I asked a friend who lives in Union Square, Somerville, if he'd checked out the nearby Bull McCabe's. "No, I'm still in mourning for Tír na nÓg [its predecessor]." While I empathized, I try not to hold the disappearance of an old favorite against its successor. (My unfair prejudice was disliking the name: Bull McCabe's sounds to me like the kind of casual-dining hellhole that Anthony Bourdain would call "TGI McFunster's," but in fact refers to the protagonist of beloved Irish author John B. Keane's play The Field.) Ditch those prejudgments: it's a fine little neighborhood pub with many modest virtues, including decent and very attractively priced food.
The expected drinking-food standbys are here, like a giant basket of only-fair fries ($5) and deep-fried chicken tenders ($7) drenched in BBQ or buffalo sauce. (Ironically, the popularity of wings has made this slightly healthier breast-meat-based alternative cheaper for restaurants to serve.) Chicken/vegetable dumplings ($7) are a generous half-dozen reminiscent of Peking ravioli, but the nicely fiery/sweet Thai-style dipping sauce should be served on the side; coating the crisp-fried dumplings in the kitchen makes them soggy. Entrées include a heap of sirloin tips ($12) and two spice-rubbed grilled chicken breasts ($11) with two sides like good mashed potatoes. Fish and chips ($12) are two haddock fillets ably fried in a thick, crunchy beer batter; malt vinegar for the "chips" (actually American fries) is a nice touch. Sandwiches include a very creditable half-pound grilled burger ($8) on a decent bulkie.
Of course, Bull McCabe's is first and foremost a pocket-size pub, with 10 seats at the bar and 20 at tables; you will get to know your neighbors. Like many bars catering to young Somervillians, it's very kind to beer geeks, with nine brews on tap ($5–$5.50), including the de rigueur Guinness, Smithwick's, and Harp, and another 50 in bottles ($5–$15), including many craft microbrews. The full bar has a regrettable vodka-centric specialty cocktail list, but a fair selection of Irish whiskeys and Scotch whiskies. Live entertainment most nights of the week can get a bit loud for conversation. Service is extremely cordial, the crowd rarely anything but mellow. Ultimately, it's hard to cavil about the limited, somewhat ordinary menu when nightly specials make it possible to get a big plate of simple, hearty food for $8. Coming from such a sweet little pub, that is in fact what I would call mighty neighborly.
Bull McCabe's, located at 366A Somerville Avenue, in Somerville, is open Monday–Thursday, 3 pm–1 am, and Friday–Sunday, 12 pm–1 am; food is served daily, 4 pm–10 pm. Call 617.440.6045.
Editor's Note: Due to an editing error in a previous version of this article, some incorrect information about the number and prices of beers available at Bull McCabe's were listed. The corrections have been made above.