Irish coffee and Guinness look a little similar: white foam on top, dark brown liquid in the bottom. Ireland answers my—and I would think everyone else’s!—desire for creamy diary and fragrant “water of life” in one offering. Sitting in one of my favorite bar in San Francisco, sipping on the lukewarm, flatter version of Irish coffee, rain pouring outside out in a bright gray sky—this is an ideal moment to drench in the memories of Ireland.
My first Irish coffee was in Garavan’s, a Galway pub, one I assume that both locals and tourist enjoy. There are regulars hanging out waiting for the usual acoustic band to play original tunes, and tourists (in groups or alone like me) peeking in to get that western Irish flavor. Setting foot in Europe for the first time after years in America, I wasn’t sure if Irish coffee was more of a tourist’s fantasy or a real Irish thing. Buena Vista Social Club in San Francisco, after all, claimed to “perfected” Irish coffee, and while being in one of the most multi-cultural cities offering awesome authentic and fusion fares, it is in America, the cliché of inventions and number one’s.
But the pub’s Irish coffee was so amazing I believed it is a local drink. Served in a glass on a plate with a curved spoon, it was hot, flavourful and fragrant, and came with a piece of Garavan’s own chocolate. The cream was chill and smooth, and reminds me of the actual cows I saw on the bus rides, not the dairy aisles of Trader Joe’s. The coffee taste was strong and the whisky soon came bursting in an exhilarating gas form. And from years of making milk tea at home, I could appreciate the sugar and cream that’s holding everything together so smoothly, so harmoniously, so expandingly. It was an answer, an affirmation and most of all, a discovery that’s opened up my first beautiful day on the Eíreann land. After all the traveling, wandering, drizzling and nervous settling in, this was really a healing, relaxing moment that assured me, everything will be right for my dream-come-true travel in Ireland!
The following Irish coffees has been less delightful, some short of fresh sensual surprises, some flat and dismantled,, until my last day in Ireland, in another music pub off the more popular parts of Dublin. It was Darkey Kelly’s, and just like Garavan’s in Galway, it had the best combination of good music and good Irish coffee. The band playing apparently was also some local act doing their own thing instead of appealing to the latest trends or touristy Irish factor. They had such energy that it was easy for anyone to appreciate and drift in and out of their performance, from focusing on the music to focusing on your own company. It was simply good times with good drinks.
I thought about how much I would spend my time here if I were a local. I thought about how much I spend my time in San Francisco local bars with good drinks, good character and possibly good music. Not that much. I am mostly concerned about monthly budgets and whether I should seek company or settle in a bar alone. But even if I don’t spend a lot of time at these places, they always hold a place in my heart, as sources of pride and comfort that counts as my definitions of my city. I believe in bars that open in the morning: they are places that makes you feel comfortable from day till night, that incorporates most aspects of living into the drinking, talking and creating of a bar atmosphere.
Now, I’m on my second ordinary Irish coffee in Vesuvio which I enjoy because it is earnestly made, reasonably priced and offered in one of the most respectable, generous, historic and energetic bars of San Francisco. Vesuvio also offers a list of hot coffee cocktails which to me is a pass for contemplations and solitude. Also, no less important is the fact that the Irish coffee in Vesuvio has the ability to make me actually sit down, write and act upon my ideas and longings.