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Trying to Make Emerald Inn a Local Gem

Fourteen-month-old Irish Inn at Glen Echo prepares for St. Patrick's Day.

Raised in County Longford in the Irish midlands, Christy Hughes had been in the United States for 31 years and he’s owned Irish pubs for just as long.

“This is the real thing,” he said, sitting in the pub area of the Irish Inn at Glen Echo. “This is what you find in Ireland now.”

Hughes ran the locally legendary Dubliner on Capitol Hill for 17 years, then bought the Four Provinces in Cleveland Park 12 years ago and then opened another Four Provinces in Falls Church 8 years ago. Last March he sold the Falls Church location and he is in the midst of selling the Connecticut Avenue Four Provinces to his brother Frank, who has run it for the last 10 years.

“I’m just going to keep this one. This is it,” he said.

While Hughes may be narrowing his focus, he gives no indication that he’s ready to leave the business. Nor is it a coincidence that it’s the Irish Inn he’s sticking with.

Hughes started his career in fine dining, and said that he is glad to be back in the food business.

“The biggest improvement in Ireland in the last 15 years is the food,” he said. “The food and the roads I guess.”

Hughes and Director of Operations Nathan Coons, formerly executive chef at Potomac’s Old Anglers Inn, want to dispel the notion that there is no such thing as Irish cuisine.

“I figured that no matter what I called it, it would always be known as the Inn at Glen Echo,” said Hughes, referring to the Irish Inn’s predecessor, which occupied the site for more than a decade. “So I called it the Irish Inn, which worked for me in a way and against me in a way because most people when they hear Irish, it’s corned beef and cabbage and its fish and chips and its Irish stew and that’s not what this is about. … It was good and bad. If I was to do it again, I wouldn’t deny my heritage, but I was better off leaving it with some other name.”

“You’re not going to get a stuffy experience here. … It’s very lighthearted its fun, its not tuxedo here. However you can get food complemented to what you’d find downtown. You’ll just pay less for it,” Coons said.

Hughes and Coons have their sights set on undoing the commodification of Irish Pubs. Irish pub has come to mean some laminate wood and a Guinness tap, they said, but the Irish Inn wants to be a community establishment.

“We’re here to get to know you. You feel welcome when you’re recognized when you come in,” Coons said. “It’s very social here. A lot of people that come in here live in this area. … We really do go out of our way to socialize everyone together, and its so funny how many of them know a common friend or something like that.”

Dan Lazorchick is a Potomac resident who visits the restaurant with his wife and often holds meetings there with out-of-town visitors.

"I've never hesitated to take people there," he said. "I knew the quality of the operation was such that they'd go away feeling very good about it."

"It has so much charm," Lazorchick said, and owner Christie is "full of charm himself."

Lazorchick said he used to go to the Inn at Glen Echo for breakfast and that he was particularly impressed with the redecorated interior of the new Irish Inn. Most of all he likes the staff, though. "The waiters and waitresses — very, very attentive. ... I'd give it a 10."

BUSINESS IS BOOMING, Christie and Coons said, because the Irish Inn offers two products suited to that attitude: the restaurant and the pub.

“We want you when you walk through the door to have a choice. We want you to be able to go into the pub because that’s the experience that you want or go into the restaurant side because that’s the experience that you want,” Coons said.

Both restaurant and pub are expected to be packed March 17 for St. Patrick’s Day. The restaurant will offer a three-course, prix fixe menu for $35 while the pub will have live traditional music starting in the early afternoon.

“Here we keep it nice and civilized,” Hughes said. “If you want to go crazy we have my other place on Connecticut Avenue where we take out all the furniture and have a good party all day.”

Asked which one most resembled St. Patrick’ Day in Ireland, Hughes said, “Probably this one here.”

So much, then for stereotypes of drunken mayhem most Americans attach to St. Patrick’s Day on the Emerald Isle.

Or maybe not. Asked what the Irish prescribe for those who drink to excess, Hughes joked, “They say only an amateur is sober long enough to have a hangover.”