In the spirit of the bar in East Lansing that inspired it, O’Malley’s West Bar & Grill offers Michigan State alumni a chance to relive all of their toga parties, keg stands and wedgies of yore, as well as to obnoxiously support anything remotely connected to Spartan football and basketball. As a welcome departure from the insanity of Chicago’s other notable Michigan State bar, the Hi-Tops (formerly Gin Mill), located just a few blocks to the north, O’Malley’s offers a decent selection of booze and pub grub in the polished and comfortable confines of what used to be a wine bar. When MSU games aren’t blaring away, O’Malley’s transforms from Spartan refuge into a popular Lincoln Avenue meat-market, along the same lines as Kendall’s, Kelsey’s, and the John Barleycorn Memorial Pub. While O’Malley’s West is Heaven for male State grads under the age of 25, everyone else may be mildly surprised to learn that it exists.
The three-story, red-brick building housing O’Malley’s West can be found nestled between the anglophile Lion Head Pub (formerly Alumni Club) and “BLU” nightclub (previously Bamboo Bernie’s). To find O’Malley’s, just keep your eyes peeled for the forest green awning with O’Malley’s West written in white lettering upon it, the brown-painted façade, and the fire hydrant in front of it. Step up into the pub and you’ll find a spacious barroom, featuring hardwood floors, exposed brick, hand-painted walls, and an ornate, brown-painted tin ceiling. Running along the south end of the room is a cherry wood bar with high-backed wooden barstools, ten beers on tap, and a mirrored backdrop. Above the backdrop is the first of several televisions, a wine rack, and a glowing Sparty head. For those of you not from Michigan State, “Sparty” refers to the name of the Michigan State mascot – both a bronze statue located in the middle of campus and the freakishly cartoonish Greek Spartan seen running around MSU games and, for some disturbing reason, a disproportionately high number of ESPN Sports Center ads. A Golden Tee and ATM can be found across from bar, along with a series of wooden cocktail tables located in front of the staircase that showcases the finest O’Malley’s West t-shirts, available for sale. Additional seating can be found up front, which offers a nice view of all the Lincoln Avenue madness.
Beyond the bar and up a few steps is the main seating section. This area is filled with more wooden cocktail tables and provides prime viewing of Michigan State games on the big screen, next to the large chalkboard displaying specials and upcoming events, as well as on several smaller TVs, of which there are ten in all. When the game’s not on, O’Malley’s features live rock and blues on Tuesdays, Thursdays and, the Pride of East Lansing, Jerry Sprague plays every Saturday night. Later on, a DJ plays the same old tired music you’d hear anywhere else, while those below groove with the assistance of a light ball that hangs next to a large brown duct that runs length of room, bedecked with string lights. If that’s not enough for you, another Golden Tee machine can be found in back, in case the first one’s occupied. Surprisingly, a small green-painted and carpeted lounge can be found beyond the main seating area in the back. This area serves as an oasis from MSU sports, the usual frenzy that surrounds each Golden Tee machine, and the late night lechery in the main room with a red sofa and wooden coffee table.
“Needless to say, when there are MSU games on the crowd gets really rowdier than a pack of hungry hyenas”
– Shecky’s Bar, Club & Lounge Guide 2002
O’Malley’s also features a standard selection of appetizers, salads, fish and shrimp baskets, sandwiches (highlighted by the “Tommy Tomato” – three cheeses with tomato on Texas Toast), burgers, and pizza – most of which can be had for around $8 and all of which is available until close. You can wash that down with a sampling from 27 beers available for $3/pitcher on Sunday and Monday nights (which are also half-price menu nights).
In the days previous to its existence as O’Malley’s West, the space served as chef Lou Bastian’s creation, The Vine. As you could guess, The Vine was a casual, quiet neighborhood wine bar, which was quite a departure from everything else within 100 yards. The atmosphere at The Vine was quite mellow and warm, with oenophile couples sipping wine in candlelight amongst exposed brick walls, white string lights, faux grapevines, and intermittent live music. The wine menu consisted of 13 wines by the glass, ranging in price between $5 and $9, and 35 varieties in bottles, each costing you no more than $30 (half were priced at less than $25). A nice array of delicacies were available as part of a light menu, including rock shrimp egg rolls, fruit and cheese plates, sandwiches, salmon burritos, salads, scrambled egg quesadillas, and a handful of uncomplicated entrees, like risotto. Nowadays, you’ll find a great selection of wines at the Webster’s Wine Bar and Bin 36. Prior to The Vine, the establishment at 2249 N. Lincoln served as the oddly named “Original 2350 Pub.” Not much is remembered about this tavern other than it was a late-night neighborhood bar (open until 4:00am), served 1/2 lb. burgers, baked oysters and clams, and various other seafood dishes, and created a popular cocktail known as the “Strawberry Gin Blitz,” made with gin, fresh strawberries, cream, and ice cream.
O’Malley’s West, not to be confused with the plethora of other bars in the area with the same name, like the O’Malley’s on Pulaski and Archer, O’Malley’s Pub on Belmont, Morrie O’Malley’s near Comiskey Park in Bridgeport, and, finally, the O’Malley’s in both Alsip and Aurora, is a decent joint. What holds it back from being a great bar is that O’Malley’s West has little personality beyond its support of Michigan State athletics and those that bounce around from bar to bar on the Lincoln Avenue strip looking to pick up. The ambiance, beer selection, occasional live music, quality of food, and service are all good but not great. And, while Michigan State fans can be fanatical, at least they’re far more tolerable than University of Michigan fans that commonly infest Duffy’s. Thus, O’Malley’s West is a great haven for alumni but holds little else if you didn’t go to Michigan State. Pat Riley, at least, would surely be proud of O’Malley’s West owners Scott Johnson and Matt Imig – that is, the owner of PT O’Malley’s in East Lansing which O’Malley’s West was named after, not the NBA coach. Chicago history buffs may also be interested to know that this was one of the former locations of the 2350 Pub (originally located at 2350 N. Lincoln) that was open until 4:00am and served burgers and seafood. For more information and a Michigan State watch schedule, check out the O’Malley’s West website. Go, er, State!