When Shawn O’Donnell’s American Grill & Irish Pub opened on Dec. 2 on Monroe Street and Broadway Avenue, the restaurant had big plates and pints to fill in the building just north of downtown Spokane and Kendall Yards.
While the building at 719 N. Monroe St. has been around for 95 years, it was home to Milford’s Fish House for four decades before the Spokane favorite and institution’s closing in February 2018. The site also has been a grocery store and market.
(My graduation dinner from Gonzaga in 1996 was at Milford’s, and my younger brother’s graduation from Washington State two years later also was at Milford’s. My younger sister broke tradition four years later, instead celebrating her GU graduation with brunch at another now-closed Spokane classic, Patsy Clark Mansion.)
But, likely because of a general interest in any new restaurant opening as much as nostalgia for Milford’s, family-owned and Everett-based Shawn O’Donnell’s, which announced its plans for the location in June, has opened with a bang in Spokane.
“It has been overwhelming in a good way how busy it has been,” said Chase Van Cotthem, a managing partner of Shawn O’Donnell’s who also serves as general manager of the Spokane location. “Even in our wildest dreams, we didn’t think that it would be this busy.”
Unlike many restaurants during soft openings, co-owner Van Cotthem said Shawn O’Donnell’s has been fully staffed since opening and has even had to hire more people.
Walking into the former Milford’s, it’s striking how familiar the restaurant still is for residents and longtime customers despite it being a new American and Irish pub. That’s because much of the structure and décor of Milford’s remain intact.
“Our biggest change has been in the kitchen, which is brand new with new equipment, ventilation, flooring, electrical and plumbing,” Van Cotthem said. “It’s the engine of the restaurant.” He said that at the entrance and the front, photographs were taken down, and part of the remodeling including painting.
“One of our goals was to preserve how Spokane remembers Milford’s,” Van Cotthem said. “It’s like a museum. We want to preserve what Milford’s meant to Spokane but also become a new Irish American restaurant.”
Van Cotthem said many historical pieces, including newsprint of The Spokesman-Review, the Chronicle and the Idaho Statesman, were left sitting on a table in the basement. The new owners took the newspapers to William Grant Gallery to have them framed, and they’re now hanging in a hallway at Shawn O’Donnell’s.
Van Cotthem said Shawn O’Donnell’s signature menu items include corned beef and cabbage (“We spend six hours each day cooking corned beef”) and a traditional shepherd’s pie with lamb, while bestselling items include fish and chips and the Reuben sandwich. Whiskey and scotch libations are popular, as well.
Two visits to Shawn O’Donnell’s by yours truly have been very favorable. A Happy Hour stop with two friends included the shepherd’s pie and fish and chips, both of which were great, as well as traditional boxty cakes (a mix of corned beef and potatoes), Irish nachos (potato chips) with corned beef, a spicy Donegal Bay clam chowder, snacking bacon (yes, you read that correctly) and Irish bread pudding.
During Happy Hour from 3-6 p.m. daily, pints, wine and cocktails are $5.50, and cocktails – fresh-squeezed margaritas and Irish Manhattan (the cocktail choice of my Happy Hour) – are $7, while the aforementioned bites are $3-$9 each. None of the food or cocktails was disappointing.
Dinner at Shawn O’Donnell’s on Friday night included friendly and efficient service, repeat orders of Irish nachos, boxty cakes, fish and chips and shepherd’s pie, plus a spicy salmon salad, Reuben and Kraft macaroni and cheese with apples for the 8-year-old. There were no complaints from any member of the party of six – a rarity, like, ever.
Shawn O’Donnell’s is a family-friendly restaurant worth returning to with its classic American Irish fare, friendly service and atmosphere and Spokane history. Shawn O’Donnell’s also has locations in Everett and Pioneer Square, which Van Cotthem previously managed, and Fremont in Seattle.
“This building in Spokane is a legacy, and it’s up to us to preserve it,” Van Cotthem said.
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