RIVER WEST — Emmit’s Irish Pub is closing its doors this month, ending a nearly three-decade run of one of the best-known Irish pubs in the country.
Retired Chicago firefighters Kevin Doherty and Ron Halvorsen bought and opened Emmit’s, 495 N. Milwaukee Ave., in summer 1996. The pub is closing permanently because Halvorsen has struggled with health issues and Doherty wants to leave the restaurant industry, Doherty said.
Emmit’s last day will be June 25.
“If you’re not passionate about it 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 restaurant group, and the deal is slated to close soon, Doherty said. He courted buyers interested in keeping the Emmit’s name, but that never materialized, he said.
Before it was Emmit’s, the pub was known as O’Sullivan’s Public House, famous for its attempt to host the first official dwarf-tossing contest in the United States. Mayor Harold Washington put a stop to it and no dwarves were thrown, the Tribune reported in 1985.
Like its walls decked out with old photos, drawings, jerseys and news clippings, Emmit’s has been filled with good 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 on it is a testament to Halvorsen’s carpentry skills, Doherty said.
Emmit’s also served many celebrities who came through the gold-plated doors looking for a place to relax and a have a beer. Former Blackhawks general manager Mike Smith was known to do his post-game interviews from a pay phone inside the pub, Doherty remembered.
“A lot of celebrities were in and out. And, you know, we just treated them like everybody else and I think they liked that,” Doherty said.
Beyond 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. It will also be featured in the upcoming limited series “Justified: City Primeval,” set to air on FX.
“It’s the high ceilings … yeah, I think what’s what it is,” Doherty said with a smile.
Since the co-owners quietly announced Emmit’s impending closure on its website, Doherty’s phone has been ringing off the hook from customers wanting to keep a piece of the pub’s history, he said. So far, he’s not planning on auctioning off any of the bar’s items, as other iconic Chicago restaurants and bars have done.
“We’ll take want we want [to keep] and give the rest of it to people that might want to have some memorabilia,” he said.
In the pub’s last couple of weeks, Doherty said everyone who loves Emmit’s is invited to come “have a pint and share a memory” — from the chess club that plays on Tuesdays, to the women-only cigar club that frequented the pub in the early 2010s, and everyone in between.
“Let’s have a couple of great parties, people come in, tell some stories and leave it for the next generation to run it for the next 25 years,” Doherty said.
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