At most Irish pubs, guests will encounter some combination of shamrock and leprechaun imagery, Guinness signs and possibly Dropkick Murphys playing on the jukebox.
That's about what I expected a bit more than a decade ago when I first visited Tampa's Four Green Fields, an Irish pub that has been around since the early '90s. Instead, I found an odd-looking structure capped with a traditional, Irish thatched roof. Inside, there was an old Sinn Féin recruitment poster on the wall. The bartender had an Irish accent. This was not Bennigan's.
The place was so legit that Sinead O'Connor once played a concert in it, and that's with a capacity that can't be much over 100. If you were looking for the real deal, this was it, and that has remained the case for more than a quarter century.
In recent years, Four Green Fields has grown, expanding into two satellite locations: one at the Airside E terminal at Tampa International Airport, one in Section 123 inside Amalie Arena. Last summer, its owners won a bid to open a new bar and restaurant at downtown Tampa's Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, expanding the company into a full-fledged chain.
This raises the question: How many times can you reproduce a concept before it begins to lose authenticity? From a cozy pub on Platt Street to plastic cups of beer served during Lightning games — is it still the real deal?
Seemingly in response, I was greeted at Four Green Fields' new location — which opened last month — by the jarring juxtaposition of a row of illuminated palm trees rising up next to Four Green Fields' legally trademarked thatched roof (this one covers only part of the entrance, rather than the full pub of the original), with the University of Tampa's minarets towering in the background.
Inside, however, I found a fairly typical Irish pub — wood everything, lots of whiskey, Guinness on tap — decorated with reproductions of many of the newspapers, posters and photographs from the original location, along with various memorabilia, like soccer kits and hurleys (used, of course, in the Irish sport of hurling), scattered throughout.
There's a small area for live music, opposite two perpendicular bars that cover a surprising amount of floor space. You could probably fit a Sinead O'Connor concert in here, as long as you didn't promote it too heavily.
On the tap wall, there's a large, lit-up photo of Kinnitty Castle Hotel, a property in County Offaly, Ireland, that belongs to the Four Green Fields group. On tap, some Irish beers like Guinness, Harp, Smithwicks and Kilkenny's, along with four house beers, contract-brewed by local breweries such as 81 Bay. The current options: an Irish red, Monks Brew witbier, a seasonal blonde ale and Kinnitty Castle IPA.
The original Four Green Fields has always been great when it came to whiskey, and this one isn't far off. There's plenty of excellent bourbon and scotch (shout out to Old Pulteney), but the Irish whiskey menu shines, whether it is budget-friendly-but-uncommon labels like Douhans and Teeling, or higher-end stuff like Redbreast, Tyrconnell and Green Spot. Of course, there's also lots of Jameson, which isn't a bad thing, considering the interesting stuff the distillery's been doing lately, especially in the Caskmates series.
It's very classic and simple — not a sports bar, not upscale, no cheesy theme. I'll admit that it does seem a little less authentic relative to its sister location on Platt Street, which is probably inevitable given its location at a downtown waterfront park.
But when you forget about the bar's lineage and enjoy it for what it is, you'll find it to be a very comfortable pub, well-suited for pints and conversation, live music and merrymaking. It's new and needs a little bit of time to develop that lived-in feel that every good pub has, but it's got all the pieces needed to make that happen. And, really, that's all the authenticity it needs.
Contact Justin Grant
Four Green Fields
702 N Ashley Drive, Tampa; (813) 254-4444; fourgreenfields.com
The vibe: A traditional Irish pub on the downtown Tampa waterfront.
Food: Appetizers, soups and salads, $4 to $13; entrees, $7 to $18.
Booze: Beer, wine and liquor. Beer, $4.25 to $7; wine, $7 to $13 by the glass and $26 to $75 by the bottle; liquor, $6 to $14.
Specialty: Try the line of four house beers, contract-brewed by local breweries such as 81 Bay Brew Co.: there's an Irish red ale, a blonde, a witbier and an IPA. If you're in a cocktail mood, check out one of the house cocktails, like the Black Irish Stone Sour: James Black Barrel, orange juice and orange bitters over ice with an orange slice and a maraschino cherry. Whiskey lovers would do well to peruse the bar's solid selection of Irish whiskies, from the range of recent Jameson projects to single pot still whiskies like Redbreast and Green Spot.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 3 a.m. daily.