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Why For springs back into action, then ends with a bang

JHM’s Q & A column returns after a long winter nap with answers to your questions about the Muppets, “Beauty and the Beast,” the Disney Stores as well as revealing where a Dick Cheney joke can be found in “Ratatouille”



First up, Kevin L. writes in to ask:

Why For have there been no Why For’s in so long? I’m a long-time reader of yours and used to get excited every Friday for your Why For column of Disney Trivia and little-known facts. But seems nowadays that when I click over to Jimhillmedia on Fridays, there is no Why For to be found – or an article at all for that matter. What’s going on Jim??

Also, are you ever going to finish up that Muppet (series) you started over at Laughing Place several years back? I’d love to get back to that and maybe some info on Disney’s next Muppet flick with the writer & director of the upcoming comedy, “Forgetting Sarah Marshall“.

Copyright 2008 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

So what do you say, Jim? Can we get back to it? Hope you have a great Easter!

Kevin L.
Cumming, GA

Dear Kevin,

As for why there’s been no Why For lately … Well, it’s not for lack of trying.

Take — for example — today. I was sitting here, working on the long overdue return of JHM’s Q & A column, when the freak windstorm that’s battering New Hampshire today must have knocked down a power line.

And given that it sometimes takes PSNH a day or more before it can restore electricity out here in the woods … Nancy and I began making preparations for a power-free night. So we fired up the woodstove, checked all the batteries in the flashlights, dug out some candles. I even drove down to Dodge’s General Store to get the makings of a cold supper.

 Copyright 2008 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

And then — of course — after Nancy and I had done all of this prep work, the electricity came back on right at dusk.

*sigh* Sometimes you can’t win for losing.

Anyway … As for “Why For.” Now that this truly miserable winter is finally over, hopefully things will get back to normal around here and JHM can now resume its regular publishing schedule.

Of course, having just said that … I now anticipate that a plague of frogs will begin shortly.

And speaking of frogs … You’re right, Kevin. It’s been far too long since I last wrote about the Muppets. And there have been lots of interesting things going on with these characters lately. Not the least of which is the recent launch of that Muppets channel over at XD.

 Copyright 2008 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Tell you what: Let me give my Muppet contact at Disney a call and see if I can’t get a story in the works for next week or thereabouts?

In the meantime, Susan writes in to ask:


I’d love to buy the Beauty and the Beast DVD, but it seems to be in the infamous vault. Do you know when Disney will release it again? Do they really keep things in the vault for 7 years? I’d really appreciate your insider insight on this issue.



Well, depending on which date Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment finally settles on for the release of a Blu-ray edition of “Beauty and the Beast,” it will in fact have been seven years (or just a little bit more) since this title was last let out of the Disney Vault.

 Copyright 2002 Disney. All Rights Reserved

According to what company insiders have been telling me, following the March 2009 release of “Pinocchio” (Which — just like “Sleeping Beauty” when it goes on sale this Fall — will be available for purchase in both the high-def & the standard-def format) … Disney’s pretty much burned through all of its Platinum titles.

Oh, sure. There’s still “Fantasia” and its follow-up. But given the concert feature’s historical significance as well as its extremely limited commercial appeal … That’s why “Fantasia” has never been lumped in with Disney’s “Platinum” titles. Mind you, this film will eventually be available for purchase in the Blu-ray format. But “Fantasia” won’t ever be one of WDSHE’s mass market releases.

Anyway … Getting back to “Beauty & the Beast” now … Following the March 2009 release of “Pinocchio,” Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment will have officially run through its entire catalog of Platinum titles. And with the hope that — 18 months from now — Blu-ray will have much better market penetration … Well, it’ll then be time to start selling high-def versions of these much-sought-after titles.

As for an official release schedule … I’m told that there’s a belief in-house that it may not be wise to follow the release of the Blu-ray version of “Pinocchio” with a high-def edition of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” That — at least from a retail point of view — it might be smarter to separate the mass market releases of these two Walt-era classics by at least a year.

