It’s a safe bet that many of us haven’t strolled the 100 and 200 blocks of West Main Street since the 1980s, when City Lights was a hot nightclub and we were dancing after midnight. It was a seedy-looking stretch back then, and not much had changed — until recently.
Now, in anticipation of the opening of the downtown arena this fall, a handful of bars and restaurants have hung shingles in the block (with more slated to follow), reinvigorating the once-neglected area. One of the newest additions to the group is Patrick O’Shea’s  (123 W. Main St.), the fourth installment in the O’Shea’s family of pubs, and arguably its grandest.
The building it moved into was constructed in 1870 to house a whiskey distillery, not a restaurant and pub. So when the O’Shea’s partners committed to its magnificent makeover, they spent a reported $3.5 million on the cause. (For some perspective, this is an extraordinary amount of money to spend opening a restaurant, even in 2010. To my knowledge, other than Corbett’s, no operation in town has been so lavished with cash.) The gorgeous two-level space they created is designed to hold a standing-room-only crowd of 700. Like City Lights 30 years ago, Patrick O’Shea’s is set up for a party.
While its menu borrows several items from other O’Shea’s locations, it’s distinctly Patrick’s own and decidedly more ambitious. But while dishes such as the scallop amandine cappellini ($15) and the halibut Morocco ($18) feature price-points well north of the offerings at sibling establishments, the execution didn’t always measure up on these more challenging dishes. For example, the cooks got the hard part right on the braised pork shank ($14), rendering it wonderfully tender from tedious slow-cooking. But the meat lacked any distinct flavor, despite the addition of a Port wine sauce. However, the bed of coarsely mashed potatoes was tasty on its own and even better with the wine sauce mixed in.
The pork shank made me wonder if sticking with pub standards wasn’t the best strategy going forward. During that same meal, one of my tablemates chose the Kentucky Proud pork burger ($10), featuring ground pork from Taylorsville’s Stone Cross Farms. Grilled perfectly, it was topped with smoked bacon and “honeycup mustard,” then gilded with goat cheese. I’d vote it one of the best sandwiches in town. Another tablemate got the half order (which was quite large) of Guinness-battered fish and chips ($9). His safe choice delivered a solid, if not remarkable, feast of fish and fries.
Having enjoyed satisfying pizzas at another O’Shea’s operation, I was confident the Tuscan pizza ($9 for a 10-inch, $14 for a 16-inch) would please. But despite the promise of flavor from goat cheese and lemon, and texture from artichoke hearts and sun-dried tomatoes, it was surprisingly bland. That same meal ended on a particularly down note when we were served an amply sized red velvet cupcake ($5), which arrived cold and tasting of the fridge.
We made more-tasty choices on other visits, such as the Balsamico ($9), a perfectly marinated chicken breast nicely char-grilled and dressed with pesto mayo and caramelized onions. The Gaelic Press ($8 and served at lunch only, which is a pity) combined savory smoked ham, salty Irish bacon and rich Brie pressed between planks of ciabatta. When I ordered the Patrick’s burger ($9), I accepted the server’s suggestion of a bison upgrade for an extra dollar. Cooked medium, the burger was basted with barbecue sauce and topped with bacon and sharp Cheddar. Deeelightful. These are the kinds of dishes pre-game crowds will want and expect, and the entire staff delivers them consistently and quickly.
In the tradition of O’Shea’s pubs, the beer selection here is fantastic — properly expansive without being pointlessly overwhelming. While I love the abundance of American microwbrews, there are plenty of international jewels for fans of overseas suds. The draft lineup rotates seasonally, so no sense mentioning what we had. Just know that those we enjoyed arrived at the perfect temp, bore appropriate texture and were served in brewery-specific glasses (a nice touch).
If you’re just drinking and noshing, it’s a good idea to pair them with some sizable and sharable appetizers, such as the beer cheese and pretzels ($7) or the pommes frites ($6), which are delicious, piled high and served with multiple choices of dipping sauces.
If you go
Patrick O’Shea’s, 123 W. Main St., 708-2488. The kitchen is open daily 11 a.m.-midnight.
Photo: John Nation