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How Irish Coffee Created a Stir


This being the week of St. Patrick’s Day, I am reminded of once being on a tour of Dublin, Ireland when the itinerary called for a stop at a local nightclub for Irish Coffee. Since it was afternoon there were no performances. Drinks, however, were flowing as our group scattered across several tables.

Here, I digress to point out that while Irish Coffee might seem like a natural for Dublin, that apparently is not the case. Shannon, Ireland is supposedly where the drink began, at that city’s airport during the early days of trans-oceanic flights from the U.S. The city was the first destination after crossing the Atlantic.  Passengers were especially grateful to land in those early days because the propeller driven planes flew lower and practically bounced across the ocean. The planes were not as well pressurized back then, so the flights were often frigid. At the Shannon airport café hot coffee was a popular item among the disheveled passengers. Then someone got the idea to enhance the drink by adding Irish whiskey and a splash of whipped cream.

Americans began referring to the drink as Irish coffee. Among the state-siders passing through was a man with contacts at the Buena Vista, a bar in San Francisco located near the waterfront.  He brought the recipe home with him since San Francisco frequently had a chilly climate. It was a sensation. Thus, Irish Coffee, a drink associated with Dublin, owes its fame to Shannon and San Francisco, each located at the edge of an ocean.

(There is a drink that is indigenous to Dublin and it is made only a few blocks from where we were. It is served dark and has a bubbly head. It is the Guinness brewery, a shrine for every pub throughout the world.)

New Orleans, one might think, would play some role in the world of Irish coffee and it does. This city seems to specialize in frozen Irish coffee, which would have never had appeal in the Shannon airport but works in a semi-tropical climate. I hesitate to favor one place’s frozen over another but I do give some credit to the places that have Irish names. That would include Erin Rose; Molly’s At the Market; Finn McCool’s Irish Pub; Molly’s Irish Pub; and Tracey’s Original Irish Channel Bar.

Back to the hot stuff, Brennan’s restaurant’s version has a real New Orleans touch: Dark roast coffee with chicory. Also included are brown sugar, Jameson Irish Whiskey and whipped cream.

At the Dublin nightclub the service staff there was very efficient and we were all sipping within moments. Most notable, however, was the club’s manager who was extraordinarily outgoing. He would not have been faulted for ignoring another group of scruffy, selfie-fixated tourists, but we were more like long-lost cousins. The coffee was good but the experience was even better.

Truth is, Irish Coffee is the ultimate hot drink. No matter what the recipe says, we learned something from our experience in Dublin.  Hot drinks always taste better with a warm personality on the side. The whiskey helps, too.






Have something to add to this story, or want to send a comment to Errol? Email him at errol@myneworleans.com.


SOMETHING NEW: Listen to Louisiana Insider a weekly podcast covering the people, places and culture of the state: LouisianaLife.com/LouisianaInsider or Apple Podcasts.


BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s books, “New Orleans: The First 300 Years” and “Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival” (Pelican Publishing Company, 2017 and 2013), are available at local bookstores and at book websites.






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