313 W. North Ave. (1600N, 300W)
Chicago, IL 60610
At McGinny's Tap, the Irish experience pretty much begins and ends with the name. So, if you're looking for a perfect pint of Guinness or tartan skirt-clad bar maids speaking in brogues, you're barking up the wrong shillelagh. At heart, McGinny's is a no-frills Old Town sports tap with location-friendly prices, some old school features and a spacious side patio. And that's not such a bad thing.
Formerly the North Park Tap and the Saddle Club prior to that, McGinny's is located on the south side of North Avenue, a block west of Piper's Alley and a million miles (in spirit) away from nearby Old Town Social. A simple black awning hangs over the single-story building. The adjacent beer garden is attached to the bar from inside and surrounded by a low brick fence, which provides a decent buffer from the ever-present street and pedestrian traffic. The concrete slab patio contains a good number of tables and there are even a couple of TVs set up for watching the game alfresco. Above the patio, hang flags from each of our city's "pro" sports teams, including the White Sox, a relative rarity on the north side.
The interior is spare and narrow, with a low tin ceiling and long, curved wooden bar running along the western wall. The best seats in the house are at the pair of tables set on either side of the door next to the floor-to-ceiling folding windows. Banquette seating just past the exit to the patio offers a few additional options. The décor is almost entirely sports-related, but the vintage bar, bar back and beer coolers hold close to a century of history and add a load of character to the place. There are only five flat screens set strategically throughout the room, but the small space allows for a decent vantage point from most spots. A digital jukebox is set up in back and—good news for music fans—it's set by default to override the TVs. So, don't be too surprised to hear, "It could be, it might be, it..." and then the opening bars of "Boom Boom Pow" blaring at Saturday night volumes.
McGinny's has a selection of a dozen beers on tap, including Guinness, and another 20 or so offerings by the bottle. Finding a Goose Island Green Line for $4.50 a pint in this zip code was a bit of a revelation. Their Saturday special, $17 for six-pack buckets of domestics, shames dozens of other sports bars that charge more for a bucket of beer and then only give you five bottles. There's of course a full bar, but unless the margarita machine is turned on—it looked awfully empty and lonely on my visit—this is probably not the spot to order anything with more than two ingredients. Ordering drinks with one ingredient can be an issue too, but more on that in a moment. There's also an open kitchen, which serves lunch, dinner and weekend brunch. Food consists mostly of bar basics with a few extras, like steak tacos, thrown in for variety.
A customer came in and ordered a Dewar's, a blended Scotch, on the rocks, finishing what was apparently the only bottle in the house. When it came time for round two, the bartender looked at the array of bottles behind the bar with the same blank stare I remember from my calculus class. By my survey, there wasn't another blended scotch available, but there was a full bottle of Glenfiddich, a single malt Scotch on the top shelf. The bartender ignored this and picked up another bottle to show the customer. It was Jameson's, an Irish whiskey. The customer shook her off. She reached for another bottle of amber liquid. "Is this scotch?" she asked. The customer shrugged, forcing me to join in. "That's bourbon", I said, pointing to the bottle of Woodford Reserve in her hand. After a few moments of frustration, the customer settled for a Jameson's and I settled my check, feeling exhausted by the exchange. Now, I don't need a bartender with the encyclopedic knowledge of a mixologist or sommelier, but some basic understanding of alcohol is always nice. Perhaps, my Chicago Bar Project article Whiskey Business could be of some assistance.
The crowd at McGinny's is largely made up of locals and tourists, with a pretty casual vibe. This is the kind of place where both the guys and gals can be seen sporting baseball caps and anything dressier than jeans or shorts looks out of place. Since the patio is the main draw here, the weather will often dictate the size of the crowd, but McGinny's does also have NFL Sunday ticket and (just like every other bar since 2008) is an official Blackhawks bar, for those looking to get their winter sports fix. McGinny's is open until 2am Sunday-Friday, and 3am on Saturday.
If you're looking for an Old Town watering hole with a comfortable patio and prices that won't break the bank, McGinny's may be right up your (Piper's) alley. If you like McGinny's might I suggest a visit to Dugan's on Halsted, Kasey's Tavern or Old Town alternative Corcoran's. Damned if I could find a website or Facebook page, so if you want more info on McGinny's give them a call. Here's mud in your eye!