By Mariah Brennan Clegg
Name of bar: The James Joyce
Address: 513 State Street between Haley and Cota
Days/hours: 10 a.m. -2 a.m. daily
Known for: Live bands, dancing, darts, and pool — a true Irish pub
Regular crowd: Anyone and everyone who loves a good pint and live music
Notable décor: Peanut shells covering the floor, plenty of Guinness toucans
Special draw: New Orleans-style jazz band on Saturday nights, accompanied by lindy hop dancers, and the best Guinness pulls in town
Do I feel like I’m in Ireland?: Slainte!
My experience: I went to the James Joyce lonely on a Saturday night, aching with the hurt of lost love and longing for the boney-warm embrace of my New Hampshire home. This is what Santa Barbara had to offer for home, and it hit damn near the mark. Wide wooden boards scraped of its varnish and covered in scraps reminded me of my floor, strewn with bark and pieces of firewood. But these were…peanut shells? Yes, upon closer inspection they were, and the peanuts themselves were in a big barrel by the pool tables, past the fireplace.
The whole place reminded me of somewhere the Irish poor would go to dance and drink their sorrows away. And that was perhaps the pull for me. The tragedy and the beauty, rugged and true. There was the solemn ode of the Celtic cross beside the pagan wildness of the carved god-beast, the careless cheek of the Guinness toucan perched next to a vintage sign reading “Irish Need Not Apply.” Relics of a people plagued and cursed and proud. Was that dramatically arching cabinet above the bar a church or a coffin ship?
A young man full of years adjusted his scappy and polished a glass, tattooed arms revealing world-carved muscles with every twist. He pulled my second Guinness flawlessly, without smiling, and my friend arrived.
And she was the other side of the coin. Pale and light haired, scorning makeup for the freedom of a clean smile. She got up to dance when the band started playing swing, hair and arms flying with joyous freedom as her partner led the lindy hop. A black-haired woman, about her the air of someone who must have had her share of fun about 20 years ago, belted a jazz standard. The trombone blared, and the double bass thumped up and down the scale. There was sadness and celebration in this place, bitter-sweet and romantically free. I stumbled home with a smile on my face, full of heart and home.