Copyright 2001 Disney. All Rights Reserved

Which means that Belle & Snow White will mostly likely trading places in WDSHE’s batting order. With the Blu-ray version of “Beauty and the Beast” being available for purchase in October of 2009, with the high-def edition of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” going on sale in March of 2010.

Mind you, this release schedule is extremely tentative. And given that it was only last month that Blu-ray defeated HD DVD in the format wars … Well, that news is bound to have some sort of impact on Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment’s future plans.

But if you can just hang in there another 18 months or so, Susan, you should (in theory, anyway) finally be able to pick up a brand new copy of “Beauty and the Beast.” But whether that disc is in high-def or standard-def is entirely up to you.

Next up, Nightwing writes in to ask:

Hi Jim

I was hoping you could let me know if Disney is really looking into buying the Disney Stores back from Children’s Place. I work at one of the newer locations and I know Disney wasn’t happy with the “progess” of updating older stores along with some other issues. But are they really going to buy the stores back after dumping them? They just closed 3 locations in a month in my state alone. I really hope Disney does because that would mean I would work for the Mouse again AND still have a job!

Copyright Disney / Children’s Place. All Rights Reserved


Dear Nightwing,

The good news is … Mickey is in fact looking to regain control of the Disney Stores. Negotiations with Children’s Place officials are already well underway. And if all goes according to plan, within the next 90 days, the Walt Disney Company should once again own this worldwide retail chain.

The bad news is … Once ownership is officially transferred back to Burbank, look for the Mouse to run a much leaner & meaner operation this time around. Where once there were 700 Disney Stores around the globe, the company’s now looking to pare that number down to around 200. And only the top earning stores are expected to survive the coming purge.

Mind you, once Mickey’s slimmed down this operation … Then things get interesting. Disney’s looking to use the company’s new, stronger connection with tweens to its advantage in the retail arena. So look for your local Disney Store to soon get loaded up with Hannah Montana, High School Musical and Jonas Brothers merch.

Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

Beyond that … Well, Mouse House officials hope that this leaner, meaner version of the Disney Store retail chain will be able to respond far quicker to changes in the marketplace. Whether that actually will turn out to be the case … I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

And — finally — Ted M. writes in to say:

I’ve heard that “Ratatouille” has this pretty mean political joke hidden in it somewhere. A gag that actually makes fun of the Vice President of the United States. Do you have any idea where this gag is in the movie?

Dear Ted,

The scene that you’re looking for occurs pretty early in this Brad Bird film. Right after the old lady awakens and — upon finding Remi & Emil in her kitchen — begins blasting away at the rats with a shotgun.

 Copyright 2008 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

When the old lady runs out of ammo, she reaches for a new box of shells.

 Copyright 2008 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

And just a brief second, we get to see a glimpse of the exterior of this package. Which reads:

 Copyright 2008 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

R.B. Cheny Supershot
Shotgun Shells

R.B. Cheny. As in Richard Bruce Cheney. AKA Dick Cheney, the Vice President of the United States. Who — back in February of 2006 — accidentally shot & wounded Harry Whittington while these two were out quail hunting.

As to why Cheney’s name is mis-spelled on this shotgun shell box … I’m told that Disney’s attorneys insisted upon this. So that — should this story ever leak out — Pixar would at least then have some level of deniability.

And now that I’ve ended this Why For with a bang. You folks have a Happy Easter, okay?

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

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Jens Dahlmann of LongHorn Steakhouse has lots of great tips when it comes to grilling



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Sure, for some folks, the Fourth of July is all about fireworks. But for the 75% of all Americans who own a grill or a smoker, the Fourth is our Nation’s No. 1 holiday when it comes to grilling. Which is why 3 out of 4 of those folks will spend some time outside today working over a fire.

But here’s the thing: Though 14 million Americans can cook a steak with confidence because they actually grill something every week, the rest of us – because we use our grill or smoker so infrequently … Well, let’s just say that we have no chops when it comes to dealing with chops (pork, veal or otherwise).

