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THE PUB CRAWL: J K O’Donnell’s Irish Ale House

J K O'Donnell's is located at 121 West Wayne Street in Fort Wayne.
The Flight of the Week and the Light Flight at J K O'Donnell's. (Photo by Dan Vance of news-sentinel.com)
The seafood chowder with scallops, shrimp and cod at J K O'Donnell's.
A simple side salad.
J K O'Donnell's scotch eggs shareable with a side of boxty.
One of the more unique beers in our flight is the Lakefront Cherry Lager, which seemingly changes color from the outside in.
The bacon mac & cheese with fried chicken.
The Fish & Chips, aka cod and fries
Need some whiskey?
JKs draft blends are a fantastic choice, like the Red Apple, a blend of Smithwick's Irish Red Ale and Magners Original Cider.

We’ve all been there.

Well, at least those who care to read this bi-weekly column.

Bar hopping with friends in the heyday of your youth, you inevitably landed at J K O’Donnell’s once or twice or a couple dozen times.

Or if you’ve been there for St. Patrick’s Day, it may only feel like you’ve been there a couple dozen times.

The downtown pub at 121 West Wayne Street has only been around 11 years, but it feels like a lot more. Maybe that’s because most of our experiences are remembered more like dreams, as if we weren’t totally coherent when there…

To change it up, we visited JKs with an open, sober mind. At least, it started out that way.

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WHAT TO DRINK

Where to start?

JKs sports 20 taps, over 70 different kinds of beer and enough varieties of whiskey to make your liver quake with excitement or shiver in fear, we’re not sure which.

Want to feel even more like you’re hanging out on the mean streets of Ireland? Check out some Magner’s. What about England? JKs delivers with the likes of Boddingtons and Bass. Even Germany gets in on the fun with Kulmbacher Eisbock, Weihenstephaner, and Riesling.

Not into European styles? There is plenty of local flavor, as well plenty of lagers, porters, and ciders to choose from.

The term mix and match plays a huge role at JKs. For $7-$11, you can take on one of their three different flights, each with a taste of four different beers. This is the ultimate bang for your buck because they certainly span many different flavors. We took on the light flight and the flight of the week and we certainly were not disappointed. The light flight starts as light as it gets with Harp Lager from Guinness, moving to Magner’s, a cider without too much of a bite, then to Weihenstephaner Hefeweizenbier and stopping off with Reissdorf Kolsch.

Need something more challenging for your palette? The flight of the week (which is aptly named considering it changes weekly) started off with a refreshing coffee taste of the infused Quaff on! Java the Red, transported to the oddly glowing Lakefront Cherry Lager and into the slightly bitter Sun King SKB. The only downside of this flight is the Bruery Share This’ Mint Chip. This imperial stout basically tastes like you took a bowl of mint chocolate chip ice cream, turned it into a float with your favorite beer and melted it to drink. For a couple of guys who aren’t into “dessert” beers, this was a bit too much.

JKs also scores big with a menu of 10 draft blends of 20 ounces, mixing their continual drafts with some seasonal drafts. Want something refreshing this summer, we suggest the Red Apple mixing with Southwick’s Irish Red Ale from Magners. It’s like drinking applesauce and is as refreshing as any beer.

The bottle and can selection is so deep, they need pages — yes plural — to fill you in on them all. We especially liked learning from the bartender about the Shmaltz He’brew Jewbelation, which runs just under 12 percent ABV and will cost you a cool $20.

JKs also plays ball with several red and white wine selections.

In short, want a beer? JKs can deliver whatever you’re looking for.

WHAT TO EAT

J K O’Donnell’s offers a lot of Irish fare and pub sandwiches, so there are plenty of things to try.

One of us (we will let you decide which one, but he’s the goofier looking of the two) isn’t much of a fan of most of the traditional Irish fare at JKs. But he was certainly impressed with the cayenne-battered fried chicken and bacon mac & cheese. The usage of the “crack sauce” to further spice things up was a great idea.

The house salad was a bit heavy on all the trimmings and less so on pure lettuce, but the freshness of it all was superb.

The seafood chowder was a winner, with the entire thing carrying a heavy seafood flavor without getting too chunky in the seafood department. We did have one large shrimp down at the bottom and it was apparent pretty quickly where the deep flavor came from.

The same can’t really be said about the fish & chips, featuring half a pound of cod with Old Speckled Hen beer batter. The flavor was lacking in the fish alone, which isn’t much of a problem if the battered part stayed attached to the fish to help the flavor. In our case, that outer crisp fell right off so we couldn’t meld the flavor as wanted.

A refreshing first time try for both of us were the scotch eggs. If you aren’t familiar, a scotch egg is a hardboiled egg wrapped in sausage and deep-fried. It sounds kind of disgusting, but the final product is anything but. Standing alone or dipped in honey mustard, this is a must try and absolutely a repeat appetizer for us during future visits to JKs. The scotch eggs come with a piece of boxty, which is about the most buttery potato pancake you could imagine. Better chase it with a beer.

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WHERE TO SIT

From an outside patio area to a great booth right up against the front windows so you can people watch to straight up at the bar, JKs has plenty of places in which to enjoy beer, food, and friends.

JKs is one of those unique bars in Fort Wayne where listening in to other people’s conversations can bring some serious entertainment. So consider your neighbors when picking out a spot. Who looks as if they got some good stories to eavesdrop on?

Make sure to check out the homely-feeling Belleek Hall (named after a 14th-century castle in Ireland), if only for a peek if there is a large group gathered inside. The hall is also open to all ages until 7 p.m. nightly but call ahead for availability.

WHEN TO GO

JKs is open until 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, then gets crazy on the weekends when it is open until midnight. It is rarely completely dead inside, but it especially picks up in late afternoons during the week and goes strong ’til closing time.

For obvious reasons, it is one of the premier night spots in downtown Fort Wayne on the weekends. Hey, it’s all downtown, right?

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WHO TO BRING

Whether it is a group of friends or a date or a spouse, JKs has something for everybody. But be mindful of who you bring in this respect — can they appreciate the drink offerings? Can they keep up with your style of checking out some unique and tasty beer and whiskey from across the pond?

Choose wisely.

BE PREPARED FOR

Not leaving completely sober. Seriously, plan accordingly. Only when truly unencumbered by the worries of getting home safely can you truly experience all that JKs has to offer.

Because what they have to offer is a lot.

Want to see what Justin and Dan are drinking? Check them out on Untappd, the drinking social network and app for beer enthusiasts everywhere.

Visit Justin on Untappd or check him out on Twitter

Visit Dan on Untappd or check him out on Twitter

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