Smile Politely

Murphy’s: Your friendly neighborhood Irish pub

Murphy’s Pub is a renowned and storied Champaign bar, located at the intersection of Green and 6th in the thick of Campustown. Unlike many other student-oriented bars in the area that often throb with revelers, Murphy’s unassuming entrance on Green Street rarely houses a surging crowd. Part of this is surely because Murphy’s offers its customers a unique, more tranquil atmosphere that’s markedly different from other campustown bars.

The pub has an older, mature feel, and everything about the bar, from its wooden aesthetics to its simple slate of drinks, echoes that vibe. It’s the only campus bar that I’ve been to — besides White Horse — where both older folks and college students are likely to be socializing at the same time in the same space.

The tavern really opens up once you get inside. There are several sizable rooms to explore, including a homey basement space and a secondary bar area. Thick wooden seats and tables dot each room, and upon the tables’ weathered surfaces generations of visitors have carved their names, relationships, and birthdays. When someone spills a drink, the liquid sinks into the cracks and gives the table a glossy film.

There are plenty of things to do besides sit, spill drinks, and socialize: Murphy’s has pool tables, air hockey, shotgun-hunting video games, electronic slots and gambling machines, and skee ball. While there’s no official dance floor, the small area near the jukebox tends to work well enough when the need arises.

I tried three food items this visit, and I enjoyed each of them more than much of the standard “bar food” I’ve had at other venues. First were the grit sticks ($6) a newer addition to the menu, and they did not disappoint. The sticks were delicious and crunchy, fried and breaded sticks of grits and cheese that came with a tame helping of ketchup. I also tried the fried green beans ($4), which were lightly breaded, crisp, and fresh — I would recommend dipping them in the ranch, which accentuates their flavor significantly.

Both dishes’ overall creativity impressed me, as did the freshness of the fried green beans. It’s easy for bars to deep-fry mushy vegetables and try and pass them off as fresh food, but Murphy’s pulled no punches here.

I also ordered a plate of hot wings ($6), as I try to do each time I visit Murphy’s. Like I tell my friends, the wings are actually the pub’s biggest draw for me. Eight chicken wings arrive on a wide slice of lettuce, lovingly glazed in delicious, hot buffalo sauce, with tangy ranch for dipping. The wings are also available in barbecue sauce or plain, but the buffalo sauce is the most desirable option, and it shouldn’t be missed; even my significant other, a confident vegetarian, has developed a habit of dipping her fingers into my wings’ buffalo sauce, insisting that each try is going to be her last.

Drinks were simple, as things usually are at Murphy’s. I had Angry Orchard ($3), a crisp, sweet and apple-flavored hard cider that is neither too light nor too bland for my taste. Angry Orchard hit the national market only three years ago, and in the time since they’ve captured 50% of the entire United States’ hard cider market – and for good reason. These drinks go down easy, and especially if you are into sweeter, apple or pear fermented brews, you’re likely to have a few before you realize where they’ve gone. I tried a Blue Moon as well, a refreshing Belgian-inspired witbier (or white/wheat beer) that Murphy’s was also featuring as part of their drink special $3 drafts.

They don’t offer much in the way of house specials — as the bartender told me when I asked her about the tavern’s unique drinks, “we do a lot of Irish car bombs, that’s about it.” She shrugged: “we’re an Irish pub.”

There are a few day-specific specials, however: each day of the week features one food item that is discounted all day long. Wednesday is “Logo Night,” when the pub sells glasses with beer company logos on them, and then provides discounts on beer refills. Thursday tends to see many members of the LGBTQ community out and about, as part of an informal gathering called “Thursgays.” On Saturday nights, a blender is broken out and milkshakes ($6) are available. Last week, I tried a vanilla shake, which had ice cream, milk, four shots of vanilla vodka, and whipped cream carefully infused in it. The concoction brought a delightfully sweet taste to my tongue, and were the shakes a bit cheaper and lighter in calories I think I would have enjoyed a few of them, completely guilt-free.

Saturdays and Fridays tend to be the busiest evenings, although I’ve been to Murphy’s on weekends when you could almost hear crickets, and I’ve been there on weekdays when it is hard to find a table. On a calmer night, one could even imagine bringing in some schoolwork and nestling down into a private booth.

The infamous Murphy’s Law states that “whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.” At many campus bars — from Red Lion to Firehaus to KAM’s — that’s definitely the case. But the casual ethos of Murphy’s Pub could perhaps be best encapsulated in that mantra’s first word: “…whatever.” Murphy’s is generally a relaxed, simple and “whatever” kind of environment, not often prone to the dramatics of a wild night out.

Admittedly, when professional conferences or a rogue bar crawl rolls through, the ranks swell and a decidedly older or louder crowd fill the venue. However, even on these busy nights I have always found the service to be nothing less than exemplary. Regulars know what to expect when they arrive, and week after week we soak up the pub’s quaint atmosphere and frothy simplicity in good company. Like Merry Ann’s, Murphy’s continues to put its name and products out there, unconcerned with glamor, “coolness,” or flashy aesthetics. And it works.

Murphy’s might not boast cocktails or frills, but they are stubbornly conscious of their reputation, and more than committed to delivering their customers an unpretentious dining and drinking experience. Once, when I was losing my voice on account of a terrible cold, I called the pub and asked if they served green tea. “Do we serve tea?” Repeated the bartender over laughing and the clinking of glasses. “Yes,” I croaked. “Like, a hot or an herbal tea of any kind.” There was a brief pause on the other end of the line, then a gentle chide: “I’m sorry, no…we’re an Irish pub.”

Murphy’s Pub is located at 604 East Green Street, Champaign, and is open daily 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

All photos by Sam Logan. 

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