When he decided to open his first restaurant and bar, Bryan McGonigal figured that Barrington was in need of a new nightlife destination. Judging from the early crowds at McGonigal's Pub, it seems he was right. The mix of live music, a large selection of beer and Irish food has brought diners and drinkers flocking in for a taste of the Emerald Isle.
Motif: McGonigal's - housed in a former bank - shares the same designer as McNally's Irish Pub in St. Charles, bringing an old world look to the new spot. The décor is like touring an old Irish home, with quaint touches including jars of flour, casks, hanging lanterns, a globe and a tapestry of a coat of arms. Exposed brick walls, brown curtains and a stained glass window help provide a subdued but classy vibe. The smooth wood tables are surrounded by bench-style booths, stools and carved wooden chairs with red and gold cushions. Potted plants near the window add a little green, and a pair of flat screen TVs are mounted on either side of the bar.
The upstairs area has a second bar, long tables for bigger groups and eight more TVs. Here the decor pays tribute to Irish sports, with framed jerseys and pictures of athletes along with a cricket bat and rugby ball. While you'll be able to catch all the big American games, the pub also hopes to show rugby and World Cup soccer.
Crowd: When we visited at around 7:30 p.m. Friday, the night of the pub's big grand-opening bash, the bar was filled to capacity. Even when the dinner rush had died down a few hours later, there were still plenty of people sticking around to drink. The age range went from late 20s and up.
Liquid consumption: Smithwick's, Harp and Guinness, the holy trinity of Irish beer, are the kings of McGonigal's drink menu. They reign as part of a list of 20 mostly imported beers on tap, with other popular picks including Hoegaarden and Kilkenny. There's also a solid selection of single malt whiskey, with 15 varieties from Scotland and Ireland along with standards like Jameson.
Food: Irish dishes predictably dominate the menu. Early favorites include the shepherd's pie, filled with ground lamb, beef, carrots, peas and onions and topped with mashed potatoes and cheese. On the sandwich side, you'll find the reuben, a pile of corned beef, cheese and sauerkraut on marble rye served with pub fries or house-made coleslaw. If you can save room for dessert, try the sweet Irish bread pudding served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Music: The bar has space for performers on both floors, with a small corner stage for open mic nights or acoustic acts on the ground floor and room for bigger bands upstairs. McGonigal's plans to host performers Friday and Saturday nights with about an even split between Irish bands and local acts.
Parking: Parking right in front of the bar can be tight, but there are several free public lots just a short walk away.
Overall: If the bar can manage the crowds, McGonigal's Pub should be able to keep bringing them in.
105 S. Cook St., Barrington, (847) 277-7400, mcgonigalspub.com
Hours: 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Sunday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday