Getting under an Irishman’s skin

If memory serves correctly, it was my fault. Husband and I were sitting in a pub on a bustling street in Galway. As with every pub in Ireland, we were befriended by locals, this time by three men on their way home from work. Our group circled around a small table and talked about American and Irish history. That’s when I brought up the British. Dicky, the tallest, broadest man of the group, spit over his shoulder. “That’s what I think of the Tans,” he said slowly.

Thankfully an awkward moment in Ireland is only as long as a sip of beer. It was evident on our trip that some Irish still harbor unfavorable feelings toward England. It also explains why you could not order a Black & Tan without an Irish scolding. Mixed marriage is one thing, but combining Irish and English beer in the same glass is sacrilege.

After apologizing to our three hosts for the obvious insult, the men did what the Irish do best – talked it out. We spent the next hour talking about the history of Galway, the struggling economy in Ireland, and their travels to America. In the end even Dicky admitted his sister-in-law was a Tan, “and a beautiful woman, God bless her.”

The lush green hills and sheep sprinkled across the landscape are just one element that make Ireland magical. But it’s the people like Dicky that make Ireland unforgettable.

Galway was a favorite town during our trip through the southern half of the country. A college town situated on an inlet of the western sea, it is full of young people, music and a large shopping district.

While there are many places to stay, we had good Irish luck at Victoria Hotel. It was at the end of a street off the main square of town, which meant it was centrally located yet quiet. We were able to negotiate our rate to $70 Euro per night, which included a full Irish breakfast.

If you only have time to do a few things in Galway after the pubs, I suggest fueling up and mingling with the locals.

While pub food is usually very good, McDonagh’s Fish-and-Chips at the end of Quay Street is worth a stop in Galway, even if you’re just passing through. Moderately battered, the fresh catch is fried to crispy perfection. The chips are also good, but it’s the mushy peas I dreamt about for months after returning home to the States. The combination of sweet peas, milk, butter and salt are addictive.

After stuffing yourself on fish, chips and peas, stroll the opposite direction on Quay Street to the open air market wrapped around the St. Nicolas Collegiate Church. Roasted nuts, fresh herbs and cockles are on display, and rubbing elbows with the residents of Galway definitely heightens your local experience.

Ireland spoiled me a little. Trips abroad after experiencing the Emerald Isle left me hoping a stranger like Dicky would approach in a pub to discuss world politics of the day. But that hasn’t happened yet. Instead, I’m left with a longing to return to a place that feels very much like home.

Want to hear more about Ireland from a local? Check out the winners of the Irish Blog Awards.

Minnesota music

Seattle = Grunge. Greenwich Village = Folk. Memphis = Blues. Minnesota = music’s best kept secret.

Home to The Trashmen, Judy Garland, Bob Dylan, Prince, The Replacements, Soul Asylum, Semisonic, The Jayhawks, Atmosphere and a host of hip-hop artists on the Rhymesayers label, Minnesota has produced stars from virtually every era of popular music.

Rich in diversity, visitors can typically find a variety of music playing around town any night of the week. With a quick search, I found 118 different bands, trios, solo acts and the like playing on Friday night in the Minneapolis – Saint Paul area. If you are in town and want to experience a booming music scene, consider my personal favorites:

First Avenue – The creme de la creme of all Twin Cities clubs, First Ave. is the CBGB of Minneapolis. With pitch black walls on the inside, the crowd ranges from tattoos and piercings to hoodies and hightops depending on the night. Large bathrooms are upstairs in addition to the First Ave. Twitter stream which runs continuously on large screens by the second level bars. Bonus: First Ave. admission means you can also check out 7th Street Entry.

7th Street Entry – The baby sibling attached to First Ave., 7th Street Entry is the starting place for bands. A few make it, most don’t, but you get to hear a range of incredible music in a space no larger than your living room. If late night clubbing isn’t your style, 7th Street offers many all-ages or 18+ early shows that put you in bed before 10:00 p.m. Tip: pack earplugs. The size of 7th Street means ringing ears the next day if you don’t care for your hearing.

Turf Club – This club is like your favorite pair of worn shoes. You should give them a good shine, but it would take away the character. A shotgun club with a lower level lounge decorated in Minnesota kitsch, The Turf is where the local musicians hang out if they don’t have a gig. Reasonable cover at the door keeps the place usually packed. It’s also the club that local bands use for trying new material out on smaller, more intimate crowds.

The Cabooze – Hosting tribute shows and bands traveling post-outdoor festival season, The Cabooze in Minneapolis is most notable for its interior space. A large dance floor, tables and chairs, plus a comfy sitting lounge overlooking the stage make The Cabooze a great place to see music or mingle with friends.

The Artists’ Quarter – Located in the basement of the Hamm Building in downtown Saint Paul, The Artists’ Quarter feels like a speakeasy. National acts, local legends and B3 Organ Night make this club a place you’ll want to hang out. Downtown professionals, music professors and students from McNally Smith College of Music are standards in the crowd. In town over the holidays? The Artists’ Quarter is one of the best New Years Eve parties in Saint Paul.

Dubliner Pub – Closest thing to a pub in Dingle, Ireland, the Dubliner features foot-stomping Irish music six-nights a week in a no frills bar. And they pull your glass of Guinness correctly. Best part? There’s never a cover.

The Dakota Jazz Club – This club serves dinner with your jazz. It’s polished and perfect if you want to dress-up and do the town to see some of the best jazz musicians on tour today.

Kitty Cat Klub – On the East Bank of the University of Minnesota in Dinkytown, there is a lounge club like no other called The Kitty Cat. Velvet sofas, lampshades and oriental rugs set the scene for solid music that is typically free on the weekdays, or if you go early enough for food on the weekends.

Lee’s Liquor Lounge – This is my favorite spot to see honky-tonk. Johnny Cash just sounds better in Lee’s. And the dance floor is always full of regulars who make-out or square dance-out the evening in front of the band. The old guy behind the bar is Louie, the owner, and he runs a tight ship. Be sure to check out his impressive collection of Elvis memorabilia hanging throughout the place.

Mayslack’s Bar – Nice-sized stage with a small dance floor, Mayslack’s is a great old building with solid music. If you go, try the roast beef sandwich.

Nye’s Polonaise Room – Voted the Best Bar in America by Esquire magazine in 2006, Nye’s is a mix of polish sausage, country blues, a polka band and a piano bar. The vinyl booths and orange/red 1960s decor are the icing on the cake.

For a full listing of music in the Twin Cities, look for the City Pages on free newsstands or visit

Read my take on Soundset, one of the largest hip hop festivals in the Midwest, hosted in Minneapolis by Rhymesayers.

Have more than one night to spend in Minneapolis-Saint Paul? Check out The New York Times city recommendations.