Fun, food is on tap at Shamrock Inn

September 25, 2005|By DANIEL J. SERNOVITZ

Keefer Martin wore a broad grin on his face as he settled into a chair at the Shamrock Inn on a recent Friday night, the last few bars of the bluegrass tune "Rocky Top" still hanging in the air.

The sounds of chatter and laughter seemed amplified in the moments after Martin and three other patrons offered their robust karaoke rendition of the tribute to Tennessee's landscape and before the next singer was to take the stage.

"You can get out there and be yourself, you can get up there and have a good time," Martin said before taking a sip of his drink.


It was not so long ago that those sounds of laughter, chatter and karaoke songs were scarce if not unheard of at the Shamrock. These days are different, though, as patrons such as Martin are quick to point out, and the change appears largely due to the influences of Maureen Taylor.

"I've been coming off and on for the last couple of months," Martin said. "She has turned this place around a bit. It seems like this is controlled pretty good."

The building that houses the Shamrock, which is less than a mile from two other bars on National Pike between Hagerstown and Clear Spring, was moved to 15411 National Pike from Hancock in 1955 and has been operated as a bar for decades. Taylor, a Clear Spring resident and retired Roxbury Correctional Institution accountant, bought the Shamrock for $240,000 in August 2004.

"My grandfather used to tell me: When you were happy, you were drinking, and when you were sad you were drinking," Taylor said. "I don't want to classify this as a 'bar' bar, I want to classify this for families."

Patron Ed Neff, who works at the nearby Hagerstown Speedway, said the change that has come over the Shamrock since Taylor bought it from Ray Miller is nothing less than remarkable.

"She's doing a heck of a job, she's bringing it back," he said. "It did a complete flip-flop," Neff said. "You'd come in here after the races at 10:30 (p.m.), 11 (p.m.) and the place would be ready to close."

Karaoke and spaghetti

Taylor said many of her patrons have told her about the contrast between how she now runs the bar and how others have run it in the past. She said the bar had little variety in the food and drinks it offered.

In addition to karaoke on Friday evenings, live music on Saturday nights and Sunday hours, she broadened the beer and food selection, offers nightly specials including spaghetti and lasagna on Wednesday nights, introduced a tip jar and embraces the bar's proximity to the speedway by sponsoring events there and hosting NASCAR viewings during the racing season.

"We've very high on NASCAR," she said, noting she hopes to cultivate a strong football crowd now that the NFL's regular season is under way. "I would say, for the most part, we are an Earnhardt place, but I do have an employee who likes Gordon."

Bartender Kim Sipos said the patrons respect Taylor's wishes, and over time she has seen a more friendly atmosphere among the Shamrock's clientele.

"She doesn't put up with anything," Sipos said. "It's definitely gotten a lot more open, we have different people coming in."

Taylor said she tries to interact with her customers as much as possible, and has made changes at the Shamrock in response to much of the feedback she has received from them.

Her efforts appear to have paid off.

She said she has tripled alcohol sales since she took over, and on many nights the din of chatter and laughter frequently rings out among the increasingly steady flow of regulars.

The Shamrock recently earned several honorable mentions in The Herald-Mail's reader's choice competition including for best buffet, bar, barbecue and appetizer.

"I've had people come in here thanking me for bringing it alive again," Taylor said. "I try to get my work done during the day because I like to mingle with the customers, because that's where I get my info. I listen to the people, that's the key thing, I listen to my customers."

While she wants her customers to enjoy themselves at the Shamrock, Taylor said she and her staff are careful not to let things get out of hand.

Taylor said her bartenders know to watch for signs of intoxication and will stop serving patrons who have had too many drinks.

In addition to keeping her customers safe, she said, the measure helps to create a more friendly atmosphere among her patrons.

"I don't let them get that way, I cut that off, I tell them to come back tomorrow," she said. "I'm very cautious of how we serve them, and my staff knows how I feel."

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