Diner: Downtown Playground

McFadden's is a sports bar, restaurant, pub and dance party rolled into one

It takes courage, blind faith and a different business model to open up a new restaurant at a location where one has just closed its doors. McFadden's Restaurant & Saloon, which opened in March downtown on Seventh Street, is definitely working off a different playbook than Nick & Tony's, the former occupant of the premises. Where Nick & Tony's set out to deliver an upscale steakhouse experience, Mcfadden's has ditched any pretensions of fine dining and turned the space into an Irish pub cum sports bar cum dance club.

McFadden's strategy seems to be working. It's drawing a good lunch and dinner crowd with its reasonably priced pub menu, its happy hours are hopping, and it has turned itself into something of a late-night destination.

Calling itself "the ultimate party bar" — ads for McFadden's trumpet their Ladies Night and feature lots of smiling, buxom young women — the place is definitely casting a net for a younger, happening crowd while trying to make itself very female friendly (there were cards on our table promoting a "McFadden's Makeover" event, with free massages, tarot card readings, mini makeovers and a chance to win a pair of diamond earrings).

Where Nick & Tony's once had an open kitchen in the back, McFadden's has created a giant second bar with pool tables. In the dining room, there's lots of floor showing, and the tables scattered throughout feel tentative — as if at a moment's notice the place could be transformed from a restaurant into a dance club. And that's exactly what happens when the sun goes down.

Looming high above the floor is an elevated DJ booth that looks like a pulpit.

It gets heavy use when the late-night crowds roll in, and there's a line at the door.

At the same time, McFadden's manages to cultivate a sports bar feel, with more than 50 televisions plastered everywhere, including mini-screens in the booths. Neither a big TV watcher nor a sports fan, I found the plethora of electronics to be too much; I felt like I was in a Best Buy instead of a restaurant.

With no way to control the TV in our booth, we ended up dining to a Will & Grace rerun (tiresome enough on a good day but positively unbearable without sound) until we could get our waiter to change the channel.

Although locally owned, McFadden's is a small chain, with other installations in places like Providence and Portland.

With all this going on, the food is a pretty solid, if unsurprising, roundup of standard pub fare. The menu certainly supports McFadden's goal of being the ultimate party bar: There are way more snacking and drinking foods than serious entrées (contrast 12 starters and 12 burger/sandwich offerings, with only six entrées and five salad options).

To start out, we tried the Skewers ($8), chunks of beef and chicken on wooden skewers, marinated in McFadden's "signature" Guinness Marinade. The meat pieces were tender and perfectly cooked. The Guinness marinade gave an intriguing, faintly bitter taste to the meat that worked well with a sweet dipping sauce.

We also tried the cheesy Quesadillas ($7.50), which came with guacamole, salsa and sour cream. We added salmon to them (for an additional $5) and found the combination unusual and enjoyable.

My companion went for the Fish-N-Chips ($10), a fried, hand-battered haddock filet served with french fries, malt vinegar and tartar sauce. The haddock filet was thick and moist, with a flavorful and crispy batter. Fries were fresh and piping hot.

I opted for the Marinated Sirloin Tips ($13), beef tips that were marinated in, you guessed it, Guinness, and came swimming in mushroom-and-onion Guinness gravy. It was complemented with homemade-tasting mashed potatoes and steamed carrots and broccoli. A robust portion, the meat was tender and, again, had that intriguing, faintly bitter taste from the Guinness. This was definitely comfort food.

Desserts were standouts. The Raspberry Bread Pudding ($5.50), made on the premises, came in a huge portion. It was moist and flavorful with lots of raspberries baked inside, a far cry from the dry and dense bread puddings often served elsewhere. The Chocolate Chambord Cake ($5.50) was exceptional: moist, rich, studded with chunks of chocolate and infused with a delicate raspberry flavor.

Service was friendly and enthusiastic. Although there were a few minor outages (menus left on the table after we ordered, missing steak knives), overall things were pretty efficient.

McFadden's is a good place for a drink, a reasonably priced meal, to catch a game (or a Will & Grace rerun) on one of those 50 TVs or take a late-night spin on the dance floor. I'm glad to see it staking its claim on Seventh Street and offering people a handful of reasons to go out and stay out downtown. ©

McFadden's
Go: 19 E. Seventh St., Downtown

Call: 513-621-6800

Hours: Kitchen is open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Sunday

Prices: Reasonable/moderate

Payment: Major credit cards

Red Meat Alternatives: Salads, chicken, seafood

Accessibility: Yes

Grade: B

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