So what’s a backyard chef supposed to in a situation like this when there’s so much at steak … er … stake? Turn to someone who really knows their way around a grill for advice. People like Jens Dahlmann, the Vice President and Corporate Executive Chef for Darden Restaurant’s LongHorn Steakhouse brand.

Given that Jens’ father & grandfather were chefs, this is a guy who literally grew up in a kitchen. In his teens & twenties, Dahlmann worked in hotels & restaurants all over Switzerland & Germany. Once he was classically trained in the culinary arts, Jens then  jumped ship. Well, started working on cruise ships, I mean.

Anyway … While working on Cunard’s Sea Goddess, Dahlmann met Sirio Maccioni, the founder of Le Cirque 2000. Sirio was so impressed with Jens’ skills in the kitchen that he offered him the opportunity to become sous-chef at this New York landmark. After four years of working in Manhattan, Dahlmann then headed south to become executive chef at Palm Beach’s prestigious Café L’Europe.

Jens Dahlmann back during his Disney World days

And once Jens began wowing foodies in Florida, it wasn’t all that long ’til the Mouse came a-calling. Mickey wanted Dahlmann to shake things up in the kitchen over at WDW’s Flying Fish Café. And he did such a good job with that Disney’s Boardwalk eatery the next thing Jens knew, he was then being asked to work his magic with the menu at the Contemporary Resort’s California Grill.

From there, Dahlmann had a relatively meteoric rise at the Mouse House. Once he became Epcot’s Food & Beverage general manager, it was only a matter of time before he wound up as the executive chef in charge of this theme park’s annual International Food & Wine Festival. Which – under Jens’ guidance – experienced some truly explosive growth.

“When I took on Food & Wine, that festival was only 35 days long and had gross revenues of just $5.5 million. When I left Disney in 2016, Food & Wine was now over 50 days long and that festival had gross revenues of $22 million,” Dahlmann admitted during a recent sit-down. “I honestly loved those 13 years I spent at Disney. When I was working there, I learned so much because I was really cooking for America.”

And it was exactly that sort of experience & expertise that Darden wanted to tap into when they lured Jens away from Mickey last year to become LongHorn Steakhouse’s new Vice President and Corporate Executive Chef. But today … Well, Dahlmann is offering tips to those of us who are thinking about cooking steak tips for the Fourth.

Photo by Jim Hill

“When you’re planning on grilling this holiday, if you’re looking for a successful result, the obvious place to start is with the quality of the meat you plan on cooking for your friends & family. If you want the best results here, don’t be cheap when you go shopping. Spend the money necessary for a fresh filet or a New York strip. Better yet a Ribeye, a nice thick one with good marbling. Because when you look at the marbling on a steak, that’s where all the flavor happens,” Jens explained. “That said, you always have to remember that — the higher you go with the quality of your meat — the less time you’re going to want that piece of meat to spend on the grill.”

And speaking of cooking … Before you even get started here, Jens suggests that you first take the time to check over all of your grilling equipment. Making sure that the grill itself is first scraped clean & then properly oiled before you then turn up the heat.

“If you’re working with a dirty grill, when you go to turn your meat, it may wind up sticking to the grill. Or maybe those spices that you’ve just so carefully coated your steak with will wind up sticking to the grill, rather than your meat,” Dahlmann continued. “Which is why it’s always worth it to spend a few minutes prior to firing up your grill properly cleaning & oiling it.”

Photo by Jim Hill

And speaking of heat … Again, before you officially get started grilling here, Jens says that it’s crucial to check your temperature gauges. Make sure that your char grill is set at 550 (so that it can then properly handle the thicker cuts of meat) and your flattop is set at 425 (so it can properly sear thinner pieces of meat).

Okay. Once you’ve bought the right cuts of quality meat, properly cleaned & oiled your grill, and then made sure that everything’s set at the right temperature (“If you can only stand to hold your hand directly over the grill for two or three seconds, that’s the right amount of heat,” Dahlmann said), it’s now time to season your steaks.

