Metro-East Living

Pub serves Irish food, Irish beer and 55 kinds of Irish whiskey

George Thayer and his mother-in-law, Mary VanKirk, are co-owners of Morrison’s Irish Pub, which opened 18 months ago in Alton.
George Thayer and his mother-in-law, Mary VanKirk, are co-owners of Morrison’s Irish Pub, which opened 18 months ago in Alton. tvizer@bnd.com

Morrison’s Irish Pub in Alton is a dream come true for Katey and George Thayer, who have traveled to Ireland twice and got married on the Cliffs of Moher.

The couple opened the restaurant and bar 18 months ago in an 1865 storefront with exposed brick walls and barnwood floors. They decorated with shamrocks, whiskey bottles, an Irish flag, Guinness harp and floor clock from the old Jefferson Arms building in St. Louis.

“I’m Scotch-Irish, but (George is) English,” said Katey, 32, who lives in an apartment upstairs. “He ruined me.”

The Thayers are in business with Katey’s mother, Mary VanKirk, and her partner, Lisa Morrison. The pub, named after Mary’s father, George Morrison, is gearing up for St. Patrick’s Day.

George Thayer runs the kitchen, with menu items ranging from Irish Soda Bread ($4.95) to Lamb Burgers ($16.95 with Guinness chips); Bangers and Mash ($10.95) to Corned Beef Platters ($14.95); Irish Beef Stew ($10.95 a bowl) to Whiskey and Chocolate Bread Pudding ($6.95).

“Everything is made from scratch — all the sauces, salad dressings, soups and stews,” said George, 32. “We go through over 150 pounds of potatoes each week. We cook a brisket every two days. We slow-cook it for eight or nine hours.”

The family imports Irish bangars (sausages), bacon, cheeses and crackers. They get lamb from a local farmer and bread from Duke Bakery and LuciAnna’s Pastries in Alton.

It’s a cream-based stew with cabbage and ground beef and onions. That’s how my mother taught me to like cabbage.

Mary Vankirk, Morrison’s Irish Pub co-owner, on Bubble & Squeak

George found some of his recipes in small-town cookbooks he picked up in Ireland. Others were handed down from the Morrisons.

“We have something called Bubble & Squeak,” said Mary, 54, of Jerseyville. “It’s a cream-based stew with cabbage and ground beef and onions. That’s how my mother taught me to like cabbage.”

George came up with his own recipe for a Bog Pony. It’s a 10-inch boxty (potato pancake) topped with shredded corned beef, Irish Cheddar, cabbage and horseradish sauce ($9.95 with chips).

On a recent Friday evening, customers included Dale Henderson, who ordered a Guinness draft, while his wife, Kathie, went for a Magners Irish Cider.

They like the comfortable atmosphere and tasty food at Morrison’s, particularly the Cottage Pie ($12.95). When ordering sandwiches, Kathie, 60, a retired physical therapy assistant, always gets a side of parsnips, a carrot-like root topped with a whiskey glaze.

“The burgers are fantastic, and right now George has a Guinness cod meal that’s great,” said Dale, 61, a retired power plant employee. “The Irish Beef Stew is delicious. The Meat and Cheese Platter is good, too.”

Irish bands play on Friday and Saturday nights. Irishman Dan O’Neill sings and tells stories on Sunday afternoons.

When we’re singing, I’ll have a whiskey — for medicinal purposes, of course. It clears my throat.

Dale Henderson, customer, on jam sessions at Morrison’s

The Hendersons are regulars on Thursday evenings, when a dozen local residents gather for a jam session, singing Irish sea shanties and other folk songs.

“When we’re singing, I’ll have a whiskey — for medicinal purposes, of course,” Dale said. “It clears my throat.”

Katey and Mary met George and Lisa when they all worked at a St. Charles, Mo., nursing home about 15 years ago. Mary is a former nurse, and Lisa still is a nurse at a hospital.

Katey and George later worked at Piasa Winery & Pub in Grafton. That’s when they started itching for a place of their own. In 2015, the four partners bought the historic building at 200 State St., which had housed an antique and gift shop.

“It was originally a bank,” Katey said. “The walls are three bricks thick.”

The family built the wooden bar and other furniture and gradually covered the ceiling with dollar bills signed by customers, a tradition borrowed from a pub they visited in Ireland.

Beyond food, Morrison’s offers six imported and six local or craft beers on tap and 55 kinds of Irish whiskey.

There also is a long list of specialty cocktails with an Irish twist, including Rose’s Whiskey Sour Slush, made from Grandmother Rose’s recipe. The Irish Breakfast is a shot of Irish whiskey and butterscotch liqueur, followed by a shot of orange juice.

“It tastes like pancakes or waffles and bacon,” Katey said. “And you even get a piece of authentic Irish bacon with it.”

Teri Maddox: 618-239-2473, @BNDwriter

At a glance

  • What: Morrison’s Irish Pub
  • Where: 200 State St. in Alton
  • Hours: 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Tuesdays through Sundays (kitchen open until 10)
  • Seating: 45
  • Handicap-accessible: Yes
  • Carryouts: Yes
  • Live music: Irish sea shanty jam from 6 to 9 p.m. Thursdays; Irish bands on Fridays and Saturdays, usually starting around 8 p.m.; and music and storytelling by Dan O’Neill from 1 to 4 p.m. Sundays
  • Information: Call 618-433-8900 or visit www.morrissonirishpub.com or their Facebook page

On the menu

  • Irish Beef Stew Traditional beef stew with carrots, onion and celery in Guinness-based gravy, topped with a dollop of mashed potatoes and served with Irish soda bread ($6.95 cup or $10.95 bowl)
  • Bubble & Squeak Cream-based stew with cabbage, ground beef and onions, served with Irish soda bread ($3.95 cup or $5.95 bowl)
  • Beer Burger Half-pound ground beef burger topped with corned beef, cabbage and Irish Cheddar, served on a Duke’s pumpernickel bun with horseradish sauce and Guinness crisps ($10.95)
  • Bangars and Mash Irish sausages in onion gravy, served over colcannon, or mashed potatoes with cabbage and Irish Cheddar, topped with Kerrygold butter ($10.95)
  • Whiskey & Chocolate Bread Pudding Housemade chocolate bread pudding topped with a whiskey glaze ($6.95)
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