Friday Happy Hour Review: McLadden’s Irish Publick House (Restaurant & Pub)

Hot … Or Not?! 
Can McLadden’s Hold Its Own Against The Heat of Tough
Competition In West Hartford?

March 20, 2019

Last Friday, it seemed fitting that I should do a Friday Happy Hour Review of an Irish pub (short for publick house) for the St. Patrick’s Day weekend, so I opted to check out McLadden’s in West Hartford (one of three McLadden’s with Simsbury and Northampton, MA being the other two). Having seen their Happy Hour menu online, I admit going in with somewhat low expectations. However, the fact they also bill themselves as a whiskey bar gave me some hope. In the end, my experience was about as mixed as my emotions going in.

THE VIBE:

Welcome To The Dark Side

Exterior of McLadden’s Irish Publick House
37 LaSalle Road, West Hartford, CT


McLadden’s announces its presence with stylized lettering on a dark wood background, several large windows along the sidewalk and a bright red door. With all the windows, I expected it to a bit lighter inside, but I found the opposite. Inside, it was almost oppressively dark at first glance. That was partially due to all the dark wood everywhere, including the bar, shelves, tables, etc. The long bar occupied the wall to my right with bar tables to the left. There was a surprising amount of room between the tables and the far. I suppose it makes a bit easier to maneuver when the place is crowded, but it seemed a little too open with the small number of folks there when I arrived a little before 4 pm.

Now, while dark wood is a staple of the pub image, this lacked that warm, cozy feeling of a place where one goes to relax and share some cheer, like my favorite pub (Penny Lane) back in Virginia where a low-beamed ceiling, light paint to offset the darkness of the wood, and lots of pictures and memorabilia on the walls created a warm, inviting coziness. At McLadden’s, it felt dark … and a bit cold. It’s all subjective, of course, but that was the vibe I got.

Additionally, there were no purse hooks under the bar, which I find inexcusable.

Needless to say, I was not particularly enthralled with their Happy Hour vibe.

SCORING:
THE VIBE
(ATMOSPHERE –
Maximum of 20 Pts.)
Style _4_(1-5)
Layout _4_(1-5) 
• Cleanliness _5_ (1-5)
Mood _3_ (1-5)
TOTAL VIBE SCORE _16_

THE HEARTBEAT:

Service Has A Strong Pulse

Rachel
My bartender at McLadden’s


Good service is essential to the life of a bar. It can overcome a host of other shortcomings, as in this case. When I arrived, it was moderately busy with groups at opposite ends of the bar and several people popping in to pick up food for to-go orders. The lone bartender, Rachel, was quite busy. She still greeted me fairly quickly, got me my drink and was attentive when I wanted to ask a question or order something. Even as it got busier, she handled it in stride with a very pleasant disposition. This was the one true bright spot of my visit.

Thanks to Rachel, the Heartbeat was strong enough to rate a perfect score.

SCORING:
THE HEARTBEAT (SERVICE –

Maximum of 20 Pts.)
Attitude _5_(1-5)
Attentive/Responsive _5_(1-5)
Helpfulness _5_(1-5)
Efficiency _5_(1-5)
TOTAL HEARTBEAT SCORE _20_

THE SIPS:

At Least The Prices Are Competitive

McLadden’s Happy Hour Cocktail Menu

I guess this could fall under the heading of “damning with faith praise.” This is not to say that the four $5 mixed drinks on McLadden’s Happy Hour menu are bad. Rather, it is more about the lack of inventiveness and variety which leaves them behind in competing with the other Happy Hours in West Hartford. At least the Emerald Manhattan, which I tried, uses Irish Whiskey instead of rye. But the Moscow Mule, for instance, could have been so much more, especially for Saint Patrick’s Day weekend. They could have renamed it the Dublin or Galway Mule and used Black Bush or Jameson Black Barrel in place of vodka for a little variety.

