Much has changed around Lexington, particularly the University of Kentucky campus, since the early 1980s. However, through all the changes Lynagh’s Irish Pub has always persevered, providing patrons a stool to sit on, a refreshing beer to sip on and a mouth-watering O’Round burger to munch on.
After a string of ownership changes, the pub landed in the hands of Amy Messer, a former adjunct sociology professor at the University of Kentucky, in June 2017. For Messer the timing was ideal. A long time restaurateur, she’d been searching for a new career after Gov. Matt Bevin’s cuts to higher education slashed many of the university’s adjunct positions.
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Having worked in just about every role in the restaurant industry, Messer opted to dive into ownership. She’s since expanding her portfolio by purchasing downtown establishment Alfalfa with Cosmic Charlie’s manager Joe McGinley in May 2018.
One of Messer’s top priorities since taking over has been to return the bar’s famous O’Round burger to its former glory. To accomplish this she went straight to the source, switching her distributor to Critchfield Meats, where she spoke with co-owner Mike Critchfield about her conundrum. Critchfield remembered what original bar owner John Lynagh ordered and set Messer up with the same product.
In terms of cooking, Messer opted for a different approach with the O’Round for when it hits the grill, spreading the burger meat up rather than out flat on the grill.
“This makes it a little more hearty on the grill,” Messer said. “It’s got more bite to it, making for one tasty burger.”
There’s no better way to wash down the reimagined O’Round than with an ice cold beer, which Lynagh’s has in spades. The pub boasts 24 beers on tap and nearly 80 in total ranging from the basics to local flavors and Irish delicacies such as Magners, Harp, Guinness and Smithwick’s. The bar also stocks several Irish whiskeys from Bushmills to Hell-Cat Maggie, Egan’s and Tullamore. Breakfast shots, which include Irish whiskey, peppermint schnapps and orange juice are also available along with a Pearse Irish Whiskey Bloody Mary.
While the O’Round may be the most prominent menu item to return at Lynagh’s under Messer’s watch it’s far from the only one. After receiving feedback from customers, Messer began re-introducing a “new” old sandwich to the menu each week including the TnA (turkey and avocado with poppy seed dressing and alfalfa sprouts) and the Vegwich, which she jokingly added has caused quite a controversy over whether it included green or black olives. Other popular menu items include homemade corn beef and hash, Guinness beer cheese and breakfast every weekend. Despite the uncertainties, Messer has found that everyone who comes through Lynagh’s doors have a story, many of which weave a connection back to the pub.
“Almost on a daily basis I have customers introducing themselves to me as someone who used to work here,” said Messer. “With Lynagh’s being around since 1981, it’s hard to be from Lexington and not have some connection to the place.”
The bar also hosts a variety of events including Grateful Sunday showcasing the music of the Grateful Dead with Lee Owen, a musicians open mic every Wednesday, trivia on Thursdays and English Premier League and FC Cincinnati viewing parties on Saturday’s.
“Our longtime regulars have been incredibly open and welcoming to me,” Messer said. “In many ways they know this space better than I do. They’ve done right by me, so I hope I’m doing right by them.”
For St. Patrick’s Day on March 17, Lynagh’s will open at 10 a.m. and serve a special brunch featuring items such as smoked haddock, Guinness stew or vegetarian shepherd’s pie, plus Irish whiskey and beer specials.
If you go: Lynagh’s
What: Iconic Irish bar with made-to-order O’rounds, homemade corn beef and 80 beers available
Where: 384 Woodland Ave.
Hours: Sunday through Friday at 11 a.m., Saturdays at 9 a.m. (7 a.m. for big soccer matches)