MILTON, Ga. – It sounds like a dream job. Travel across America, visit – and sample – the wares of Irish pubs, and then write a book about one’s exploits. Or maybe it is just a mid-life crisis fantasy.
But for the two Milton men who did it – Ron Wallace and Robert Meyers – it was more like a labor of love. And the product of that labor is “Irish Pubs in America: History, Lore and Recipes.”
Meyers caused a stir with his well-received photo book, “Barns of Old Milton County.” He created an arresting photographic record that documented the area’s vanishing landmarks. His histories of these barns also tell the history of the people who first settled Milton.
Wallace, former president of UPS International, has written a book on organizing political campaigns, “Power of the Campaign Pyramid: Hope Is Not a Strategy,” which has quickly become the Bible for aspiring political candidates.
He will soon have another book out on ideas about leadership, “What Brown Meant to Me.”
Wallace had admired his friend’s book on Milton’s barns, and the way it not only was an extraordinary picture book but delved into the history of the structures. Meyers half-jokingly said they should collaborate on a book about Irish pubs.
That set Wallace to thinking. He owns two Irish pubs, both called The Olde Blind Dog, with one in Crabapple and one in Brookhaven. The more he thought about it, the more he liked the idea. It took all of two seconds to talk Meyers into collaborating.
“There is something of a mystical quality that every Irish pub has,” said Wallace. “You can travel the world to Mumbai, Hong Kong or San Francisco and there will be an Irish pub there. But we concentrated on just the ones in America.
“They all have the same qualities,” he said. “All have the same food, the same music and a lot of junk on the wall. But there is still something special about an Irish pub.”
Wallace says it has to do with the roots of pubs in Ireland. It was the public place to meet.
“It is no coincidence that the words public and the Irish word for the owner/bartender publican have the same root,” Wallace said. “This was the gathering place where people met, gossiped, celebrated their good times and mourned in their bad times.”
That is when Wallace and Meyers realized what the approach of the book should be. It should be the individual story of each pub. And they all do have their own story.
In one way or another, the Irish pub becomes part of the fabric in the neighborhoods they serve. Some are low dives; others are right out of central casting as quintessential Irish. Some serve the captains of industry on Wall Street, others the hoi polloi of the Bowery.
It was not as easy a task as one might expect. There are at least 70 books by Wallace’s count on Irish pubs, and the more famous ones – and there are more than a few – are disdainful of yet another pestering Finnghoill (foreigner).
Wallace and Meyers approached one such New York Irish pub and sat for 10 minutes before the bartender looked up from his newspaper to ask their order. They got about 10 words out of him in another hour.
But they must have said something that clicked, for he finally went upstairs to tell the owner he ought to talk to these two guys from Georgia.
“He asked us up and said he could spare us an hour. We left 12 hours later after having breakfast,” Wallace said.
And that is how it would go, Meyers said. It usually took some ice-breaking. But once that was done, they became adopted sons.
“And that is what sets this book apart. We went to maybe 200 pubs, but we only kept in the book those that had a story to tell,” Meyers said.
There is the pub in Atlanta that had its floor imported from Dublin. It turns out it came from the Royal Navy Yard there where the Titanic was designed. They contacted the authorities in Dublin and it was true.
“So the Titanic connection became that pub’s story,” Meyers said.
Then there was the Chicago pub. It was in a tough neighborhood, but it became the watering hole of the local constabulary, many of whom were Irish. Two rather misguided thugs walked into the place, one through the front door and one by a side door, with guns drawn ready for a stick-up.
The lore is, about 200 shots were fired – none by the thugs. Well, it was Chicago in the ‘30s.
Several pubs have ghost stories, but one is about resurrection. This was a pub in one of the Ninth Ward neighborhoods in post-Katrina New Orleans called McCool’s. The family and staff had evacuated, but returned to begin again. When the neighbors saw them cleaning out the mud and debris that was as high as the bar, they came around – by ones, and twos and threes.
Soon, the whole neighborhood was lending hands to get the pub back on its feet. That is what it meant to those folks.
But the pub is all about its food also. And Wallace and Meyers did not want to leave that out.
If this was to be the definitive book on Irish pubs – and they would settle for nothing less – then you had to have the best of the recipes they could find.
Each pub is a small chapter of the book. Each pub has a title and a quote that is unique to that pub. For McCool’s, it was “Phoenix Rising.” And its quote was, “If you want love in abundance in life, give it away,” by Mark Twain.