Just inside the doors of In Like Flynn Tavern, a bright blue wall welcomes visitors with the W.B. Yeats quote, "There are no strangers here; Only friends you haven't yet met."
The poet's famous words are favorites among fans of Irish pubs all over the world. At In Like Flynn, the sentiment comes to life. The pub, which opened last summer in the Locust Point space formerly occupied by the much-loved J. Patrick's Pub, is one friendly, comfortable spot.
Even better, the food is interesting and surprisingly upscale.
Scene & Decor Before opening, In Like Flynn's building went through a complete renovation. While J. Patrick's was known more for its camaraderie and expertly built Guinness than its decor, In Like Flynn is gorgeous.
Its looks are classic pub — dark wood and iron light fixtures with creamy gold walls and blue accents — but the space feels fresh and clean.
When we arrived just before 7 on a Wednesday evening, the crowd was a sparse but interesting mix of twenty-somethings and older patrons. The older guests were obviously regulars — they knew the staff and, as the restaurant filled, they knew the other diners. No strangers here, indeed.
Service When we entered, we grabbed a table near the bar; a few minutes later, the bartender brought us menus.
She impressed us. For most of our visit, she was on her own, handling kitchen orders and drinks for multiple tables and people at the bar. She did a great job juggling. Everything was timed correctly and nothing was forgotten. As a bonus, she was friendly and genuine.
Appetizer In addition to traditional Irish specialties, the menu includes a variety of local favorites and island-inspired dishes.
We started with the Chesapeake codcakes ($10.95), a nod to coddies that added lump crab to the potato-and-salt cod mix before frying and were topped with a chunky fresh tomato dressing.
The fish was seasoned well and the tomatoes were a smart condiment. In fact, we would have liked even more tomatoes; they elevated a dish that was already appealing.
Entrees After hearing the bartender wax poetic about the grilled lamb chops ($19.95), we couldn't resist. The Irish are great with lamb and In Like Flynn's elegant take on traditional flavors was a good one.
The chops were cooked just to medium rare, seasoned with fragrant mint and rosemary, and finished with a heady cognac sauce. Served with pea-studded risotto, the dish was lovely, delicate and well-balanced.
However, with only four chops, each on the small side, it seemed more like an appetizer than an entree. The risotto was filling, but we wanted more lamb.
The rockfish wrapped in serrano ham ($22.95), served with a roasted red pepper beurre blanc, was not so skimpy and it, too, had great flavor — especially the beurre blanc.
But our table was divided on the use of the serrano. For some, the ham's texture after cooking was unpleasantly tough; others liked it that way.
Drinks Our first round — crisp pints of Harp ($4) and Strongbow Cider ($4) — was cold and refreshing, but with our meals, we wanted wine, opting for glasses of Revolution malbec ($8). As we ordered, the bartender mentioned that they offer carmenere by the glass, in case we preferred a different South American option.
At Irish pubs, our expectations about wine are fairly low, so we were pleasantly surprised by the suggestion (though we stuck with the malbec).
Dessert In pubby restaurants, dessert is usually an afterthought. Not so at In Like Flynn. A slice of homemade blueberry pie topped with creamy vanilla ice cream ($8) absolutely made our night. The pie fell apart on the plate; it was clearly designed for eating, not for show.
Thanks to the glossy renovation and fancy menu, some might assume that, unlike its predecessor J. Patrick's, In Like Flynn is more about looks than it is about the personal and professional details that make an Irish pub — or any restaurant — great.
But, happily for the people of Baltimore, those assumptions would be wrong. In Like Flynn isn't a reboot of J. Patrick's. But with a solid staff and thoughtful kitchen, the new restaurant is shaping up to a be a worthy successor.
In Like Flynn
Back story: Last summer, In Like Flynn Tavern opened in the newly renovated Locust Point space where J. Patrick's Pub used to reside. In Like Flynn carries on J. Patrick's friendly Irish pub tradition, but the new managers — the Flynn family — have successfully upgraded the kitchen's offerings.
Parking: Street parking
Signature dish: The Chesapeake codcake appetizer is a smart and tasty take on traditional Baltimore coddies. With the addition of crabmeat and topped with delicate tomato relish, In Like Flynn takes the dish up a couple notches on the elegance scale.
Where: 1371 Andre St., Baltimore
Contact: 667-303-3681; inlikeflynntavern.com
Open: 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Monday; 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Tuesday-Sunday
Credit Cards: All major
Bottom line: Top-notch service and a menu that advances well beyond traditional Irish pub food make In Like Flynn worthy of the old J. Patrick's space — and then some.