When Dubliners enter their local pub, the feeling is one of immediate comfort, like slipping into a pair of well-worn shoes. The spacious interior of the Playwright Irish Pub & Restaurant handsomely mimics the antique look that comes naturally to those ancient, tin-ceilinged, gas-lamp-adorned drinking establishments, but it's still too shiny and new (open only three months) to successfully fashion the proper sense of familiarity. Nothing the owners can do about that except give it some time -- say a century or so. Meanwhile it's still the first real pub to open in South Beach, as other local watering holes, whether they call themselves pub, tavern, or lounge, look pretty much like watering holes.
The playwright theme is lightly spotlighted in the form of some framed black-and-white portraits of Irish and English authors (from Samuel Beckett to Jonathan Swift), and old hardcover books ever so carefully arranged to look as though they've been randomly placed around the room. They needn't have bothered with the literary pretext; the real rationale for coming here is to partake of pints of brew while conversing, watching one of two television screens, or listening to fairly loud music pumped through overhead speakers. Twenty stools line up in front of a large and dominant cherrywood and mahogany bar, while behind it bartenders tap a dozen draft beers, including Guinness, Bass, Harp, and Boddington's Ale, a gorgeous pale amber brew from Manchester, England, with a foam as soft as that atop cappuccino. They also offer eighteen bottled beers, from Red Stripe to Woodpecker Cider. Happy hour, Monday to Friday from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m., is an opportune time to sample some two-for-one brews (draft or bottles). The crowd is fuller and livelier on weekend nights, but multicolor spotlights and loud live music sort of kill the pub ambiance.
One wordsmith whose portrait doesn't hang here is Courtine, who once described Irish stew, a layered dish of mutton, onion, and potatoes, as being emblematic if not of the art of living, at least of the art of staying alive. Of course the same could be said for any stew, even one as tasty as Playwright's, which is composed of potatoes, carrots, and numerous chunks of tender beef in a deeply seasoned Guinness-spiked brown sauce.
If you think of Irish cooking as just boiled variations on meat and vegetables, you won't be disappointed with the corned beef and cabbage: four strips of boiled salt-cured brisket with boiled potatoes and boiled cabbage. I know this isn't fine dining, but sometimes even a pub will offer horseradish or mustard sauce on the side, or cook the cabbage with the corned beef so it gets a bit of other-than-cabbage flavor, or at least season the ingredients with salt and pepper. Some, I suppose, might even serve bread on the side. My dining partner summed the dish up rather eloquently: Eh.
Playwright's small menu includes other old-time pub classics, like fish and chips, bangers and mash, and shepherd's pie, along with American bar favorites such as chicken wings, mozzarella sticks, sandwiches, and a better-than-average grilled one-half-pound Irish cheddar and onion burger, with choice of salad or delicious homemade French fries. On the downside: singed bun, stringy onions, and a stingy portion of fries.
You won't find consistently great pub food here, but the stew and brews are quite good, and so are the prices (sandwiches and main courses run from $8.95 to $10.95). Besides, an Irish pub (or more than one, even with only decent fare) is something that every city, even Miami Beach, should have. And this one is feeling more comfortable every day.
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