Once a well known folk music haven in its previous incarnation as Earl of Old Town, the present day establishment known as Corcoran’s Grill & Pub has quickly established itself as the best Irish pub in Old Town since opening in the Year 2000. Comedians from Second City, regulars from the neighborhood and those otherwise enraptured with the Old Town Triangle’s organic, pre-grid network of cobble-stoned streets and intriguing shopes, can be found at Corcoran’s today, both inside and out, throwing back Guinness to wash down their shepherds’ pies. Corcoran’s is a fine pub and notable for all its offerings – impressive considering that an Irish pub opens up on the hour every day now in Chicago, few of which have any form of differentiation.
Corcoran’s Grill & Pub can be found in the heart of the Old Town Triangle, on Wells just north of North Avenue, across from the infamous hand-made guacamole of the Adobo Grill, and next to the cleverly-named bar, “Wells on Wells.” Corcoran’s cheery wooden facade is brightly painted in blue and gold, in a similar manner as you’ll find in old Eire. My friends at the Chicago History Museum tell me that the building dates back to 1873 and the three-story Victorian brick building housing it embodies the classic Old Town architecture that surrounds it. In Summer, you’ll find a bustling but comfortable sidewalk café shaded by trees and umbrellas, and enclosed within a wrought iron fence.
Step through the narrow wooden double door entryway and you’ll find a long room with a worn wooden floor and an orange-painted, pressed tin ceiling of subtle design. A long wooden bar, nicely topped with marble, runs about three-quarters of the way down the north wall and features seating via high-backed wooden barstools under hanging, triangular Tiffany-style lamps. Above the mirrored back bar are an array of kickshaws, including a barrel, winch, old radio, bodhran, and a clock. A row of snug-like booths with tall wooden partitions offer seating across from the bar, as do the two wooden booths in front of the tall windows overlooking Wells, on either side of the entrance. Up a step, are upholstered banquettes and cocktail tables in the rear. The whole room is adorned with posters and old photographs of all things Irish, set amongst two flatpanel televisions near the bar. At the west end of the bar is an internet jukebox.
Walk through the portal in the back of the room, next to the ATM, and you’ll find an additional beer garden slightly larger than the first and a twin to the one found next door at Wells on Wells, beyond the kitchen and restrooms. Keep going and you’ll find the “coach house” referred to as, “Thade’s Room.” Where musicians performing at Earl of Old Town used to break from performances to play shufflepuck bowling, now houses an additional wooden bar, low-slung tables and chairs, a non-functioning fireplace, restrooms, and garage doors of glass that open up during long days and pleasant nights. This area serves primarily as a private party room for 80-100 of your closest inebriates, but is also opened during busier times.
Back at the main bar, stately columns hold up a half dozen taps and more are found in bottles. The drinks menu boasts an array of white and red wines by the glass, specialty martinis and a few concoctions from the auld sod, including Irish Coffee, snakebites and black & tans. The food menu consists of your standard selection of appetizers, sandwiches, salads, and a few $10-ish entrees highlighted by the meatloaf (wrapped in bacon), bangers and mash, and shepherd’s pie. Fish & chips are on special Thursday nights, brunch is served until a Chicago Bar Project-approved 3:00pm on weekends, and Corcoran’s serves lunch during the week.
All of the above, plus its location across the street, draws comedy seekers and comedians, both professionals from the main stage and amateur comedians from the second stage that manically try to outdo one another after performing on the second stage on Sunday nights – it’s funny but a bit tense. Even George Wendt and Horatio Sanz were in recently. This group mixes with and Old Town crowd of regulars, neighborhood families by day and visitors to our fair city. This was the same dynamic when Corcoran’s was a short-lived bar called, “Last Act.” Prior to that, Corcoran’s was Carly’s, B.L.U.E.S. at the Earl, and was most popular as the Earl of Old Town, which specialized in folk music acts back when the Old Town School of Folk Music was one guy giving lessons in private homes.
Corcoran’s is a fine nuevo-Irish pub, with the outdoor patios being standouts in warmer times. The menu and beer selection are a bit average but it all goes down well with the atmosphere, and you can’t beat Corcoran’s after a show at Second City, which offers the best sketch and improv comedy you’re going to find on the planet (in my humble opinion). If you like Corcoran’s, you’ll probably also like the other establishments by the same owners: Mystic Celt (a very popular after-work joint on Southport), Vaughn’s Pub (one on Sheffield and one on North Milwaukee), and Emerald Loop (downtown). Chicago Bar Project recommendation: get yourself tickets for the Second City main stage, have dinner (and the guacamole) at the Adobo Grill before the show, and cap things off with a pint (or three) at Corcoran’s. If you’re up for late-night, just head ’round the corner to the Old Town Ale House on North Avenue. In recognition of its popularity in Old Town, Corcoran’s is also featured on every Derailed Pub Crawl (held the first Tuesday of every month) and was featured on the 2007 “Ye Olde Libations: The Classic Bars of Old Town” pub crawl by the Chicago History Museum, the latter of which was led by yours truly. For more information, check out the Corcoran’s Grill & Pub website. Until next time, break a leg!