When Finn MacCool’s closed toward the end of last year, quite a few people were sad to see it go – but odds are very few of them were mourning the menu. Finn had a reputation as a great place to go and throw back a few beers; it never really aspired to be much more than a pub with a few decent dishes on the menu.
But what a difference three months make! Starting at lunchtime today, Finn MacCool’s will be replaced by the new Molly Malone’s. We had the opportunity to sit down with owner and operator Xavier Cervera to talk about what would distinguish Molly Malone’s from its predecessor and to get a sneak peek at what the new saloon would look like when it opened.
Cervera is also the owner of Lola’s Barracks Bar and Grill next door (which replaced Tapatinis last year), where he informed us that he ends up turning away between 100 and 250 potential guests on any given night due to the much smaller space’s constraints. He hopes Molly Malones will quickly become a go-to destination for the overflow crowd at Lola’s, and he has put a great deal of effort into creating a menu that will help to bring in food-lovers as well as pub-crawlers.
Details on the new space and menu, the secret to a three-month turnaround, and plenty of photos after the jump.
Entering Molly Malone’s the changes that have taken place are immediately apparent. The storefront has been redesigned and done in Spanish cedar. To your left, a semi-private area offers a high-top table with room for a dozen friends and a plasma TV in a rather homey setting. And that painting in the background there? Veterans of Finn MacCool’s will recognize the likeness of the ancient Irish hero, and they’ll be pleased to see that Cervera has treated the painting with respect, restretching the canvas and framing it before hanging it in a place of honor toward the front of the dining area.
Moving on to the main room of the ground floor, guests will be pleased to see that the dark, cramped quarters of Finn MacCool’s have been replaced by bar seating with plenty of space to navigate between the tables. Skylights and ceiling beams have been exposed to let some light in and open up the space. Butternut wood from North Carolina gives the tables, bar backs, and lamps (which Cervera designed himself) a light and refined look. The walls are decorated with posters and photos – most of which relate directly to Ireland – gathered from around the world. Behind the bar, a Cruvinet-style wine dispenser allows Molly Malone’s to offer 8 bottles by the glass, further distinguishing the new space from your average Irish pub.
Considering how many of these changes go deeper than simple cosmetics, it’s almost amazing to think that this turnaround has taken roughly three months. Thankfully, Xavier Cervera is happy to share the secret: Insanely long hours. Apparently he and his crew worked seven days a week for the past three months, taking maybe a day or two off by Cervera’s recollection. And we’re not talking 9 to 5 workdays, here, either. They ran two shifts, with construction continuing from 6 AM until 2 AM the following morning most days.
Along with the changes to the physical space, Molly Malone’s will offer significant changes to the dining experience, as well. Chef Joe Robinson, who handles kitchen duties for Lola’s, has been tapped to lead the kitchen and will be responsible for executing Cervera’s menu. Soups, salads and sandwiches will all be available, but the items that really catch the eye can be found under the heading of “Saloon Fare.” Chicken pot pies are made from scratch daily. “Belfast Philly Sliders” combine first-cut corned beef and chopped sirloin with white cheddar, peppers and onions. There’s even a lobster mac & cheese for those days when County Cork fish & chips just won’t do. With kitchen service until midnight during the week and until 2 AM on Fridays and Saturdays, you’ll have plenty of time to try all of them.
But don’t let the improvements confuse you – this is still a bar at heart, with more plasma screens spaced out behind the bar and another 5 upstairs. La Barra Brava, the DC United supporters, have already committed to making Molly Malone’s an official DC United bar, and the team has responded with a signed Jaime Moreno jersey. Molly Malone’s also bills itself as the closest bar to the Nationals’ stadium, and they will be running a dedicated transport (read: golf cart) to and from the stadium for weekend games. More signed jerseys and memorabilia help to underscore the close relationship that Cervera expects to continue to develop with the Nationals as their new season gets underway.
Upstairs, at Chesty’s 2nd Floor Saloon, Cervera envisions more of a neighborhood hangout. The name refers to Lt. Gen. “Chesty” Puller, the most decorated Marine in American history. Considering the close relationship Molly Malone’s is expected to have with the residents of the Marine Barracks and other military folks (they’re working on setting up special nights with various marine and naval aviators’ organizations), it’s a good choice. Even so, it’s only a matter of time before someone gets drunk and decides to use the name as an ill-advised pickup line. A word of caution: if you’re going to be That Guy, do yourself a favor and make sure there are no Marines around first.
With so many significant changes made since Finn MacCool’s shut its doors, it may take some visitors a while to realize they’re sitting in the same space. And that’s definitely a good thing.
713 8th Street, SE