RIVER WEST – Emmit’s Irish Pub is closing its doors this month, ending nearly three decades of one of the country’s best-known Irish pubs.
Retired Chicago firefighters Kevin Doherty and Ron Halvorsen purchased and opened Emmit’s, 495 N. Milwaukee Ave., in the summer of 1996. The pub closed permanently because Halvorsen had health issues and Doherty wanted to leave the restaurant industry, Doherty said.
Emmit’s last day will be June 25.
“If you’re not passionate anymore, it’s time to get out,” Doherty said. “It’s bittersweet.”
The owners are selling the building at Milwaukee and Grand Avenues — right next to Richard’s bar — to a group of restaurants, and the deal is expected to close soon, Doherty said. He courted buyers interested in keeping the Emmit name, but that never materialized, he said.
Prior to Emmit’s, the pub was known as O’Sullivan’s Public House, famous for its attempt to hold the first official dwarf throwing contest in the United States. Mayor Harold Washington ended it and no dwarves were cast, reported the Tribune in 1985.
Like its walls adorned with old photos, drawings, jerseys and clippings, Emmit’s has been filled with fond memories. Some employees met their partners working at the pub and started families, Doherty said.
The bar itself, which Halvorsen built by hand, was a perennial stage for the Shannon Rovers Irish Pipe Band. That it’s still standing after years of the band dancing and playing is a testament to Halvorsen’s carpentry skills, Doherty said.
Emmit’s has also served many celebrities who have walked through the gold-plated doors looking for a place to relax and have a beer. Former Blackhawks general manager Mike Smith was known to do his post-game interviews from a payphone inside the pub, Doherty recalled.
“A lot of celebrities had come in and out. And, you know, we just treated them like everyone else and I think they liked that,” Doherty said.
Besides being a popular neighborhood spot, Emmit’s has been featured in several movies and TV shows, including “Uncle Buck”, “Oceans Eleven”, “Oceans Twelve”, “Only the Lonely”, and “Turks”.
The bar has been replicated four times for different film crews, Doherty said. He will also be featured in the upcoming limited series “Justified: City Primeval,” which will air on FX.
“It’s the high ceilings…yeah, I think that’s what it is,” Doherty said with a smile.
Ever since the co-owners quietly announced Emmit’s impending closure on its website, Doherty’s phone has been ringing with customers wanting to keep a piece of the pub’s history, he said. So far, he doesn’t plan to auction off the bar’s wares, as other iconic Chicago restaurants and bars have done.
“We’ll take what we want [to keep] and give the rest to people who might want souvenirs,” he said.
In the pub’s final two weeks, Doherty said everyone who loves Emmit’s is welcome to come ‘have a pint and share a memory’ – from the chess club that plays on Tuesdays to the ladies-only cigar club that frequented the pub in the early 2010s, and everyone in between.
“Let’s have some big parties, people come, tell stories and let the next generation run them for the next 25 years,” Doherty said.
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