiplied like Gremlins over the past year. They've become the after-hours equivalent of Home Depots. Turn your back and suddenly another one has popped up.

Let's see, in the past eight or so months we've been introduced to the 4 Daughters Irish Pub and Shenanigan's Irish Pub in Medford and recently Paddy Brannan's Irish Pub in Ashland.

They join O'Ryan's Irish Pub in Ashland (or the I-pub for those in the know), but that establishment seems to have dropped any and all pretenses of Irish pubness to take on the mantle of locals-only hangout. Which is why it maintains a special place in my heart.

I'm not opposed to faux Irish pubs per se, though with any fad one feels the need to rebel against the brand, a factor that should always be addressed in any business plan predicated on bandwagon jumping.

I hope all these new businesses succeed. I really do. But also I hope they are the last of the faux Irish pubs we'll see round these parts.

An interesting Slate article by Austin Kelley traces the faux Irish pub craze to 1991, when the Irish Pub Company "formed with a mission to populate the world with authentic Irish bars."

The company drew on familiar symbols of all things stereotypically Irish — timber beams, Guinness, Gaelic elevator music tempered with the Pogues, bland food, etc. — that would make going out a "cultural event." And we know how Americans comport themselves at special events: We tend to drink a helluva lot more.

It's all centered around the St. Patrick's Day phenomenon, a holiday that has risen in popularity with the bars that celebrate it like Christmas.

Here's the thing: St. Patrick's Day in Ireland isn't all that big a deal.

"You see, back in the day Irishmen used to see signs in store windows saying 'No blacks or Irish allowed,' so we had to make ourselves more likable in America," said my old friend John Dahlky, a second-generation Irish from Chicago's South Side. "So we trumped up St. Paddy's Day to include the natives. All was forgiven."

Dahlky's tongue was firmly planted in his cheek when he told me this, but the point is well taken.

Most of Dahlky's family remains just outside Dublin, where he stands to inherit a farm sometime in the near future. He visited the old country on numerous occasions during St. Paddy's Day.

"It's laid back," he said. "Most of the pubs close at 11 anyway, so no one stays out too late."

The Irish government has only recently cashed in on St. Paddy's Day. Guinness sponsors events throughout the country during the St. Patrick's Day season to bring in valuable tourist dollars, according to Kelley's article.

It seems the faux Irish pubs across the pond have hatched a similar cynical ploy to encourage over-the-top drinking among local wannabes. Hey, when in Rome, eh?

I can't help but be bothered by the cultural stereotypes therein.

But what gets to me more is the laziness seeping into the late-night scene.

I spend all day in a fluorescent-lit cubicle and shop at box stores that adhere to the same floor plan no matter where you are. But I can deal with that.

After work is my time to relax with a pint and a bit of good conversation before heading to bed. I tend to favor water holes with their own flavor and atmosphere.

I can't see myself frequenting more than one faux Irish pub per week. Going out would suddenly become like a trip to Wal-Mart.

Besides, there are plenty of other cultures' drinking habits we can exploit. Why not open a Greek-themed bar, a Kenyon Pub or a faux Russian joint?

The possibilities are endless.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471, or e-mail

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