The Irish Pub Company has gone through great pains to create an authentic Irish pub in "fadó," or rather, a combination of many different types of pubs found in Ireland. Whether you like fadó or not depends on what you are expecting. If you expect a traditional pub, you may be disappointed as it may appear more like "Celticworld," in the spirit of Walt Disney. From my experience, truly authentic Irish pubs generally don't need to call themselves an Irish pub, particularly as part of their name. On the other hand, if you open your mind and explore this pub, you might learn something about Irish history as well as enjoy fadó's diverse surroundings. Regardless of your expectations and if you can stand the crowds, fadó serves up excellent food, a proper 20-ounce pint of Guinness, and is a great place for a bit of "craic."
Although fadó is Gaelic for "long, long ago" and pronounced "f'doe," the 14-pub US chain was started by the the Irish Pub Co. in 1991 with the first location in Austin, Texas. The Chicago fadó location was opened in early 1998. The Irish Pub Co. is directly affiliated with the Guinness Brewing Co., and has constructed over 300 pubs in 38 countries throughout Europe, from Spain to Russia, as well as cities like Hong Kong, Tokyo, Bangkok, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, and Dubai.
The Chicago location is similar to the one in Atlanta in that it attempts to recreate six different types of drinking establishments in Ireland: the ancient Celtic stone hut, old-fashioned city pub, town pub/shop, fishing vessel deck (?!?), Victorian Dublin pub, and country cottage style. The effect is intriguing with many different areas to explore each time you visit, but may seem somewhat disjointed at first, as most Americans are only familiar with the Dublin or rural country-style Irish pub.
The façade of fadó's looks like three brightly-painted pubs crammed side by side, two of which are called "McNally & Sons" and "Ceol Agus Craic" (Gaelic for "music and friendly conversation"). The effect reminds me of the Dingle high street and Dick Mack's one the West Coast of Ireland, one of the most beautiful places on Earth.
As walk in to fadó, you are greeted by a bouncer and a doorway hosting a few antiques from the old country, followed by the first themed area. Spelunkers will especially appreciate the cave-like drinking den with roughly hewn stone walls, designed to create a 5th century Celtic feel. The smallish area is filled with thick wooden tables, benches and chairs, a stone Dolmen (monument marking the burial grounds of kings), and metal implements of blacksmiths whom once created iron and bronze weapons for hunters and warriors. It is an interesting effect, but somewhat uncomfortable to sit in.
The next area on the first floor is located beyond the lattice screen on the large, square wooden bar in the middle of the room. This area evokes a feel of an early industrial Irish pub with walls adorned with agricultural implements, a water pump, clocks, old posters outlining primary sources of Irish GDP, washboards, butter churns, spinning wheels, and a large loom hanging from the ceiling. If you are lucky enough to find a table around the bar, hunch over your pint on a small stool (with an intriguing tilde-shaped hole in it) or on the padded tartan benches. The third area on the first floor gives the feel of the uniquely Irish Pub/Shop of the early 1900s, where local townsfolk met to have a pint among a clutter of merchandise.
If you're feeling adventurous, head up the stairs past the giant wooden fishing boat hull or "currach" to the second floor. While more of a landing, this crescent-shaped seating area imitates a ship's deck like one that you'd expect to see in a Terry Gilliam movie Time Bandits, anyone? Gaze beyond the stern and check out the large stone Celtic cross, and painted walls and ceiling depicting St. Brendan monks rowing boats; including a monk being carried away by a winged, serpent-like demon. Patrons can compound this surreal effect by feeling the pitch and yaw brought on by your 10th Guinness.
If you can pull your eyes away from the second-floor madness, head up to the third floor. To your right, you'll find the Victorian Dublin pub area. This area is dominated by the century-old, wooden bar that was disassembled from a Dublin pub called "Pretty Kitchen" into 40 pieces, shipped to the US, and reassembled by "Irish craftsmen." Sitting at this bar is a perfect perch for observing or reminiscing about pub fights or discussing social issues. There is an interesting nook located close to the bar that has red velvet drapes and comfortable seating. If that's too crowded, set your pint on the curious island, shadowed by a Tim Burton-like metal tree with red lights hanging from it instead of brass fruit. The rest of this large room features the last Irish pub theme: a country cottage filled with picnic-style seating and a slightly elevated platform where bands occasionally play. Entertainment also includes Gaelic football matches, 6 Nation Rugby, as well as the UEFA and Euro Cup, World Cup and Olympic soccer matches live (no matter the time zone the match is actually played in) all this, even though they boast of not having any televisions. A pub quiz is featured every other Monday night.
Pints of Guinness are served cooler than you would find in Ireland (to suit local taste), but it will taste like one you'd find in Ireland thanks to the Irish-style carbonation system and being served in the proper 20-ounce glass. The food is quite good and faithfully offers traditional Irish pub grub including shepherd's pie, Gaelic steak (cooked with Jameson), soda bread, fish & chips (beer battered in Guinness Stout), potato leak soup, chicken curry, all-day Irish breakfast, their specialty salmon boxty (potato pancakes filled with salmon that's flown in daily), and my personal favorite: a spanking gorgeous dish of chicken curry served on a bed of rice and multicolored tortilla chips.
fadó is located at the corner of Grand and Clark, next to the Blue Chicago gift shop in River North, which attracts tourists and after work crowds. Tourists will be delighted to find a merchandise counter by the door hocking t-shirts, polos, Irish jam, cream crackers, and other Irish/fadó novelties. While a large bar with 3,500 square feet, fadó is packed on Thursdays after work and on the weekends. During the week, fadó's begins filling up around 6:00pm, so get there before then if you want a seat.
Despite the Irish gimmicks, I would highly recommend fadó to anyone. Just don't expect the authenticity of an Irish pub like Cullen's. For more information, check out the fadó Chicago location website, or the corporate website for information on the other 13 national locations. Trunks, buckets and jugs, oh my!
"There's nothing in the world
quite like an Irish pub.
It's a rare mix of music and conversation.
Of good food and drink.
Of hospitality and humor.
And an exceptional investment opportunity."
The Irish Pub Company, corporate literature
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