Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Sioux Falls Drinking Scene: McNally's

Mc Nally's Irish Pub on Urbanspoon
Let's get right to the point, McNally's is a great place with few drawbacks. The location is particularly "suburban" at the current time. Western Avenue turns to gravel within a mile or so of its intersection with 69th Street. Nevertheless, the place is actually kind of centrally located between the East and West sides. Moreover, it's worth the short drive.

In no particular order, here is what I think is really good about McNally's:

No kids allowed. If my memory serves me correctly, McNally's is the first bar/restaurant/pub in town to allow only persons over 21 on the premises. They are dead serious about that, too. It's been a while since I've seen it occur, but the staff is quick to point that out to people who do not heed the notice on the door and bring the kids in for a burger. I really like this. Despite the fact that the Secret Teaspoon has been with me in a few bars, particularly when she was younger, establishments that predominantly serve adult beverages are not places for kids. If I want to sit around and see how much Guinness I can drink while regaling my pals with stories, I shouldn't have to worry that I just inadvertently taught some body's five year old kid sitting behind me a new word that rhymes with "duck."

Some other places could benefit from this policy. I was at the Attic last week for a couple of post-super-stressful job beers. I made note of a couple of kids that appeared to be high-school age, and on the younger side of high-school age, at that. They had come in to have some sodas and play some pool. I am not so sure the good folks at the Attic want to be become the local after-school hangout. This isn't an issue at McNally's.

Video Lottery is out of sight. I am pretty conservative when it comes to video lottery. Or is personal responsibility for one's own decisions a liberal tenet now? Whatever. My point is: I don't give a rip who plays video lottery, why they play it, if they should play it, etc. I probably don't stick 40 bucks in video lottery machines in a year. It's fun to throw a few bucks in every now and again to try to win enough to buy another beer, but that's about it. Nevertheless, I don't necessarily like to see the machines and I sure don't want to hear the freaking things. At McNally's, the video lottery machines are in an entirely different room. Heck, they are practically in their own bar. If you enjoy playing the games, it's actually a nice area and there is always a friendly attendant on staff to provide change, cash out tickets, and take care of drink orders.

The decor is great. I've never been to Ireland, so I can only look at pictures or watch television to see authentic Irish pubs. I have been to plenty of "Irish pubs" in the good old USA, though. Most of the Irish bars I have been to have been dive bars (not necessarily a bad thing) that just happen to have better furniture and a fireplace somewhere. I think the folks who designed the place did a great job of incorporating what seem to be authentic features of a real Irish pub, like the very nice bar and back bar, the little private rooms, the fireplace, and the dart alley. I've heard some people carp about the concrete floors stamped and colored to look like wood. I think it's a great idea- it looks nice, has to be easier to maintain, and probably helps the acoustics. The copper crown moulding is gorgeous. I am a foodie, not an interior decorator, but I find myself very intrigued when the lighting is just right in the bar and the copper moulding is lit.

The food. McNally's has really good food. I've never had a bad meal there. Ever. This is a testament to using good ingredients and not trying to go overboard. If you are ever at the far end of the bar, near the window to the kitchen, look back there. It's not that big. Actually, it's a pretty small space. The place isn't equipped to run out multi course meals. This isn't "bar food" either. There is no fryolator in the kitchen, so no cheese balls, fried mushrooms, chislic, chicken wings, fries, onion rings, cheese sticks, or chicken gizzards will be found on the menu.

McNally's makes great burgers. It's hard to miss when you are using the good CAB ground beef from Look's and using phenomenally good buns that have perfect texture for a burger of that quality. The sliders are also good. Hint: On Saturdays during Notre Dame games, the O'Dwyer's burger is only 5 bucks. (That's a full size version of the sliders- regular size patty topped with pepper jack cheese, grilled onions and bread and butter pickles.) I am not so sure that burger is on the menu, so it's a special burger at a special price.

The mussels are to die for. Frankly, I am yet to find another place in town where I will order them. The green-lipped black beauties at McNally's are cooked in a broth of Guinness, garlic and parsley and served with two really nice slices of grilled French bread.

Here's another special tip: Breakfast at McNally's on St. Patrick's Day is a hoot. They usually make a special egg, potato, sausage hash concoction that goes great with a Bloody Mary or a few pints of Guinness.

