(from November 09 Celtic Connection) “I”ve been in it all my life,” says Noel Hickey, manager of The Celtic Tavern in Littleton. “I was always very much into hospitality.” He says this while sitting at the Celtic”s long, black stone bar, talking about his days in the restaurant industry. And it”s true–he”s been in the business for a long, long time. “I was managing a bar in the Aran Islands when I was sixteen years old,” he says. An Irishman”s love of drink will take him to many places, and Hickey”s led him to work at Wattey”s, a pub on the craggy, windswept islands off the western coast of Ireland. Since then, he”s spent many hours in bars. “I started drinking when I was four years old,” he says, laughing. Those little islands in Galway Bay where Hickey worked had a population of about 2,000 people. When he got to Denver, he became involved with the The Celtic Tavern downtown, a massive pub that could probably hold all those islanders comfortably. In March of 2008, Hickey helped open a new Celtic Tavern in Littleton, a smaller pub that seats 120 people. “We”re like a family here,” Hickey says of the smaller location. “I think that”s what I like the most about it.” While he talks, colored light filters into the tavern through a wall of stained glass panels above the backbar. “I had them all made,” he says, of the dozen or so large glass panels that give the bar area an intimate feel. Hickey is proud of his new pub, and proud of the food, too. “This is a very special beer batter,” he says, motioning to the fish and chips that arrive fresh from the kitchen. Three pieces of Atlantic cod are dipped in a batter spiked with Murphy”s Amber Ale, fried crisp and served with tavern fries, malt vinegar and tartar sauce ($12.75). The Galway Bay Seafood Casserole ($14.95) offers a few tastes of the ocean: Shrimp, scallops, crab, and white fish are baked in a dish with diced potatoes, topped with a crust of cracker crumbs and cheddar cheese. This entr”e is served with a side of the vegetable of the day, and ours is a medley of zucchini, yellow squash and red pepper. A lighter starter is the Rosettes of Smoked Salmon ($11.50), which could be a tasty dish to share. Slices of baguette are served with bite-sized curls of salmon, and both can be dipped into two large wedges of peppered cream cheese. All the great accompaniments to smoked salmon are included on the plate: hard boiled egg white and yolk, capers, and diced red onions. “We have a lot of regulars,” Hickey says, referring to these three popular dishes. “We”re very proud of our food.” For an upcoming change to his winter menu, Hickey plans to add a few unique items, including breaded bangers. For an interesting entr”e, all the traditional shepherd”s pie ingredients will be wrapped up in a roll of boiled cabbage leaves and topped with a meat gravy. As Hickey shows me around the place, makes a stop at a bundle of fishing gear”poles, tackle, waders. He mentions that it”s possible to borrow his gear, waddle down to the Platte, and spend the afternoon fishing. The river is only a few yards from his outdoor patio, which is a great place to enjoy a pint and a meal in the warm months. The private party room, called The Paddock, has a horse track ambience. This is due not only to Ireland”s love of horses and horse racing, but because the Celtic was built on the site of an old racetrack. The room is elegant and cozy, with a roaring fireplace and antique furniture. The center of the tavern is the monk”s tower. It”s a circular stone fortress, modeled after a similar tower built by monks in County Wicklow in the sixth century. The round room provides a few private areas to drink and dine. For the last three months, The Celtic has been hosting an Irish music session that”s been thriving. Hickey is happy with the turnout. “It”s certainly brought a good crowd in,” he says. Later, we retire to the bar, where Hickey surprises us. “This is the best whiskey I”ve ever had,” he says, pushing two glasses in front of me. He pours two shots of Bushmill”s 21-year-old whiskey. We drink them slowly. The whiskey is aged is Madeira casks, and has a light taste and a sweet finish. It”s a great way to end the day. Ever since those days on the Aran Islands, Hickey has seemed very comfortable in a bar, this time his own, where he truly enjoys making other people feel comfortable, too. The Celtic Tavern at Riverside Downs 2620 W Belleview Ave Littleton, CO 80123-7187 303- 795-0709 www.celtictavernatriversidedowns.com

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