The old ways disappear in Mockingbird Station. Twin Peaks broadcasts its toxic breastaurant status from the second floor, there are parking wars in the narrow garage spots that seem to twirl forever downward, and lunch is a sea of mediocre salads. Music thumps from one of the outdoor patios as construction pounds away at the forthcoming grilled cheese restaurant.
But when you walk through the double doors of Trinity Hall Irish Pub, there’s a merciful quiet. It’s like the doors dissolve the teeth-gritting feeling in your jaw from overexposure to trends.
The aroma inside Trinity Hall is low, bubbling gravy. Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas" is playing, and there’s a seat for you at the bar like there was a seat for Jack Nicholson at the Overlook Hotel. The wooden bar is polished with a black pitch to bring out the mahogany, and the whiskeys practically twinkle in the glass case. You’ll still find small doors for fairies behind the stage and near the restrooms.
Behold one of two fairy doors at the Trinity Hall. It's a tradition you'll find walking around in Dublin.
“We had a fairy master stop by and notice that we didn’t have any doors for the fairies come in and visit themselves, so we were able to get them installed,” owner Marius Donnelly says, chuckling. “Every so often, one of our younger guests might leave a note for the fairy to ask for something or help with something.”
Trinity Hall might be the only old-school drinking hole in the area where you can have blood pudding (with a full Irish breakfast) on weekends and drop a note for fairies on weekdays. Trinity Hall is, without a doubt, the last warrior for pub tradition and Irish bar pre-trends in the vicinity. It’s a polished gem.
The Mockingbird bar swung open its doors 16 years ago in August. Donnelly and his partner, both of whom have family origins in Dublin, shipped in delicate details for the bar — conversation pieces, actually — that still have a shine to them. The etched glass in the mirrored bar is from Ireland. The wall to the right of the bar, the one with the gold-painted diamond shapes, is not wallpapered. It’s handmade stencils.
“We have guests who’ve been with us for 17 years, and they probably still don’t know that there’s writing on the wall in the library,” Donnelly says of the quotes on the wall in the raised seating area to the left of the bar. It’s loaded with Irish and Celtic books.
“The idea was to have a place that you can come hang out instead of table turning and burning," he says.
Shepherd’s Pie is another beacon of pub light in the fog of trends. Ground beef simmers with peas, carrots and the brown gravy that’s wafting around the restaurant, and it's topped with heaping thunderclouds of whipped potatoes. Cheddar melted on top feels like a nod to Texas. It’s best eaten in quick, giant spoonfuls with a pint of beer.
Talk with your bartender at Trinity Hall. You may just find he's been there for 15 years.
Bangers and mash are extra good when swept through the brown gravy that’s got some amperage from onions. The sausages snap. The Reuben is fine, not extraordinary, rye bread sweeping across the corned beef like a green Irish hillside. This isn’t food meant to stand out as more enlightened or creative than the traditions that informed it. It’s meant to make you feel good while you drink. You’re supposed to eat corners of corned beef sandwiches and laugh and talk.
“We’re not as trendy. We’re the full Irish,” says Donnelly. “The concept of being a hospitable pub — we didn't want it to be just an old ex-pats' bar. We wanted to show off some of the nicer parts of our own.”
I’m eating a Reuben on my recent visit. The buttery-toasted marble rye, as big as a couple of paperbacks, bookends cuts of corned beef and sauerkraut. It's not something you’ll rank on a list. It's not supposed to be food blogged. (We apologize.) It’s not a Yelp review because you won’t feel the need. Don’t mess with it. Just sit, hammer some malt vinegar onto the fries and enjoy the wash of tradition.
About an hour after my sandwich entered my DNA, nine soccer games popped on the TVs, and Marius Donnelly walked around to check the feeds. He made sure everything was polished and ready for a noisy, beer-drinking football crowd.
Trinity Hall, 5321 E. Mockingbird Lane