“Don’t be afraid to be bold here. You can’t be shy when it comes to seasoning your meat. You want to give it a nice coating. Largely because — if you’re using a char grill — a lot of that seasoning is just going to fall off anyway,” Jens stated. “It’s up to you to decide what sort of seasoning you want to use here. Even just some salt & pepper will enhance a steak’s flavor.”

Then – according to Dahlmann – comes the really tough part. Which is placing your meat on the grill and then fighting the urge to flip it too early or too often.

“The biggest mistake that a lot of amateur cooks make is that they flip the steak too many times. The real key to a well-cooked piece of meat is just let it be, “Jens insisted. “Of course, if you’re serving different cuts of meat at your Fourth of July feast, you always want to put your biggest thickest steak on the grill first. If you’re also cooking a New York Strip, you want to put that one on a few minutes later. But after that, just let the grill do its job and flip your meat a total of three or four times, once every three minutes or so.”

Of course, the last thing you want to do is overcook a quality piece of meat. Which is why Dahlmann suggests that – when it comes to grilling steaks – if you’re going to err, err on the side of undercooking.

“You can always put a piece of meat back on the grill if it’s slightly undercooked. When you over-cook something, all you can do then is start over with a brand-new piece of meat,” Jens said. “Just be sure that you’re using the correct cut of meat for the cooking result you’re aiming for. If someone wants a rare or medium rare steak, you should go with a thicker cut of steak. If one of your guests wants their steak cooked medium or well, it’s best to start with a thinner cut of meat.”

Photo by Jim Hill

As you can see, the folks at Longhorn take grilling steaks seriously. How seriously? Just last week at Darden Corporate Headquarters in Orlando, seven of these brand’s top grill masters (who – after weeks of regional competitions – had been culled from the 491 restaurants that make up this chain) competed for a $10,000 prize in the Company’s second annual Steak Master Series. And Dahlmann was one of the people who stood in Darden’s test kitchens, watching like a hawk as each of the contestants struggled to prepare six different dishes in just 20 minutes according to Longhorn Steakhouse’s exacting standards.

“I love that Darden does this. Recognizing the best of the best who work this restaurant,” Jens concluded. “We have a lot of people here who are incredibly knowledgeable & passionate when it comes to grilling.”

Speaking of which … If today’s story doesn’t include the exact piece of info that you need to properly grill that T-bone, just whip out your iPhone & text GRILL to 55702. Or – better yet – visit prior to firing up your grill or smoker later today. 

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Tuesday, July 4, 2017

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Brattleboro’s Strolling of the Heifers is a sincere if somewhat surreal way to spend a summer’s day in Vermont



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Some people travel halfway ‘around the planet so that they can then experience the excitement of the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona. If you’re more of a Slow Living enthusiast (as I am), then perhaps you should amble to Brattleboro, VT. Where – over the first weekend in June – you can then join a herd of cow enthusiasts at the annual Strolling of the Heifers.

Now in its 16th year, this three-day long event typically gets underway on Friday night in June with a combination block party / gallery walk. But then – come Saturday morning – Main Street in Brattleboro is lined with thousands of bovine fans.

Photo by Jim Hill

They’ve staked out primo viewing spots and set up camp chairs hours ahead of time. Just so these folks can then have a front row seat as this year’s crop of calves (which all come from local farms & 4-H clubs) are paraded through the streets.

Photo by Jim Hill

Viewed from curbside, Strolling of the Heifers is kind of this weird melding of a sincere small town celebration and Pasadena’s Doo Dah Parade. Meaning that – for every entry that actually acknowledged this year’s theme (i.e. “Dance to the Moosic”) — …

Photo by Jim Hill

… there was something completely random, like this parade’s synchronized shopping cart unit.

Photo by Jim Hill

And for every piece of authentic Americana (EX: That collection of antique John Deere tractors that came chugging through the city) …

Photo by Jim Hill

… there was something silly. Like – say – a woman dressed as a Holstein pushing a baby stroller through the streets. And riding in that stroller was a pig dressed in a tutu.

