Capital Pub

The Liffey, new St. Paul sister to the Local, is old and older, in the best ways

The Liffey
Holiday Inn St. Paul-Rivercentre
175 W. 7th St., St. Paul
651.556.1420

This week's review is a journey of the imagination, my darlings, so settle back, pacify your unquiet minds, and gently close your eyes.

Well, I mean figuratively. Use some intuition here, darlings, or we're all going to end up plowing headlong into the sumac patch by the side of the road, aren't we? Because recent surveys reveal that you're likely reading this while driving, refinancing your house by phone and fax, dipping fondue, and furiously working Suzanne Sommers's Thigh-master. And if you close your eyes in all that, surely you will come to grief.

A pint and a portal: The Liffey is a calming Irish oasis in the middle of Hecticville
Bill Kelley
A pint and a portal: The Liffey is a calming Irish oasis in the middle of Hecticville

Obviously enough then, when everyone who reads the column ends up in the sumac patch, the only people available to come and tow us free will be the people who don't read this column, and they won't know where to eat, now, will they? Be sensible, darlings, above all. Or we'll all end up at faux Irish spots like Bennigan's, eating trademarked O'Yummy Desserts whilst plucking sumac boughs from our hair.

So we'll start from the top. Quiet your mind, and well, maybe squint your eyes a bit, and conjure up someone who irritates you, but whom you are still forced to be nice to, perhaps Suzanne Sommers, with her grinning lies, or I don't know whom. But in any event, now, now, imagine if that person came equipped with a lovely, flower-etched glass screen mounted on a pivot in front of her face, and whenever you needed to deal with Suzanne, you turned the screen to reveal her face, and whenever you didn't want to hear it anymore, you simply covered her up with a bit of art glass. Ingenious!

Of course, the Irish thought of this a hundred-odd years ago: "They were called 'snob screens', or 'vanity screens'," explains Kieran Folliard, longtime resident of Dublin, native of Ballyhaunis, a small town in western Ireland, owner of St. Paul's newest Irish pub, the Liffey, and founder of such classic Minneapolis pubs as the Local and Kieran's. "Typically, the snob screens were up on the bar itself, and what people would do is open them to get their drink, and then, when they got their drink, they'd close them. They were called snob screens for men, if you didn't want to be seen fraternizing with the barmen, and vanity screens for women, who wouldn't want the male bartenders looking at them." You'll find them at the Liffey on drink-stands scattered through the bar, not on the main, teak bar, and they're just odd and interesting unless you know the long history to which they tip their hats, so to speak.

"The idea behind the Liffey," explains Folliard, "is that if you close your eyes, and think of an Irish pub, when you open your eyes, there it is: all the twists and turns and detail of your mind." To that end, he had all the woodworking done in Ireland, and, when constructing the place, went to levels of painstaking detail that you can't even begin to imagine. The wallpaper, for instance, which looks like tooled leather that's been on the walls in Ireland for 100 years, this wallpaper required seven layers of various finishes to get it to look that way.

There are too many instances of real Irish detail to count, from the burnished teak everything, to the cast-iron Georgian fire-surround, to the little rooms called "snugs" partitioned off to the sides, to the perfect, perfect nitrogen-pumped Guinness, which comes from one of four separate kegs, and is as creamy and coffee-scented as the Guinness of your dreams. Which is to say, if you go into the Liffey, and pacify your unquiet mind, and close your eyes--for real this time--when you open them you won't even believe you live in a world where the driver of the next car over is fairly likely to be rewiring a chandelier while they listen to porn on the satellite radio. And eat peanut butter from a squeeze tube.

Where is this calming oasis? In the middle of Hecticville, kitty-corner from the Xcel Energy Center, on Seventh Street, inches from interstates 94 and 35 East, in the formerly artless hotel ground-floor space that housed Mississippi Mud. (Dear restaurateurs: With the recent demise of restaurants Mud Pie and Mississippi Mud, it seems ever clearer that today's diner frowns on the idea of eating mud. Instead, brainstorm from related concepts, such as swamp, dank, muck, and sick.) You might have noticed the new exterior of the Liffey lately--it looks like an 18th-century railroad car that the Holiday Inn fell on top of.

And now here's a bit of trivia for architecture buffs: The whole thing is actually a tribute to a no-longer-extant, famous bar in Dublin, the Bailey. A good bar is hard to kill: Wreck it in Ireland, and it will pop up on the shores of the Mississippi. More trivia: The Liffey is named for the river that runs through Dublin. So now Minnesota's river-cut capital has a bar named for Ireland's capital's river. Say that 12 times fast and somebody somewhere is sure to buy you a pint, especially from the hallowed hours of 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., when all pints are only $3.50. More than a happy hour, less than a happy fortnight.

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