In any event, my Emerald Manhattan was good. However, since the other drinks did not offer anything to get excited about, I decided to see how McLadden’s fared as a whiskey bar. Now, I had reviewed the extensive list of their whiskey offerings online, so I was prepared to check them out. Since I was in the midst of extensive Irish Whiskey tastings for my social media outlets and my You Tube channel, I thought this would be a good opportunity to sample an Irish Whiskey I hadn’t tried before, like Knappogue 12-Year. Unfortunately, they were out of it, so I tried the Jameson Black Barrel instead, which convinced me not to buy a bottle of it.

So, while trying the Jameson Black Barrel ended up saving me money in the future, the overall impression was not good. How does an Irish Publick House “whiskey bar” run out of an Irish Whiskey it’s supposed to carry, especially on the Friday before Saint Patrick’s Day? Sure, anybody can run out of anything for a variety of reasons beyond their control. But, seriously, running out of an Irish Whiskey before the celebrations begin is not a good start.

As a final note, I overheard the staff discussing all the kegs they had stocked, especially Guinness, for the weekend. Judging by the number of taps, each marked for a different beer, McLadden’s is first and foremost an imported and craft beer bar. So, if beer is your thing, you should probably check them out.

All in all, it wouldn’t be my first (or second or third) choice for Happy Hour cocktails in West Hartford.

SCORING:
THE SIPS

(DRINKS –
Maximum of 20 Pts.)
Selection _3_(1-5) 
Unique Options _1_(1-5)
• Pricing _5_(1-5)
Quality/Taste _5_(1-5)
TOTAL SIPS SCORE _15_

THE BITES:

Is That All There Is?

McLadden’s Happy Hour Food Menu

Like the song made popular by Peggy Lee, my first look at the Happy Hour food menu online left me asking, “Is that all there is?” Sure, there were a number of choices, like warm chips, fried pickles, pretzel bites and a few other items, but nothing really comparable to the other Happy Hours in West Hartford, which offer calamari, tacos, oysters and lots more on their menus. McLadden’s could at least put chicken wings on the menu. I did try the warm chips, which were nice and crunchy, but hardly exciting, especially if you’re billing yourself as a gastropub

As with the Sips, it wouldn’t be my first (or second or third) choice for a Happy Hour Bites in West Hartford.

SCORING:
THE BITES
(FOOD –

Maximum of 20 Pts.)
Selection _2_(1-5)
Unique Options _1_(1-5)
Pricing _5_(1-5)
Quality/Taste _5_(1-5)
TOTAL BITES SCORE _13_

OVERALL IMPRESSION:

McLadden’s Takes A Lukewarm Approach 
To Being Competitive Among
West Hartford Happy Hours

Frankly, this is not the kind of review I enjoy doing. I much prefer it when a Happy Hour earns a top review like each of the other bars I’ve visited so far in West Hartford have done. In fact, they have continually raised the bar for what it means to be a Top Shelf place for Happy Hour. At the same time, I find that my standards for evaluating each Happy Hour have also become stricter. 

For my money (and I do spend my own money to do these reviews), if you’re looking for a Happy Hour with interesting cocktails and an impressive appetizer selection, McLadden’s would not be in my top 10 of recommended places to go. On the other hand, if you’re primarily a beer aficionado and just want some munchy type snacks, it would probably suit you just fine.

TOTAL SCORE _63_ 
RESULT

TOP SHELF (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED) ___ (72-80) 
GOOD CHOICE (WELL RECOMMENDED) ___ (64-71) 
• DECENT (STANDARD) _X_ (52-63) 
AVERAGE (LAST RESORT) ___ (48-51)
AVOID (THE BOTTOM) ___ (<48) 

If you’d like to check out McLadden’s in West Hartford and judge for yourself, you can visit their website for hours and more information!

As always, I welcome your comments about this review or any of my blog posts, especially your own experiences at Happy Hours I have reviewed and suggestions about which Happy Hours I should check out next.

Friday Happy Hour Review: Rizzuto’s Restaurant & Bar In West Hartford

Sizzle … Or Fizzle?! 
Can Rizzuto’s Bring The Heat In This Hotly Competitive Happy Hour Scene?

