And plenty on draft, in a convivial establishmentGrafton Street early on a Thursday evening. The place is warming up. Photograph by David Carmack
My first experience of a proper pub was in rural Cambridgeshire, when a member of Parliament I had happened to meet and his Jack Russell terrier took me down to the local. The publican and my hosts exchanged jovial banter. The terrier sat on the stool between the MP and me, drank nothing, downed a few nibblies, and was bright-eyed and attentive to my least remark.
We do not have proper pubs in the United States, a profound flaw in our national life--one might even say in our character. We have pub-like spaces. Usually they present themselves as restaurants, but there may be some spirit of pub hovering over them. One such space lies across Massachusetts Avenue from the rear entrance to Widener Library. Now called Grafton Street, after the Dublin concourse, in earlier iterations of fond memory it has been One Potato Two Potato, the University Restaurant, and the exotic Toga Lounge, the latter once characterized by a graduate student habitué as "the best bar in Brockton." Like Grafton Street, One Potato Two Potato, its most recent predecessor, was dominated by a long bar with stools, with a couple of TVs flickering above and a good sideways view of the street. It had a distinctly pub-like feature --people of many conditions felt comfortable patronizing it. Thus, one could sit at the bar and have an eminent engineer sipping a pre-lunch martini at one's right and a guy in a hard hat reading a tabloid at one's left, while watching, reflected in the mirror behind the bottles, a gnomic, long-tenured historian at a nearby table eating his soup and speaking softly to himself.
1280 Massachusetts Avenue
Open daily from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.
Dinner served until 10:30 p.m.
Reservations accepted except for Friday and Saturday evenings.
Grafton Street is more upscale and trendy than its predecessors, and its clientele appears to feature laborers in academe, few of whom wear hard hats. Eight members of the staff of this magazine had lunch there together recently. We liked the décor--a lot of dark wood with some Irish trappings--except that two of us found the workout program on one of the televisions (weightlifting, paranormal bending) distracting at mealtime. We thought the ambience cheerful. The pleasant waitress had an Irish lilt. The price--$12 per, including tax and tip-- seemed moderate. The food, of which there was a wide, multiethnic selection running from Louisiana crab cakes to Tuscan frittata to baba ghanoush (and at dinner, even to rabbit and ostrich), was pretty good, and there was a lot of it. For a cholesterol blowout, try the Irish breakfast on Sunday morning. All considered, we give the place, for lunch, an A, an A, 2 B+s, 3 Bs, and a B.
Grafton Street gets high marks for what is most pub-like about it. It's a welcoming spot for a drink on a dark winter day or after work. One connoisseur regards floor space next to the bar as a superior venue for vertical drinking elbow-to-elbow on busy nights (13 brews on draft, 8 single malts, 6 cognacs, et cetera). Like a proper pub, Grafton Street is inclusive; one does not need to be young, or refined, or gay, or on the make, or a Jack Russell terrier, to go there happily.