Ring in spring at Reilly's
I shuffled through toward the dimly lit door, hood up and head down, body bent against the wet springtime wind. I slopped up the stairs, opened the door, and stepped over the threshold – to a lodge on a lonely moor in Yorkshire. Or maybe I was somewhere in Vermont. In 1921. Wherever I was, I certainly wasn’t in Korea anymore.
And how can you blame me for being turned about? The place is crammed with dark polished wood, brick, and burnished metal. Everyone wears leather and tweed and plaid. Ski caps abound. The low lights glint off a hundred half-full pint glasses held by smiling, cheerful people, and I am abashed. The snappy wind is blowing wetly, the windows are rattling, and here we are, partying like chums at Reilly’s Taphouse, the happiest place on Earth. This is where you bring your rice-ravaged mind to flop down, sink into the dark leather, and stay awhile. Things are lookin’ fine tonight.
Reilly’s is an Itaewon newcomer, tucked up on the third floor of an unassuming building you’ve probably walked by 500 times. The beer menu is a showstopper with enough ales, lagers, stouts, porters and pilsners to make your head go fuzzy. Trying more than one is an absolute must, and trying a few is more than likely for any beer lover (no one around here will judge if you pour yourself into a cab 3 hours later). The Magpie Porter is a customer favorite, along with the sweet Schloss Dunkel and the blacker-than-black Seorak Oatmeal Stout, but I was enraptured by the Scottish Wee Heavy. Served in a dazzlingly large glass and topped with a creamy head, my heart was on wings. So when Troy Zitzelsberger, the self-named Beer Guy of this cozy establishment, appeared at my elbow and asked if I’d like another round, I said, “Well sure!” His status as a certified cicerone makes him more like a beer doctor, considering how many months of study he devoted to acquiring the coveted status. He treated me to a bottle of Tripel Karmeliet, a smooth honey-colored Belgian that sings with vanilla and packs a solid 8.4% alcohol by volume. Zitzelsberger called this little gem (his current favorite) a “creeper.” Beware those words from a beer doctor.
Good thing Reilly’s burgeoning menu of comfort food is there to take the edge off your warming belly. Chef Chris DeBord has put together a promising selection of southern pub favorites spiked with fanciness – Grandmother meets Oscar Wilde on a plate. Chris has your old faves like fried sweet potatoes, onion rings, fish and chips, and fries covered (and covered well), but he’s also rollin’ out big, beautiful bowls of mussels and hunks of meatloaf smothered in brown gravy. He really shines at sauces, something he’s fully utilized while putting together this menu. “It’s a work in progress,” he says. And good progress it’s making. DeBord came over and explained his hope for the future menu at Reilly’s, a prototype he was trying out when I was there that weekend: lamb shank, two hearty soups, a sandwich or two, and bread pudding or chocolate mousse for dessert. His southern USA foundation begins to show as he talks, and it becomes clear how personally invested he is in the success of his food.
That’s how it is at Reilly’s. Personal. This place has “personal” written all over it. The people behind the bar are the ones who own it, carefully pouring from one of their taps (there are 20), making sure the proper glass has been chosen before handing it off to you. Everyone is so jovial and enthusiastic, you’ll wish they’d pull up a chair and take a few sips with you. You’ll be right over there, tucked into your third glass under the watchful eyes of Winston Churchill, mopping up the last of your red pepper aioli with another perfect onion ring, having way too much fun. Go with friends. Go alone and make some new ones. Just go. Reilly’s will be your new fave.