There’s no shortage of Irish pubs in New York City. As ubiquitous as pizzerias, they are easy to find. It’s finding the quality ones that takes time. In my 17 years in New York, I’ve found a few. The Piper’s Kilt in Inwood. Several in Woodside, Queens. The Penny Farthing on 3rd Avenue. Ulysses in the Financial District. St. Andrews and The Long Room in midtown. Lunasa in the East Village. Slainte on the Bowery. All of those rise above the fray with above average food and drink selections.
And in the last 17 years, we’ve seen the rise of football (soccer) bars. Beginning with Nevada Smiths in 1995, and then exploding sometime around the 2002 World Cup, New York football fans have seen a renaissance of the sport’s acceptance and popularity in the USA. We’ve also seen the rise of so-called “gastro pubs,” where the focus is on gourmet, rustic pub food, and less on televised sports. West Village establishments like The Spotted Pig and Highlands lead that segment.
Smithfield is a new pub built by veterans of this business. Partners Tom, Ken, Kieron, and Gavin have created a special place that combines elements of the football bar, traditional Irish pub and lounge, and fine restaurant into a beautifully designed and thought out package that is unique, friendly, and quite affordable.
I know Kieron from his days as a senior bartender at Nevada Smiths under Tom, the former co-owner of New York’s original football bar. After a split on the Nevada Smiths ownership, Tom began to develop plans for a football pub of his own, while also running the fine Lunasa in the East Village. Smithfield is the product of nearly two years of hard work, and I’m already a big fan.
I love the details. The use of reclaimed wood and re-use of vintage hardware and original architectural details make this place special. For example, all the bar surfaces are made from wood that is nearly 300 years old which was found in a Chelsea warehouse. The tables are made from New York water towers.
Downstairs is set up like a modern soccer bar, not unlike Amity Hall or Puck Fair downtown. Bright LED flat panel displays seem to float over a shelf taken from a Pennsylvania barn. And beneath that, the main bar, featuring massive stainless steel pipes. There are two of them, and each host ten brews on draught. Smithfield has gone the extra distance to ensure that they have a branded glass for each of the ales and lagers on tap. Details like that have made me an instant fan. Smithfield was designed with care by guys who really love their work.
Upstairs, the tone and décor changes a bit. It’s closer to a genuine Irish or English pubic house, where conversation takes precedence over televised sports. An original wood fireplace, revealed behind drywall when the space was acquired, gives the space a dash of coziness. In fact, this is only the third pub I have been to that has a fireplace (the other two being Molly’s on Third Avenue and Johnny Foley’s in San Francisco). The 300 year old bar surface is reprised in smaller form here, as there is a compact bar opposite the fireplace, as well by the windows overlooking West 28th Street. During warm weather, the windows swing open wide – another nice touch.
Two Jameson barrels from Dublin decorate the space here along with the fireplace. Jameson whiskey is distilled in the Smithfield area of northern Dublin, hence the establishment's name. And from the second floor, a sky lit mezzanine room is visible above, which is quickly becoming the Wallace Room, named after William Wallace. Now that’s a detail a Scottish American like myself can appreciate. I envision that room as a VIP lounge, where one can sit in a big leather chair and sip whiskey. I look forward to seeing how it is used in this magnificent three-level pub.
And the food? From the four dishes I’ve had so far, it is well above the average pub grub in New York City. Executive chef, Paul Garey (of Tonic and the former Truffle on Third Avenue), is off to a strong start. The Jameson wings are sweet and spicy. The lobster mac and cheese is a good, local alternative to the buffalo mac and cheese served at other establishments (like The Penny Farthing). The burgers are high end, especially their signature burger with candied foie gras and tiny truffle shavings. It’s a perfect juicy, fatty, crispy, salty creation. And my favorite, their steak frites, is worthy of a French bistro. I’m a sucker for hangar steak, and it’s quickly my favorite hangar steak dish in town. Everything is well presented and the portions are refreshingly smaller than what I’ve seen lately in other pubs and (especially) chain restaurants.
This is one fine drinking and dining establishment, run by an exceptionally friendly staff. I hope they get a glowing review in New York Magazine or Time Out New York soon. This place deserves a bright future. So to all my friends in town, and to anyone visiting New York happening to find this review, I hope you can stop by Smithfield soon. It’s top class!
215 West 28th Street (between 7th and 8th Avenue)
New York, NY 10001