Irish Bars in France

So this American walks into an Irish bar in France … well, four of them.

Not a great setup for a joke, but a pretty accurate way to describe my weekend in Nantes.

For some reason, the Bouffay and Place du Commerce sections of Nantes contain a high concentration of bars. I guess having several colleges and tech companies in a tourist-friendly town will do that. No argument from me, since I need places to sit and drink after walking all over Nantes. The suburban Best Western I was calling home for nine days didn’t exactly feature the greatest entertainment options.

Assuming it’s not raining, Nantes is a great place for the “wandering around town” style of European tourism. Museums, cobblestone streets, outdoor markets, an island full of mechanical monsters and a good public transit system. It’s also got bars. Lots and lots of bars.

I am a sucker for a good expat bar. Not tourist-traps featuring overpriced drinks and Americana discarded from a remodeled T.G.I. Friday’s … but a bar with some personality and semblance of the home culture. It doesn’t have to be my culture, just anything in the Colonial realm of English speaking countries. I’ve discovered several of these in Taipei, including Brass Monkey (quite close to our office). In Munich my default hangout is Ned Kelly’s, named for an Australian folk hero (a.k.a. “wanted criminal”) who made his own body armor out of scrap metal (mental note: cops will notice if you don’t protect your legs and aim accordingly).

In Nantes there are at least four Irish pubs, and they’re surprisingly close to each other. I didn’t have to seek these places out, I just kept wandering past them. They offer the usual combination of English speaking bartenders, geographically displaced customers and English teachers who became bartenders after their contracts ran out. This includes the Scottish bartender who was still put-off by filling coffee and hot chocolate orders on a Saturday.

I’ve had pub food in Scotland. I’m deathly afraid of what they would do to a cup of cocoa.

The funny thing is only one establishment had an Irish owner, or any Irish people actually working there (John McByrne). I know it’s impractical to import your entire staff from Ireland, no matter the economic conditions, but it’s even stranger to see the number of English and Scottish folks happily serving under French ownership in an Irish bar. Then there’s the whiskey selection. Or, to be accurate, the Scotch selection. Fleming’s has over 120 whiskeys, but the majority are some subset of Scotch. There’s also American Bourbon, Japanese whiskey, a Bangalore single-malt and some Irish whiskey to match the flag over the door. All much cheaper per-drink than what I can find in Paris.

I guess the European Union works better than expected.

None of the mix in this cultural blender bothers me. Sure, my family has a strong Scottish heritage, but I’m a pretty messy breed of mutt. Southerners think I’m a Yankee, Yankees think I’m a Southerner, Canadians are too polite to complain and foreigners aren’t quite sure what to make of me. No American kitchen offers cultural purity (hello immigrant kitchen staff), so why should I expect it from “Irish” bars showing French rugby matches and American football?

However, I’m still not over that single-malt from Bangalore on the menu. That will take a few more drinks to comprehend. Where’s the bartender?

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