For those who have driven the back roads of Ireland, the discovery of an old country pub in the middle of nowhere is one of life’s great pleasures. Walking into a warm and welcoming establishment complete with fireplace, old wooden tables and a bar that’s just meant for socializing is one of those experiences that you’ll remember long after saying farewell.
It is no secret that traditional Irish pubs can be found in many parts of New England — including a number of communities in eastern Massachusetts where Irish immigrants settled — and while some are a bit touristy and others feel like the types of great city pubs found in Dublin and Galway, if you look hard enough, you can find ones that have the feel of those rural pubs of villages like Doolin, Clifden and Adare, including one in an unlikely location: a popular tourist spot along the Connecticut coast.
But the old seaside village of Mystic indeed has some gems just off the beaten path, and The Harp and Hound is certainly one of them.
It’s a little-known fact that Mystic isn’t actually a town, but is a part of two separate communities, Stonington and Groton. The dividing line can be found right along the Mystic River, which cuts the village into two sections. The main commercial section of Mystic can be found in Groton, west of the river (and the impressive drawbridge that goes over it), and it hosts a number of popular restaurants, bars and other food spots, both on West Main Street and Water Street.
The Harp and Hound is also on this side of the river, in a very old structure (reportedly dating back 300 years) just off West Main on Pearl Street, which is mainly a residential road with some gorgeous old homes along its length. Unsurprisingly, the pub is easy to miss, especially since so much of the activity in and around Mystic is concentrated on Main Street, Pearl Street and the section just north of the downtown area that is home to the Mystic Seaport museum and the Mystic Aquarium.
From the outside, The Harp and Hound looks a bit understated, but it wouldn’t be out of place on a country lane in Ireland. The interior continues the rural pub feel, and this should come as no surprise, as the owner of the establishment comes from Ireland and has set up the space using items brought over from the Emerald Isle, including well-worn furniture, the bar itself and those classic old road signs that you see all over the country.
If it’s conversation you want, you can belly up to the bar and chat with locals and the people behind the bar, while high-top and low-top tables are situated throughout the rest of the space, including near the fireplace toward the back. Wooden ceiling beams and stone columns add to the traditional atmosphere, as does the snug-like room by the entrance that has a little bookcase.
While Mystic is known for its seafood restaurants, The Harp and Hound’s menu is more of a mix of Irish and Irish-American fare along with pub grub and comfort food (though some seafood is also available as well). Some of the offerings include warm pretzel sticks served with a zingy mustard sauce; a classic New England clam chowder; house-made fried pickle chips with a smoky aioli; an Irish charcuterie plate that comes with Irish farmhouse blue cheese, prosciutto, goat cheese, crackers and grilled bread; both a hot corned beef sandwich and a reuben, both with lean (but not too lean) corned beef; a beer-battered fried cod sandwich with lettuce and tomato; grilled tacos with bangers (Irish sausage), mashed potatoes and lots of brown gravy; a whiskey burger that gets its name from a side of whiskey ketchup; and a few traditional main courses such as fish and chips, bangers and mash, chicken tenders and fries with curry, Guinness stew topped with a puff pastry, and an “upside down” shepherd’s pie that has the mashed potatoes on the bottom, the meat, peas, carrots, and “frizzled” onions layered above it, and a well that is created on top for the brown gravy. Finally, one of the dessert options at The Harp and Hound is absolutely sinful: a cakelike cookie that’s topped with lots of chocolate icing.
Drink options at The Harp and Hound are what you might expect from an old Irish pub. If you like perfectly poured pints of Guinness, they definitely do them right here — and if you want something a bit lighter, the pub also offers Smithwick's, a classic Irish red ale that is very easy to drink. A number of other beers are served here as well, including offerings from local breweries such as OLBC (Groton), Two Roads (Stratford), Blue Point (Patchogue on Long Island) and Whalers (South Kingstown, Rhode Island). And, of course, this being an Irish pub, you can order some smooth-tasting Jameson or other Irish whiskies, perhaps a scotch or two or, if you need to wake up a bit, a classic Irish coffee.
If you’re a first-time visitor to Mystic and are looking for lobster, fried clams, oysters and the like, it’s understandable that you might overlook a place like The Harp and Hound. But for those who love the feel of a welcoming old pub and are more interested in checking out more of a local hangout than touristy fare, you can’t do much better than this spot. Since Mystic is just off Interstate 95, it makes for a great lunch stop for those traveling between Boston and New York, since it is pretty close to halfway between them.
No matter what the reason for going, you’ll surely fall in love with The Harp and Hound, especially if you yearn for the wonderful atmosphere found in the rural watering holes of the Old Country.
The Harp and Hound, 4 Pearl Street, Mystic, CT, 06355. harpandhound.com