Posted by: wrmcnutt | November 17, 2010

Restaurant Reviews – Mackey’s Public House – Washington, DC

If you’ve been following me for any time at all, you know that one of my tasks when I hit a new town is to look for a good pub.  Irish is generally preferred, but English or Scottish will do nicely.  While every good public house is unique, a properly done Irish pub is a cut from the same both of of good Irish wool as any other, and, properly done, exude a feel of comfort and home that you can find far from home.

Mackey's LogoIt was at Mackey’s Public House in Washington, DC when I realized how people can tolerate the minuscule apartments typical of of the middle and working class dwellings in New York, Washington, or Boston:  your living room, dining room, and TV room are not in the apartment.  They are down at the local pub.  It’s only your bedroom, bathroom  that are actually in your apartment.  If you’re only there to bathe and sleep, all of a sudden, those tiny places aren’t so small.  You don’t live in your apartment, you live in the city.

I realized this because when I walked into Mackey’s, I felt as though I had walked into my own dining room. Not that my living room is paneled with nine HD TV’s, but I still immediately felt “at home.”  It was probably because of the reading library and comfy chairs three steps down from the door.    But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Mackey’s Public House is located at 1823 L Street NW, Washington, DC.  I was immediately disposed to think well of the place when I saw it on the street.  The facade is covered with an ornate  floral applique that’s Victorian, Edwardian, or perhaps Regency.  It’s painted a faded scarlet and managed to look very Old World, in spite of, or perhaps because of the steel and concrete that surrounds it.

Immediately inside the door is a tiny vestibule.  I thought I got chalk on my nose from the board opposite the door, so close it was.  You turn left from there and step down four steps below street level.  The space immediately  opens up to an oak paneled bar with plenty of headroom.  The bar itself is horseshoe style, dominating the center fo the space.  Made mostly of oak, it has a spruce top, stained dark and deeply coasted with polyurethane to protect it.

At the front of the stairs is a reading library with about eighty volumes, mostly lite fare.  Authors like King, Cameron, and Francis dominate, although there are a few classics as well.  There is no charge for using the reading library, although I did not check to see if you are allowed to take books out. All the way across the room from the library is another, similar alcove with comfy chairs and a small table, ideal for a snug gathering of close friends.  Down the right-hand wall of the establishment you will find about eight very private booths of various sizes, ideal for small gatherings of family or friends, for romantic dates, or for burying your nose in a book/kindle.

Down the other side is a classic bar and bar-stools, seating at least fifteen. The bar is will stocked with a variety of spirits.  There is not a whole lot of depth to the selection, but all of the standards are there.  Likewise there are six or eight taps for draft beers, but expect mostly the standards.  Across the back of the building is what I think of as the “sports room.”  Unlike the rest of the establishment, it’s wide open.  They’ve got a dozen tables back there, and six wide screen TV’s.  There’s a dart board off to one side.  It’s only a single board, but after all, this isn’t Ireland.

The only thing missing was music.  I saw no set aside venue for musicians, nor were there posted fliers for artists.  So not only is this not a sing along bar, but there is no music at all that I can see, other than the jukebox.  While there were a few Irish selections, it was mostly pop.  I find the lack of live music in a public house to be disappointing.

I was greeted at the door and invited to seat myself.  The doorman was quite friendly, you know, for a Yankee.

I had lunch here once, and dinner here once.  Both times the service was quick, efficient, and impersonal.  A few more smiles from the waitress could have garnered a larger tip.  But they were never surly.

The menu was a little disappointing.  It’s mostly common bar fare:  fried mozzarella, chicken wings, that sort of thing.  But there were a few Irish standards.  For lunch I went off of the Irish reservation and started with a bowl of tomato and roasted red pepper soup.  It was very, good, with a sharp bite and smooth texture.  I’m not sure what broth was added to the base, but I don’t think it was vegetarian.  Typical of pub food, very little effort was put into presentation, but as cold and hungry as I was, it looked good. I finished with a green salad with balsamic vinaigrette dressing. The mixed greens were attractive, crisp, and flavorful.  Hard to find this time of year.  The vinaigrette was in a thick, rich emulsion that clung to the greens and was easy to manage.  Dressing that does not end up on my tie is always a good thing.

But I couldn’t bring myself to visit an Irish pub without a review of the Shepard’s Pie.  This once was of a goodly size and topped with red potato mash; a new experience for me.  The topping had a firm texture, with just enough lumps to assure me that the potatoes were mashed in house and skins on.  (Eat the skins; they’re good for you, and tasty.)

This particular Shepard’s Pie was meat-heavy – but the lamb was very good.  The chef had chosen to grind the lamb, rather than chop or shred it.  That’s usually a sign you’re getting mutton and not lamb.  It was done to medium rare, coarsely ground, and richly flavored.  The veggies were cooked through,but with enough firmness that they still had a nice texture and, I suspect, a vitamin or two left.  This pie was also a bit fluid.  The interior was more like a broth than a gravy, and went very, very well with the Irish brown bread that was served with it.

For both meals I had a comfortable, tasty, and filling meal.  The service was adequate if somewhat distant, and the food was good.

I give Macky’s Public House:

4 Pints of 5 for atmosphere

2.5 Pints of 5 for service

3 Pints for Cuisine

This gives Macky’s an overall score of 3.2 pints, making it an above-average dining experience.

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  1. What? No comment about beer on tap? No scotch review?

    • But I did: “The bar is will stocked with a variety of spirits. There is not a whole lot of depth to the selection, but all of the standards are there. Likewise there are six or eight taps for draft beers, but expect mostly the standards. “

  2. I’ll have to stop in. I walk by there every single day between the metro and the office.

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