Jameson at Kelly O'Brien's: How Original!

Just because it's an Irish pub cliche doesn't mean it's bad.

The Watering Hole: Kelly O'Brien's, 5410 17th Ave N.W., 257-6080, BALLARD

The Atmosphere: On the first weekday of daylight-saving time, a dozen or so 30- to 50-something couples munch on happy-hour grub and watch Monday Night Football on the big screen. They're in a small (but not cramped) single room, located next to a nursing-home supply store and a pot dispensary, which makes it quintessentially Ballard. An Irish flag and soccer jerseys are draped behind the bar. The place is named after the owner's wife (Kelly) and mother (maiden name: O'Brien), and the the back wall is decorated with old-timey photos of their Irish ancestors.

The Barkeep: Virgil Paulsen, the establishment's general manager and regular bartender Monday–Wednesday and Saturday. He recently relocated to Seattle from Phoenix, and invested in the new business with his friend Marcus Tellefson, owner of Sully's Lounge on Queen Anne Hill. It's his first bartending gig, and he's been learning on the job since Kelly's opened five months ago. "The nice thing about an Irish pub is it's more shots than beer," he says, joking that he'd be screwed if he had to mix drinks at The Met.

The Drink: "What we do here more than anything is Jameson and Guinness," says Paulsen. No sooner than he utters those words do a graybeard and his female companion belly up to the bar. Sure enough, he orders a shot of Jamie and a pint of the dark stuff, while she opts for a glass of chardonnay.

For this green-blooded young lad, a Jameson on the rocks sounds like the ideal tonic for a dark and chilly November night. Virgil obliges with a generous pour of Dublin's finest, and the slow burn of the first sip warms from the inside out. As the ice melts, the liquor tastes vaguely of vanilla and spices. There's a good reason this is the most popular Irish whiskey on the planet: It's downright delicious.

Paulsen notes that the bar does offer a signature shot, "the shillelagh": a shot of Jameson dropped into a cup of Baileys. A shillelagh is an Irish walking stick, and he shows off a leprechaun-sized one that hangs beside the bar. Take too many shillelaghs and you'll probably need a walking stick to get home.

The Verdict: If Irish whiskey isn't your cup of tea, there are 10 draft beers from which to choose. But this is a classic Irish pub, and that demands a classic Irish drink. Jameson fills the bill.

khamilton@seattleweekly.com

 
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