Atlanta Orders In: Wheelhouse is redefining the Irish pub in Decatur

Wheelhouse's beer-battered fish and chips is served with slaw and tartar sauce. Bob Townsend for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Wheelhouse's beer-battered fish and chips is served with slaw and tartar sauce. Bob Townsend for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Bob Townsend

Credit: Bob Townsend

As the owners of Wheelhouse Craft Pub and Kitchen say on their website: “Two Irish brothers moved to America and got into the bar business. Shocker, right?”

Dubliners Ian and Rob Macken have worked in Irish pubs all over the world, including Fado in Buckhead and Meehan’s in downtown Atlanta. But, when they finally decided to create a place of their own, they settled in Decatur. And, partnering with Ian’s wife, Kathryn, and Rob’s wife, Stephanie, the brothers opened Wheelhouse last August, in the former Maddy’s Rib Joint space on Scott Boulevard.

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The Wheelhouse chopped wedge salad comes with iceberg, romaine, bacon, tomato, red onion, cucumber, blue cheese crumbles and blue cheese dressing. Bob Townsend for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
The Wheelhouse chopped wedge salad comes with iceberg, romaine, bacon, tomato, red onion, cucumber, blue cheese crumbles and blue cheese dressing. Bob Townsend for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Bob Townsend

Credit: Bob Townsend

“We loved that it had a history,” Ian Macken said during a recent chat. “It’s an old building from the ’40s, the Hickory Inn, and we have pictures of it. But, it was empty from 2011 onward. We updated the place, but we didn’t reconfigure it. I really feel there’s a spirit there you can feel, and we just morphed into it.”

With their many years of combined Irish pub experience, the partners had definite ideas about what they did and didn’t want Wheelhouse to be, starting with the atmosphere.

“The concept was the original Irish pub,” Macken said. “We didn’t want that diddle diddle, leprechaun-on-the-wall thing. The way we built out Wheelhouse, as we say, it’s your living room with a bar. It’s warm and it’s cozy, and it’s a public house, which is everybody’s house. We’re straddling the old Decatur and the new Decatur.”

Macken described the menu as “elevated pub food.” But, he said, opening in the middle of the pandemic, and doing takeout, meant scaling things back a bit.

“We have a good core menu, but I wanted to have a few curve balls, too,” he said. “There’s keto, and gluten-free, and vegetarian. Comfort food, for sure. But, if you’re eating a certain way, we can handle that. We’re a community pub, which means a little bit of everything.”

A favorite is fish and chips, with a generous portion of crispy beer-battered cod. The double-beef patty Wheelhouse Burger is layered with melty American cheese on a potato bun. And, the winking namesake Macken cheese balls, with truffle cream sauce, score as the crazy, crowd-pleasing bar snack you didn’t think you’d love — until you suddenly need to order another round.

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Macken cheese balls are made with elbow macaroni, cheese, panko and truffle cream sauce. Bob Townsend for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Macken cheese balls are made with elbow macaroni, cheese, panko and truffle cream sauce. Bob Townsend for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Bob Townsend

Credit: Bob Townsend

“That’s been a massive hit,” Macken said. He hinted that there soon may be another take on the treat. Think: shepherd’s pie balls.

Also in the works are a weekend brunch menu, and house-smoked salmon and other smoked items, as an homage to Maddy’s.

The bar program was designed to focus on local beer and a wide range of spirits. The light, refreshing house beer, (Wheel)House, is Genesee cream ale. And, you’ll find Guinness and Stella on draft, alongside local craft beers from New Realm, Orpheus and Wild Heaven.

The Wheelhouse Burger consists of two patties, American cheese, lettuce, tomato and onion on a potato bun, served with a side of potato chips. Bob Townsend for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
The Wheelhouse Burger consists of two patties, American cheese, lettuce, tomato and onion on a potato bun, served with a side of potato chips. Bob Townsend for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Bob Townsend

Credit: Bob Townsend

“We’re keeping it as broad as possible, and as fun as possible,” Macken said. “We have 16 taps, and Rob’s in charge. He’s the beer geek. But, we really want to have a focus on local beer, and we’ll be bringing in more distributors to do that.”

Generally, Macken said, the business has been doing quite well — especially considering when, and under what circumstances, the bar and restaurant debuted.

“In a way, it was very lucky to open during the pandemic, and not before it,” he said, “because it gave us a lot of time to geek out on how to do it right.”

WHEELHOUSE CRAFT PUB AND KITCHEN

Menu: elevated pub grub

Alcohol: beer, wine, cocktails; beer and wine to go

What I ordered: chopped wedge salad, with iceberg, romaine, bacon, tomato, red onion, cucumber, blue cheese crumbles and blue cheese dressing; Macken cheese balls, with elbow macaroni, cheese, panko and truffle cream sauce; Wheelhouse Burger, with two patties, American cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion on a potato bun, and a side of potato chips; beer-battered fish and chips, with slaw and tartar sauce. All the dishes were solid, and nicely packaged for takeout, but the Macken cheese balls surprised and delighted.

Service options: dine-in; takeout; delivery; curbside pickup

Outdoor dining: large, partially covered patio in front

Mask policy: mandatory for customers and employees

Address, phone: 1479 Scott Blvd., Decatur; 470-240-4945

Hours: noon-10 p.m. Sundays-Wednesdays; noon-midnight Thursdays-Saturdays; kitchen closes at 10 p.m.; bar open later

Website: wheelhousepubdecatur.com

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