The Cavalier Daily
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New pub has luck of the Irish

The first thing you'll notice as you approach 1505 University Avenue on the Corner is that it's not Ziggy's anymore. Thank goodness - Ziggy's suffered from an uninviting atmosphere. In its place is O'Neill's Irish Pub, which officially opened to the public Oct. 1, cramming the Virginia Tech weekend crowd into every corner of the instant hot spot.

"Late night here has been out of control," said Kristi Winters, an O'Neill's waitress and a third-year College student. "It's usually packed."

Customers no longer are herded up the old stairwell that crowded Ziggy's impersonal doorway. The completely revamped façade invites the Corner crowd to come in and soak up Irish ambiance.

The relocated stairwell leads to a split-level floor complete with a second bar, plentiful pool tables and dartboards. Cozy wooden tables, traditional Irish background music, artifacts and photographs of Ireland taken by 1999 University graduate Luke Dunnington complete the theme.

"We wanted to focus on creating an environment that was warm and welcoming," said owner Tim O'Neill, who also owns the Biltmore Grill. "We decided on the Irish theme after doing a survey out on the Corner. People felt it was something the area was missing."

The improved main floor bar, adorned with Christmas lights for an authentic pub feel, only hints at the changes O'Neill has made. O'Neill's hosts local musicians and area Irish music bands Thursdays from 9:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. and Saturdays from 9:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m.

Soon Irish dancers also will make drop-in appearances in the restaurant, O'Neill said.

Oh yeah, and the food's good too.

Menu items range from typical appetizers such as mozzarella sticks and chicken wings to large servings of steak, sandwiches made with their fresh baked brown bread, and even salmon and oysters if you're in the mood. The most expensive item on the menu hits an affordable $9.99, with most entrées in the $5.99 range.

It was impossible to resist the lure of the Blarney Cheese Fries. The popular appetizer proved desirably greasy.

"They were by far the best fries I've had at U.Va.," first-year College student Andrea Hunter said.

Perfect for a late-night craving, these genuine fries aren't the potato chunks some restaurants try to sell as an adequate appetizer.

Doused in thick cheese, you can feel yourself packing on the pounds as you dip fry after fry into the accompanying Ranch dressing.

"We're going for big," O'Neill said, referring to the size of the platters.

O'Neill's also served up a well-seasoned Roscommin Cajun Chicken Caesar Salad. The Caesar dressing, which is hard to get wrong, tasted standard, but the large green leaves of lettuce paired with the peppered treatment of the chicken made this selection exceptional.

A similar dish, the Emerald Island Cajun Chicken Sandwich, also has been popular with customers, Winters said.

If you're looking for an entrée that will make you go through 10 napkins and multiple glasses of water, order the excellent Ulysses Buffalo Sandwich. Three oversized buffalo wings are placed on a bun with lettuce and tomato, your only salvation from the incredibly spicy flavoring. As good as the sandwich is, it might be necessary to pause between bites to recover from the sweat-inducing seasoning.

"The food ... was reasonable," said Jim Gunderson, Engineering graduate student and returning customer. "But the lunches are really good."

O'Neill's is open for lunch every day at 11 a.m. and stays open until 2 a.m.

O'Neill said some of his personal favorites include the London Broil, a half-pound steak served with fresh vegetables and mashed potatoes, and the Marinated Salmon, one of his own recipes in which the fish is marinated in Irish whiskey.

In the future, O'Neill plans to add an open-air café to further attract customers to his restaurant - building on his theme of creating a welcoming atmosphere. As of now, the front windows can be removed to simulate the feeling, something he knew would be popular after seeing the outdoor patio's success at the Biltmore.

So far, the prospects seem positive for this young enterprise. Perhaps O'Neill will have the luck of the Irish with him on this one. But with such instant success, he may not need it.

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