When the parents of Rich and Cora Flynn would come down from New England to visit years ago, the siblings made sure to bring them to one of their favorite bars, J. Patrick's Pub in Locust Point.
"It was a warm, inviting place to hang out," Rich said recently.
Although few would say J. Patrick's was much to look at from the outside, the interior was filled with life, thanks to live performers playing traditional Irish music and a welcoming vibe established by many neighborhood regulars. Joe Patrick Byrne, the longtime owner who died in 2012, lived above the bar.
The closing of J. Patrick's in early 2013 led to a question with no obvious response: How do you replace a tightknit neighborhood's beloved watering hole?
The answer could be by keeping it a family affair. That is the hope of the team behind newcomer In Like Flynn Tavern. Rich and his sister Cora are handling the front of the house, while Rich's wife, chef Veronica Flynn, oversees the kitchen. After more than a year and a half of planning and renovations, In Like Flynn Tavern opened as a blank slate in early June.
"It's one of the first places I've ever worked where everything is brand new," Cora said earlier this summer. "It's a fresh start."
She was not kidding. On a recent Saturday night, In Like Flynn Tavern looked completely different from its former tenant, and the result was understated and comfortable. Walls were painted a subtle, almost creamy yellow and finished with black trim. A new, dark-wood bar with beautiful attention to detail had been installed. And while there was no live music, Howlin' Wolf's "My Life" and other blues songs made for a copacetic soundtrack.
College football played on a handful of flatscreen TVs, but In Like Flynn Tavern did not feel like a sports bar. It felt like — and seemingly was, based on the 20 or so patrons scattered around the bar and dining room — a no-nonsense hangout for the neighborhood crowd. Many parties seemed to pop in for dinner, but there were also patrons at the bar who appeared to be in no rush to leave. (Rich said plenty of "old regulars" from J. Patrick's still come by.)
While the scene is attractive, In Like Flynn still has some kinks to fix. In June, Cora said a cocktail list would soon be available, but nearly three months later, the bar still lacked one. The initial plan was also to stock the bar with a vast portfolio of Irish whiskeys, but on Saturday it still looked to be a work in progress. Service was decent enough, but could've been more inviting. (This is nitpicking, but when two out of four people ask for water, it's a safe bet to just serve it to the entire party rather than ask, "Do you want water, too?")
Instead, we focused on the beer. The eight drafts are a solid mix of mostly craft and Irish offerings: Harp Lager, Guinness (some of which is still served in J. Patrick's glasses), Strongbow Cider, Brewer's Alley's Kolsch from Frederick and Bud Light. Our choices — Anchor IPA ($5.50), Allagash White ($5.50) and Blue Mountain Oktoberfest ($5) — weren't exactly exotic, but offered enough flavor to satisfy. A 12-ounce can of National Bohemian was priced fine at $3.
After the renovation, Rich said, the finished product was more upscale than originally envisioned, but he believed the tavern still maintained traces of the neighborhood feel that was hard to describe but imperative to J. Patrick's. On our visit, he was right — In Like Flynn Tavern felt new but still cozy and welcoming.
It really is the fresh start Cora described, and the hope is it will be a bit more accessible to the city's bar-going public, while still feeling at home for neighborhood regulars. The bar is in the midst of finishing up acoustic soundproofing. The hope, Rich said, is to have live music soon. Aside from a cocktail list, it's the only obvious piece of the puzzle missing.