When we hear that a dive bar intends to tidy up its act, we’re filled with trepidation. We’re attached to our destitute destinations because there’s a shiny, soulless bar with an “modern gastropub food concept” on every corner. Why ruin the character you didn’t clean for 20 years to build? Why slap lipstick on a pig when all we want is the bacon?
Fortunately, the new Paddy Shack at Half Time Rec hits the sweet spot between grungy and gourmet. The front of the bar is still delightfully dingy but the updated rear annex now looks more like a *gasp* dining room (really, though, just a room that one could dine in. Not like it’s white tablecloth or anything).
The Paddy Shack menu is chef Jack Riebel’s interpretation of contemporary bar food with an Irish bent. He’s joined in the venture by Josh Thoma and Kevin Fitzgerald of Smack Shack—and the result is perfectly analogous to the lobster-feuled turnaround at 1029 Bar.
Because 95% of the hotdogs you’ve eaten in your life run entirely together, get thee to Paddy Shack for the STP. It’s a huge, beefy dog on a more-than-substantial bun, piled high with Chicago-esque toppings that you’ll need a game plan to attack lest it all ends up in your lap.
We chose cod for our Fish & Chips and were happier with the chips (crispy, pillowy interior, perfectly salty) than the fish, though it was certainly nothing to scoff at. The mushy peas may have been the best part—spicy and herbal, you might want a side of these with whatever you order.
But we’re going to warm ourselves all winter long with the Shepard’s* Pie (*sic, unless it’s named after Alan Shepard, in which case that’s confusing. But he did walk on the moon, so I suppose he deserves the honor). A cap of silky potatoes hides a glorious mélange of meat and veg, perfectly seasoned and just the right amount of richness, featuring pearl onions that Growler editor-in-chief Joe Alton has deemed “bangin’.”
Half Time Rec, 1013 Front Avenue, St. Paul, 651-488-8245.