Blarney Rock Pub Stands the Test of Time

If you like to eat, chances are you like to drink (read: a lot of you are freakin’ lushes), so I thought maybe it was time to introduce a happy hour column to the site. Every week, our Happy Hour Correspondent posts about a different bar in Midtown that fits the Midtown Lunch mentality: unhealthy food, not lame (unless it’s lame in a cool way), and most importantly… cheap.

Although I try my best to visit bars who haven’t yet received a ML +/- review, upon hearing news from that Blarney Rock Pub is in the midst of renovations, I decided to give the 43-year-old establishment a check-in. They’ve already undergone a facelift in the front and anticipate a hair transplant on top when they open their roof this winter when city permits allow. The old Blarney Rock has been well-covered by Midtown Lunch, especially considering that it’s a pub. Nearly two years ago, Mamacita did a +/- write up on the joint, and Donny T. proclaimed his undying love by ranking it as his favorite lunch spot and awarded the pub with a favorite turkey dish honor. This week, I went to investigate the renovations, and how they affected the pre-Blarney vs. post-Blarney ethos.

First, let’s examine the front (example from 2010 is posted above). Unfortunately some scaffolding work (perhaps for their roof bar?) blocks the view, but if you get into a sort of spot-the-difference mindset, you can see slight changes with the new look.

1) The face has more Kelly green and the strip of wooden awning-like structure is gone. 2) There is no longer a large, open window but several small windows and 3) The signs say different things. Puzzling to me is the bold move to change the name of the street from 33rd to “Irish Pub Way”. But troubling for Midtown Lunch’ers is the removal of the sign “Low Low Prices” from the exterior.

And indeed, drink prices have gone up. The specials were once $4 for domestic drafts or bottles, or $5 for imported drafts or bottles, and 50 cent wings. But in 2012, the best deal is a $5 bud draft, and everything else is more expensive. I drank Octoberfest and regular Sam Adams drafts for $7, but they still (thankfully) serve the drafts up in 20 ounce Imperial pints. No complaints with the beer taste — very nice. And the wings are still cheaper than anything I’ve tried in Midtown at $7.50 for nine very large, wonderful Buffalo wings (83 cents a wing) that I’ll describe in a moment.

Even after all the changes, I’m pleased to report that in spite of the inevitable price hikes, Blarney Rock, at least for now, stands the test of time. The pub remains divey, working-class, and real. They haven’t removed any bumper stickers, cash from other countries, old photos from old basketball teams who have seen better days, or union flair from their bar mirrors. The bar still retains its open, airy feel that creates a great atmosphere for meeting up with your friends.

The inside of the bar is still open and The bartender was a pleasant Irish fella who readily engaged with his customers. Regulars were bitching to him about their shitty work days and I noticed he waved goodbye to every customer as they left.

I photographed further evidence of the casual nature of the pub when I ventured into the ladies room to powder my nose.

The group of us who met up for drinks ordered a few food items. I ordered wings (as I do), and here’s the run-down… The wings are the best price-per-wing for the taste I’ve experienced in Midtown. The wings were nice and large, perfectly cooked, and Buffalo-style saucy without being overly spicy. The wings received a thumbs up from my friends who aren’t hard core spice-lovers. It’s true that a strong buttery flavor countered the spice in a way that worked. The wings were sloppy (just how they should be), and incredibly hot when served. But they clearly didn’t pay much attention to the sides; the celery was tough and the blue cheese sauce tasted like it was straight out of a generic bottle of dressing and left much to be desired in my opinion. Even so, for the overall experience, the Buffalo wings at Blarney Rock are a great value.

For your viewing pleasure, I’ve captured a few more pics of bar appetizers my friends chose to eat. My buddy (again) chose a burger. If you’re wondering from the picture if the burger was ultra-rare. It was the Irish burger, with a regular beef patty plus Irish “bacon” (for Americans who don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s somewhat like Canadian bacon but with more fat, more like smoked ham than American bacon) which is the pink meat you can see in the pic. He said it was very good and cooked perfectly to his medium rare specification with tons of of cheddar cheese and salty smoked pork.

I didn’t get a chance to try the Jalapeno poppers with marinara, but they received one critique in the regard that the pepper itself, inside the fried ball of bread and cheese, was “hard to bite into”. The overall opinion of the poppers was, “Good, and fortunately not too spicy.” They all got eaten, so they mustn’t have been bad at all.

I was able to glean some information about why they’re renovating their front and their roof (which is big deal for both the additional space and for attracting lovers of the outdoors). According to an employee, there are more bars opening in the area around Madison Square Garden, including Hooters, first reported by the Gothamist and posted in the ML Links as replacing replacing the porn shop Peep World.

Blarney Rock Pub seems pretty stoked about this turn of events according to their facebook page. It seems to me that a roof bar will be the perfect opportunity to cater to the after dinner whims of middle class boobie-oglers. If the owners are hoping to draw in those late-nighters from Hooters via Madison Square Gardens, or if they’re hoping to create a perfect spot for the Hooters girls’ happy hours, they’re set up for success. That said, I truly hope they don’t lose their current neighborly vibe, especially during the happiest of hours. So far, it seems like they continue to do a bang-up job at what they’ve done for four decades.

Blarney Rock Pub, 137 W. 33rd St. (btw. 6+7th), 212-947-0825

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