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Destinations

Pubs offer family fare and fun, too

The author’s son has hot cocoa at James’s Gate in Jamaica Plain. The author’s son has hot cocoa at James’s Gate in Jamaica Plain. (STEVE HOLT FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE)
By Steve Holt
Globe Correspondent / March 11, 2012
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One of the biggest cold-weather challenges for families can be finding warm spaces indoors where you can escape when everyone’s a bit stir-crazy.

Here’s a spot to add to your family outing list: the pub.

You read that right. We picked up on the practice back in our childless days while traveling in Ireland, where pubs are the center of social life and are often full of families playing games, catching up, and yes, drinking. Children are full participants (in everything but the drinking) and Emerald Isle pubs are quite accommodating to their young patrons.

Now back in Boston with a 5-year-old, we fairly often take the T or drive with friends to a local pub on the weekend, where we curl up by the fire (if it has one), order spirit-lifting drinks for mom and dad, and a hot chocolate for the little guy, grab lunch or brunch, and spend a couple of hours talking, playing cards, or just people watching. Our son is content with a box of crayons and a children’s menu, playing with a toy brought from home, or even chiming in on the adults’ conversation.

Here are some area pubs friendly to families:

JAMES’S GATE RESTAURANT AND PUB

Don’t let the gaudy stucco exterior fool you: Once inside, you will know you are in the right place. Though slightly out of the way, James’s Gate is worth the drive or MBTA trip. Your eye will go first to one of two places: the enormous stone fireplace or its substantial bar featuring 19 draught beers and ciders. Whether you settle into a cozy booth or choose a table, there is plenty of room for the whole family. You will need it, with the portions they serve. During Sunday Brunch, the traditional Irish breakfast is so big it comes on two plates. Try the Irish coffee or Bloody Mary or simply go with the tried and true pint of Guinness. Bring your own board game or select one of the pub’s. 5-11 McBride St., 617-983-2000, Sunday brunch entrees $7-$13, pint of Guinness $4.75 GREEN DRAGON TAVERN Take your family back to the birthplace of the American Revolution. It was here (or, more precisely, at its original Union Street location in the North End) that the seeds of revolution were planted. The pub where the Boston Tea Party was plotted now serves a pretty mean cup of tea. For something stronger, get the Hot Toddy (whisky, hot water, honey, lemon) or choose from a decent draught beer selection. An authentic 17th-century atmosphere, above-average regional food, and friendly waitstaff set the table for a pleasant afternoon. 11 Marshall St., 617-367-2114, light fare $7-$15, cup of chowder $5 EMMET’S IRISH PUB AND RESTAURANT On a Sunday afternoon with temperatures hovering just below freezing, we looked for a warm, cozy pub. Proximity to the T was important to minimize walking outside. A neighborhood pub amid blocks of skyscrapers, Emmet’s feels out of place. Inside, though, you may as well be in Dublin. We were greeted and seated by our Irish server, who promptly brought us a Magner’s and a Guinness (some have called Emmet’s the “best pour of Guinness in Boston’’). The pub had much of what we were looking for: a modest crowd, quiet dining room, friendly staff, and an invitation to sit and relax. Our son seemed happy with his kids’ cheeseburger meal, whose portion size matched the adult meals. 6 Beacon St., 617-742-8565, shepherd’s pie $12, French onion soup $6

KELLEY SQUARE PUB

Kelley’s is East Boston’s one truly family-friendly drinking establishment. I would know; it’s my neighborhood pub. Park in the Kelly’s-owned lot adjacent to the building. On your way in the door, take a moment to browse the veritable museum of framed photos signed by professional wrestlers and boxers, many of them friends of owner John Mastrangelo, himself a former boxer. You are likely to see at least one family splitting a pizza and watching whatever game happens to be on. The food here transcends traditional pub grub, because Kelley’s is really a restaurant with a bar. But it’s a fantastic bar, ripe for eavesdropping on the handful of Eastie regulars while sipping a $4 draught beer. 84 Bennington St., 617-567-4627. Large pizza $10-$14, draught beers $4

HUGH O’NEILL’S RESTAURANT AND PUB, Malden Get outside the city a bit and the pubs take on a more laid-back, less touristy feel. That is certainly the case with Hugh O’Neill’s, which has been open in Malden Center since 2002 but has the look and feel of a much older neighborhood pub. O’Neill’s takes cozy to another level (fireplace, dark wood, stained glass), and yet still manages to accommodate families better than many traditional restaurants. We came late morning on a Sunday with neighbors who have a 1-year-old girl, and caught the fantastic brunch. Along with the usual Benedicts, omelets, and Irish breakfast fare, O’Neill’s offers plenty of options for the little ones. But as we found out, the real laughs would begin later that evening, when O’Neill’s puts out board games and hooks video game consoles up to the flatscreen televisions at its weekly family event, “Sunday Funday.’’

45 Pleasant St., Malden, 781-338-9977, brunch entrees $7-$10, sandwiches and burgers $5.50-$7.50, kids’ meals $5, pint of Guinness $5.45 JACOB WIRTH RESTAURANT Drinkers have sidled up to this institution’s mahogany bar since 1868. Stepping inside from the busy nexus of Chinatown and the Theater District, you could be in one of the great beer halls of Stuttgart or Dresden. Its high ceilings, ample light, and generous floor space make Wirth’s a fine place to bring a family. Friends joined us here one recent afternoon, finding sufficient floor space to walk their 6-month-old to sleep and even a private spot to change and feed him. While we waited for our entrees, the baskets of sweet cornbread more than held us over. Our son was content with his hot dog, which came with a nice helping of french fries and green beans. The adults snacked on various wursts, salad, and baked mac and cheese. But at Wirth’s, the food is a backdrop to the beverages. Wirth’s boasts New England’s largest selection of draught imports and we adults could sit and sip while savoring some catch-up time with old friends. 31-37 Stuart St., 617-338-8586, appetizers $7-$10, single or double wursts with choice of toppings and side $10, kid’s hot dog $4, beer $5-$8

Others to check out: The Burren, Somerville; The Warren Tavern, Charlestown; The Haven, Jamaica Plain; Matt Murphy’s, Brookline; Conley’s Pub & Grille, Watertown.

Steve Holt can be reached at steve@thebostonwriter.com.

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