“One more and I gotta stay”
During the final throes of what become the JT Collins death spiral, an idea was born from the people that made that place one of the best neighborhood bars in the city – the idea to open a pub all their own that would build on what their previous employer a success for a time before neglect by the ownership led to its ultimate demise. Just prior to the shuttering of JT’s, Gannon’s Pub opened in October 2004 by Sean and Sheila, the dynamic brother and sister duo that were the heart and soul behind JT Collins. It wasn’t long after that Gannon’s Pub became one of the most popular bars in North Center and a beacon for those further south in Roscoe Village, and elsewhere around Chicago, that crave a friendly place to meet up with friends, have a pint and some food.
Gannon’s Pub is located at the southwest corner of Cullom and Lincoln, across from the somewhat more chaotic Wild Goose across Lincoln and Feed the Beast across Cullom, the latter of which replaced the ghost-town once known as Bransfield’s. The former Gannon’s space used to be inhabited by the uninviting, old-school bar Clancy’s whose only popularity besides being on the same block as most of its regulars, was its Friday night fish-fry. Today, the joint has been remodeled and now features a tidy beige facade with green-painted lettering and trim, and a few well-placed neon beer signs in three large windows reminiscent of the Chicago School. Gannon’s takes its name from the owners’ grandfather, John Gannon, who distributed along Lincoln Avenue for Kingsbury Brewery after prohibition was lifted and until the mid-50s
Step through the plate glass door at Gannon’s and you’ll find a classic single-room bar with hardwood floors, taupe-colored walls and an ornate, brown-painted tin ceiling ala Cullen’s, Sheffield’s and Black Beetle – nicely resurrected from the drop-ceiling of its predecessor. On your left-hand side, you’ll find the centerpiece of the bar: a beautiful dark wood, Brunswick-style bar with mirrored backing similar to those found at River Shannon, Schuba’s and the California Clipper. The bar also features a dozen wooden, high-backed barstools and stretches two-thirds of the way down the south wall. Across from the bar are a series of wooden cocktail tables along north wall, with mini versions in-between that can be effectively used to add to your table should you have more than four in your party. Black and white photos adorn the walls and, for some strange reason, the fat guy holding the keg on his shoulder on the west wall sticks in my mind. On the north wall, you’ll also find a reproduction of the 21st liquor license issues following prohibition – one issued to a “Gannon’s Pub” – the original occupant of 4264 N. Lincoln and inspiration for the current occupant. Can you guess who the City of Chicago issued the first liquor license to? The legendary Chicago restaurant and bar, The Berghoff. Rounding out the decor, you’ll find three framed Cub jerseys, above the digital jukebox. For those in need of cash, there’s a walk-up ATM out front, and for those in need of nicotine, you can find a cigarette machine in the narrow hallway leading back to two of three unisex, one-seater backrooms opposite the kitchen.
For entertainment, you’ll find a few flat panels sprinkled throughout the bar, a Golden Tee 2005 machine, two electronic dartboards in the southwest corner of the front room and next to the third unisex bathroom, and Gannon’s features live music about once a month. Otherwise, the music selection stems from the digital jukebox mounted on the wall just inside the front door. Here, as with most other establishments with a digital juke, you’ll often find a collection of yahoos gathered around it snickering as the choose a variety of hairband ’80s music combined with other selections that provide them with amusement and you with a headache. My advice to bar owners around Chicago: chuck out the digital jukeboxes altogether – whatever cash they bring in will be quickly earned back, with interest, by patrons who stay longer and drink more, particularly if the same good taste in music is offered as was the case at JT Collins, back in the day.
Regardless of the tunes, regulars and first-timers alike come for the food and stay for the beer. Gannon’s serves an eclectic array of rather good pub grub. For starters, you’ll find pita bread served with a dip made from gorgonzola, smoked bacon and artichokes, as well as the oft-lauded onion rings served with buffalo wing sauce, nachos, bruschetta, quesadillas, and teriyaki chicken drumettes. More than just the usual selection of sandwiches can be found, starting with an intriguing array of burgers, topped with horseradish, swiss and applewood smoked bacon, Cajun spices with jalapenos, and my personal favorite, the burger topped with fried French onions and Boursin cheese. Gannon’s also serves a pretty mean grilled cheese, grilled bratwurst with Guinness sauteed onions and sauerkraut, ham & cheese, chicken and skirt steak sandwich, and though some are fans of the pork loin served cold, though I can’t claim the same. For those with a more sophisticated palate, the pub also features a handful of entrees, including the herb-marinated grilled skirt steak, angel hair pasta, and three-cheese macaroni & cheese (so good it rivals even that found at the Daily Bar & Grill). Many have written fondly about the breaded pork Milanese, served with tangy mustard mashed potatoes – it’s quite good but I’ve found the pork to be rather dry as it does not come with any sauce. Anyway, Gannon’s Pub also serves pizza, including the Boursin cheese pizza with Italian sausage, spinach and roasted red peppers, and finally, there’s the fish & chips on Fridays (under $6). Vegetarians will appreciate the grilled veggie and blue cheese salad and perhaps the Boca veggie burger. Gannon’s does indeed feature a very good variety of appetizers, sandwiches and entrees, but I can’t help but miss the return of the andouille sausage sandwich or the Chicago flatbread pizza that used to be featured at JT Collins. I am consoled, however, by the high quality of food, including the same excellent fries with every sandwich.
