The Irish have a term that plays a prominent role in their culture: craic.
Craic (sounds like "crack") essentially describes the act of having a good time — enjoying pleasant conversation, often in a local pub, with music and merriment aplenty. To me, this is a vital part of the Irish pub experience; the pub is a social institution in Ireland, and its utility extends beyond being a place with a tap of Guinness and shamrocks painted on the sign outside.
I had been to O'Toole's Irish Pub in Brandon once before and knew that it was an establishment that understood the concept. Last Sunday, looking for a bit of good cheer, I hopped in the car and headed there. That's because earlier that evening, legendary Irish musician Gary Moore died unexpectedly while vacationing in Spain. A tremendously talented musician and songwriter, Moore was known for his virtuoso guitar technique as well as several stints in my favorite band of all time, Thin Lizzy. I knew O'Toole's would be a good spot to have a drink in his honor and enjoy some good craic at the same time.
Irish-themed pubs are plentiful in the U.S., but few seem to take the theme beyond a vaguely Irish-sounding name and healthy dose of green in the color scheme. O'Toole's is an exception. The décor is almost a caricature, with murals depicting all things Irish — from soccer players and whiskey barrels to Irish pound notes and puffins. Stained glass dividers sport shamrocks and Celtic knots, and wood panels behind the bar have labels such as bia and uisce beatha — food and whisky in Irish Gaelic.
While all this might seem like overkill, O'Toole's really does feel like a traditional Irish pub at heart. The dark wood of the bar and tables, the soft lighting, the faux-copper ceiling tiles — all these remind me of the cozy neighborhood meeting places that I visited during my travels in the Emerald Isle.
O'Toole's is roomy, with seating in the form of tables and booths spanning the bulk of the interior. Seating is also available outside, with a large courtyard to the side and café-style seating in the front. With plenty of room to move around inside, it's easy to find a spot for a group of friends to have a pint and some good conversation.
The pub's schedule is packed with entertainment and drink specials — different nights of the week are reserved for trivia, karaoke, DJs and live music, and many feature impressively cheap drink deals. For example, on Sundays, all drinks after 7 p.m. are half-off, with the exception of shots. This is quite the bargain, especially when considering the quality of the selection. Standard Irish beers and domestics are available, and O'Toole's doesn't skimp on the craft beer front, offering many quality picks on tap and in bottles.
And of course, there's the whiskey. While I'll admit to being a die-hard Scotch enthusiast, I will occasionally sample a nice Irish whiskey, and O'Toole's is no slouch in this regard. With nearly every brand of Irish whiskey that I can immediately recall available, from Power's and Michael Collins to Redbreast and Knappogue Castle, Irish whiskey lovers while find plenty to like here.
A solid selection, great prices, and friendly service are the basic components of any good bar. Add these to the neighborhood pub vibe of O'Toole's and you have a winning combination. I arrived with the sad news of Gary Moore's passing on my mind, and left a while later with raised spirits — certainly a testament to the craic of this quality Irish pub.