We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
Here in the States, a great Irish bar requires several elements: old people, children, roadside signs that appear to be stolen from the Republic, several kinds of Irish whiskey, Guinness properly poured, a decent spud served without pretense next to a respectable burger, a TV big enough for both football and fútbol, and a few regulars with accents. If some of those regulars show up with their instruments for a weekly session—as they do at Nanny O’Briens every Monday night—well, hell, that’s as authentic as you’ll find on this side of the pond. Nanny’s in Cleveland Park has long been the Irish anchor of D.C. It’s not dotted with shamrocks or trying too hard to be the second coming of James Joyce. Its simple pub menu features a fair fish and chips (batter includes Harp), a solid Guinness stew, and decent, if not-exactly-Irish, veggie burgers and perfectly seasoned chicken fingers. The Lyons and Gaffney families owned the place for nearly 15 years but sold it last year to the Bedrock Companies (a drinking empire that includes Atomic Billiards and Aroma on the same Connecticut Avenue strip as well as James Mackey’s Public Houses in D.C. and Crystal City, and others). The new owners spruced up the place, but little has suffered in the changeover. Brian Gaffney, the County Kerry native who managed the place for years, still shows up with his guitar. Some of the old employees stuck around, as did the locals who frequent the place. “We really tried to maintain what the Lyons family built,” says manager Dayna Heater, who’s kept the Irish acts but added some bluegrass, which tends to pack the place. “It’s not Irish,” she says. “But it’s fun.”