John Kelly sits at the end of his bar, a draft beer sitting on a coaster in front of him, and a look of conviction on his face.
“When I opened here, I was told don’t bother, I’d never make it. There was an article done on real estate, they said this was a bad location—there were five restaurants in the two and a half years before me,” he says with an Irish lilt. That was 15 years ago. Looking around, there’s no question about it, the place is hopping.
Kelly is the owner of The Parlour, a down-to-earth Irish pub located on the Upper West Side, with a few tricks up its sleeve. The secret to its success, he says, is that it’s very much like home—cozy and unpretentious. “We mean it when we say welcome, we really do want you to have a good time.”
Attribute it to famed Irish hospitality or just to the sincere kind of guy he is, in any case you can tell Kelly’s heart is really in what he does.
Kelly’s place has a tavern feel with a little more, call it a bit of mystery, almost like the feeling you had exploring the secret room in your grandfather’s house when you were a child. Dark wood, antiques from Ireland, stained glass windows, and photographs of the Celtics Football Club fill the surprisingly spacious venue.
Beyond the interesting, even moody atmosphere, The Parlour is adept at serving up the the Irish food classics we’ve all come to know and love: fish and chips, bangers and mash, shepherd’s pie, and more.
An old friend of mine used to say, you can judge the merit of a bar’s kitchen by the quality of their fish and chips. That said, The Parlour’s beer-battered fish and chips pull their weight reliably.
Now, make no mistake: this isn’t sea bass lightly dusted in organic Peruvian bread crumbs—this is pub fish and chips, but solid pub fish and chips done the right way, with hearty portions, thick-cut French fries, good tartar sauce, and a price point that won’t make you cry.
As Kelly puts it: “We’re not trying to be something that we aren’t.”
And herein lies the allure of The Parlour: it’s an authentic Irish restaurant and bar done right, homegrown with all of the essentials, not too fancy and not too grungy, quality food, warm staff, TVs filled with sports, and Irish accents—don’t forget the Irish accents.
The burgers are bestsellers. They became so popular Kelly created a build-your-own-burger menu that lets you pick the size (from a 6-ounce small to a 12-ounce large), the kind of burger (including turkey, salmon, veggie), and toppings (fried pickles is an unusual but popular choice). The burgers are juicy, and the fries that arrive alongside are addicting: fresh, crunchy, and hardly salted so you can adjust the salt level yourself.
Comforting Irish classics fill the menu: the shepherd’s pie, with ground sirloin and lamb, and vegetables are topped with golden, creamy mashed potatoes, is very good—and huge. I would definitely share dishes unless you are feeling ravenous. The bangers and mash (sausages and mashed potatoes for the uninitiated) come with a light gravy and mashed potatoes; Irish beef stew, and corned beef and cabbage tastily round out the Irish menu.
The grilled Irish salmon steak, served with a mustard sauce, on a bed of leek confit, is absolutely delicious and the perfect choice if you’re looking to go the healthier route. The salmon is moist and tender inside, and has a nice bite from the seared crispness on the outside. The pairing with the leeks, with the mustard sauce underneath, was excellent, and yet another little unique surprise.
On the surface, you wouldn’t think the salads would be a strong point, but they’re a standout on the menu. The salads are fresh and perfectly dressed, each leaf bearing a light coat of dressing, and not greasy at all. The Emerald Green salad, for example, is straightforward but excellent: baby greens and parmesan shavings, served with a wonderful balsamic vinaigrette.
This being an Irish pub, Guinness flows freely, and there are even some interesting Irish drink concoctions, including Black Satin, with Guinness and champagne (“champagne makes it very bubbly”) and Snake Bite. “That’s the scary one,” says Kelly. “You mix Magners [Irish cider] and Stella and it comes up behind you and bites you. You can’t drink many of them. But it tastes great.”
The Parlour has plenty of elbow room. There’s a small horseshoe bar on the left, along with a pool table; on the right side, a main bar, darts, jukebox, TVs, and a larger seating area; a quieter back room. The downstairs is more of party spot, popular with Columbia students and sports teams—a trip there might just land you in a game of beer pong. That’s right. Beer pong.
The back room and downstairs are available for private parties.
The Parlour is located outside the 86th St. exit of the 1 train, just a few stops into the Upper West Side. Kelly is always at the ready to greet folks coming through the door. To Kelly, the eighth of 14 children, hospitality and the owner’s touch is what it’s all about.
“It makes all the difference,” he says.
Early bird special at $19.99 Monday through Friday 5 p.m.–7 p.m. includes an appetizer, main dish, and dessert. Brunch weekends. Happy hour, Monday through Friday, all day until 7 p.m. with $3 domestic bottles, $4 well drinks, and $4 for wine. Tuesdays: trivia night; Thursdays & Fridays: beer pong; Wednesdays & Sundays: karaoke. The back room and downstairs are available for private parties.
250 West 86th St.
Open till 4 a.m. every day