There was a time when locals in the know popped down to the windowless J. Patrick's Pub in Locust Point to swill whiskey and beer in one of the most authentic Irish bars in Baltimore. Owner Joe Patrick Byrne enthusiastically poured for the crowds while Irish bands performed live, and dancing occasionally ensued. As simple as that cozy joint was, it oozed the kind of warmth, charm, and consistency that kept its loyal drinkers coming back.
These days, nestled on that same quiet corner is a new Irish bar in place of the beloved J. Patrick's Pub, now a completely renovated space called In Like Flynn Tavern (1371 Andre St.,  303-3681, facebook.com/Inlikeflynntavernbaltimore) which beckons passersby with promises of innovative drinks (blueberry fig mojito, anyone?) and savory specials. But can it really replace J. Patrick's?
If anyone ought to be able to restore the Irish spirit to this corner bar nestled on a peaceful side street, it should be new owners Richie and Veronica Flynn and Cora Flynn-Williams. Brother and sister Richie and Cora hail from a large Irish family with years of restaurant and bar work in their backgrounds, while Veronica, chef and Richie's wife, sports a résumé of past solid success in the kitchen.
The space's purposefully exposed ductwork mixes with photographs of Baltimore, and a soundtrack ofhearty blues and jazz to create a chic industrial feel, but the ambiance becomes somewhat convoluted when ESPN is running on enormous flat screens.
On two visits, service was equally confusing, specifically upon entry. Potential diners aren't greeted by a hostess and there is no clear method of obtaining table seating. At first, we assumed we just weren't hip to their process, but quickly realized that others waiting at the entrance had the same perplexed facial expressions, trying to uncover the secret to being seated.
The confusion continued when it came to the drinks. When we asked what was in the sangria on special, the server asked us (albeit jovially) if we wanted the recipe. And while there seems to be a reasonable selection of wine, on neither occasion was an actual wine list available.
But on both occasions—once sitting at the bar and once at a table—service was otherwise nearly impeccable with exact descriptions of food, timely delivery, welcoming friendliness, and a clear enthusiasm for what the kitchen is producing.
The menu is varied, with local favorites, Irish offerings, and other dishes that showcase Caribbean flavors—a result of Veronica Flynn's Jamaican background. Nearly all products, save for the wheat and rye breads and the sweet potato fries, are made in house.
On the first visit we were blown away by the charcuterie board ($14.95). This masterpiece included a generous selection of four meats and four cheeses along with olives, two types of preserves, and toasty fresh bread. Every bite was heaven.
We also tried the Chesapeake cod cakes ($10.95), which were large, lightly fried, and pleasantly seasoned with chives. On the other hand, the corned beef sausage sandwich ($7.95), while hitting the mark in terms of spice and flavor, fell short from a textural standpoint, requiring a little more jaw exercise than we like to accompany our meals.
A second visit had equally mixed results. The appetizer of Irish shillelagh sticks ($7.95) was a bit of a disappointment. The pretzel sticks had the perfect level of chewiness, and the fresh parmesan cheese used to coat them was delicious. But the bacon in which they were wrapped was a miniscule quantity ("lightly draped" would be a better description than "wrapped") and the bacon was far too soft and chewy for this crispy bacon lover.
Always a fan of the jumbo lump, I dove enthusiastically into the crabcake sandwich ($13.95), only to find an untoasted bun and a whole lot of filler. While jumbo lump was definitely present in the 5½-ounce cake, it didn't play a starring role, and the texture of a toasted bun would have been a welcome contrast to the soft crabcake.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the beef and Guinness pie ($17.95) was otherworldly. Buttery puffed pastry tops a luscious mixture of cremini mushrooms, potatoes, and beef in a velvety Guinness sauce and is served with simply seasoned and still-crisp grilled asparagus. The menu states that these are cubes of beef, but by the time this pie is baked and meets your table, those cubes have reached that sublime state in which they can be pulled apart ever so gently with a fork.
So, is In Like Flynn a replacement for the institution that was J. Patrick's? No. But could anything be?
Instead, In Like Flynn is a stylish yet comfortable, more food-focused Irish bar than its predecessor. Some aspects of food, service, and ambiance seem to be an exercise in flux right now, but it's only been open for about three months. J. Patrick's was open for about 25 years. Perhaps we should have a little whiskey and give it some time to settle in.