Update: The Grange is now called The Marlay House. Same owners, same terrific pub. Just a new name. The rest of this review still stands.
Nestled as we are between Atlanta, Decatur, Oakhurst, and Little Five Points, Carol and I are blessed to live in Pubtopia. South, more or less, you’ve got the good old Brew House Café and the marvelous new gastro pub, the Porter. West, there’re two that I think would make just about anyone’s favorites lists: The Local (a quintessential neighborhood bar with great food) and The Book House (a friendly, literary gastro pub named for Twin Peaks!), both on Ponce. East takes you to Oakhurst and the Universal Joint, or to East Atlanta Village. North (I admit that my directions are approximate at best) and you’re in Decatur, where you’ll find Twain’s (a wonderful literary-themed Brew Pub!), Leon’s Full Service (delicious upscale locavore), Eddie’s Attic (the best live music listening room south of the North Pole), and, of course, the Platoic ideal of the perfect pub: the Brick Store. I’m not even mentioning the world’s most ideal neighborhood bar, the venerable and beloved Manuel’s Tavern.
I should mention that all of these places are within a mile or two of us, and every last one is warm, friendly, and comfortable. All have very good to excellent pub food, with beer lists ranging from solid to jaw-dropping. Each has something special to recommend it: music at Eddie’s, the books at the Book House, barbecue at the Local, God’s own beer and whiskey menu at the Brick Store, and sports at the Brew House, for example. Indeed, it’s the embarrassment of riches that keeps me from naming a favorite: my own Cheers, as it were.
Which brings me to The Grange, also on Ponce in Decatur. It’s an Irish Pub, actually run by Irishmen, and it has a beer list to rival even the mighty Brick Store. It’s a comfortable, homey place—and one where you’re never going to hear that dang unicorn song. (They don’t usually have live music—for the stage-Irish pub Irish singers, you’ll need to head down to Limerick Junction in Virginia Highlands.) The upscale pub food at the Grange is amazing, even for Pubtopia. I have a hard time not ordering the slow smoked, Guinness braised brisket every time, but when I’ve managed to try the bangers and mash, the pasta with cream sauce, the fish and chips (excellent, but the James Joyce in Avondale still has the best), or even the burger, I’ve been exceptionally pleased. These guys have comfort food down.
If I had to pick a favorite, I’d agonize—but the Grange is probably the one I’d pick, if only because you can’t get in to the Brick Store on the weekends, you can’t park at the Porter, and Eddie’s is for music, not just hanging out. In fact, the Grange is the place I’ve chosen for my Raven Wakes the World book release “after party” November 7. (If you’re in the neighborhood, please join us! There will be live music that night.)
Again, any of the ones I’d mentioned could be a favorite. They’re all on the list, and I grin ear to er when I’d heading to any one of them. So why the Grange? The funny thing is, I didn’t care for it that much when it was the Angel, a British Pub owned by the chain that operates (or operated) The Prince of Wales, Hand in Hand, and Fox and Hound. I didn’t dislike it, mind. It was a pub—by definition, I liked it. And honestly, it doesn’t look all that different now. It’s elegant, with lots of brick an old dark wood, but it’s comfortable and welcoming. The food and drink menus are vastly improved, though. The big difference, though, is more intangible. It’s the feel of the place. Something about it just makes me feel comfortable and welcome.
There’s one more thing. Every Tuesday night, there is a Celtic music jam session. While most of us sit around in a circle, nursing our ales and listening in a sort of golden haze of happy ecstasy, some of Atlanta’s very best traditional music play—well, whatever you feel like.
Now, as many of you know, I am a huge fan of Celtic music. Once upon a time, I used to host a Celtic radio show, and my forthcoming novel Blackthorne Faire is just drenched in it. I don’t play, but the world needs audiences, too, and on most nights, I can clap along, or distinguish the difference between a jig and a reel. I’ve been to sessions all over the world, and I own CDs from some of the more legendary ones in places like Dublin and New York, but I’ll swear, these guys can hold their own with any of them. Heck, they’re tighter than a lot of studio bands. I’ve paid fifty bucks to hear Celtic bands that didn’t sound this polished.
If you’re good, you’re welcome to join in. If you’re a beginner, you’re probably going to want to sit and listen. But I’m told it’ll make you ache to practice until you’re good enough to join the circle yourself. For me, it’s enough just to listen, to let the music wash over me like healing waters. But I understand the feeling. Something in the music wakes the urge to make. I’m always dying to write when I leave there.
The music is (not surprisingly, given that it’s a Celtic jam) mostly Celtic. But there are a few diversions. You’ll hear some Old Time, some Bluegrass, and even some Gypsy Jazz. It’s all great stuff. And you can listen as you swap stories with good friends, and nurse a pint of your favorite. Here’s raising a glass to simple pleasures and good times. Good times that happen every Tuesday night are even better. Cheers, mates. I hope to see you there.