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: When It Comes To Popping The Cork On Happy Hour, Vinted in West Hartford Takes It Seriously

December 4, 2018

Well, after taking the past 4 Fridays off from the Happy Hour circuit to focus on the Holiday Social & Survival Guide for my blog, I got back into my reviewer mode with a visit to Vinted, a wine bar and kitchen, in West Hartford’s Blue Back Square. It came highly recommended from a variety of sources, so I was anxious to see if it would live up to its reputation.

Good Impressions Always Start With A Smile

As regular followers of this blog know, I put a lot of emphasis on the attitude of the bar staff when it comes to my Happy Hour Reviews. And that’s only natural since it’s hard to enjoy a “Happy” Hour when you’re being served by grumpy people. Fortunately, friendly service has been a pleasantly consistent factor in almost all of my Happy Hour visits to this point … and Vinted was no exception.

Victoria, the bartender who took care of me at Vinted, smiled throughout the evening and was a delight!

As I walked in, I was greeted by a smiling hostess who informed me that I could partake of Happy Hour anywhere in the restaurant (a nice touch more places should adopt). Opting for a seat at one of the two bars, I was quickly welcomed by Victoria, the bartender, with menus and a smile. After giving me a few moments to peruse the menu, she returned to take my order.\

When I inquired about special Happy Hour mixed drinks beyond the standard cocktails for $5 (using the specifically listed Happy Hour liquors), she immediately said that she could use these liquors to make a range of more involved drinks, such as a Margarita or Cosmo, for a $2 up charge. Those were the words I wanted to hear! Throughout my time there, Victoria was attentive to my needs and genuinely made me feel like she (and Vinted) appreciated my choosing Vinted for Happy Hour. From the first smile on, Vinted scored perfect marks for service (and attitude)!

Simply Put, It’s All About The Drinks

It kind of goes without saying that the drink menu (and the bartender’s skill at mixing the drinks) can make or break a Happy Hour. Sadly, not every place gets the message as I have discovered. Thankfully, Vinted gets it with quality liquor brands on Happy Hour and the ability to upgrade your drink selection beyond the very basic cocktails. (I should note, of course, that Vinted is primarily a wine bar with an extensive collection. Yet, while I do love good wine, my focus as a mixologist is mixed drinks.)

A Perfect Margarita!

For my first drink, I asked Victoria to make a Margarita ($5 + $2 Upcharge) for me using real lime juice instead of the popular sour mix so many places use. I was thrilled, however, when she informed me that they never use the mix for their Margaritas! That scored points with me right away! What Victoria delivered was an absolute perfect Margarita – refreshing with the tartness of lime and just the ideal touch of sweetness to complement the smooth warmth of the Aztec Azul Silver Tequila (a brand I had not tried before).

An excellent Gin & Tonic!

After savoring every drop of the Margarita, I ordered a Gin & Tonic ($5) to sample the Broker’s Gin. A traditional London Dry Gin done very well, Broker’s embraces the juniper flavor typical of this gin type but with a smoother, more subtle approach that made my Gin & Tonic quite enjoyable,

Apparently, Vinted understands very well that what goes in the glass has a direct correlation to the degree of happiness in Happy Hour.

Not All The Joys of Happy Hour Come From A Glass

Vinted has a fairly extensive Happy Hour Menu with something for everyone!

While it might sound like heresy coming from a mixologist, another major component of Happy Hour enjoyment for many of us is the opportunity to sample a restaurant’s cuisine as well as its attention to the finer details of food preparation. In many instances, I have discovered extraordinary delights, such as the Pork Ribs ($8) on Vinted’s Happy Hour Menu. On the menu, it simply reads Pork Ribs and then underneath … Hot & Sour Sauce/Mango/Lime/Mint.

What actually arrived was nothing short of heaven on a board – four meaty ribs generously coated with the hot & sour sauce, pieces of mango and mint leaves. Victoria advised squirting the lime on the ribs to get the full enjoyment of the sauce, which I did. Fall off the bone tender with just the right amount of surface crunch, these ribs were spicy hot, satisfyingly savory and absolutely fabulous.

Vinted just kept racking up points!

Ambiance Can Make Any Place Feel Inviting … Or Not

The final piece to determining if a Happy Hour stands out as welcoming or as something to be avoided is the overall atmosphere. Admittedly, I have walked into some places and immediately walked right back out because it was obviously not a place I’d feel comfortable. On the other hand, some aspects of ambiance can only be judged while you’re sitting at the bar. Beyond the attitude of the bartender and the quality of the drinks and food, the style of the bar, its cleanliness level and the overall vibes from the other folks around you can make a bar feel very comfortable or ruin your whole experience.

Again, Vinted has created a very inviting space that’s warm with a modern vibe and just cozy enough to allow for conversation without being confining. While there I happened to meet a wine rep, Alli, and we spent most of my visit chatting about the business and occasionally chatting with Victoria.

Check off ambiance as another winner for Vinted.

***UNIQUELY RECOMMENDED***

As you may have guessed, Vinted has earned my highest rating of ***UNIQUELY RECOMMENDED***!!! And while many Happy Hours in West Hartford have also earned this distinction, each one has its own unique personality that makes it worth experiencing. Vinted distinguishes itself on a number of levels which combine to create a Happy Hour that stands on its own for superior service, drinks, food, and ambiance.

