Restaurant Review #244: Shamrock Cafe (Lancaster, PA)

Justin and I have an affinity for dive bars, especially when traveling. We prefer them to “scenes”, no matter how gritty or grimy they may be. The less chances we have of running into other millennials, the more we are inclined to try it. While exploring the city, I did a quick Google search for nearby dives. A place called the Shamrock Cafe popped up. It didn’t sound like a dive given the word “cafe” in the title, but we would soon find out that there is a lot more to a place than the name.

They open at 7 AM, which you can attribute to local industry and overnight workers wanting a place to hangout after work. Or you can see it as a club for alcoholics. We were not inside more than 30 seconds when I realized that this is strictly for regulars/locals only. Unlike Ader’s Tavern, no one turned around and looked at the fresh fish that stumbled in, but it was certainly in the air. We sat down at the bar. Justin had a beer and I had a Jack on the rocks. I had just taken my first sip when I heard a voice next to me say, “You used to be able to piss where you’re sitting.” Rather surprised, I turned my head and looked at a gentlemen seated a couple of stools down, halfway into his personal pitcher. All I could muster up was an, “Oh?” when the bartender, a woman, came over and said, “That used to be where the piss trough was when this place opened.” Fascinated by this information, I said, “Do you mind if I ask where you piss now?” she pointed to the back.

A few minutes later, I had to see for myself. I was relieved to find an actual bathroom and not just a hole in the floor by the pool table. However, lo and behold, the men’s room still contains a trough. The Shamrock does not sell food and I am partly grateful for that. The bartenders were switching shifts and ours walked out without taking her tip off the bar. I called out for her and she seemed annoyed that I stopped her exit, even though I was trying to give her money.

There are dives we have been to which did not seem like much at first and then grew on us. In all honesty, we did not stick around long enough to see if that would happen here. The Shamrock is not intimidating. Other than a disinterested bartender and our lovely resident piss historian, there was nothing wrong with this place. But there is an underlying “we don’t care if you come or go” mentality. Not even Vic’s Wayside Inn has this, and we came to appreciate that place even more after visiting the Shamrock. I am going to give them 2.5 out of 5 stars, right down the middle. The drinks were cheap (even though my pour of whiskey was hardly even two ounces) and the building is loaded with character (can’t forget the piss trough!). The entrance is tiny—you have to be looking for this place to find it. This may be a great hangout for some, but for us, it just didn’t work. We’ll stick to Vic’s to get our dive fill when in Lancaster.

The Shamrock Cafe is located at 312 West Walnut Street in Lancaster, PA.


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