Gilhooley’s Grande Saloon

Ah, college memories. Sneaking forty-ounce malt liquor into the girl’s dorm, trying not to clank the bottles. Trading school essays for a handmade and poorly laminated West Virginia license. Keg parties in dank frat house basements. Of the four colleges I attended, none included a favorable view on drinking, liquor on campus, or provided us with a bar, let alone a “Grande Saloon.” High fives to Richard Driehaus and St. Xavier University on Chicago’s far Southwest Side for taking a stand and providing your students with a respectable option for their social scene. I present to you: Gilhooley’s Grande Saloon.

Gilhooley’s Grande Saloon is located on 103rd, just east of Pulaski and in a shopping strip facing St. Xavier University. There’s a convenient parking lot, outdoor seating in the summer, and plenty of room inside for you alongside teachers, students, alumni, high priests, and South Siders. Gilhooley’s has an interesting past and an even brighter future thanks to its donation about four years ago to St. Xavier University by one Richard H. Driehaus. If you are from Chicago, an investment professional, a lover of Tiffany stained glass, an architect, or a philanthropist – you’ve probably heard of this man and appreciate his taste.

How he came to acquire Gilhooley’s I can’t say. At it’s earliest incarnation (before it became Gilhooley’s in 1982), the bar was a dim, carpeted, rough and tumble dive called “Harrigan’s” (not to be confused with the cozy North Side pub of the same name). I only know this because my father-in-law used to drink there as a teenager. As a sidenote, you’ll find most of my South Side reviews will include explicit underage drinking on behalf of my now adult husband, friends, and family. I’m sure they card these days…

One of the most striking and memorable features of Gilhooley’s is its interior. It’s wonderful and you can see the Driehaus touch. The carved woodwork throughout the upper and lower bars, band enclosure and two party rooms (Heritage Room and The Den, complete with pool table and private bar) is accented with stained glass, a telephone booth, and statuary, including one of a mock Statue of Liberty made in 1920 The look and detail of the interior set this place apart from your average college type bar. There are enough TVs for any seat in the room to get a good view of a Sox, Bears, Bulls, or Blackhawks game, as well as live music on most weekends. It tends to get crowded as the night wears on, especially late night when they still serve from their full menu.

My college meal plans got me a Subway sandwich if I played my cards right. SXU students can use their meal plans at Gilhooley’s. While advertised as an Irish pub & grill, you will still find typical bar food on the menu as well as Irish favorites. I’m not going to lie to make friends, the food has been hit or miss. My mother-in-law hosted a wedding shower for me in the Heritage Room last November after Gilhooley’s had just acquired a new head chef. The food was wonderful. We had lemon chicken, grilled vegetables, an assortment of appetizers, and so on. On our most recent trip back, we’ve learned that chef is no longer with Gilhooley’s and the food and service were not exactly the way I remembered. The menu has some highlights though, including potato soup, Irish onion soup, chicken bacon and apple salad, a mess of burger offerings, and entrees including salmon and flank steak. There are food and drink specials for every night of the week, so check their website or the chalkboard at the entrance of the bar. Unfortunately, we also encountered slow service, entrees served at varying degrees of readiness, and a sour stomach from a corned beef sandwich with homemade chips. This doesn’t mean every server or meal is tainted, just that there are some inconsistencies among the bunch.

One standard that you can count on is a solid, attentive bar experience. The bartenders are always friendly, available, and want you to drink. Good qualities. The standards are available with 12 beers on tap, including Blue Moon, the Miller Family, the Budweiser clan, Harp, Guinness, Sam Adams, and a Leinenkugel draft. There is a wide choice of bottles, including the always appreciated Magner’s Cider and the traditionally Irish Corona. Noticeably absent was Smithwick’s. They have an Island Oasis machine which can whip up those traditional Aran Island frozen cocktails, several bottles of basic red and white wine selections, as well as the inevitable, stomach-turning Jagermeister shot machine. Gilhooley’s also stocks a selection of Jones Soda – not sure why but maybe for the students whose parents are visiting… Prices are mid-range, probably not as cheap as you’d find at Sean’s Rhino Bar on Western but comparable to any Irish pub on the Northside.

I’ve been to Gilhooley’s for a 30th birthday party, my own super sweet wedding shower (one of two, the other was at Chief O’Neill’s – cider and presents, oh my!), and for dinner and drinks during the week. In my estimation, they seem to have large groups down better than small ones. This is a great location for friends to gather for drinks and bar games (Left, Right, Center), or for a private party. I’d advise anyone, either North or South side, to come have a drink and check out the interior decor – it’s a surprise find and light years ahead of your average Irish-theme chain bar restaurant with “antique” trash affixed to the walls and deep fried fat sandwiches. That’s right Bennigan’s and Houlihan’s, I’m talking about you. For more information, check out the Gilhooley’s Grande Saloon website.