Although I find something to like in most bars I visit, I'll admit that my expectations vary from place to place. I would be lying if I told you that sports bars, especially Irish-themed sports bars, didn't generally factor in a bit lower in the expectation department than places that seem different from the norm.
That said, I'm not one to get hung up on the details, especially if a bar has more going for it than its theme implies. This is often what happens with themed bars; the bar itself is usually interesting or noteworthy on its own, without regard to its various thematic elements.
Shamrock's Ale House fits the bill for this scenario. On the outside, it's an anonymous strip-mall tavern; on the inside, the vistor is greeted by hanging Irish family crests (courtesy of Budweiser, for some reason), a shamrock-patterned bar top and flat-screen TVs on every wall. Irish sports bar theme accomplished, but in the case of Shamrock's Ale House, that's not the whole story, thankfully.
It was Thanksgiving night when I stopped by Shamrock's, so I wasn't expecting much of a crowd. A small group was at the bar watching the 49ers battle the Ravens, but the place was fairly quiet otherwise. Over the course of the next two hours, a reasonable weeknight crowd has assembled, but the overall vibe remained pleasantly laid-back.
The interior consists of a large, restaurant-style seating area in the front and a small bar in the back, flanked by an outdoor patio on one side and a small game area on the other, featuring darts, as well as arcade classics like 1943 and Dig Dug in an Ultracade console. The patio has a pool table, as well as bar access, making it almost independent of the main indoor area. The layout of both areas was clean and organized, with obvious care taken by the staff to maintain a comfortable environment. I like grime, but this was a nice change of pace from the typical dive bar experience.
As we pulled up to the bar in the back, we were greeted by owner Eric Tremmel, who explained the various drink specials — part of the all-day happy hour that the bar advertises. These include $1 upgrades from a pint to a 23-ounce glass for draft beers, and a $2 upgrade from a single to a double shot in your mixed drink. Wells and domestic drafts also are 2-for-1 all day, which is a pretty fair deal, considering the $4.99 price tag.
I scanned the bottles along the back wall and noticed an above-average Irish whiskey selection, from Powers and Paddys to Tullamore Dew and Michael Collins. Naturally, several varieties of Bushmills and Jameson were also on hand. Not a whiskey fan? No problem — the bar stocks a range of just about every common spirit you can think of, from top-shelf tequilas to flavored vodkas.
Of course, this is Shamrock's Ale House, so it only makes sense that the beer selection would be the standout category on the drink list. There were 21 taps, by my count, with brews ranging from major domestics to craft beers from Alexander Keith, Victory, Magic Hat, and Kona, among others.
Tremmel said he plans to get some local brews on draft, with ales from Cold Storage and Tampa Bay Brewing Company (who recently started kegging their Old Elephant Foot IPA for sale off-premises) at the top of the list. Between the draft and bottle selection, beer enthusiasts will find plenty to like, even if the selection is quite mainstream as a whole.
The bar offers a variety of events, if you're looking for more than a basic night out. Bike nights are held every Wednesday, team trivia is on Thursdays, Friday nights feature live music, and Saturdays are the night for karaoke.
Shamrock's captures the utility of both the Irish pub and sports bar quite well, fortunately without clinging too hard to either theme. The menu reminds us that the Irish treat the local pub and eatery as a fixture in their social world, where they can enjoy a pint and good conversation. Shamrock's has all the necessary ingredients for such an endeavor, and then some. Pay the extra dollar for the jumbo beer upgrade, take a seat and enjoy yourself.