A new Irish bar started pouring pints in the Mission before the holidays, but if that inspires images of mini flags and plastic shamrocks, get ready for a double take: Casements is a modern cocktail bar run by actual Irish people. It serves strong Irish whiskey and gin, claims to tap the best Guinness in the city, and offers a proper pub menu of savory pies and curry chips.
The bar is a personal project from a trio of hard-drinking industry veterans, namely Gillian Fitzgerald (Virgil’s Sea Room, WesBurger), Sean O’Donovan (Mission Bowling Club, Driftwood), and Chris Hastings (the Lookout, WesBurger). Fitzgerald and O’Donovan are in fact Irish, from counties Meath and Clare, respectively, and have been spilling Guinness since they were teenagers. “We were sick of the American perception of Irish bars,” says Fitzgerald. “We wanted to defy expectations.”
The drinks go deep on whiskey and gin. A quick drunk history: Ireland’s whiskey industry crashed in the ’70s, dropping down to only a few brands, and while it’s now booming, many makers started dabbling in gin, while waiting decades for their whiskey to age. Casements has collected about 50 whiskeys and 20 gins, from old-school bottles to ones from new and cool makers who are playing with smoky bog oak barrels and discarded whey from dairy farms. The “Ode to Orleans,” for instance, relies on Powers classic whiskey, Kerrygold Irish cream, and Andytown cold brew coffee. The bar is also planning on adding a gin and tonic menu, working with the Oakland-based Diaspora spice company to responsibly source “decolonized” cardamom and turmeric for house tonics and syrups. “We’re also planning to take the title of the best Guinness on draft in the city,” Hastings says. That means a direct drop underneath the bar, reducing the distance the beer has to travel, so it’s served straight from the keg, frothy and cold.
The food menu rounds things out with lots of hearty fare and traditional touches, including puffed prawn crackers with secret spices, chicken curry served with chips (translation: fries), cheese toasties (open-faced sandwiches), and a seafood stew brimming with mussels, clams, salmon, and white fish, depending on what’s in season. The soda bread is the same recipe that Fitzgerald’s grandmother made two loaves of every day.
But the stars are sure to be the pies, courtesy of Revenge Pies, a cult-favorite bakery which just went underground, and is now only supplying a couple of restaurants. These aren’t traditional shepherd’s or fish pies at all, but an American take on savory hand pies, relying on her signature all-butter vodka crust, stuffed with braised meat and veggies, and twisted up like an oversized empanada.
For the space, “We wanted it to feel like you could be walking into any modern cocktail bar in Dublin right,” Fitzgerald insists. “Warm, welcoming, and polished.” The team fell in love with the exposed brick wall, wooden floors, and high ceilings of the original space. Designer David Marks deepened the character with dark blue paint and leather details. At only 1,650 square feet, it’s a cozy and intimate 40 seats, including 14 at the bar, two low tables at the front, two high tables at the center, and two leather booths at the back. In the spring, the team will open up a couple of tables outside but within the gate.
A portrait of Sir Roger Casement looks out over the space. He was a diplomat and humanitarian who traveled to the Congo, exposing colonial atrocities during his time there, a story that plays out in the African print of the wallpaper, as well as the jungle of rubber plants over the entrance. Later tried for treason and sentenced to death, he was also outed as a homosexual, and Fitzgerald likes to think of him as a martyr for misfits and revolutionaries. There’s a small library nook in the back, with collection of books and memorabilia, and framed art and artifacts show rugby matches, politicians, musicians like Thin Lizzy, and drag queen Panti Bliss.
Casements is open Monday through Friday from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 3 p.m. to 2 a.m.