McShea's of Narberth to Take Over J.R. Monaghan's in Ardmore
The Lancaster Avenue pub will be called Jack McShea's.
J.R. Monaghan's, the large sports bar in downtown Ardmore that was sinking financially, will be taken over by the brothers behind McShea's—the successful Narberth taproom with a reputation for terrific pub food that has been a mainstay on that town's main drag since 1996.
Settlement is expected to be finalized on Wednesday.
The brothers, John, 48, and Neil, 46, were asked to oversee the bar a couple of months ago by the partners they are buying it from. Though John will bring his culinary experience in overseeing the kithcen, Neil will be the day-to-day manager.
Already, changes have been made to the Monaghan's menu, the beer selection, and the look and feel of the place. Gone is a wall that separated the main dining room from the bar area. Gone is the dining room's carpet, replaced by handsome hardwoods. Intimate shaded lamps are in the front windows (replacing neon beer signs), accented with holiday chrysanthemums.
And there are more booths. "One thing we know from our place in Narberth is that people love booths," said John McShea, during an office party held there the week before Christmas.
The new establishment will be known as Jack McShea's, in honor of the brothers' father, and the takeover seems to have come just in the nick of time: by all accounts from local business leaders, J.R. Monaghan's was about to close its doors this past autumn.
Luckily for the bar's neighbors, that didn't happen. The pub is an especially large space for its block of East Lancaster Avenue, betweem Schauffele Plaza and Rittenhouse Place. The size of at least two regular storefronts, the place is the former home of a natural foods grocery.
Soon, it will carry the solid name that McShea's has built up over their years in Narberth. Part of the Haverford Avenue triumverate of pubs within a short walk of one another (Irish village style, the venerable Greeks is a across the street and the Great American Pub is on the corner of Narberth Avenue), McShea's is often referred to by locals as the place with the best kitchen.
Selling the food, bringing the beer
"It has always been more of a pub with food than a gastro-pub with beer, which perfectly suits the down-home sensibilities of Narberth," said Rick Nichols, former food writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer and longtime Narberth resident.
"But lately, it has upped its stock of craft brews, and tweaked the food, though some regulars refuse to stray from their favorite—John McShea's homey, signature crab cake."
Sunday brunches are a big hit, and the McShea's menu stretches beyond burgers into pasta and seafood (the crab cakes are, indeed, lovely), even a 16-ounce pan-seared prime rib, along with Asian and Tex-Mex type offerings. On the last Thursday of every month, a dinner party is hosted with a uniquely themed menu for members of its "Supper Club."
Scott Schrum, who has worked with McShea's in the past, was asked to return to help run the kitchen in Ardmore and take shifts as bartender. He said he was excited to gradually bring in changes to the old Monaghan's menu and its beer selection.
"Lunch here is a little slow right now, so we're trying to build that up," Schrum said. The former management had cut back lunch to weekends only, but Schrum said midday food service is back, from Wednesdays through Sundays.
"We hope to be back to seven days a week by St. Patty's Day," said Neil McShea, sitting in one of the streetside booths last weekend. "We'll start with Sunday brunch in a couple of weeks," in mid-January.
Not a sports bar
It's not yet clear how many of the big-screen TVs in the former Monaghan's will stay, but further changes to the decor of the place are in store, Neil said. "We want people to turn their chairs and talk to each other, you know?" he said. "We want this to be a gathering place rather than just a place to watch the Phillies. We do want people to come for the Phillies, and Eagles ... but that's also why we tone down the volume on the TVs and have good music going. We try to have current stuff and good playlists, and during dinner we play dinner type music.
"We try to cater to a diverse crowd. We want to sell our food, and we want to sell good beer."
In other words, a clientele similar to the one they've won over in Narberth. "It's going to be a little bit different—I don't know if we can ever be like that place," Neil said. "We want to be popular with the Ardmore crowd."
Part of that is diving into the Ardmore community scene, something the brothers have already started doing, taking part in the town's First Friday Main Line events, and taking part in the third annual Taste of Ardmore. The bar also hosted the Ardmore Initiative's Christmas party.
Neil McShea said Harry Althouse, owner of Harry's Treasures and Collectibles on the same block, was extremely helpful in introducing him and John to the partnership that is selling Monahgan's. "He's been a big help in getting us involved. And he introduced us to Christine [Vilardo, at the Ardmore Initiative.] We want to get involved in any kind of festival that's going on around here."
In the meantime, there's a lot of space to think about in addition to bringing back customers.
"Yep, it's twice the size of the Narberth place," McShea said. "We just gotta give it a little love and see if it works out."