Irish pub owners say it's all about the vibe, not the decorations

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter



St. Patrick's Day Irish pub entertainment

Dublin Down Irish Pub

813 Main St., 360-695-6712; Dublin Down on Facebook

Friday, March 14:

• 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. live music, CoLoSo headlining.

• 9 p.m. Vancouver Firefighters Pipes & Drums.

• 11 p.m. An Daire Irish Dancers.

Saturday, March 15:

• 8 p.m. Fort Vancouver Pipe Band.

• 9 p.m. to close, live music, Finn Doxie headlining.

• 11 p.m. An Daire Irish Dancers.

Monday, March 17:

• 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. live music, Finn Doxie headlining.

• 8 p.m. Vancouver Firefighters Pipes & Drums.

• 10 p.m. Fort Vancouver Pipe Band.

• 11 p.m. An Daire Irish Dancers.

Shanahan's Pub & Grill

209 W. McLoughlin Blvd., 360-735-1440;

Friday, March 14:

• 8 p.m. Vancouver Firefighters Pipes & Drums, followed by a Guinness promotion to raise money for firefighters.

Saturday, March 15:

• 8 p.m. Vancouver Firefighters Pipes & Drums, followed by an Irish caberet Show.

Monday, March 17:

• 2:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. Vancouver Firefighters Pipes & Drums.n 7 p.m. Fort Vancouver Pipe Band.

Irishtown Public House

11600 S.E. Mill Plain Blvd, Suite F., 360-253-1479;

Friday, March 14:

• 7 p.m. live music, A Fine Mess Celtic Band.

• 8 p.m. Molly Malone Irish Dancers.

• 9 p.m. Beltaine Celtic Rock Band.

Saturday, March 15:

• 7 p.m. live music, A Fine Mess Celtic Band.

• 9:15 p.m. Molly Malone Irish Dancers.

• 10 p.m. New Shilling Irish Band.

Monday, March 17:

• noon live music, A Fine Mess Celtic Band.

• 2:15 p.m. Beltaine Irish Band.

• 4 p.m. Molly Malone Irish Dancers.

• 4:30 p.m Fort Vancouver Pipe Band.

• 5 p.m. A Fine Mess Celtic Band.

• 6:30 Balladeer Tom May.

• 8 p.m. Molly Malone Irish Dancers.

• 9 p.m. New Shilling Irish Band.

A true Irish pub isn't just a room decorated with plastic Guinness signs, faux old wood and assortment of odd cultural knickknacks.

A true Irish pub is about community.

So say the owners of Vancouver's three main Irish watering holes, as each prepares for the multi-day St. Patrick's celebration of all-things Emerald Isle.

"People expect that you're going to have all this Irish stuff all over the bar, but we don't have space for that," said Breda Yeates, who owns Irishtown Public House with her husband, Pete. "For us, it's all about hospitality. My husband is always out there, greeting people, talking to people. He's the face of Irishtown."

The couple know firsthand what real Irish pubs are like — they both grew up in Ireland.

"In Ireland, the pub is a cultural thing, and there are definitely variations of Irish pubs," she said. "In the cities, they're like select lounges, without much entertainment. In the country towns, you'll find a lot of Irish music, and they have ceili dancing, which is a type where everybody can participate."

In Ireland, public houses have traditionally been places where people gather to talk, eat, and share small-town news. They also sometimes serve multiple purposes and are used as post offices or mortuaries, of all things.

St. Patrick's Day is also a bit different in Ireland. It's actually a somber religious holiday with a big meal and focus on family.

"It's a holy day, and the pubs always were closed," Yeates said of her youth living near Dublin. "Although I'm not sure that still stands today."

Breda and Pete Yeates moved to Vancouver from Dublin in 1971. Besides running the pub, Pete is a musician and Breda teaches Celtic dance.

Irishtown isn't so traditional that it closes on St. Patrick's Day, but it will offer a lot of hearty Irish food like corned beef and cabbage, bangers and mash, and shepherd's pie in honor of the day. There's also a $10 cover for the Monday festivities, mostly because it thins out the crowd a bit, Breda said.

"If we didn't have a cover, we'd have to turn people away, it gets so packed," she said. "The cover charge controls the crowd."

Vancouver's other two big Irish pubs also have a more authentic feel than what some international companies actually sell as an "Irish pub in a box."

"They send you all these signs, things that look old but are made of plastic, and they'll even set it up for you," said Brandon Smith, owner of Dublin Down Irish Pub. "But an Irish pub isn't about what you have decorating the place, it's the feel you have in the bar."

Dublin Down has supported local soccer and rugby teams and let the community do most of the decorating. It has the usual array of Irish food and drink, but Smith -- who isn't Irish -- said his real goal in creating the downtown Irish pub was to make a neighborhood gathering spot.

"I don't know if this is printable," Smith said. "I really opened specifically because I wanted to get a shot of good Irish whiskey and a Guinness at a place with a sense of community, warmth and laughter. It's more about a vibe."

Dublin Down will also have a host of Irish entertainment for the holiday weekend, with several pipe and drum performances and Celtic dancers.

There's no cover charge for the festivities and along with other Irish fare the pub will have a corned beef and cabbage special all weekend, Smith said.

Shanahan's Pub & Grill, the city's third big Irish pub, is also planning a big weekend with pipe and drum bands, Irish cabaret and a fundraising event for local firefighters.

Dave Cookson, the owner, also isn't Irish. He inherited the pub's Irish sounding name when he bought the place several years ago. He's embraced the Irish theme, but he also thinks the cultural neighborhood bar feel is the most important aspect of his pub.

"We get pretty much everyone in here," Cookson said. "It's a traditional pub, or public house. It's a place for people to meet and get together. You'll see local politicians, business people, families and neighbors all popping in here."

The pub also doesn't have a cover charge and is planning a big corned beef and cabbage dinner on St. Patrick's Day, along with other food and entertainment.

It's interesting that Vancouver's three big Irish bars don't succumb to the stereotype "Irish pub in a box" model, but rather are more like the real thing -- and it's a refreshing taste of home, even if the pubs do stay open and encourage people to come out to celebrate on St. Patrick's Day, Yeates said.

"My husband and I, we really don't get the green beer thing," she said. "That's an American invention, not an Irish thing. In the first few years we were here, it was a little different being open for the holiday, but now it's a tradition. It's ours, and we share it."