Pug Mahones takes over for the occasionally revered JT's Friendly Tavern and their longstanding claim of the best burgers in town. Only the 'JT's' is gone from the painted braggadocio on the side walls along East Washington Avenue, indicating that the Pug Mahones folks feel that they live up to their predecessor's assertion of both approachability and quality.
Of the latter, I wouldn't know entirely, because (despite indications to the contrary) their weeknight grill closes at 9 p.m. I learned this at 9:15. So I ordered a Capital Island Wheat and took a stool with my lovely dining companion to ponder over the standard bar fare appetizer list.
Immediately, I was met with all the options no longer available to me. I felt a certain kinship with the appropriately-misspelled Rueben sandwich, but was equally desirous to try to jumbo chili dog and BLT. Sure, all these are nothing fancy, but at $5.50, $4, and $3.50, they're worth a shot just to see if they're diamond-in-the-rough quality.
Instead, my choices were limited to a litany of familiar appetizers and sauces. The prices for the fritto misto alla Wisconsin bar were in fact equal to much of the sandwich menu.
Results were fairly typical. The cheese curds were gooey and greasy; more than one shell of fried batter turned out to be empty, indicating that the cheese had obviously gone on to find another, larger shell. The jalapeño poppers were done about as well as they can be done. There were no still-cold insides, and the slices of jalapeño were easy to bite through. The nonspecific "Popper jam" listed on the menu was, by all indications, just plain jam. Some kind of berry. It was fine.
It can be hard to get behind a bar with lighting as bright as Pug Mahones' was, but the place was clean and didn't smell badly at all. The pool table was active, and the dartboard showed signs of life. The jukebox was blaring something close to speed metal when we came in, but eventually gave way to Brewers post-game coverage on one of the four big-screens.
With lunch specials from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and an appetizer menu that runs until bar time, Pug Mahones will have you covered whether you're a third-shifter, student, or 9-5 worker bee looking for a cheap bite and a decent beer -- the tap list was small, but serviceable. I was bummed to be shot down by the early grill closing, but given the history of Pug Mahones' name, it was as friendly a kiss-off as one could ever expect to receive.