The Guinness is great. Guinness is really an amazing and very misunderstood beer. It's actually much lighter than people think. In terms of calories, it's probably lighter than a Miller Lite or Bud Lite. It's not blazing hot in terms of alcohol content. People assume a beer that looks like that must be double digit in terms of percentage of alcohol content. It's not. It is also not served warm.

Lots of places in town serve Guinness now. That wasn't the case quite so long ago because it takes a special system to serve it on draught. Guinness requires nitrogen to drive it, not CO2. The fresher the Guinness, the better it tastes. Because people tend to want to drink authentic Irish beer in Irish pubs, and because the secret on the "lightness" of Guinness is out, McNally's probably taps more kegs of the stuff than any other bar in town. The bartenders also understand how to pull a proper pint. There is a six-step process to pour Guinness and one of those steps is to let it settle. I am not making this up. Go look it up. A good pour makes for a better pint. Trust me.

Besides the Guinness, you also owe it to yourself to try some Brown Jug ale. Remember the beer made at the Sioux Falls Brewing Company? (God, how I miss the Midnight Star Ale.) Anyway, one of the cool bartenders at McNally's- the guy with the long hair in a pony tail- and his buddies bought that equipment and use it to crank out beer from some location on North Cliff Avenue. Besides Brown Jug, they have turned out a Belgian-style wit. Whatever they are making, though, and wherever you find it, please drink some. There isn't enough beer brewed in this town and that's an outrage. Support these guys' efforts.

Darts. If you like to throw a few darts, McNally's is a great place to do so. There are two dart boards situated in a narrow alley that has shelves along the sides where one can set a beverage while throwing. Although the alley is probably one foot too narrow, the best part is that it's out of the way, so you don't have people walking in front of you or otherwise interrupting the game, except for people who mistake the area for the hallway to the restrooms. A word of warning- be careful not to run into the wait staff who frequently walk by the area.

The people. McNally's has good, attentive employees. A few of them have been there since the opening, but, by and large, it is McNally's Staff Version 2.0. I must admit, there was a period of time this last summer when I had some serious concerns about McNally's. The Attic had recently opened on the East side and quickly picked up some excellent staff members from some other establishments, including McNally's. We would head up to McNally's on a Friday or Saturday evening to find the place relatively empty. Unfortunately, during this time period there were a lot of new faces on the staff and they didn't seem to be orienting very quickly. Let me put this in simpler terms: Un-busy bar coupled with crappy service. A real WTF (What The Fork). I am not kidding, I almost started a Death Watch List posting and McNally's was going to be on the top of the list.

McNally's Staff 2.0 has come around very well, though. One advantage of frequenting certain establishments is that regular patrons and staff get to know each other. Not sending Christmas cards get to know each other, but good enough to know what a certain customer likes and that the customer will reward good service with an appropriate gratuity. The staff is friendly, snappy, and attentive. And, the place is back to its regular, busy, weekend night status.

Live music. McNally's also does a nice job with live music. On Friday and Saturday nights there is usually a little live music. It might be piano man Dan Larson playing Girl From Ipanema or other classic lounge lizard music, or Nick Rallis and friends, or some traditional Irish music. We're not talking on-stage, clear the floor of tables to dance or rock your butt off music, but its usually good and the most important thing is that it's live. This town doesn't do enough for live music.

Few drawbacks. As mentioned waayyy up in the beginning of this post, there are a few minor drawbacks about McNally's in my humble opinion. The first is the price. McNally's is not cheap. Pints of Guinness are usually five bucks a throw. Those phenomenal burgers are closer to 10 bucks than they are to 5. So, if you plan to make a night of it by having a burger, playing some darts and enjoying 5 or 6 pints, you better plan on blowing at least 50 bucks, and that isn't going to include feeding and watering your date or buying a round for your pals. If there is a happy hour I have yet to find it. I know I have ever got the check and giggled because it seemed so low. Personally, I think the price is worth it because the place delivers, but just know it's not bargain basement drinking by a long shot.

The other drawback is the occasional smokiness of the place. Granted, McNally's has a good ventilation system installed. That good ventilation system doesn't quite get the job done, though, if the bar is on the full side and a lot of folks are lighting up. There seems to be a "sweet spot" in terms of the ventilation. If the bar isn't too full, it doesn't seem to matter how many people are smoking, the air remains pretty fresh. Other times, it's not much different than being at the Crow.

Overall, a great experience. If you haven't visited for a while, you should go.


Anonymous said... I'm thirsty AND hungry.

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Best wishes
Alice Tudes