Even from across the Decatur Square, the blaringly bright red beacon that is Mac McGee’s facade is hard to miss.
When you step inside, the intimate space is all brick and warm wood, complete with many of the trappings of a traditional Irish pub. Seating is mostly high-topped tables, though the lucky groups can snag a cozy semi-enclosed nook of a table, complete with a direct line to the bartender through the “confessional window.” But for my money, the
best seat in the house is dead center at the bar, admiring the overwhelming wall of amber spirits.
Whiskey lovers, rejoice, for Mac McGee is your new mecca. Owner Andy Anglin set out to create a true whiskey bar, and led by general manager Casey Teague, this little Irish pub has amassed a collection of scotches, ryes, whiskeys and bourbons that numbers in the hundreds.
As we sit, we receive two menus from the bartender. The first is a laminated piece of paper with food on one side and an
impressive beer list that expands well beyond the stereotypical Irish pub drafts, including many craft and local brews, on the other. The second — announced with a startling THUD as it lands on the bar — is a 3-inch-thick tome of brown liquor known simply as “The Book of Whiskey.”
I’ve seen a few other bourbon selections that rival theirs, and the scotch lists at a handful of bars could give them a run for their money. But I struggle to think of another bar that celebrates whiskey in all forms as thoroughly as Mac McGee.
While aficionados gorge themselves on the sensory overload that is “The Book of Whiskey” — complete with detailed history and tasting notes of each spirit, sorted not only by country, but also region, city and county of origin — this is a fantastic place for beginners to broaden their horizons.
With three-glass flights available, ranging from $20-$30, and an enthusiastic and knowledgeable staff to guide you, educating yourself in all things whiskey has never been easier.
And if, like my wife, you want something other than whiskey? Our bartender replies with a smile, “We keep one bottle of all of the other spirits under the bar, just in case.”
As I sit contentedly trading sips between neat glasses of Colonel E.H. Taylor Warehouse C Tornado Surviving Bourbon ($15) and Hirsch Selection 25-year rye ($28), I remember that I also came here to eat.
After spending many an evening cozied up to the bar of various Irish pubs, I feel that I could recite most of the menu before even glancing at it. More often than not, when I’m in such a place, the food takes a back seat to the real reason for being there — a few pints, perhaps a soccer match, and some whiskey with friends. And while, at first glance, Mac McGee’s menu looks to be more of the same, you may just find yourself rediscovering a love for some of these Irish classics.
Chef Kyle Saylor keeps the focus primarily on traditional Irish food — with a few twists — and his dedication to making most components in-house does wonders for elevating the experience.
Take the tried-and-true fried cod and chips ($13) — a single massive piece of moist, flaky cod encased in a light and crispy tempura-style batter so good you’ll scrounge your plate for the last little morsels. My plate of fish and chips still stands as one of the best I’ve had, be it here or across the pond.
Even more traditional is the Full Irish Breakfast ($13), complete with runny fried eggs, house-made bangers and rasher — lean Irish bacon — black and white pudding, beans, tomato and soda bread.
On the slightly less traditional side is a delicious, if sometimes unwieldy, spread of toast topped with wild mushrooms, Saxon Alpine cheese and basil oil ($8). Alongside an order of curried chips ($5) — crisp, thick-cut potato wedges served with a curry dipping sauce — these snacks make for great table-sharing starters while you peruse for your next drink.
And while you may want to fully appreciate the unmolested flavor of Saylor’s house-ground double cheeseburger ($9), spring for the extra two dollars to add blue cheese and a rasher.
While Mac McGee is certainly a great place to sit with friends over a drink, and the whiskey selection alone should entice enthusiasts from all corners of the metro area into Decatur, the caliber of pub food coming out of Saylor’s kitchen will likely have everyone else coming back for more.
111 Sycamore St., Decatur, 404-377-8050
Food: Irish pub grub
Service: Friendly and knowledgeable, especially about whiskey
Best dishes: Fried cod and chips, full Irish breakfast, double burger with blue cheese and rasher
Vegetarian selections: Cheese sandwich and a few salads and starters
Credit cards: Visa, Mastercard, American Express and Discover
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-2 a.m. Sundays-Thursdays, 11:30 a.m.-3 a.m. Fridays-Saturdays
Children: Yes, but it is a bar, so come on the early side.
Parking: Wherever you can find a spot near the Decatur Square
Reservations: Yes, but only for larger parties
Wheelchair access: Yes
Noise level: Low to loud, depending on the crowd