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Do-it-all pub; O'Daniels' sets itself apart with friendly vibe, great food and drink

Looking to grab a pint after work? Or catch a game with the guys? Or grab a simple lunch with the girls?

Try O'Daniels' Gin Mill & Grill.

This cozy cubbie is first and foremost a pub -- an attractive cherry bar is the centerpiece of the one-room area. But a quick glance around shows the place to be a multipurpose operation, with about six four-person tables, four booths and a back table for a larger group.

Dim lights set a relaxing tone, and the table placement makes you feel like you're having a sit-down dinner while remaining a part of the bar scene. A low but audible classic rock mix keeps the mood simple but upbeat.

A thin crowd huddled around the tables on a recent Thursday, and the worn bar began to fill steadily -- characteristic of a January storm.

A small group of middle-age workers laughed, a few younger women met up with friends and family and two lone rangers sat glued to stools at bar's end. Soon the men were laughing with the nearby cooks and sharing a shot with some staffers.

If you're an average beer lover, the modest draft selection will do the trick. Samuel Adams Spring Ale (wishful thinking), Southern Tier, Brooklyn IPA, Molson and Victory Donnybrook Stout -- a Guinness-like brew -- go for $4 a pint. A fair range of domestic bottles are $3, imports for $3.50. This isn't a beer-snob's haven, though it offers more than your average blue-collar joint.

If you're bringing a crowd, pitchers of Molson go for $12, and $15 for the specialty beers. A large rack sports a decent selection of wines, and a row of middle-shelf liquors runs the length of the bar.

You don't have to travel far on Abbott Road to find a place to drink, so you go to O'Daniels' for the atmosphere and mix of classic bar treats and creative specialties.

Waitress Tracy greets you like you're one of the family, and she doesn't tell you what they have, she asks what you want. A quick peek at the menu reveals the beef on weck for $7.95 -- piled high with quality beef and small-grain kosher salt -- and a large selection of burgers and sandwiches for less than $7.

We opted for the O'Malley Burger for $6.95, which can be ordered in cajun, jerk, Texas or BBQ style. The jerk edition was excellent and layered with hot-pepper cheese -- the tiny slices you'd put on crackers. The homemade meat had flavor and fell apart easily -- in a good way.

We were surprised to find a decent dinner menu, as well -- Steak Au Poivre, Chicken Piccata or Marsala, New Orleans Cream Pasta, Seafood Jambalaya and Florentine Fish Parmesan. All were less than $15.

Specials and appetizers were basic with a twist. The banana peppers were a powdery, but Chicken Satay skewers with an Asian lime dipping sauce were a welcome surprise.

Tracy's around every five minutes to make sure you're satisfied. If you're the dithering type, she'll pour you drink samples until you find one you like.

The unadorned stools and bar are backed with quirky fish designs set alongside Sabres memorabilia. Intriguing paintings of South Buffalo fixtures -- grain elevators, the nearby Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens, the Edward M. Cotter fire boat -- line the walls alongside funky album covers. The atmosphere is family-friendly -- except for the decorations in the men's room.

The weekend day crowd turns younger as the night wears on, and twenty- and thirtysomethings flock to O'Daniels' for bartender Tommy McDonald of Charlie O'Brien's fame.

Come for a drink, a small treat or a nice dinner at this do-it-all pub. It's a step up from Lackawanna's other offerings, and a welcome one.

email: cspecht@buffnews.com

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O'Daniels' Gin Mill & Grill

1305 Abbott Road, Lackawanna 823-7052

Scene: Friendly crowd looking for a slight step up from other steel-town pubs. Good for small-crowd lunch or dinners.

Music: Classic rock mix at a reasonable volume.

Dress: Casual -- jeans and a sweater are fine.

Hours: Open seven days from 11 a.m.