Johnny’s is not an Irish bar per se. You might assume as much, given owner Johnny Robinson’s Emerald Isle inflection, or the fine collection of Irish spirits that comprise the “best Irish coffee in town,” which he warmly presents to welcome us.

Or it could be the weeklong celebration of Bloomsday, a June 16 holiday invented by Joyce, which is celebrated all week at Johnny’s with a menu directly inspired by quotes from “Ulysses.”

But an Irish bar would be called a tavern and be named Molly’s and feature Killian’s and Guinness and large-scale Jameson promotions with free homemade soda bread. Robinson, with an Irish stubbornness, has insisted on mixing it up.

The walls aren’t painted clover but “zinnia gold,” with Victorian arches built over windows and a large Impressionist floral mural bringing the French back into the bistro. The dulcet Portuguese of Cesaria Evora floats on the speakers, and the Empire’s classic ’70s sitcom “Fawlty Towers” plays off a muted DVD.

Eclectic, right? Except that eclectic becomes personal when Robinson opens up to you with fierce gesticulations, passionate sentiments and strong opinions. The guy’s a trip, and an excellent host. Let him tell you about his secret Bloody Mary recipe or craft a Pimms No. 1, an exotic breeze of mint, sweet vermouth, soda and a splash of gin.

Perhaps the quirky little gem is best understood anecdotally. Well after our food is cleared and we are long in laughter, a poor soul clad head to foot in Harley swag saunters up to the bar and mutters “Bud Light, please.”

Robinson, with that irresistibly squirmy Irish cadence, responds, “I’m afraid we don’t carry any Bud Light here.”

The fella, disappointed, screws up his face and retreats out the door, never learning what Johnny has in store instead.


Mike Olcott is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.