Tuesday, April 12, 2011

On dumbing it down

When Mick Ward and his partners opened The Irish Embassy Pub in downtown Durango in 2008, it was a truly unique place within the context of the local bar scene.

An Irishman who came to Durango by way of Chicago, Ward insisted on authenticity. The furnishings and decorations were imported from Ireland. He brought in an Irishwoman to design the interior, and an Irishman to manage the pub.

The beer taps reflected this. Of the 20 taps, not one pulled a beer brewed in Durango or a macro-brewed lager. It wasn't out of spite; Ward simply wanted his pub to be something different. The beers were almost exclusively imports like Guinness, Harp, Murphy's Stout and several Paulaner taps. It was a place you might find a couple of good German pilseners on tap.

"I hope it'll be unique," Ward said at the time. Tragically, he died a month later of a heart attack. His partners and some of the same staff he hired have carried on for almost three years since.

Unfortunately, it seems like the pub is straying from Ward's original vision, particularly on the beer taps. Sure, you can still get Guinness, Murphy's, Smithwicks — the basics. But no longer do you see the unexpected, offbeat European import.

Instead, the Embassy has given over a tap to Coors Light. And another to Blue Moon's spring seasonal (which has little more flavor than Coors Light, and I say this as someone who appreciates regular Blue Moon). And a few more to local brewers.

It's understandable. Customers ask for — demand — what they know. I feel sorry for the brewpub bartender who has to keep telling tourists, no, we don't sell Bud Light, we make our own beer here (a conversation I've witnessed at Carver's).

It must be irresistible for a publican to throw his hands up and simply sell people what they want. Even Lady Falconburgh's, easily the best beer bar in Southwest Colorado, seems to sell just as many shots of sugary-vodka garbage to college students as it does pints of the fine beers it keeps on tap.

Durango makes it even tougher. It has a small year-round, permanent population that is heavily augmented by Fort Lewis College students and especially tourists. They do not have time to get to know and appreciate an establishment that tries to do something different. Most of them want what they're accustomed to.

I happened to be in the Embassy one night during Snowdown, Durango's Mardi-Gras-on-ice. The restroom was strewn with broken glass, the shards of expensive imperial pints sitting in a disgusting mess. This is a business that's trying to treat its customers like adults, and the customers aren't holding up their end of the bargain.

It would be sad, but not at all surprising, if the Embassy went to red plastic cups instead of the nice, 20-ounce pints it now sells.

Some customers in Durango seem intent on encouraging the unique and special places we have here to regress to the mean. Coors Light and vodka-Red Bulls for all.


  1. By all means, open a bar and only sell real beer. I and another 30 people in Durango will be loyal customers!

    I don't think the Irish Embassy suffers from selling Coors Light- I never knew that they did and it hasn't affected my experience. They need to make money to stay open- it would be worse to stay "pure" and have to shutter the doors. And drunks who make a mess in a bathroom will always be- I'm sure that's as authentically Irish as its is American.

  2. Yeah, I would say its more about the bottom line than being "authentic". Why have a obscure euro beer that takes a month or more to sell a keg when you can rip through macro-brews for the out of towners. Good point in the post and a tear will be shed but, if it keeps them open and able to donate/connect to the community more, I can live with a Cooewrs on tap. -Curtis

  3. I hear you. It's not the end of the world. It's just my concern that it's becoming more like every other bar. And I'm not sure it couldn't keep its doors open if it stuck to its guns.