Cullen’s Bar & Grill

3741 N. Southport Ave. (3700N, 1400W) Chicago, IL 60613 R.I.P. 2015

“Never lose the common touch.” – Theresa C. Cullen

Cullen’s is one of the best Irish pubs in the city. If you let your mind wonder a little, you might feel as if you were actually in the Temple Bar District of Dublin. Complete with traditional Irish food, pictures of Irish poets on the wall, and free Celtic music, Cullen’s exudes Irish-ness. Most of the wait staff is from the Emerald Isle, as evidenced by the oft-heard brogue and the increasingly hard to find ability of the bartenders to pour a pint of Guinness properly. That is, poured half way, allowed to settle, and then topped off. The “Two-Minute Pour.” One needs to be rather patient at this. Cullen’s sure beats the rug cleaning service, formerly located at this spot.

Cullens’ authentic feel is a welcome departure from many of the cheesy, shamrock-peppered, McDonald’s-like and Disney-fied Irish pubs elsewhere in the city and suburbs. Instead, Cullen’s has it’s own character, evidenced in part by the old stage posters in the back room, the classic Chicago tin ceiling, and the impressive mahogany bar. The ceiling was safely resurrected from an abandoned West Side factory and the bar itself was crafted by a local carpenter in the Brunswick style. Cullen’s also has a bar in the back room, but it does not serve any draft beer. The only problem with Cullen’s is that everyone knows what a stellar pub it is, and the place gets packed and rowdy. Cullen’s recently expanded into part of the Mercury Theater next door, but it still gets incredibly crowded (particularly on Sunday nights when it’s Irish Au-Pair-Fest). It’s still worth it.

The crowd differs significantly depending on time and day. Young and old alike all appreciate the excellent Shepherd’s Pie and meatloaf (of which I can personally vouch for), fish & chips, Irish breakfast, corned beef & cabbage, burgers, and the sidewalk patio seating in the Summertime. “Their macaroni and cheese is the best I have ever eaten–made, they say, with aged Irish cheddar,” comments D.M. from Yorkville, IL.  Food is served from 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. from a large kitchen at the back of the bar. Cullen’s pub grub is complemented by all the Guinness and Harp that you can drink. If Irish food isn’t your bag, check out Tango Sur a few doors north for the finest in Argentinean beef, vegetarians need not apply.

The crowd is an interesting mix. Those descending upon Wrigley Field come for a beer before or after games. The Southport after-dinner and after-theater crowd congregates after shows at the Music Box and the Mercury Theater (also owned by Michael Cullen). Most importantly, it’s a good place for those looking to pick up as young au pairs seeking freedom from screeching children and Irish lads with an eye for the American girls, all show up for live music on the weekends.

For many of us, Sunday night in Chicago brings with it an immense feeling of dread as we prepare to start the work week. One way to cope is to head to Cullen’s. Sunday night at Cullen’s attracts a crowd that rivals both Saturday and Friday night crowds. In fact, Cullen’s is one of only a few bars that really gets hopping on Sunday nights, along with the Long Room, the Double Door, and the Elbo Room. A word of warning: Sunday at Cullen’s usually features traditional Irish music but sometimes features a one-man, 80’s cover show played entirely on a synthesizer. If this isn’t your bag, give them a call beforehand to find out who’s playing.

Additionally, anyone with an instrument is invited to come and join the “trad session” on Tuesday nights, featuring amateur musicians playing traditional Irish favorites. One Tuesday night, Mardis Gras in fact, I observed at least 15 people that came to play, ranging in age from 10 to 65, and with all kinds of stringed and woodwind instruments. Unfortunately, I left before they started playing, but will be back again soon – back many times… If you like Cullen’s, you might also want to check out Chief O’Neill’s, Galvin’s Public House, Cork & Kerry, Irish Oak, and Johnny O’Hagan’s. For more information, you’ll have to call as Cullen’s does not have a website. Erin go bragh!