The beloved River West pub was renowned for its St Patrick’s Day parties and movie appearances.
One of the most treasured Irish pubs in Chicago, and to some the entire United States, closed its doors for good on the weekend marking the end of an era for many loyal locals.
Since opening Emmit’s Irish Pub in 1996 retired firemen Kevin Doherty and Ron Halvorsen oversaw a monumental chapter in the building’s history. The two bought the pub 26 years ago when it was known as O’Sullivans Tavern and redesigned the premises installing an iconic bar built by Halvorsen, and covering the walls with a motley mix of old photos, vintage items, jerseys, news clippings, and Irish decor.
The bar went on to grow in stature, establishing a reputation for its performances from the Shannon Rovers Irish Pipe Bandits, various loyal clubs, several high-profile movie appearances, and of course its notorious St Patrick’s Day parties. On June 25th the popular Irish bar poured its last pints.
“After 26 wonderful years of serving the River West Community, we are announcing that Emmit’s Irish Pub will be closing at the end of June, 2022,” read the announcement on the pub’s website. “We would like to thank our Valued Employees who made Emmit’s the most welcoming and iconic Irish Pub in Chicago. We would also like to thank all of our loyal customers and friends for the countless memories.”
Located next to the infamous Richard’s Bar, Emmit’s Irish Pub has a long and interesting history in River West. The building was used as a bank during the Prohibition era and was reportedly where many Chicago gangsters would keep their cash in safety deposit boxes to not leave a cash trail. The bank consequently also had tunnels dug underneath the building to act as a possible hideaway or escape route for 1920s fugitives. According to former owner Mike Johnson, one tunnel went from the bank all the way to Field Museum several miles southeast of the building.
After Prohibition ended it became a tavern in the 1930s and as a once flourishing Italian community declined it was purchased and became O’Sullivans Tavern in 1981. The new tavern acted as a place for cops to hang out and in 1985 two armed robbers were shot dead at its entrance when they tried to rob the tavern unaware of who frequented it.
“Two guys with shotguns, one in the front door and the other in the side door, told everyone in the bar not to move. Well, everybody in the bar was a cop and the two guys were promptly shot to death, they obviously didn’t do their homework you don’t go around robbing cop bars” said Mike Johnson.
That’s just one of the many eventful parts in O’Sullivan’s history, however. It also attempted to host the first official dwarf-tossing contest in the United States before the mayor’s office stepped in to put a stop to it.
After becoming Emmit’s Irish Pub in the summer of 1996 it was featured several times in movies and television shows including Oceans Eleven where George Clooney’s character recruits Matt Damon’s character, Oceans Twelve, Uncle Buck, Only the Lonely, and the 1993 series The Untouchables which dramatizes American Prohibition Agent Eliot Ness’s attempt to stop Al Capone.
Located at 495 N. Milwaukee Ave, Emmit’s Irish Pub finally closed its doors for good on June 25th drawing the curtains on years of providing countless memories to the public and a run of unforgettable St. Patrick’s Day parties.
Kevin Doherty and Ron Halvorsen, who closed the pub permanently for personal reasons, had sought to keep the ‘Emmit’s’ name alive but buyers reportedly have their own intentions for the property.
Doherty and Halvorsen invited everyone and anyone to “stop in, have a pint, and share a story” during the pub’s last week.