I have often wanted to visit this area’s newest Irish pub, and with St. Patrick’s Day approaching, I decided it was finally time to head to P.J. Mulligans. This restaurant is owned by people who have run some of the most beloved Irish pubs in the DC area. I visited with them to learn more about their backgrounds and how they are bringing their Irish hospitality to Herndon.
P.J. Mulligans is owned by Colm Dillon and his wife, Ciara Collins. They are Irish natives who moved to the DC area in 1983 so Colm could work at the famed Dubliner Restaurant on Capitol Hill. Later, Colm managed other DC restaurant institutions, including Sam and Harry’s, and Nathan’s in Georgetown.
In 2004, Colm and Ciara purchased Ireland’s Four Provinces in Falls Church, which is one of my personal favorite spots. As soon as I learned that P.J. Mulligans is run by the owners of Ireland’s 4P’s and the former general manager of the Dubliner, I knew that I had just found a gem.
In late 2014, Ciara and Colm purchased an Irish restaurant in Herndon called Finnegan’s. They renamed it “P.J. Mulligans,” in honor of the beloved pub Mulligans on Poolbeg Street in Dublin.
They hired Travis Barnes to be the general manager, after working with him at Ireland’s 4Ps for eight years. They spent a few months remodeling the space, and opened to the public in March 2015.
They divided the restaurant into smaller areas with dining rooms that are separate from the bar. They added dividing walls and warm, dark woods to give the restaurant the cozy feel that is customary in Irish pubs.
They offer a private dining room that can be reserved for parties and group dinners.
The largest space is devoted to the bar, with a beautiful copper ceiling and playful artwork. Be sure to check out the back wall beyond the bar, to see some hilarious painted quotes (the Canada Dry one was my favorite.) The whole restaurant is looking particularly festive now as they prepare for St. Patrick’s Day.
Whether you choose to sit in the bar or the dining room, full menus are available for lunch, brunch, and dinner. Colm and Travis say that at both P.J. Mulligans and Ireland’s 4P’s, the most popular dish is fish and chips. And I do love a plate of fish and chips with plenty of vinegar and salt.
But Colm and Travis want people to know that Irish food isn’t all deep-fried and heavy. “That day is over,” Colm told me. “There is an Irish food movement that is spectacular.” He and Ciara told me stories of the wonderfully fresh food their families eat in their small Irish towns, with meat and vegetables that are raised locally.
Their restaurant offers a diverse menu that includes Irish classics, as well as salads, sandwiches, meats, vegetarian dishes, and internationally-inspired dishes. Travis said that about 75% of their dishes could be made gluten-free.
The potato and leek soup is made with simple, flavorful ingredients. The shepherd’s pie is a stew of ground sirloin, carrots, celery, peas, and onions, topped with potato.
The chicken tullamore is pan-seared, with Irish whiskey cream sauce, mashed potatoes, and asparagus. The restaurant offers several wines, and they are currently working to expand their offerings of local Virginia wines.
They have a huge collection of liquors, with 120 bourbons and whiskeys. Colm showed me some of his favorites from the collection, including Yellow Spot Irish Whiskey that is aged 12 years, and a rare Hennessy cognac that is one of only a handful of such bottles in the state.
They also offer a variety of beers, both bottled and on tap, including a variety of local craft brews, such as Old Ox from Ashburn. They also offer occasional rare finds, such as Hopslam Ale, which has customers calling ahead excitedly, hoping not to miss out. But if you come to an Irish pub with Guinness in mind, they do have that on tap. Of course!
P.J. Mulligans will be hosting all-day fun on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 2016:
9:00am: Kegs and Eggs, with your choice of Irish breakfast or American breakfast
11:00am: Lunch/dinner menu begins
11:30am: Live, traditional Irish music performed by Bobby Flynn, continuing until bar closing
2:00pm and 5:00pm: Performances by Irish dancers from the Boyle School of Irish Dance
Reservations are highly encouraged for the dining room. The bar room will be available on a first-come, first-served basis only.
People are encouraged to wear crazy green outfits, and prizes will be awarded for the best costumes.
Colm compared his job to the TV show “Cheers,” and I certainly see a lot of appeal in working at a place like that. I asked them what they believe they do really well, and Colm answered, “Taking care of our guests.” (Ciara quickly joked, “Taking care of my husband.”) Colm went on to say that their goal is to make their regulars feel comfortable, and to make first-timers want to become regulars.
“There is no other job where you literally go to a party every day,” Colm said with a grin. “It makes you feel great when people are having a good time.”
P.J. Mulligans is located at 2310 Woodland Crossing Drive in Herndon, Virginia. They are open Monday through Saturday from 11:30 am to 2:00 am, and on Sundays starting at 10:00am.
Photo credit: Charlotte Geary