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Eat and Drink

St. Patrick’s Day spirit is year-round at Irish pub Hartley’s

You can find an Irish music session every Monday and a perfectly poured pint of Guinness daily.

Co-owner James Dunn talks about Hartley's, a bar in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, where musicians often play traditional live Irish music.  (Credit: David Hanschuh)

If you took a small Dublin pub, brightly painted front door and all, put it in the belly of an Aer Lingus jet and then trucked it to Clinton Hill, you’d have Hartley’s.

True to form, every Monday evening, Irish music fills the tiny, two-year-old bar — not just during St. Patrick’s Day shenanigans.

At a recent session, Dan Neely, who has a doctorate in ethnomusicology and has written about the history of ice cream truck music, was on tenor banjo. He was joined by Matt Stapleton on guitar and Katie Fischer, a TV producer, on fiddle.

It was Neely’s first time playing at Hartley’s, but the musicians are hardly strangers. In New York’s Irish music circle, there are few degrees of separation. Stapleton played at the Cuckoo’s Nest in Woodside for years with Kevin McHugh, a uilleann piper, and Neely joined them there frequently; Fischer was a regular at Neely’s session at Lillie’s near Union Square.

At Hartley’s — owned by Irish transplants Mike O’Sullivan, Jim Dunn and Dan Grace — there’s no stage. The musicians grab a chair or a pew-like bench against the wall and sit among the patrons — not unlike the intimate setup in any pub back in the old sod. There’s often a pint on the table and an Irish sandwich within arm’s reach as bar-goers tap their feet to the jigs and reels.

“It’s an extremely cozy arrangement, but it really gives the players a chance to build up a rapport with the regulars,” Neely said.

There’s hardly ever a set list. Most of the tunes played by the trio came from the book “O’Neill’s Music of Ireland,” published in 1903, Neely said.

“Irish musicians everywhere in the world play songs from O’Neill’s,” said the musician. “It’s one of the main repositories of tunes and remains hugely influential.”

The ensemble wowed the tightly packed bar with “Sunnyside” by a contemporary musician named Niall Vallely. The jig is an ode to the section of Queens where many Irish immigrated.

Accompanying the tunes, Hartley’s offers a menu of traditional Irish fare made from scratch in a basement kitchen by Bushwick-born chef Ernesto Barnaby. There’s popcorn with Irish cheddar for $6 to pair with a perfectly poured, properly chilled pint of Guinness. The spiced beef sandwich ($13), with onions and cheddar on house-made soda bread, comes steaming warm from the kitchen. The Irish cheddar toastie with salmon ($12) features soda bread topped with house-cured salmon and cheddar imported from Ireland.

Cheri Keating, a makeup artist who recently moved to Brooklyn from Los Angeles, was “lured into Hartley’s by the promise of a Guinness poured right and at the right temperature and real Irish stew,” and ended up staying for the music, too.

“I had delightful conversations, shared some laughs and even made a new friend,” she said. “I guess I found my new local.”

For St. Patrick’s Day weekend, Hartley’s, located at 14 Putnam Ave., will have an Irish music session on Friday starting at 5:30 p.m. On Saturday, it opens its doors early, at 10 a.m. The music starts up again on Sunday at 6:30 p.m.


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