February 26, 2019

Last Friday (2/25), I set my sights on Rizzuto’s Restaurant & Bar in West Hartford as the next victim … er … subject of my Friday Happy Hour Review. Based on my previous reviews of West Hartford Happy Hours, it’s a hot market with top shelf competition. And if you can’t bring the heat with your Happy Hour, you’ll get left in the cold.

One of Rizzuto’s 3 CT locations (the others are in Bethel and Westport), the one in West Hartford is at 111 Memorial Road in Blue Back Square, where it has some very tough competitors within the Square itself as well as several blocks away on South Main, Farmington and LaSalle. I was about to find out if it was up to the challenge.

THE VIBE:

Sleekly Cool Style Meets
Warm Hospitality


Exterior of Rizzuto’s Restaurant & Bar
111 Memorial Road, West Hartford, CT

With an exterior facade of polished gray stone and glass featuring its name in raised black letters above the doors, Rizzuto’s boldly announces its presence in a distinctive fashion that could be best be described as Classic Contemporary. Inside, the theme continued with lots of black (including staff attire), stainless steel, and milky white marble-like surfaces for an effect that was sleekly cool without being cold.

At the same time, I got a welcoming sense of hospitality from the smiles of the hostesses and the friendly demeanor of the bartender. Later, as the Happy Hour crowd grew in size, there was an increase in the comforting background buzz of laughter and conversation signaling people enjoying themselves, which I find makes any placer feel warmly inviting.

The L-shaped bar offered plenty of room for patrons to sit without feeling overly crowded. The bar stools had backs and were comfortable. However, there were no purse hooks underneath the bar overhang, which I consider an inexcusable omission (and thus cost Rizzuto’s a point in the scoring for this category). Yes, I was able to hang my purse on the back of my bar stool, but the back sloped on both sides making for a precarious perch and constant double-checking to make sure my purse didn’t slide off onto the floor. Additionally, the hooks make it easier to keep large totes (for those coming straight from work) from impeding access to the bar.

Aside from my issue with the lack of purse hooks, the bar area was comfortable with enough space to move freely to the complimentary appetizer station and back to my seat without bumping into anyone or spilling the contents of my plate.

All in all, Rizzuto’s had a nearly perfect Happy Hour Vibe!

SCORING:
THE VIBE
(ATMOSPHERE – Maximum of 20 Pts.)
Style_5_(1-5)
Layout_4_(1-5) 
Cleanliness_5_(1-5)
Mood_5_(1-5)
TOTAL VIBE SCORE _19_

THE HEARTBEAT:

Service Is Alive And Well

Matt
My bartender at Rizzuto’s

As regular readers of my reviews can attest, I believe the service at Happy Hour to be critical to success. Assuming at least decent prices and quality for your offerings, excellent service helps make guests happy and brings them back. It also garners recommendations from customers and reviewers like me. Conversely, poor service can kill a Happy Hour faster than running out of alcohol. In either case, the focus is squarely on the bartender.

Fortunately, I’ve yet to run into any in the Happy Hour “killer” category, which again means that my bartender at Rizzuto’s would be measured against some very high standards. Matt, my bartender, proved more than equal to the task. Friendly and attentive from the moment I sat down until I left, he was constantly checking to make sure I always had whatever I needed and that I never waited more than the absolute bare minimum of time for my drinks or my food. I also heard him conversing with other guests at the bar with the same comfortable attitude that made us all feel welcome. 

As far as order efficiency was concerned, the drinks were well-mixed, and my food came out exactly as ordered.

It’s safe to say that the Heartbeat of Happy Hour service at Rizzuto’s was definitely alive and well!

