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Lincoln Square, North Center, Irving Park

Old Town School Of Folk Music Opening Restaurant At Former Grafton Pub

The nonprofit school aims to continue the Grafton's legacy as a hangout and performance space for its students and teachers.

The Grafton Pub and Grill a few days before closing its doors in Lincoln Square, on Aug. 24, 2022.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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LINCOLN SQUARE — One of Lincoln Square’s most beloved bars could be revived this year as a restaurant with a performance space and rooftop terrace run by another neighborhood stalwart.

The Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln Ave., plans to open a restaurant next door — the former spot of The Grafton Irish Pub and Grill, 4530 N. Lincoln Ave. They hope to open by late summer, school CEO Jim Newcomb said. 

Grafton owners Malcolm and Andrea Molloy closed the bar in August after nearly 20 years in the neighborhood.


Grafton Customers Bid Farewell With A Pint As Owners Prepare To Close Beloved Lincoln Square Irish Pub

The music school is in the process of taking over the Grafton space, Newcomb said. School leaders also want to secure a zoning change to add a rooftop terrace on the one-story building at 4534 N. Lincoln Ave., which the school already owns, Newcomb said.

The name of the new restaurant is still in the works.

“The former owner wants to retire the name. So, it won’t be named The Grafton; that name will be going away. We’re not sure what we’ll name it yet,” Newcomb said. 

Credit: Provided.
The Old Town School of Folk Music already owns the single story building at 4534 N. Lincoln Ave. that is just north of the former Grafton.

School leaders plan to renovate and upgrade the restaurant’s kitchen and possibly move the performance stage from the rear of the business to the front, Newcomb said.

Plans submitted to Ald. Matt Martin’s (47th) office also include possibly converting the first floor of 4534 N. Lincoln Ave. into a music retail space. 

“We’re kind of still fooling around with those boxes. We hope to have a final sense of how it’s going to be later this week. But the idea really is to bring a little more life to Lincoln Avenue there,” he said. 

Newcomb said the team is hopeful the zoning process will be complete in the next 90 days. The restaurant could open by late summer depending on how soon the school can close on the property and complete construction, Newcomb said. 

“The zoning is just one of the dominoes that has to get knocked over,” he said. 

Under the Molloys’ ownership, The Grafton served as an unofficial extension of the Old Town School because of how many teachers and students popped in before and after classes to grab a pint, bite to eat or perform at the pub’s stage, former regulars said.

“It’s been an unofficial annex for the school for a long time. It’s where when I was just a student I’d go to hang out with my classmates. And when I joined the board I’d still go there with board members and classmates, because I’m still taking classes,” Newcomb said. “It was just so much a part of the DNA of the school’s community, and losing it is something that I think we’ve all felt pretty keenly around here.”

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Diners mill about at The Grafton Pub and Grill a few days before closing its doors in Lincoln Square, on Aug. 24, 2022.

The Grafton’s owners invited fans to drop by during its final week this August and raise a pint as a farewell to the beloved watering hole. Newcomb was among the patrons who dropped by that week to tell the Molloys he was sorry the bar was closing, he said. 

After grabbing a pint, Newcomb went looking for Malcolm Malloy and found him in the pub chatting with one of Old Town School’s teachers, he said.

“I told him I was really sorry to hear it was closing and how important the place has been to the Old Town School, and he said, ‘Do you want to buy it?’ And it got the ball rolling,” Newcomb said.

Another reason the nonprofit school wants to open a restaurant with a stage is because the school wants to continue the Grafton’s tradition of being one of the first venues its students perform at after taking classes, Newcomb said. 

“There aren’t a lot of places where people who are starting out or maybe aren’t super established can play,” said Dave Zibell, Old Town’s director of marketing. “Keeping these small performance venues available is really important to the ecosystem of places for live music.” 

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