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Finn Mac Cool
AREA: Capital Hill
Metro: Eastern Market

(Blue/Orange Lines)
713 8th St., SE
(202) 547-7100

The Ugly Mug

Sun-Thu: 11:00am-2:00am
Fri-Sat: 11:00am-3:00am

Beers on tap:

Anchor Liberty Ale, Bass, Beamish, Boddingtons Pub Ale, Bus select, Carlsberg, Coors Light, Heineken, Magic Hat #9, Ommegang Hennepin Ale, Sam Adams Summer, Shiner, Smithwicks, Stella Artois.

Daily Specials:

Monday: 4:00pm - 7:00pm:
$4.50 Premium Pints, $3 Domestic Pints
Tuesday: 4:00pm - 7:00pm: $4.50 Premium Pints, $3 Domestic Pints
Wednesday: 4:00pm - 7:00pm: $4.50 Premium Pints, $3 Domestic Pints
Thursday: 4:00pm - 7:00pm: $4.50 Premium Pints, $3 Domestic Pints
Friday: 4:00pm - 7:00pm: $4.50 Premium Pints, $3 Domestic Pints
  • It has taken a quarter century for Paul Woodhull and Michael Collins to open a bar together, but Finn Mac Cool's Cork Publick House (713 Eighth St. SE; 202-547-7100) is something to be proud of. First, a quick back story: The duo worked together at the Red Lion in Foggy Bottom in the mid-1970s before moving to establishments closer to Capitol Hill. "Michael tended bar at the Dubliner, I was at the Irish Times," Woodhull says. "We made a vow back then that we were going to open a bar together. And 25 short years later, here we are."

    "Here" is a comfortable neighborhood pub and restaurant on Capitol Hill's Barracks Row, not a trendy cocktail lounge or the latest and greatest place on the nightlife scene. But that's why I like it, and you will, too.

    Stop by after work and sip a pint of tasty Beamish stout at the 44-foot-long cherry bar. Bring friends and grab a seat at a table near the roaring (electric) fireplace. Tuesdays through Saturdays, Irish musicians (usually duos or small groups) perform traditional music and old pop songs on a small stage in the rear, while patrons of all ages sing and clap along. Weekend afternoons find parents and children brunching next to local couples and singles.

    Like many others, Woodhull fell in love with Irish pub culture after a trip abroad. "I was on 'Jeopardy!' for three days [in 1984], and I won some money and spent time traveling around Europe," Woodhull says. "The most fun I had was the time I spent in Ireland. I hooked up with these musicians who were traveling pub to pub and went around the country. At all of these pubs, there was a wonderful mix of families and business people -- it was a community center where everyone was welcomed and embraced."

    A big part of Finn Mac Cool's appeal is the building itself, a 19th-century structure with soaring ceilings and rugged, time-worn brick walls, arches and doorways. While former tenants Sheridan's Steakhouse and the Broker were responsible for the prominent skylights and pressed tin ceiling near the bar, Woodhull, Collins and partner Jimmy Stavrakis gutted the building soon after taking over. All the fixtures were custom-built: the long bar, with its fat corniced columns and handsome back bar; the carved lion's head on the fireplace's mantel; benches that stretch the length of the room; a glossy Brazilian wood floor.

    Upstairs is a non-smoking dining area with glittering chandeliers, intricate molding, tall windows and old Vanity Fair caricatures of Irish politicians hanging on its green walls. Although primarily used Thursdays through Saturdays for overflow crowds or private events, it can be opened any time if the main room is too smoky.

    There's one thing missing from the pub, though: Guinness Irish Stout, the best-selling beer in Ireland and one of the more popular pours in Washington bars. "When we were tending bar in the Irish circuit, the only place you could buy Guinness was an Irish pub. Now you can get it everywhere," Woodhull says. Instead, Finn Mac Cool's sells Beamish, a wonderful Irish stout that was previously unavailable in Washington. "The whole idea is, let's not be the same-old, same-old. We're the only place in D.C. where you can get Beamish on draft . . . Every glass we pour is brewed in County Cork [Ireland]."

    Originally, the bar was just going to be called Cork Publick House, but, Woodhull explains, "it turns out most people don't associate Cork with Ireland -- they think it has something to do with darts or wine." So instead of Ireland's largest county, the pub's name honors Finn Mac Cool, a legendary Irish warrior and prophet celebrated in countless stories. Collins describes Mac Cool as "Part King Arthur, part Odysseus, part Hercules."

    Since opening in December, Woodhull and his partners have been making improvements to the bar -- changing the dinner menu, adding more live music -- but Finn Mac Cool's is still trying to find its feet. One night, the bar is buzzing; the next finds smaller groups lingering over their fish and chips and drinks before calling it a night. Service can be just as inconsistent.

    In coming months, the wine list will grow, thanks to a fancy temperature-controlled storage area, and English cask ale will begin flowing from the hand pump that sits at the end of the bar -- probably Newcastle Brown Ale.

    More importantly, Woodhull, Collins and Stavrakis are trying to build a neighborhood clientele beyond those who come to watch sports or carouse with their friends. Families are important to Woodhull, a father of six who's lived on Capitol Hill for 20 years. He reminds me that there are thousands of children under 12 within a mile of the Hill. "This should be a place where you can come with your kids and have dinner, and still have it be a fun, exciting environment," he says..
    - The Washington Post (2004)

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