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A Touch of Donegal in Clarendon

Molly Malone’s is the newest Irish pub in Arlington

On the red front door of Molly Malone’s, the newest Irish Pub in Clarendon, is a black horseshoe. It once belonged to Patty, the horse one of the pub’s owner’s, Denis McGroddy, brought from his home in County Donegal. And, much like Patty, the look of the establishment inside was transplanted directly to America from Ireland’s countryside.

“The idea was to make it a true pub, a place with an aesthetic that has that Donegal appeal, that Irish appeal,” said McGroddy. “It’s warm. It’s a friendly place, a place where folks can gather.”

In Ireland, the pub is an integral part of social life. It is a setting for people meet, learn about the neighborhood and discuss the day. Complete with stone hearths and a stately yet comfortable bar, Molly Malone’s embodies that idea. The product of three Donegal natives — McGroddy and his partners, Danny McFadden and Noel Sweeney — its interior is modeled on McKinley’s, a real pub in that northern corner of the island. The have all worked in pubs and related businesses for years since coming to the United States. Creating their own pub was the fullfillment of a dream for each.

"One day, we just decided to make a go at it," McGroddy said.

THE PUB OPENED Nov. 22, 2004 and has since seen a steady flow of regulars and new patrons, mostly locals drawn to it for the inviting atmosphere, the slowly pulled pints of beer and the food. To McGroddy’s surprise, it has also attracted many Irish expatriates.

“We didn’t know there were this many Irish people in the area but they’re coming in all the time to greet us,” McGroddy said. “It has become almost a community hang out for some of them. Most of the crowd we‘re seeing is in their twenties and I think that has a lot to do with the law school down the street.”

Among the regulars is Theresa O’Rourke, a local Irish poetess, songwriter and neighborhood personality who presents her work weekly at the Iota Cafe.

“They kind of adopted me here,” said O’Rourke. “I’m in here almost every day. The food is delicious. The people, everyone is very friendly.”

The liveliness of Molly Malone’s is fueled Friday and Saturday nights by co-owner Sweeney’s folksy guitar playing. Atop the narrow mantel on one of the hearths, Sweeney performs for pub-crawlers his own roster of mountain tunes and rock songs.

“He sits up there like a leprechaun, sings and plays guitar with his own kind of style,“ McGroddy said with a laugh. “On a Saturday night, it can get pretty packed in here, so that was the best place for him to get above everyone. I had never heard him sing or do anything like that in Ireland but then he gets here and starts with it and he’s really quite good. The first time I heard it I thought, where was he keeping that this whole time?”

The name Molly Malone comes from a famous folksong first published in 1884. The tune has since become the unofficial anthem for the city of Dublin. Molly is immortalized there. A bronze statue near Grafton Street and Trinity College depicts her, a fishmonger, pushing a cart.

“In Dublin's Fair City, where the girls are so pretty, I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone,” the song goes. “As she wheeled her wheel barrow through streets broad and narrow crying ‘Cockles and mussels alive, alive o!”

In keeping with the song’s lyrics, the pub serves fresh mussels in a butter and herb sauce. The menu features other traditional Irish dishes ranging from quick eats like the classic fish and chips to a rich beef and Guinness stew. Burgers and other, more American, fare can also be found. The list of deserts includes a chocolate mouse cake flavored in Bailey’s Irish Cream. Chef Noe Benavides said the kitchen will soon be serving a special Sunday brunch and adding more items to the menu in the coming months.

“WE’VE HAD A COFFEE shop in this part of Clarendon for a long time but we haven’t had a very accessible neighborhood bar in this small node of the area,” said patron Richard Sheehe.

And a neighborhood bar is what Molly Malone’s is becoming.

“The location is great and it has a very friendly atmosphere,” said Dave DiCarlo. “I’ve kept coming back here every now and then since it opened.”

Each owner comes from an Irish family that had some involvement in selling beer or running a pub. That familiarity with the traditional pub setting shows through in finishing touches to the décor like a replica street light reminiscent of those shining on the cobblestone streets and medieval alleys of Dublin’s Temple Bar district. At 320 Washington Boulevard is a red door to that offers a glimpse of Ireland.