As a person of three-eighths Irish descent, fourth-generation, let me just say that I can’t stand most Irish bars. The predictably narrow beer selection, the finance-bro vibe, the feeling they could all be franchises of a worldwide conglomerate called IrishCorp — each pub seems to skew heavily toward the safe and unimaginative. There are exceptions, like Nickies in the Lower Haight, but most are about as enticing as an iPhone pre-loaded with a U2 album.
Well, Jack London Square’s newest spot for drinking makes a compelling case for re-evaluating. Sláinte — pronounced “SLON-cha,” the Irish Gaelic word for “good health” or “cheers” — is everything the corner bar for bankers is not. You won’t find any “Lovely Day for a Guinness” posters with a toucan balancing two pints on its beak, or embossed mirrors advertising Killian’s Irish Red. Instead, the walls are covered with Hibernian literary legends like George Bernard Shaw and Samuel Beckett at his most severe — appropriate for a district that’s also named for a novelist. Plus, there’s a fine whiskey selection, a full Irish breakfast served all day, and a fireplace besides.
Co-owners Jackie Gallanagh (who’s also the chef) and Jenny Schwarz (Sláinte’s beverage director, and the owner of uptown Oakland’s Hopscotch) have done a fine job of turning what used to be an Indian restaurant into something with the appropriate character: During the build-out, they removed sections of wall covering and found layers of exposed brick beneath, for an instant historical patina. Jack London Square, which teeters on the edge of becoming Fisherman’s Wharf II, could always use more places this lively and organic.
That Irish breakfast, tho: It’s got two fried eggs, a bowl of beans, a roasted half tomato, black and white pudding, bacon and Irish sausage, house-made Irish soda bread buttered with Kerrygold, and a potato pancake known as boxty. It’s $16 worth of coronary thrombosis on a plate, and it’s terrific. (Incidentally, Irish butter is the best in the world because the cows on that rainy island can eat fresh grass all year and never have to subsist on lower-quality silage during a dry season.)
The zing of horseradish makes a lamb-heavy shepherd’s pie come alive, and for a plate of fish-and-chips made with local rock cod, you better believe there’s Heinz malt vinegar to be had. Finish things off with a dense Guinness ginger cake topped with whiskey whipped cream.
While the beer selection is a shade too Hibernia-centric, Slainte does have Fort Point Animal IPA and Calicraft Oaktown Brown among the Harp and Smithwick’s. (Surely there are upstart Irish microbrewers eager to import their wares? Those could be a lot of fun to suss out, and I don’t think accommodating the craft-beer revolution will dilute the bar’s identity.)
But there are cocktails, too, from a Gibson served in a proper martini glass and not a footed rocks glass — sad that we live in a time when you have to note that, but we do — to a Red O’Hanlon, essentially a Manhattan with Irish whiskey as the base. Feel like educating that palate by sipping? Beyond Jameson and Bushmills, Sláinte has Redbreast (aged 12, 15, and 21 years) and Connemara single-malt peated whiskey, among others. Raise a toast to Oscar Wilde or to Sinead O’Connor, because they’re both there on the wall.
Shaw once said, “The problem with some people is that when they aren’t drunk, they’re sober.” I’m still haunted by the time I went to the Ronald Reagan Pub at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley to escape all the smartly dressed Republican docents waxing about the Gipper, and almost died when I saw it’s merely a reassembled shell of a defunct tavern in Tipperary and doesn’t even serve alcohol, making it the worst “Irish bar” experience imaginable. Sláinte can’t undo Iran-Contra or un-appoint Scalia, but it sure makes up for a hell of a lot.
Sláinte, 131 Broadway, Oakland, 510-823-2644 or slainteoakland.com