Though not a beer bar like Hop Leaf, Map Room or Quencher’s, Gannon’s also offers a good selection of bellywash, including Sierra Nevada, Bell’s, Goose Island Honkers Ale, Bass, Summit, and a well-pulled pint of Guinness on tap, followed by Sam Adams, Michelob, Amstel Light, Miller High Life, Bud, and Heineken in bottles (domestics $2 on Thursdays). The best part is that you’ll find at least one of the above on special for $2-$3, every day of the week even on Saturday ($3 Corona and Corona Light bottles, $4 nacho plates), which is usually a black hole for specials. For food or drink, table service is offered by the bartenders, which can sometimes lag as the place fills up, so don’t hesitate to belly up to the bar instead of getting miffed.
All of the above tends to attract mostly neighborhood locals in their 20s and 30s who have snatched up condos in this neck of the woods as prices have skyrocketed further south. The overall vibe is that of a classic Chicago barroom: busy yet laid-back, noisy yet relaxed. Gannon’s can be a bit annoying when large groups of softballers descend upon the bar like pigeons to an unsoiled windowsill, though I can appreciate that my team was sponsored by Gannon’s for at least one season. In fact, Gannon’s was the site where I iced down my knee, following what turned out to be the tearing of my ACL – most of it had actually been torn in a violent racquetball match at the Lakeview YMCA, but the last threads gave way completely when I made a throw from right field to throw out a chunky third baseman trying to advance to third from first on a single to right. Think again my portly friend! My knee buckled just following the release of my throw, but my friends later told me it was a perfect laser beam and one that helped solidify victory. However, my ACL was the one to pay the price, but you’ll be pleased to know that the capable hands of a Northwestern orthopedist, appropriately named Dr. Bowen, replaced it with that of a dear-departed soul who donated their ACL following their merger with the infinite. Thank you Jesse White!
Should the softball teams get on your tits, you’ll find additional seating in the sidewalk cafe, tastefully arranged with a wrought iron black railing and potted plants, as well as a brand new beer garden accessible through the side door just past the west end of the bar. There, they’ve got more green plastic tables and chairs than seating inside, all of which surrounded by a wooden fence. There aren’t any TVs in the beer garden and, while some of my friends have criticized it as an extension of the Jewel parking lot next door, I think it’s a great place for a bevy in warmer climes, in the same vein as that found at nearby Jury’s, Witt’s and the Montrose Saloon.
One night, following our weekly golf outing, a group of friends and I headed to Gannon’s Pub for sustenance after an embarrassing number of triple bogeys (the usual). Following our meal, one of my friends told me of a time when he lived in France and once fired an orange through the glass of a streetlight in such a way that, rather than shattering, an orange-shaped hole was instead left in the glass. He then went on to describe a t-shirt he devised. After surfing the pre-web internet, he was somehow inspired to create a design with a schwa (?), a photo of Idi Amin, and the tagline, “You know what Amin? You Know!” My friend then presented this t-shirt to an Irish friend of his, while taking a break from hurling fruit, all of which brought tears to the Paddy’s eyes and prompted him to proclaim the gift as the nicest thing anyone had ever done for him. Once again, the country of France elicits strange behavior.
Just like it’s predecessor further down on Lincoln, Gannon’s Pub has become an instant Chicago classic and is perhaps the closest thing in this town to the Bull & Finch Pub in Boston – a surprise to everyone except for those that know the owners. Sean and Sheila take care to make you feel at home, as does their staff, and that combined with the remodeling makes the place a major step up from that which came before it. Gannon’s is great whether you need a place to go with your team after softball or flag football during the week, as a great place to start your night on the weekend (food or no), on Sunday afternoon to catch a football game, or for that nightcap before you head back to your pad. In this way, Gannon’s is one of a new generation of corner bar and is a refreshing departure from the horde of quasi-Irish pubs opening up all over the city like Fearon’s, Four Shadows and Casey Moran’s. For more information, check out the Gannon’s Pub website. Know what Amin?
“Everyone here is friendly and united in some way by his or her fondness for the unpretentious.”– Shecky’s