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Better than ever; Expanded J.P. Fitzgerald's is a job well done

If you haven't been to the village of Hamburg lately, you're in for a very pleasant surprise. From new businesses to the controversial but undoubtedly more efficient roundabouts, Hamburg has increased its walkability and enjoyability in several major ways.

Chief among these modified businesses is the renovated J.P. Fitzgerald's, a delightful Irish pub and restaurant that was always a local favorite, but after a large-scale overhaul is now brighter, warmer and, yes, more Irish than ever before.

The J.P.'s that you'll visit today is quite different from the one that opened in June 1990. The exterior has certainly changed, with a large patio for summertime revelry. (No one seemed to be venturing out there during my visit on a recent windy night.) But it's the inside that has truly expanded.

The restaurant is larger, with an emphasis on the banquet room, and the bar is top-notch, and built to accommodate large crowds. While there are ample tables and a few booths, there is plenty of wandering space.

Flat-screen TVs are spread out in both the bar and dining area (both cable and Direct TV are trumpeted), and the bar is decorated with Guinness, Harp and Stella knickknacks. But there are also a couple of pleasant surprises, like a popcorn-maker, some games (darts, the "Buck Hunter" video game), and, my winner of the prize for Smartest Bit of Bar KnickKnackery, a breath test to check alcohol levels. (Ironically, the night of my visit, a driver was arrested for driving through the roundabout that J.P.'s borders. So clearly, the breath tester was a wise investment.)

As has been my wont lately, I decided to go twice to see the scene, once for lunch on a weekend afternoon, and once during peak bar-time. I was a bit taken aback by the crowd in the restaurant and in the bar at noon on a Saturday, and it told me what to expect when I came back that night.

The pub was, indeed, hopping, and I even overheard a real Irishman at the bar. I assume he wasn't a ringer brought in for authenticity's sake, so perhaps there is a good sign that J.P.'s version of 'oirish pub is not too far off the mark.

The bartender was friendly and talkative, the patrons relaxed and easy-going and the lit-up "Fitz" character sign rather charming. In short, J.P.'s is better than ever from top to bottom.

While my focus was on the bar, the dining experience was just as satisfying. The menu includes typical Buffalo bar fare, including several wings-'n-weck combos, but the "Belfast Grill" selections simply must be mentioned: shepherd's pie, five different corned beef sandwiches, Irish beer cheese soup.

It's nice to see a relatively long-running, locally owned establishment that has taken advantage of its success. J.P.'s was fine before the renovations, but the result of the work is a place where you can have a pint of Guinness, gobble a Reuben, or just hang out. That's exactly what one seeks in a neighborhood establishment, so job well done.

Clearly, then, whatever your thoughts on the roundabouts, you're going to have fun at J.P. Fitzgerald's. With any luck, its beer-glass-filling "Fitz" character will become as ubiquitous as the spoilin'-for-a-fight Notre Dame leprechaun. In fact, I think J.P.'s mascot could take him. My money's on Fitz for the win.


J.P. Fitzgerald's

4236 Clark St., Hamburg 649-4025

Scene: A classy but casual Irish pub vibe.

Happy hour: Barroom specials are offered nightly.

On tap: A nice selection with an emphasis on traditional Irish fare like Guinness.

Music: A fully stocked TouchTunes juke in the bar -- it even included ample holiday selections.

Hours: Open seven days a week; 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday, noon to 4 a.m. Sundays.