Learn more about Vinted on their web site at vinted.com then go see Victoria this coming Friday for Happy Hour and tell her The Dark Diva sent you!

Friday Happy Hour Bar Review: The Blue Elephant Trail Raises The Bar Thai-High In Bringing A Fresh Twist To Happy Hour!

October 2, 2018

This past Friday I experienced a new and very enjoyable Friday Happy Hour experience in West Hartford when I ventured into The Blue Elephant Trail at 7 S. Main Street. Not exactly sure what to expect, I arrived at the start (4 PM) of Happy Hour to find a nice little bar tucked into the long narrow confines of the restaurant. There was a couple in discussion at the near end of the bar, so I selected a seat (they get a plus for some of the most comfortable bar stools I’ve run across) at the far (a relative term in this case) end of the bar. Just as soon as I appeared situated, Sean the bartender came over with the Happy Hour menu and a very nice smile.

Adventure By The Glass:
Putting The Happy In Happy Hour

The Happy Hour cocktail menu features some intriguing options!

The Asian Pear martini was quite enjoyable and even inspired me to create my own Silk Pear martini.

The cocktails section of the menu offered a list of intriguing possibilities (all at only $5 each) to tempt me, especially the Asian Pear martini, which I ordered for my first libation. (I love pear-flavored martinis.) Noticing that Sean tested my drink with a short straw to make sure it was right before serving it was a good indication that this Happy Hour experience was going to be a bit different.

Sean, the bartender at The Blue Elephant Trail, was an engaging young man with an outgoing personality and obvious pride in his craft!

After sampling the Asian Pear martini (which consists of Ginger Vodka, Pear Vodka and White Cranberry) and finding it to be a taste-tempting treat that was spot on for smoothness and flavor, I engaged Sean in conversation about the brand of pear vodka he used. This led into a very interesting exchange after I mentioned I was a mixologist and he explained about his bartender training (apparently, he had an excellent teacher). It is always a pleasure to meet a bartender who truly takes pride in the mixology aspect of their craft.

The Spiked Thai Iced Tea featured an international cast of ingredients that created an amazing flavor that was irresistible!

Although I would have thoroughly enjoyed having a second Asian Pear, my work as a reviewer requires that I experiment with as much of the menu as possible. Since several of the other drinks looked to be quite interesting, I asked Sean for his suggestion. He immediately recommended the Spiked Thai Iced Tea (made with an international list of ingredients: Thai Iced Tea, Spiced Rum, Bourbon and Irish Cream), so I agreed to give it a try.  It was amazing! A creamy delight that I can only describe as unexpectedly tasting a bit like an Asian eggnog, it proved to be totally irresistible.

Their drink offerings definitely brought an enjoyable sense of adventure to Happy Hour!

Food Earns Good F’s:
Fast, Fun and Flavorful

As you can see, the Satay Chicken was so good that I finished it before realizing I hadn’t taken a picture of it.

The Blue Elephant Trail Happy Hour food menu Thai’s together (a bad pun, but it’s fun) familiar aspects of Asian appetizers with a Thai twist, which makes it all the more enjoyable. While Sean highly recommended the Thai wings and wraps, which I’m sure were delicious, I opted for something a little less messy to eat, starting with the Satay Chicken ($3). It consisted of two decent-sized skewers of grilled marinated chicken served with a peanut curry sauce and cucumber relish. I have had variations of this at other places before and it has often been dry and chewy. Fortunately, however, this was moist, tender and very tasty with just the right amount of spice to tingle the taste buds.

This time I remembered to take the picture BEFORE I devoured them!

For my second choice, I picked the Spring Rolls ($2). Small, but packed with flavor, these crisp rolls had a nice crunch and a delicious vegetable filling.

I can easily recommend both the Satay Chicken and Spring Rolls as perfect choices that arrived quickly and tasted great. And you definitely can’t argue with the prices! One other food-related note: you can stop by Happy Hour and also get take-out for dinner.

A Decidedly Different Ambiance:
Intimately Inviting yet Comfortably Exotic

Here In Connecticut, as most places in America, Asian restaurants run the gamut from hole-in-the-wall takeout places to fine (and expensive) dining establishments. The Blue Elephant Trail has carved out an interesting niche with a tastefully done interior featuring an attractive, modern bar with just enough Asian touches to make it feel a bit out of the ordinary and just small enough to feel warmly welcoming. They also have a sidewalk patio that should offer a beautiful view of the fall leaves on the trees lining South Main Street.

***UNIQUELY RECOMMENDED***

By now, I’m sure you’ve already figured out that The Blue Elephant Trail has earned my highest rating of ***UNIQUELY RECOMMENDED*** for Friday Happy Hour! The ambiance, the drink selection, and the food choices together with Sean’s friendly, outgoing personality and pride in his craft behind the bar make The Blue Elephant Trail worth a try.

Check them out online at blueelephanttrail.com for hours, directions and more.

Tell them the Dark Diva sent you!

AS ALWAYS, WE INVITE YOUR COMMENTS AND SUGGESTIONS.