It's pretty bloody ballsy to open a new Irish pub in a city with quite a few of them and have only a license to serve beer and wine. But The Red Leprechaun isn’t trying to be the kind of party-focused Americanized Irish bar where you go to down shots of Jameson and forget the night with friends (though their St. Patrick’s Day Party is epic). No, the Red Leprechaun opened in 2012 with the intention of being a real, live, cozy friendly-as-hell, family-friendly Irish pub with an acknowledged American twist, a cultural gathering place for sipping beer and getting to know your neighbors crafted in the grand tradition of similar pubs in Ireland itself.
To that end, co-owners Tracy Ames and Mark Truzzolino have swaddled her entire corner of Anaheim and Termino a soothing dark green, ensured there is live folk or bluegrass music at least once a week and cultivated a welcoming atmosphere that makes her cheesy-sounding slogan of “There are no strangers here, only friends you haven’t met!” less a corporate slogan than a genuine philosophy in practice. It helps that anchoring the new-ish bar is an old one — a 116-year-old one with a polished brass footrail to be exact — which, like nearly all the Irish-themed ephemera inside, Ames bought off Craigslist and installed as the centerpiece for her vision.
It also helps that Ames, who is first-generation Irish-American, brought in some of her family’s authentic dishes, including possibly the best corned beef in Long Beach, which she brines for a week before slow-cooking for six hours and serving pulled apart like a good North Carolina pulled pork. In a typical show Red Leprechaun’s bi-nationality, you can eat the corned beef the traditional way, on a plate with boiled cabbage and silky garlic mashed potatoes, or with a sinful American twist, in a dollop on top of a thick cheddar-Parmesan macaroni and cheese appetizer. It’s worth trying out other traditional dishes here, too, like the hearty shepherd's pie in a Worchestire-sauce-laden cottage gravy, and the bangers and mash, which, sure, isn’t fully traditional since the bangers hide a little spice, like a good Italian sausage.
But the most interesting parts of the menu are where Ames’ Irish and American identities smash into each other at warp speed. Consider her signature mash-up dish of Irish nachos, usually a beer-soaking pile of cheese, bacon and sour cream on top of some potatoes. At Red Leprechaun, it’s almost a casserole of a meal, with fries and tomatoes and nubs of steak all baked under an oven-cemented blanket of cheese before being topped with a tangy red house jalepeño sauce. Puncture the seal with a fork and dip every bite in the house ranch on the side.
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With servers so friendly they’ll sit and chat with you while taking your order and food that’s worth taking to go so you can eat it at home in your pajamas, it’s easy to forget you can’t get a whiskey at all in the place. Instead there’s perfect-pour Guinness, natch, along with a nice tap list of rotating craft beers (some European-style, some not), from Three Weavers ESB to Left Coast’s Trestles IPA. Wine is there for the birds along with an even more afterthought selection of wine-based cocktails in case you’re too lazy to walk the few feet to Iguana Kelly’s for a stiffer drink.
Don’t expect Red Leprechaun to compete with Auld Dubliner, Gallaghers or even E.J. Malloy’s on the high-intensity drinking scale. Go for the food, the music, the unexpected conversation with both servers and regulars, which are never in short supply along the rode-hard bar. In fact, if you’re reading this on or before Thursday, April 27, get down there when one of those regulars, a local Realtor and Holland native named Robin Auwerda, helps turn the Leprechaun into the city’s only Dutch pub in honor of Koningsdag, one of the Netherlands’ biggest national holidays. There will be Heineken and Grolsch and other Dutch beers and food specials. See you there!
4000 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; (562) 494-8726; redleprechaun.com