SCORING:
THE HEARTBEAT
(SERVICE
Maximum of 20 Pts.)
Attitude_5_(1-5)
Attentive / Responsive_5_(1-5) 
Helpfulness_5_(1-5)
Efficiency_5_(1-5)
TOTAL HEARTBEAT SCORE _20_

THE SIPS:

Dangerously Delicious Options Abound

Rizzuto’s Specialty Cocktail Happy Hour Menu

Naturally, as a mixologist, the Happy Hour cocktail menu is dear to my heart (and my budget)! Rizzuto’s brought a smile to face as soon as I read their cocktail menu online with House Brand Drinks, i.e. well drinks, for $5 and five specialty cocktails for $6. This classifies as one of the better Happy Hour mixed drink menus because of all the options.

Apart from the number of options, I judge the drink menu based on the variety and inventiveness of the specialty cocktails. Rizzuto’s earned a top score on the strength of one drink alone – The Hot & Cool Margarita! The recipe description (house-infused jalapeno and cucumber tequila, fresh lemon and lime juices, a dash of agave, served on the rocks) intrigued and delighted me with what it had — the mix of jalapeno heat and cucumber cool – and what it didn’t have — no sour mix (which I despise). Hoping for an exciting flavor treat, I made that my first drink order. 

Rizzuto’s Hot & Cool Margarita! (It’s much brighter in person.)
Definitely A Treat! Cheers!

A bright, festive shade of green (the picture above doesn’t do it justice), the drink Matt brought me did not disappoint. As soon as the tingle of fire from the jalapeno started heating up my taste buds, the chill of the cucumber cooled them down to create a wholly pleasant interplay, which also included a nice balancing act of tart and sweet sensations. A perfectly executed drink concept, from the color to final sip, it’s also dangerous because it would be tempting to drink far more of them than would be wise. (I should note here that Friday was National Margarita Day, and while they didn’t have any specials to mark the occasion, I considered Rizzuto’s Hot & Cool Margarita to be an excellent choice to celebrate it!)

After the Hot & Cool Margarita, anything else was going to have trouble measuring up, so I opted to check out a drink that is offered in different variations across Connecticut – a white Cosmo. At Rizzuto’s, it’s called the Winter White Cosmo (featuring white cranberry juice instead of red, along with citrus vodka, triple sec and fresh lime juice). Refreshing and not too sweet, it delivered on expectations as an enjoyable follow up.

For those of you who prefer wine and beer, Rizzuto’s also offers glasses of 8 different wine varieties for $5 each, select draft beers for $5 each and bottled beers for $4 each during their Happy Hour.

It should not come as a surprise that Rizzuto’s Happy Hour Sips poured it on to earn a perfect score!

SCORING:
THE SIPS
(DRINKS
Maximum of 20 Pts.)
Selection_5_(1-5)
Unique Options_5_(1-5) 
Pricing_5_(1-5)
Quality / Taste_5_(1-5)
TOTAL SIP SCORE _20_

THE BITES:

Tempting Selections For
Every Taste And Budget

Rizzuto’s Appetizer Specials Happy Hour Menu

The Happy Hour menu is an excellent way to get a taste for a restaurant’s quality and decide if it’s worth trying for a full meal. The selection (or lack thereof) also tells you how serious the establishment is about drawing guests to their Happy Hour and trying to assure they stay or come back for dinner. Apparently, Rizzuto’s understands how important it is to make a good impression in the hotly competitive West Hartford restaurant and bar scene, where there is a plethora of options. So, their selection and prices cover the broadest range that I can remember since I started doing these reviews last summer!

There are complimentary Happy Hour appetizers (if you make at least a $5 beverage purchase per person in the bar area), usually consisting of pizza, a hot dish and a salad. They also offer individual specialty pizzas for $5 each in addition to the portion of the appetizer menu you see here. Again, it covers a broad spectrum with a lot of tempting choices. However, I was still somewhat full after having a big lunch with my daughter, granddaughter and son-in-law at earlier, so I was only up for one appetizer on Friday. After careful consideration, I decided the Rhode Island Calamari Fritti would give me the best insight into their meal quality.

Rizzuto’s Rhode Island Calamari Fritti
Two Thumbs Up!

