We stepped into Martine’s in Galway, Ireland, looking for a cozy place to have dinner. It was our fifth night of our honeymoon and we’d covered the width of the island, hiked the Cliffs of Moher, and begun our quest for the best Old Fashioned in the country. There weren’t any seats immediately available so we took two stools at the bar. The young bartender, Joe, launched into a description of the latest special, something with rum and fresh mango, but I stopped him and said, “How do you feel about your Old Fashioned?”
He stopped short and grinned. “Now, that’s a good cocktail. Let me make one for you. Any preferences on whiskey?” We told him to make it the way he liked to which made him even happier. As he moved around the bar, he told us that this drink had a special place in his heart as it was the first one he, “had got right, ya know?” He took extra care in stirring the drink, tasted it with a stopper, and stirred some more. “Some people don’t take the right care in making this one. It really needs a few extra moments of love and stirring to make it sing.”
He set it in front of us and we took a sip. It was a good one, for sure, a darker whiskey with perfect cherry taste just at the back of it.
“So what’s the interest in Old Fashioneds?” he asked us. “Oh, it’s just a fun game we’re playing to find our favorite.” “Not for a blog or anything?” Nope, we said, though I already had this post distilling in the back of my mind. I told him that the best parts of the trip hadn’t been the cocktails as much as it had been meeting bartenders like himself who were passionate about making the best ones possible.
I just love people who love things.
He smiled again and said, “Well then, I’ve got another place you need to visit.” He told us about his friend at another bar who made one that might be his own personal favorite. “I’ll write it down for you.” He tore a piece of blank receipt paper from the register and scribbled down a note and gave us the instructions to, “Ask Dave for his Old Fashioned.” Dave, he told us, was a long time friend from boxing. “We used to beat the hell out of each other; we’re good friends.”
This wasn’t the first time a bartender, enthused by their craft, had pointed us to another establishment. You know someone loves their craft when they’ll send you somewhere else to get the best stuff possible. It wasn’t a matter of competition but of love and excellence.
We tucked the note in our pocket and shook Joe’s hand. Our table was ready and we were hungry, warmed and pleased by the whiskey in our bellies and the good chat. We couldn’t get over the delight find in conversation with a craftsman about their craft. In particular, we noted the generosity that sprung from that love, sending us on our way not only with a recommendation of where to go but a personal note to ensure we would be cared for. This is the kind of beautiful work that makes the world a better place.
A special thank you to all the establishments who furnished us with great liquor and cocktails while we were in Ireland. Below is a list of the places we had both the best times and the best drinks—all thanks to our friendly, caring, passionate bartenders.
- The Bank on College Green, Dublin – Favorite location for the atmosphere, hands down. Lovely bartender who was very upset when he found out we were on a hunt for the best Old Fashioned because he didn’t have his preferred cherry on hand that night and asked if we would come back the next day and try it again. Bless you.
- O’Shea’s Merchant – A standard pub with a whiskey connoisseur at the bar. Told us lovely stories about how Green Spot (my favorite) came to be.
- Tigh Nora, Galway – A gin bar run by a man who’d spend time in Lancaster, PA, an area I know very well. Not your typical Old Fashioned but delightful and well made all the same by someone who cared greatly about excellence.
- Martine’s Quay Street, Galway – Thanks Joe! Your conversation stood out as the most enthusiastic we had in Ireland. Your friend Dave wasn’t available at the next stop so your drink remains the best of our Wild Atlantic Way tour.