The South's Best Bar 2017: Callaghan's Irish Social Club
How the world has fallen in love with one Alabama dive bar.
It's unnameable—that element that turns a bar, restaurant, or venue into a place as comfortable as your own living room. It's a feeling that stands in contrast to the behind-the-scenes work that goes into starting and maintaining a place with that kind of warmth.
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But somehow Callaghan's Irish Social Club in Mobile, Alabama succeeds at all three. It's disguised as a humble pub, complete with old-school wooden booths; a mottled, checkered, Kelly-green linoleum floor; and walls covered in historical photographs and vintage beer memorabilia. On the menu, behind the bar, and at the tables in front of the modest white-clapboard facade, you'll find the clues as to what lures people from across the street and across the world. There's the near-mythical L.A. (Lower Alabama) Burger, featuring a house-ground patty made with Conecuh sausage; in the back room, you'll hear musicians who could easily fill a theatre but would rather play here; on the patio you'll find dogs who visit as often as their owners.
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"I wish I could slap myself on the back, and say it was some grand master plan," says Callaghan's owner John "J.T." Thompson, who began reinvigorating the sleepy, blue-collar joint after Hurricane Katrina wiped out his main territory as a medical supply salesman. Thompson's revival of Callaghan's set off a chain reaction in the neighborhood, in Mobile's music scene, and even in city tourism. "I think it's our customers who have the biggest influence on what we do here," he says. "I've started to understand that this place is really special to Mobile."