Even on the outside, An Beal Bocht aims to cover every square inch with color and kitsch, revealing its overall friendliness with each frame, flower, flag, and can of baked beans. Taking a seat at the bar gives you the best midway vantage point into the operation, which spans into another dining room.
Not all of the kitsch is without function, a shelf above the bar acts as a British Isles market, with cans of those aforementioned baked beans, marmalade, Hartley's jam, and Irish peas. To conveniently satisfy curiosity about how often these items sell, a couple came in and purchased a bottle of HP Sauce.
Across the space and facing the bar is an entire wall of framed Irish men and women, newspaper cuts, and maps. If no one is occupying the tables nearby, it makes a fun time to look through them all. This wall also serves as the background for the almost daily live music that takes place here. Me and a small group of friends came to catch the weekly Irish traditional session on a Sunday, but the day after New York City's first real snow had left the musicians stranded in Ireland. Allegedly.
Instead the constant clinking of silverware and plates set the background to a few hours of good cheer. This is the type of place that bartenders know a lot of their customer's names and that general New York prickliness almost keeps itself outside the door. It opened in 1991 but the walls and faces would make you guess back even further. During those first years it was just a cafe, but the spirit and their goal of making this a space for artists to come together to experiment has stuck around.
Somewhere on one side of the Kingsbridge-Riverdale border, and up at least ten flights of urban stairs from the nearest subway, most first-timers not coming from their houses at this elevation will arrive will an appetite for some hearty Irish fare. While most of the menu reads like a typical bar menu, there is a small section of "Irish specialties" to check out.
On a trip to Ireland in 2003, I became well-versed with the magic of Irish curry. They eat it there late at night with chips (fries), like New Yorkers eat pizza and tacos. To be honest though, the Irish version of curry has no business with the name, but instead is a different beast. It is sweet first and foremost. You can take it here with chips or as a chicken curry ($15, above) entree. I recommend the former, as the chicken component of the entree is just a few hunks of dry breast. For the price, I found this plate's serving size very small.
Better is the shepherd's pie ($15, below), that classic Irish boat of ground meat, carrots and other vegetables, that gets topped with whipped potatoes and baked. It is really a cottage pie as it uses ground beef instead of lamb, but getting past that is not hard because they all are here on this side of the Atlantic.
Essential to any shepherd's pie experience is a healthy dip in HP sauce. Ask an Irishman what type of sauce this is, and they'll reply "brown" without further explanation necessary. The most prominent tastes come from the malt vinegar, but it is quite sweet as well.
After a few rounds of Guinness and a few hours passing, all feelings from here are good. It was not hard to imagine why the place had so many loyal customers.