Steaks, Wine and a Fortune on the Walls and Ceiling

It’s a Pensacola institution as popular with locals as it is with the tourists who converge on this part of northwest Florida to bask in the sun, splash in the aquamarine waters and relax on the dazzling, white-sand beaches.

What is it? It’s McGuire’s Irish Pub, a steakhouse, seafood restaurant, brewpub, and purveyor of fine wines, all in one.

Located downtown in the city’s 1927 Old Firehouse, McGuire’s can almost overwhelm first-time visitors from the moment they step through the front doors. One second, you’re outside in blindingly bright sunlight near a busy street, the next, you’re blinking to adjust to the cozy indoor twilight and the restaurant’s unique assortment of sights, sounds and smells:

The sizzle and aroma of thick, juicy, corn-fed Angus beef steaks. The piped-in lilt of jolly Irish folk songs. The life-size skeleton standing along one wall next to a built-in meat fridge and opposite an antique motorcycle. The bubbling fish tank full of slow-moving lobsters. And, most of all, the hundreds upon thousands of dollar bills fluttering from almost every square foot of wall and ceiling space in the dining rooms.

Started, the story goes, when Molly Martin (wife of co-founder McGuire Martin) taped her first dollar tip to the back bar of the original restaurant for good luck, the tradition of patrons signing and stapling dollars on the walls, benches and ceiling beams has grown to the point where there are now more than $250,000 in singles adorning McGuire’s interior. Don’t even think of helping yourself to a buck or two, though: the autographed bills are recognized widely, and McGuire’s prosecutes any would-be pilferers.

Another tradition stars one of the many preserved animal heads in one of the dining rooms. One of the favorite songs performed live on weekend nights is “Kiss the Moose,” in which a diner is urged to kiss the massive stuffed moose head on the wall for good luck.

It’s McGuire’s food, though, that impresses more than anything. In addition to the aforementioned steaks (among some of the best you’ll taste anywhere), McGuire’s diverse and delicious menu offers something for everyone: flavorful shepherd’s pie and lean corned beef and cabbage for those in the mood for traditional Irish fare; more than 20 different styles of Ã?¾-pound steak burgers for the casual diner; fresh Pensacola Bay red snapper and Gulf shrimp battered in ale for seafood fans; nachos, boxtys (deep-fried, mashed potato bites) and calamari for those wanting just appetizers; and even salads for vegetarians.

While everything on the menu is a taste-pleaser, one item in particular merits special mention: the Senate bean soup. The same recipe as the one long-served in the U.S. Senate cafeteria, McGuire’s version also offers the same bargain price: 18 cents for a cup (as long as you order something else on the menu too). It’s a great start to your meal, whatever, you end up ordering, thick, a little salty and full of soft, almost mashed Navy beans.

On the beverage side, McGuire’s brews its own beers, including a light ale, an Irish red ale, a raspberry wheat, a stout and even a rich draft root beer. Specialty drinks include the Irish Wake, a potent concoction that’s heavy with rum.

McGuire’s also offers an astounding wine list with more than 450 selections available by the bottle, and many available by the glass as well. Its wine cellar is highly regarded, with room for more than 8,000 bottles.

While the food in itself is memorable, you can also find a host of souvenirs – t-shirts, shamrock gear, keychains, toys, jewelry and McGuire’s signature cookbook – in the little gift shop on the way out. One classic choice is a t-shirt (sweatshirts are also available) designed by the late, great cartoonist Jeff Macnelly. The shirt features his crusty news bird from “Shoe,” sitting at a bar, pointing downward and saying, “I’ll have what the gentleman on the floor is having.”

McGuire’s Irish Pub is located on Gregory Street in downtown Pensacola just past the three-mile bridge and before the Civic Center. It is open seven days a week, starting at 11 a.m.

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