Photo by Jim Hill

And given that this event was being staged in the Green Mountain State & all … Well, does it really surprise you to learn that — among the groups that marched in this year’s Strolling of the Heifers – was a group of eco-friendly folks who, with their  chants of “We’re Number One !,” tried to persuade people along the parade route not to flush the toilet after they pee. Because – as it turns out – urine can be turned into fertilizer.

Photo by Jim Hill

And speaking of fertilizer … At the tail end of the parade, there was a group of dedicated volunteers who were dealing with what came out of the tail end of all those cows.

Photo by Jim Hill

This year’s Strolling of the Heifers concluded at the Brattleboro town common. Where event attendees could then get a closer look at some of the featured units in this year’s parade…

Photo by Jim Hill

… or perhaps even pet a few of the participants.

Photo by Jim Hill

But as for the 90+ calves who took part in the 2017 edition of Strolling of the Heifers, once they reached the town common, it was now time for a nosh or a nap.

Photo by Jim Hill

Elsewhere on the common, keeping with this year’s “Dance to the Moosic” theme, various musical groups performed in & around the gazebo throughout the afternoon.

Photo by Jim Hill

While just across the way – keeping with Brattleboro’s tradition of showcasing the various artisans who live & work in the local community – some pretty funky pieces were on display at the Slow Living Exposition.

Photo by Jim Hill

All in all, attending Strolling of the Heifers is a somewhat surreal but still very pleasant way to spend a summer’s day in Vermont. And that’s no bull.

Photo by Jim Hill

Well, that could be a bull. To be honest, what with the wig & all, it’s kind of hard to tell. 

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Sunday, June 4, 2017

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Looking to make an authentic Irish meal for Saint Patrick’s Day? If so, then chef Kevin Dundon says not to cook corned beef & cabbage



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Let’s at least start on a positive note: Celebrated chef, author & TV personality Kevin Dundon – the man that Tourism Ireland has repeatedly chosen as the Face of Irish Food – loves a lot of what happens in the United States on March 17th.

“I mean, look at what they do in Chicago on Saint Patrick’s Day. They toss all of this vegetable-based dye into the Chicago River and then paint it green for a day. That’s terrific,” Kevin said.

But then when it comes to what many Americans eat & drink on St. Paddy’s Day (i.e., a big plate of corned beef and cabbage. Which is then washed down with a mug of green beer) … Well, that’s where Dundon has to draw the line.

Irish celebrity chef Kevin Dundon displays a traditional Irish loin of bacon with Colcannon potatoes and a Dunbrody Kiss chocolate dessert. Photo by Tom Burton. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

“Green beer? No real Irishman would be caught dead drinking that stuff,” Kevin insists. “And as for eating corned beef & cabbage … That’s not actually authentic Irish fare either. Bacon and cabbage? Sure. But corned beef & cabbage was something that the Irish only began eating after they’d come to the States to escape the Famine. And even then these Irish-Americans only began serving corned beef & cabbage to their friends & family because they had to make do with the ingredients that were available to them at that time.”

And thus begins the strange tale of how corned beef & cabbage came to be associated with the North American celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day celebration. Because – according to Dundon – beef just wasn’t all that big a part of the Irish diet back in the 19th century.

To explain: Back in the Old Country, cattle – while they were obviously highly prized for the milk & cheese that they produced – were also beasts of burden. Meaning that they were often used for ploughing the fields or for hauling heavy loads. Which is why – back then — these animals were rarely slaughtered when they were still young & healthy. If anything, land owners liked to put a herd of cattle on display out in one of their pastures because that was then a sign to their neighbors that this farm was prosperous.

“Whereas pork … Well, everybody raised pigs back then. Which is why pork was a staple of the Irish diet rather than beef,” Dundon continued.

So if that’s what people actually ate back in the Old Country, how then did corned beef & cabbage come to be so strongly associated with Saint Patrick’s Day in the States.? That largely had to do with where the Irish wound up living after they arrived in the New World.

