The lively crowd in the front room -- the one where you'll find the long, mahogany bar -- should be a clue as to what Irish Pub does best. Those sitting on barstools with mugs full of Guinness, Stella or Newcastle Brown, chosen from the pub's lengthy on-tap selection, have the right idea. They chat with each other and with the bartenders as they munch on well-executed renditions of classic bar food, like heaping plates of golden-brown onion rings, potato skins and buffalo wings.

The back room, lined with spacious wooden booths, is much quieter. Minimal lighting, wood paneling, framed pictures and posters lend Irish charm to this dining room, but the jovial pubby atmosphere remains up front. The full menu is available in both rooms, so there's no need to move to a secluded table to partake in something more than finger food. The menu is almost shockingly inexpensive; dinner entrees for $5.95 seem to hail from a bygone era. The daily soup and sandwich lunch special ($3.99) allows you to sit down and be waited on at food cart prices.

When approaching the menu, there are two winning routes. Stick to simple bar food, or sample one of their hearty Irish specials. Though they appear on the list of "Irish Pub Signatures", this is not the place for crab cakes ($5.99) -- they are reminiscent of the frozen food aisle: overly bready, with minimal shreds of crabmeat.

It would also be a mistake to order one of the boring-sounding salads from the "Something Green" section of the menu. Start with the chili or the soup of the day instead. The corn chowder ($2.50/cup) had a brothier, "healthier" base than expected, and was loaded with kernels. Juicy burgers and grilled chicken sandwiches are smart selections. For those wishing to get a taste of authentic pub food, the shepherd's pie ($7.99) is hearty and satisfying. We likened it to Irish chili, with ground beef mixed with peas, carrots, green beans and spices, topped with mashed potatoes and a layer of melted cheese. The boat-sized dish came out piping hot, fragrant and flavorful.

The Irish Pub is not a location to seek out for a memorable dining experience, but it provides a great bar atmosphere with the added plus of refreshments that extend beyond nuts, pretzels and extra olives. You can sit, drink and socialize for hours with friends, and when you're hungry, put in an order for some of those onion rings or a full dinner or maybe just a serving of their homemade bread pudding.


All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.