I remember this conversation I had with a friend once. He went on about how all they’ve got in Portland are “public houses,” then asked me if I knew what a public house was.
With a wide load of la-dee-da, I replied, “It’s a bar.” Google seems to agree.
This was before I’d been to any place advertised as a public house. Having been to McCoy’s Public House in Kansas City, I agree with Google’s agreement of my initial assumption. It certainly isn’t your corner dive with peanuts and pull tabs coating the floor, but nothing about McCoy’s made me snap my fingers and say “THIS is what makes it a public house!” aside from their use of the phrase in their name.
It certainly isn’t a bad thing. McCoy’s was the first thing suggested by my Airbnb host when I arrived in KC, and it’s where I had my first good grub and beer. A public house might be just a bar, but McCoy’s is one I’ll certainly visit again.
The Basics: Named after the founder of Westport, the original McCoy’s (find them on the web here) is post up on the corner of Westport and Penn. I say “original” because they’ve got one other location, and whaddya know: it’s in our very own St. Louis Park. I can’t speak for Minnesota’s location, but you can buy cigars at McCoy’s Kansas City. You can also buy 32-oz growlers.
I hoofed a mile from house to (public) house, and the first thing I heard when I sat down was “We have $8 pitchers tonight.” McCoy’s Kansas City makes a number of beers in-house, and welcomes a few guest taps in addition. I plunged into a pitcher of McCoy’s ginger shandy. It was a good decision, an ice-cold energizer that wasn’t gingered to death. At 3.8 percent alcohol, it’s far from dangerous. Taste-wise, imagine Curious Traveler with just enough ginger. Add that up and you’ve got a pitcher you can dry up without too much effort.
Did it have good head retention and a light-bodied mouthfeel? I don’t fcking know, I was too busy drinking it.
After a beer or two, or perhaps a pitcher or two, I mentioned my walking route to the bartender. I asked her if she’s recommend walking back that way so late into the night. I’m surprised she didn’t snap her own neck gesturing no.
“I’ll call you a cab,” she said. “I’ll call you a cab.”
Turns out, a friend of hers had recently gotten mugged someplace nearby.
Most of the McCoy’s crowd that night was on the patio, but four pickup artists were honing their craft loudly a few chairs to my left and a bald guy in a windbreaker jacket stared off into space a few seats to my right. McCoy’s landscape is laid out mostly in polished wood, with black-and-white photos adorning the walls and curvy metal accents poking out from dividers. The cigar room was off to the right, just beyond a few rows of casks. It didn’t look so much public as I might imagine the home of a well-off legal professional.
Then, there’s me, T-shirt with a cheeseburger on it, exhausted from everything. I hadn’t even changed out of my driving clothes. For me, in this state, a Kitchen Sink pizza was really the only choice. Turns out pizzas were also $8 that night.
The Kitchen Sink’s sauce had some life and the crust nice and foldable. They don’t skimp on the toppings, either. It wasn’t uncommon to find a golf-ball-sized chunk of sausage, or even mushroom that size for that matter. A little more cheese wouldn’t have been the end of the world, but I say that about everything. I came hungry and left with two slices. That says something.
With tax and tip, I scored a full-sized pizza and a pitcher of craft beer for just over $20. A nice introduction to Kansas City.
As far as the Minnesota location goes, you’ll find a sharp focus on “drinking food” throughout the menu: burgers, sandwiches, build-your-own macaroni and cheese, and an appetizer called “Lawsuit Sliders.” Pretzels, potato skins, and a few types of chicken wings round out the app roster. At happy hour, they’ve got a rick vein of options at price-points of $4 and $6. Pizzas go for $9.
Is it the public house the Britons envisioned when they coined the term in Medieval times? I’m not sure. Probably not. If you want that, you’ll probably just have to skip the pond. If you’re looking for a quiet environment, good suds, and good pizza, though, McCoy’s is a safe bet. You might even get a survival tip or two.
Editor’s note: information about the Minnesota location was added Nov. 21, 2017.