“When the Irish first arrived in America following the Great Famine, a lot of them wound up living in the inner city right alongside the Germans & the Jews, who were also recent immigrants to the States. And while that farm-fresh pork that the Irish loved wasn’t readily available, there was brisket. Which the Irish could then cure by first covering this piece of meat with corn kernel-sized pieces of rock salt – that’s how it came to be called corned beef. Because of the sizes of the pieces of rock salt that were used in the curing process – and then placing all that in a pot of water with other spices to soak for a few days.”

And as for the cabbage portion of corned beef & cabbage … Well, according to Kevin, in addition to buying their meat from the kosher delis in their neighborhood, the Irish would also frequent the stores that the German community shopped in. Where – thanks to their love of sauerkraut (i.e., pickled cabbage) – there was always a ready supply of cabbage to be had.

“So when you get right down to it, it was the American melting pot that led to corned beef & cabbage being found in the Irish-American cooking pot,” Dundon continued. “Since they couldn’t find or didn’t have easy access to the exact same ingredients that they had back in Ireland, Irish-Americans made do with what they could find in the immediate vicinity. And what they made was admittedly tasty. But it’s not actually authentic Irish fare.”

Mind you, what Kevin serves at Raglan Road Irish Pub and Restaurant at Disney Springs (which – FYI – Orlando Magazine voted as the area’s best restaurant back in 2014) is nothing if not authentic. Dundon and his team at this acclaimed gastropub pride themselves on making traditional Irish fare and then contemporized it.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

“Take – for example – what we serve here instead of corned beef & cabbage. Again, because it was pork – rather than beef – that was the true staple of the Irish diet back then, what we offer instead is a loin of bacon that has been glazed with Irish Mist. That then comes with colcannon potatoes. Which is this traditional Irish dish that’s made up of mashed potato that have had some cabbage & bacon mixed through it,” Kevin enthused. “This heavenly ham – that’s what we actually call this traditional Irish dish at Raglan Road, Kevin’s Heavenly Ham – also includes some savory cabbage with a parsley cream sauce as well as a raisin cider jus. It’s simple food. But because of the basic ingredients – and that’s the real secret of Irish cuisine. That our ingredients are so strong – the flavors just pop off the plate.”

Which brings us to the real challenge that Dundon and the Raglan Road team face every day. Making sure that they actually have all of the ingredients necessary to make this traditional-yet-contemporized Irish fare to those folks who frequent this Walt Disney World favorite.

“Take – for example – the fish we serve here. We only used cold water fish. Salmon, mussels and haddock that have been hauled out of the Atlantic, the ocean that America and Ireland share,” Kevin stated. “Not that there’s anything wrong with warm water fish. It’s just that … Well, it doesn’t have the same structure. It’s a softer fish, which doesn’t really fit the parameters of Irish cuisine. And if you’re going to serve authentic food, you have to be this dedicated when it comes to sourcing your ingredients.

Copyright Mitchell Beazley. All rights reserved

And if you’re thinking of perhaps trying to serve an authentic Irish meal this year, rather than once again serving corned beef & cabbage at your Saint Patrick’s Day Feast … Well, back in September of last year, Mitchell Beazley published “The Raglan Road Cookbook: Inside America’s Favorite Irish Pub.” This 296-page hardcover not only includes the recipe for Kevin’s Heavenly Ham but also it tells the tale of how this now-world-renown restaurant wound up being built in Orlando.

On the other hand, if you happen to have to the luck of the Irish and are actually down at The Walt Disney World Resort right now, it’s worth noting that Raglan Road is right in the middle of its Mighty St. Patrick’s Day Festival. This four day-long event – which includes Irish bands and professional dancers – stretches through Sunday night. And in addition to all that authentic Irish fare that Dundon and his team are cooking up, you also sample the fine selection of beers & cocktails that this establishment’s four distinct antique bars (each of which are more than 130 years old and were imported directly from Ireland) will be serving. Just – As ucht Dé (That’s “For God’s Sake” in Gaelic) – don’t make the mistake of asking the bartender there for a mug of green beer.

“Why would anyone willingly drink something like that?,” Dundon laughed. “I mean, just imagine what their washroom will look like the morning after.”

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Friday, March 17, 2017

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