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Irish ambience? Pubs pour it on

LAS VEGAS

Several of the themed bars actually were built in the Emerald Isle. But what's really important is getting the atmosphere right.

March 09, 2008|Jay Jones | Special to The Times

The singing is boisterous; the words are slurred. The vocalists are all male and all -- shall we say -- feeling no pain. They've flown all the way from Northern Ireland to Las Vegas for a "stag party," the Irish equivalent of a bachelor party.

Isaac Mulholland, who'll be getting married at the end of March, and 12 buddies from a small town in County Down are determined to make the most of their long weekend in Sin City.

So where do these 13 Irishmen end up on their first day in Vegas? At Nine Fine Irishmen, inside the New York-New York Hotel & Casino. They've found a quintessential Irish pub on the Las Vegas Strip.

"This is the first pub we tried," says Wayne Hutchinson, 24. It's only 6 p.m., yet Hutchinson and his mates have been drinking, by his reckoning, for four or five hours already. "I think we're going to stay here a wee while," he adds with a broad smile.

How Irish are this city's pubs? Well, authentic enough for the boys from County Down. In fact, several of the establishments, including Nine Fine Irishmen, were constructed in Dublin, then disassembled and shipped to Las Vegas for reconstruction. The builder, the Irish Pub Co., uses the dark woods of traditional pubs in Ireland and a variety of artifacts and paintings.

"The feeling is actually very similar to home," says Marty Mulholland, the groom's brother and also the publican (owner) of Mulholland's on the Square, a bar back home in Dromore. "As a typical Irish pub, this is exactly what we expect," he says. "A band playing, a bit of craic, people up dancing about."

"Craic [pronounced 'crack'] is just having fun, just dancing about," Marty explains. "It's enjoying yourself, everyone having a good time."

Although there are many Irish-themed bars around Las Vegas, only a handful truly have an Irish feel to them and, of course, the craic.

"I've been to a lot of so-called Irish bars in America and they're not really Irish," says Neil Burns, manager of McMullan's Irish Pub, just a couple of miles west of the Strip on Tropicana Avenue. Burns, who grew up in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, says most of them lack the layout, the decor and the conviviality to truly be called Irish.

The pub's owner, Brian McMullan, knows a thing or two about real Irish pubs. His grandfather, Thomas McMullan, bought his first bar 100 years ago in Glenarm, County Antrim, Northern Ireland.

"We serve mainly locals," McMullan says. But, he adds, a good chunk of them are expats who moved to Las Vegas from Ireland and Britain.

"The food's good, the craic's good," says Eamonn Cooke, a regular whose roots are in Inishmore, County Galway. Even though McMullan's promotes itself as "Purveyors of the perfect pint" (of Guinness, of course), Cooke's drink of choice isn't even from Ireland. He prefers Miller Lite Draft.

A few miles farther west, at J.C. Wooloughan's, there isn't any Miller Lite on tap. Perish the very thought, says Declan McGettigan, the director of food and beverage for the JW Marriott Las Vegas Resort, where the pub is located.

"We pour just premium pints in the 20-ounce imperial pint glass," explains McGettigan, a native of County Donegal. Wooloughan's is the real McCoy, right down to its several "snugs": private rooms that seat only a few customers. Like Nine Fine Irishmen and McMullan's, it was built in Ireland.

When he was just a lad, McGettigan explains, bars in Ireland weren't known for their design or their decor. "Back then, it was just your old, straightforward Irish bar, often a converted home or shed," he says. In those days, McGettigan says he could down 10 Guinnesses in a single sitting.

Nowadays, though, he limits himself to "two or three pints." It's a sign of the times, as is the fact that highly themed bars -- similar to those McGettigan has helped create in several U.S. cities -- have now "found their way back to Ireland." They're called "superpubs," and they're popping up all over the Emerald Isle.

"There's one in Enniskillen that's got like four stories and five different restaurants," laments Neil Burns, who prefers the intimacy and the craic of traditional Irish pubs. Charlie's, his watering hole back in County Fermanagh, springs to his mind.

Perhaps that's why Burns proudly recounts the story of the day his father, while visiting from Ireland, first set foot inside McMullan's.

"Wow, this looks like Charlie's," Burns remembers his father saying. "It really feels like Charlie's."

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travel@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Three of the best Irish bars in O'Vegas

NINE FINE IRISHMEN

Inside the New York-New York Hotel & Casino, 3790 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; (702) 740-6463, www.nynyhotelcasino.com. Restaurant open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily; bar, till 2:30 a.m. The usual variety of Irish beers and whiskeys, plus Irish and American food.

MCMULLAN'S IRISH PUB

At 4650 W. Tropicana Ave.; (702) 247-7000, www.mcmullansirishpub.com. As in a true Irish pub, a variety of whiskeys and draft beers is served, as are several traditional foods, including excellent fish and chips and steamed mussels. Like a true Vegas bar, it's open 24 hours.

J.C. WOOLOUGHAN'S

Inside the JW Marriott Las Vegas Resort, 221 N. Rampart Blvd.; (702) 869-7725, www.jwlas vegasresort.com. Wooloughan's prides itself on serving only premium, European beers on tap, plus a range of Irish whiskeys. The menu includes beef-and-Guinness pie and all-day Irish breakfast. Open from 11 a.m. to midnight daily (till 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday).

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