Seeing as how I’m a good 50 percent Irish and St. Patty’s is mere days away, this week seemed like the perfect time to scout out the newly opened Cagney’s, an Irish-themed sports bar in west Lincoln Park. Unfortunately, my Irish half was not impressed—and neither was the other half. Launched by a trio of New Yorkers and a pair of Chicagoans in the old Jack Sullivan’s/Varsity Club/Barleycorn space, Cagney’s has something of an identity crisis going on: Upscale sports bar? Lounge? Modern speakeasy? According to an explanatory paragraph on the menu, it’s all three, with a “dash of Irish appeal thrown in.”
I missed the “appeal"—along with the “Irish” part. Aside from the Miller Lite shamrocks strung from the ceiling, the bar doesn’t communicate “pub”: There’s no Harp to be had (a requisite, in my book); the menu pairs fairly pricey, mediocre dishes like shepherd’s pie ($14) with crab cakes, tortellini, and “signature” pizzas ($10 and up); and the music consisted of the Village People and other family-reunion ilk.
Having abandoned my search for redeeming Irish qualities, I took stock of the rest. From the street-level bar you have two options: Go downstairs to a pleasantly swank, mocha-colored lounge, with rich-looking banquettes and its own bar. Or go upstairs where a massive room houses 20-plus TVs (no angle is a bad one for the sports fan here), a few oversized booths, and a sea of high-top tables. The former seemed the more appropriate place to sample the cocktail menu, which skews sugary sweet (case in point: the Ladies Choice, a champagne cocktail spiked with pomegranate, watermelon, and apple liquors; $9). Refreshingly sweet, however, was the service: earnest and attentive ladies wearing chic black hats, a James Cagney-style nod to the 1930s.
All the Ladies Choices in the world, however, couldn’t put me in a properly Erin Go Bragh mood, so I continued my St. Pat’s reconnaissance at O’Shaughnessy’s Public House, a Ravenswood corner tap that opened in the old Zephyr spot in 2008 and will celebrate its first SPD on Tuesday. It’s hard to call such a newbie “authentic,” but you’re more likely to hear a real Irish brogue here. Much of the pub’s interior—the stained glass windows, the wood for the bar—was imported from Ireland; the menu features an eminently munchable chips ’n’ curry ($4); a bottle of Bushmills gets its own shrine-like niche behind the bar; even the curtains are green. And on draft? Guinness, Smithwick’s, and—thank you, St. Pat—Harp, a bargain at $5 for a 20-ounce pint.