How To Travel 900 Miles In Three Steps
Mac’s Place takes you from the Peninsula to the North Side in record time
By Patrick Graham
Fourteen years ago, I was in Joliet, Illinois visiting my grandmother when I had some free time. I mean free time, like the whole day free time. I decided to pull a Ferris Bueller and head up I-55 into downtown Chicago because I had never done it of my own free will. I decided to do Chicago. It was a Sunday, so not much was going on. It was late March, so the Cubs were still in Arizona, the Bulls were on the road, and the Bears were sleeping off a 4-12 season. St. Patrick’s Day had come and gone, and the forecast was a 100% chance of gray. These conditions, however, did not sway my determination to go see what I wanted to see since I was about fifteen or sixteen: the inside of an Irish pub in the Second City. O’Callaghan’s on West Hubbard Street was the prototypical Mick joint of the day, with a long bar, wood floors, bar tables on the opposite wall, and the appropriate amount of televisions. I was delighted and sad at the same time. I believed that I had crossed off something on a relatively short bucket list, but I feared I would have to return to the 312 area code in order to experience it again.
As it turns out, I didn’t have to.
Surrounded by all of the usual upscale players on downtown Charleston’s East Bay Street, Mac’s Place allows you to step up into Chicagoland and find an Irish pub that strongly resembles what I was seeking all those years ago, what with the Guinness and Harp draft taps on prominent display, to the usual pub fare on the menu, and even the aforementioned hardwood floors and tremendous long bar that governs the interior experience of what amounts to a double-wide hole in the wall. Oh, yeah, and televisions everywhere.
More than a dozen drafts and fifty-plus cans and bottles of lagers, pilsners, and ales covered the beer list, but I tried to blend in with a Holy City Pilsner while I checked over the food selections. I was told that the Irish Nachos with the scalloped potatoes, bacon, tomatoes, jalapenos, cheese, and ranch dressing were the way to go, and the sight did not disappoint. Right next to me, a couple visiting from Seattle wanted to take a whack at the Fried Shrimp basket with the sweet potato tots, and they sang its praises (even though the Seahawks were losing). Both of these were found under the proper heading “Munchies” on the first page of the food. It’s always nice to know that a bar is looking out for you when all you need is something to keep you going, as Mac’s offered fried shrooms, chicken fingers, and mozzarella sticks.
However, I was after an important segment of Chicago’s legendary casual dining list of options that are considered must-haves when visiting the Mecca of the Midwest. One is Chicago deep dish pizza, another is an Italian beef sandwich. Authenticity is key when such a sandwich is prepared, and with giardiniera and provolone over the top, this one struck gold. The jus that the thinly sliced Vienna beef is slurpingly soaked in is loaded with rosemary, and the peppers make for a very effective decongestant, if you know what I mean. This ain’t your basic French Dip, so be prepared with your various antacids if that is an issue between you and your stomach. Even as I wimped out on the second half of this hoagie and applied some mayonnaise, I was pleasantly surprised that this soothing condiment was on the sweet side, allowing for the Pulp Fiction-inspired dunking of the fries (to remind you, it’s the “Royale with Cheese” discussion Vincent and Jules had).
The staff was knowledgeable and very attentive (qualities that are rather deficient early in the evening in downtown bars), and it was duly noted as I wasn’t the one ringing up trays of shots, the obvious moneymaker for bartenders. I am sure that this place is jammed for a Bears game, and there are plenty of flat screens that would facilitate your ability to find your favorite team during any sports season. That Thursday evening, the team trivia crowd was starting to show up for the prime time entertainment. I was going to depart Mac’s Place with only one disappointment: that I didn’t clear my social calendar so I could partake in my favorite bar-oriented pastime. I shall return. On a Thursday.