It is actually possible to accomplish this by spending some time on Pentagon Row. The Arlington shopping center is both a popular stop for tour buses and a hangout for lonely nomads fulfilling 3- to 6-month contracts at the nearby Pentagon, making the Row a disturbing convergence of the figuratively and literally lost. Appropriately, the Row provides a boxy backdrop of chain stores, overpriced boutiques, and a cheesy “town square” complete with fountain and outdoor seating—designed, apparently, to ratchet up the sense of placelessness.
That’s why Sin-e stands out; it is a real neighborhood pub in a fake neighborhood. Strategically placed televisions and a well-designed bar make Sin-e an ideal place to catch a game, while its high-sided benches and partitioned rooms suit eating alone with a book or catching up with a friend. The staff cheerfully switches the music from Dropkick Murphys to retro pop to traditional Celtic music depending on the night’s vibe. Even though I haven’t called the Row home for months now, I keep returning to Sin-e for happy hours, private parties, or just grabbing a beer between errands. It’s a good bar.
It’s not a good restaurant. Burgers ordered medium regularly come out charred. Requests to leave off onions or add an order of fries go ignored; whether this is the fault of the staff or the kitchen is unclear, as discussions with both can be frustrating. On a recent visit, my server listened to my entire order before announcing, “I don’t have any paper on me. Can I come back later and do this again?” The food’s quality is inconsistent at best. While salmon and fries taste fresh, other fish and chicken are frozen, and lettuce comes to the table wilted and brown. Traditional dishes—corned beef and cabbage, fish and chips, and potato soup with brown bread—aren’t so great. The fish batter and accompanying coleslaw contain hefty helpings of sugar, while the beef and cabbage are bathed in salt. If Dublin had a Chili’s, it would serve this heavy, overprocessed food.
If an Irish pub can’t make Irish food, the reasonable response would be not to be an Irish pub anymore. But Sin-e is committed to the bit; it simply pretends that its better dishes are Irish. “Irish Specialties” include beef and Guinness stew, bangers and mash, and shepherd’s pie—English food, all. Bar food becomes “Irish” with the addition of (what else?) potatoes (Irish nachos—fried potato slices topped with cheddar, bacon, jalapenos, and ranch dressing—are a greasy highlight). The Philly is rechristened the “Dublin Cheesesteak” and the salmon as “Blarney.” Why? Sin-e has a theme, fool.
Of course, the theme doesn’t extend to the Greek sandwich, Mediterrenean salad, or calamari. Or the bar, which features more types of vodka than Irish whiskey and beer combined. But if you’re running from the Row, cultural authenticity is not your biggest concern. So grab some Irish nachos, put back a Stoli martini, and remind the kitchen again to bring your sesame-encrusted tuna.
Sin-e Irish Restaurant and Pub
1301 S. Joyce St Arlington, VA 22202
Best for: watching a game, hiding from tourists
Skip it if: you have no reason to be near the Row