While it was the most expensive selection on their Happy Hour appetizer menu at $8 (and the most expensive Happy Hour calamari offering I’ve encountered to date), it was worth the price. As something of a calamari connoisseur, I can tell you that far more places miss the mark than hit it in cooking calamari right. It’s easy to wind up with overdone, rubbery rings buried in batter that’s way too dry and crunchy. However, in this case, Rizzuto’s nailed it. My order arrived in a large bowl filled with a very generous portion of lightly battered and fried-to-perfection rings, tentacles and peppers accompanied by marinara and garlic aioli sauces. I ate until I was literally stuffed, but I couldn’t finish it all!

Needless to say, Rizzuto’s cooked up a top score for its Happy Hour Bites!

SCORING:
THE BITES
(FOOD
Maximum of 20 Pts.)
Selection_5_(1-5)
Unique Options_5_(1-5) 
Pricing_5_(1-5)
Quality / Taste_5_(1-5)
TOTAL BITES SCORE _20_

OVERALL IMPRESSION:

Rizzuto’s Sizzles As A Hot
Happy Hour Choice In West Hartford

If the lack of purse hooks under the bar is the only negative thing I could find to say about a Happy Hour, you know they’re doing things right. There was an expression of pride in the restaurant and its staff on the part of Lynn, only the second female restaurant general manager I’ve encountered while doing my reviews, when I spoke with her before I left. That pride obviously filters down to the staff in the high level of service and food quality they deliver. 

Obviously, this will not come as a surprise, but I highly recommend checking out Rizzuto’s Restaurant and Bar in West Hartford for your next Friday Happy Hour outing!

TOTAL SCORE _79_ 
RESULT
• TOP SHELF (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED) __X_ (72-80) (Equates to Uniquely Recommended)

• GOOD CHOICE (WELL RECOMMENDED) ___ (64-71) (Equates to Recommended W/O Reservations)
• DECENT (STANDARD) ___ (52-63) (Equates to Recommended W/Caveats)
• AVERAGE (LAST RESORT) ___ (48-51) (NEW RATING)
• AVOID (THE BOTTOM) ___ (<48) (Equates to Not Recommended)

Visit their web site for more information, including hours and menus, then check out Rizzuto’s in West Hartford for yourself!

As always, I welcome your comments about this review or any of my blog posts, especially your own experiences at Happy Hours I have reviewed and suggestions about which Happy Hours I should check out next.

The Cook And The Bear Comes Out Smokin’ In My Friday Happy Hour Review!

August 18, 2018

The blog post represents a slight change in format going forward. We’re separating each week’s review into its own blog post to make it a quicker read for you. Any other news or information for the week, such as drink recipes, liquor/liqueur comparisons, new videos and more will be posted to this blog later in the week. Let us know what you think of the new format.

My first introduction to The Cook and The Bear was in an online article listing the “supposedly” best Happy Hours in West Hartford. (I say “supposedly” because I haven’t tried most of them yet to give them my rating, EXCEPT for Max’s Oyster Bar, which earned my top rating 6 weeks ago.) After reading about it, I admit that I was curious to see if it was the real deal, especially since I’m from the South where “barbecue” is a religion unto itself. So, not totally sure what to expect, I made the trip to West Hartford this past week to evaluate their Friday Happy Hour.

The Cook and The Bear Brings
An Uptown Rustic Twist to Happy Hour

Located in West Hartford’s Blue Back Square on the corner of Memorial and
Raymond, The Cook and The Bear is a short walk from the Memorial Parking Garage. (As a useful aside, try downloading the Passport Parking app to your smartphone for an easy, convenient way to pay for your parking.) Somewhat unassuming on the outside, The Cook and The Bear is quite interesting inside. It blends butcher block tops for the bar and tables, with white wood, white tile, and red and white checkered napkins. It feels upscale, but still quite as inviting and comfortable as any place that serves BBQ/barbecue (there are so many arguments about which term to use that I’m using both just to avoid getting into that battle) should be.

Efficient Service
with a Relaxed, Friendly Vibe

Aaron, the bartender, had the friendly, laid back vibe going on, while never missing a beat on service!

