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See how a British guy ranked the pubs in Bahrain

British pub fan Paul Phillips observes the decor at Fiddlers Green, a pub in the Diplomatic Area of Manama, Bahrain.

JOSHUA KARSTEN/STARS AND STRIPES

By JOSHUA KARSTEN | Stars and Stripes | Published: July 11, 2019

Ahh, Bahrain’s bar scene — wait, they have bars in Bahrain? The answer is yes! And, as a former British protectorate, the vibe ranges from seedy British pubs to swank 5-star hotel bars.

I’ve been meaning to explore some of the more established watering holes in the kingdom and embark on a British and Irish pub crawl. But since I do not have the appropriate qualifications, I’ve enlisted the help of “me mate” Paul, a cockney rhyming, retired British navy, Guinness drinking, salty, tattooed bloke and pub connoisseur with many years’ experience traveling around the globe.

I’m calling it “pub crawl with Paul.” No? A bit corny? Let’s move on.

Paul speaks English, but you may need a translator at times. First, we pulled out some “dib dobs” (Bahraini dinar, or BD) — a must, as it isn’t cheap to drink in Bahrain. Average cost of a “wet” (pint) is around 3.5 BD ($9.30).

With only one night to “get it in,” we narrowed our crawl to five popular British and Irish staples around town. I asked Paul to score each bar from a range of one (low) to five (high) across five categories: staff/service, ambiance, drinks, authenticity and seediness. Paul explained that seediness is not a bad thing and something he looks for in his pubs back home in the UK.

So, after a long night of research, here you have it, Bahrain’s top five British and Irish pubs, according to Paul.

1. JJ’s Irish Pub (Adliya)

Overall score: 3.6

“Busy, really busy,” Paul found on a Monday. It was karaoke night, which tends to draw a crowd.

JJ’s has been around since 1999 — one of the original gangsters of Bahrain — and is a popular pub for both locals and expats. We even ran across an actual Irish person at this pub, though unfortunately she was singing “Barbie Girl” on stage.

The bar wraps around a large dining area and dance floor, and Irish memorabilia and trinkets are found throughout.

Paul gave JJ’s extra points for service, ambiance and drinks but an average score for authenticity and seediness.

“I liked it because it was packed, a lot of people enjoying themselves, drinking, singing, joining in,” Paul said.

As popular as JJ’s was for a Monday night karaoke special, Paul marked JJ’s down for authenticity.

“I thought a lot of the Irish memorabilia was quite tacky,” Paul recalled. “A lot of shamrocks hanging from the ceiling and a big Irish flag with a great big leprechaun on it. You don’t really get that back home in Ireland — a bit overdone.”

Paul still ranked JJ’s pub the highest for its happy vibe and popularity among locals.

2. Wembley Sports Bar (Juffair)

Overall score: 3.4

“Apart from the fact that it’s got a great cool name, Wembley, the home of British football, I quite liked it,” Paul said.

Many English pubs are changing from small village bars with oak beams to the more modern vibe you see in Bahrain. Wembley, a Premier Hotel bar in the heart of Juffair, opened in 2016 and has already earned a title as a “local’s pub” for many Juffairians. The darts boards were in the corner, the autographed English football jerseys hung on the wall and patrons seemed to be enjoying themselves.

Paul gave the staff a five for service as we were served immediately and with a smile. With fours for ambiance and drinks, this bar was a contender for the top spot. However, Paul was less thrilled about the bar’s level of seediness, as it was just too clean and new, which others may like.

“I wouldn’t say it was seedy at all,” Paul begrudged. “I’d give it a low ranking; quite clean.”

Despite Paul’s craving for a sticky floor and dirty curtains, Wembley offers a full English breakfast, fish and chips and all the other English favorites. There’s even a popular brunch every Friday afternoon for 21 BD, with unlimited drinks.

3. Fiddlers Green (Diplomatic Area)

Overall score: 3.2

This might come as a surprise to Bahrain expats, but there’s a nice pub in the heart of the otherwise dead Diplomatic Area of Manama.

Fiddlers Green is tucked away next to the lobby of the Radisson Blu hotel, a swank marble-floored behemoth. Unless you are a hotel guest, this bar is not on the normal pub crawl trails found in Adliya or Juffair. But, it’s worth a look for your next outing or football match.

“They’ve not done a bad job making it look like an old place,” Paul said as a compliment.

The ceilings were even painted a yellowish brown to resemble years of smoke stains. The large “oak” beams ran the length of the pub.

“It depends on what you’re after,” Paul described. “If it were a village pub, it would be nice because it was quiet.”

Just a handful of folks were drinking their pints in this establishment. It’s great for a “chin wag” (chit chat), according to Paul.

4. McGettigan’s (Adliya)

Overall score: 3

Some folks call this place “McGreen’s,” either due to the green neon lights or just because McGettigan’s is harder to say. This bar is brand spanking new and apart from the green lights, there is absolutely nothing Irish about this place. But it is a classy place for a few “scoops” (pints), according to Paul.

McGettigan’s is a chain and can be found in 20 locations in the Middle East, Asia, Ireland and one in NYC.

Paul applauded “McGreen’s” for service and the amazing vibe. There’s stadium seating outside to watch a game. There’s a stage and a live band.

Paul gave outstanding scores across the board until it came to authenticity and seediness.

“There was no Irish or British vibe at all, but I really liked it as just a bar,” Paul explained. “For seediness ... a very clean and nice place.”

McGettigan’s has an extensive food and drinks menu and offers a Friday brunch from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.

5. Guinness Lounge (Amwaj)

Overall score: 2.8

The last on our list is a nice Guinness pub way out in Amwaj. With just a handful of bars out that way, options are limited for residents and visitors. But the Guinness Lounge is the only one that offers booze and shisha pipes, a nice touch when watching “the footie” (soccer game).

Part of the Gulf Suites Hotel, this squeaky-clean lounge opened in 2018 and is a closer alternative than Juffair and Adliya for the 10,000 plus residents living on these artificial islands.

The staff and service were friendly, the ambiance was average, the decor was unremarkable, the music was on a loop and its cleanliness was not on par with a seedy Irish pub. But Paul enjoyed himself, noting the massive TV screens all over. “Struck me as a sports bar more than an Irish pub,” Paul said.

A main takeaway for Paul during his night on the town was the limited drink selections. If you don’t like lagers or Guinness, your only other options are spirits. In England, cask ales, bitters, ciders and other drinks are quite popular. The pubs in Bahrain are more international in that sense.

“We also saw the Al Fateh Mosque, Bahrain National Museum, International Circuit and some souk shops. It wasn’t all just boozing,” Paul said at the end of the crawl.

karsten.joshua@stripes.com
Twitter: @joshua_karsten

McGettigan's, a new pub in Adliya, Bahrain, is a great place to enjoy the night in Bahrain, but not if you are looking for an authentic Irish pub vibe.
JOSHUA KARSTEN/STARS AND STRIPES

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