Billing itself as "Friendly, Local and Irish," TJ O'Brien's Bar and Grill in Palatine delivers on all three points. Father and son owners Tim and Jimmy O'Brien changed everything when they reopened the former Hotshots at 53 W. Slade as an Irish sports bar. Regulars, from near and far, make this the place to catch a game. Live bands booked regularly add to the attractions, and homey Irish items dotting the menu round out the hat-trick.
Motif: Cherished sports jerseys from nearly all of Chicago's pro teams are represented, hanging in places of honor around the bar and in between flat-screen televisions. The screens rest at nearly every possible angle giving each seat in the house a view of the action. Jimmy O'Brien runs the place as the general manager; he built the bar and high-top tables in the open bar area and will be acting as his own construction crew chief for some upcoming renovations. He plans to further open the dining area in front of a cozy fireplace, add a few more games and another bar. A fireside pool table, jukebox and mounted water buffalo head, a personal favorite, give the place a homey feel.
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TJ O'Brien's Bar and Grill53 W. Slade St., Palatine
(847) 468-7468; tjobriensbarandgrill.com
Hours: 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. Sunday through Thursday; 10 a.m. to 3 a.m. Friday and Saturday
Crowd: Friendly, unassuming and laid back. TJ O'Brien's is a destination for watching the game with a crowd of friends and family, but the atmosphere is just as inviting for the solitary patron. You'll be sure to find a place in the conversation with your neighbor at the bar, be it about the current game or this year's outlook for (enter your team here).
Food: Serving such contemporary American favorites as burgers, pizza, sandwiches and pastas, TJ O'Brien's Irish specialties stand out. My table started with the Irish Egg Rolls, which are stuffed with lean corned beef, Swiss cheese and sauerkraut before frying. They are served with Thousand Island dressing for dipping. Moist and flavorful without being soggy, they're delicious -- a change-up on a classic Reuben. They're crispy, hot and surprisingly light, if you go easy on the dressing. If you opt for the original, the "O" Reuben, listed as Tim O'Brien's favorite, comes stacked with tender corned beef piled high with sauerkraut, Swiss and bacon on grilled marble rye. A two-fisted feast for sure.
The menu also includes such Old World dishes as shepherd's pie, bangers and mash made with Wisconsin brats and fish and chips.
Next we tried the Irish Style Potato Chowder. A raft of potato floats in silky smooth potato soup topped with shredded cheddar, green onion and crumbled bacon. While pleasantly presented and tasty, the toppings make a cup seem more like a meal. Watch out, it's rich.
My friend and I split the Bavarian Roast Pork Grinder, and it's a good thing because it's a serious sandwich. A meat lover's dream of roasted pork, smoked ham and Swiss piled on a hearty bun comes close to unhinging your jaw, but it's worth it. It comes with a dark mustard and a roast pork gravy for dipping. I found the gravy too salty, but the sandwich doesn't suffer without it.
Jimmy O'Brien says the bar's burgers and pizzas are customer favorites. A 10-inch gluten-free pizza also is available.
Liquid menu: Daily beer and drinks specials are offered with domestics and a couple imports on tap. The bar boasts a good selection of microbrews and Irish beers, too. New on Sundays is the Bloody Mary Bar. With a glass, ice and vodka of your choice, it's build-your-own with a choice of pickles, hot peppers, olives, limes, lemons, shrimp, sausage, pepperoni, cheese, horseradish, garlic and a selection of Bloody Mary mixes.
Music: On the weekends, tables are moved back from the front windows making room for live bands and sometimes a DJ. One recent night, a band held its reunion there, giving different band members a chance to take turns onstage. "It turned into a four-hour jam session," Jimmy said. Be sure to check the events page online for coming attractions.
Parking: On-street parking and municipal lots are close by.
Overall: TJ O'Brien's is a friendly come-as-you-are neighborhood place for good food, good music and good company.