Since I arrived right at 4 pm when their Friday Happy Hour started, it was quiet at the long bar with only one other person seated near the opposite end. Aaron, the bartender, brought me the menus promptly and gave me a few minutes to decide what I wanted. Throughout my time there, he took good care of me and was quick to respond to a request. Even as it started to get busier around 4:30, he appeared to keep everything comfortably under control. My drinks were well made, and my food was delivered without missing a beat. Plus, Aaron was wearing a tropical shirt that just added to the laid back, welcoming mood.

A Fresh Twist
on Cocktail Thyme

The “too much thyme” cocktail was quite enjoyable! (The Dark Diva loves tequila!!!)

When it comes to Happy Hour, I’m all about the cocktail specials … and The Cook and The Beardelivered. Although the Happy Hour cocktail menu only has 4 mixed drink specials for $7each (which is a little on the pricey side), the two I tried were excellent. Intrigued by the “too much thyme” recipe of tequila, thyme, blackberry and lemon, I had to make that my first choice. It was a wise decision. The drink proved refreshingly different with just enough lemon tartness to balance the sweetness of the blackberry, while the thyme and tequila played nicely together in a uniquely delicious flavor profile. I would have loved to order a second one, but as a reviewer I always have to try other drinks on the menu.

The “c&B old fashion” is a new favorite of mine!

For my second drink, I ordered the “c&b old fashion” made with their private single barrel of Knob Creek bourbon, which turned out to be another smart move. The large twist of orange peel provided a bright aroma that promised good things to come as the orange sweetness blended nicely with the smooth, mellow warmth of the Knob Creek. I would order that drink again in a heartbeat.

It’s not the size of the specialty drink selection, but rather the distinctness of the drinks that I find important. And whether it was the surprising mix of ingredients or the high-end liquor used (which justified the drink prices), The Cook and The Bear deserves recognition for their Happy Hour cocktails. (Of course, you’ll also find wine and beer Happy Hour specials, but as a mixologist I tend to focus on the mixed drinks.)

I Could Have Pigged Out
on Their Pulled Pork Slider

This pulled pork slider was a taste of heaven!

An important part of any Happy Hour menu is the food. Along with the social aspect of sharing good times over both food and drink, it’s also a smart way to test out a restaurant before investing time and money on dinner. The Cook and The Bear offered a nice range of Happy Hour menu options. Naturally, I had to try their pulled pork slider, which consisted of a generous portion of pulled pork topped with slaw on a biscuit. Simply put, it was to die for! The biscuit was the perfect lightness without falling apart from the pulled pork’s juices. The pork itself was moist and flavorful, while the slaw added just the right amount of tangy crispness. Needless to say, it disappeared rather quickly. Fortunately, it was only $3, so I ordered and devoured another one. It’s a standout among Happy Hour food choices that I highly recommend!

You Have To Make Your Own Happiness,
But The Right Venue Helps

When it comes to Friday Happy Hour, you want a place that provides all the elements that make it easy for you get into the right frame of mind to celebrate surviving the week and to look forward to the weekend – excellent drinks, tasty food, superior service and a friendly ambiance. That ambiance can range from a few smiling faces to a large crowd of people laughing and talking. As I mentioned earlier, it was pretty quiet when I arrived at 4, but around 4:30, more people started coming in. They brought a fresh dynamic of laughter and conversation that just made it feel like the right place to be.

***UNIQUELY RECOMMENDED***

There really isn’t any place quite like The Cook and The Bear for Friday Happy Hour. Not your typical BBQ joint, it’s a fusion of rustic country casual and uptown cool that serves intriguing drinks and really good pulled pork in friendly, efficient fashion. It should not come as a surprise then that Friday Happy Hour at The Cook and The Bear earns my highest rating of ***UNIQUELY RECOMMENDED***!

Check them out online at thecookandthebear.com for more information, then try them out.

Tell them The Dark Diva sent you!

As always, we invite your comments and suggestions.