With its prime location and welcoming atmosphere, Kerryman has become a popular meet up spot with one of the liveliest singles scenes this side of Butch McGuire’s. More Irish cocktail lounge than Irish pub, the Kerryman’s hip urban setting gives little hint to the location’s colorful history, which includes a super-sized strip club, punk rockers and singing mobsters.
Kerryman is located on the corner of Clark and Erie in heart of the River North neighborhood. The refined exterior is painted dark brown with gold-lettered signage lit by hooded floodlights at night. A comfortable sidewalk café runs the length of the property along Erie, which is quieter than you might expect, unless there’s a protest taking place in front of the nearby Chinese consulate.
You’ll find Kerryman’s entrance monitored by a doorman most evenings, so dispense with the formalities and enter into a lofted multi-level space. The smallish rectangular main bar area houses a dark granite-topped bar with mirrored window panes behind serving as an elegant backdrop. A row of high-backed booths runs along the south windows with some SRO space in between. Down a steep staircase located beyond the main bar, you’ll find an ATM and the facilities for lads and lasses. The main bar gets incredibly packed on weekends, so those needing and escape and some much needed oxygen should take a look above, where a mezzanine catwalk sits beneath the exposed ducts running along the painted wood ceiling.
A pair of nifty staircases flanks the bar, with each step having a lit Kerryman logo cut intricately into the risers. Spanning both sides of the room, the narrow mezzanine level offers additional seating and a VIP view of the main barroom below. Beyond this section lies an additional room with a full bar of its own to handle the overflow traffic. The second bar often hosts DJs on Fridays and Saturdays, adding to the club-like vibe that overtakes the Kerryman at times.
Despite any thoughts to the contrary, the staff at Kerryman, many of whom were born in old Eire, know how to pour a pint of Guinness. If you can’t wait for a proper two-minute pour, eleven additional taps, nearly all of high quality, await you. There are also 14 beers by the bottle a menu of “winter warmers” for those craving a hot toddy and, of course a full bar, though the whiskey selection seems a little thin. If the $6 pints aren’t to your liking, Kerryman does offer a number of enticing specials on weekdays, such as $2 Stella and Blue Moon pints on Wednesdays.
Kerryman offers a fairly standard variety of high-end Irish-American pub fare ranging from salads and fish & chips to curry chicken and a “prawn martini.” Having eaten here several times, my experience has been hit and miss, with some dishes being excellent and some a bit more ordinary. Either way, the $1 half pound burgers (with drink purchase) on Mondays are an excellent value any way you slice it.
Despite its modern interior looks, the site that houses Kerryman is rich with history. In the 1920s singing waiter turned mobster Dion O’Banion frequented the spot along with Capone rival Bugs Moran, when the bar was known as McGovern’s. The Liberty Inn followed in the ’50s and was for a time the largest strip in the city. In the late ’70s, the bar was re-opened as O’Banion’s, the original Chicago Punk Bar, which played host to a wealth of punk rock pioneers. For the full story on this historic site, please check out Chicago Bar Project founder Sean Parnell’s excellent article.
The scene at Kerryman varies by the day and the hour. During weekday happy hour, you’ll find everyone from young professionals to 70-something retirees reliving former Cubs pitcher Milt Pappas’ 1972 no-hitter. On weekends, the crowd is overwhelmingly young, metrosexual and affluent. Many make the Kerryman their destination and you’ll recognize them by their more casual attire. Others you’ll find dressed to the nines as they pre-game here before heading over to the flavor-of-the-month River North nightclubs to wait in line to pay their $20 cover. Overall, Kerryman is less pretentious than the club scene and also less bush league than the Division street scene, making Kerryman a prime spot for seeking a snog (or a shag, for those more ambitious).
Kerryman’s name originates from Irish monk, St. Brendan the Navigator, who according to legend voyaged to America in the 6th century, which if true would put Columbus to shame. Whether fact or fiction, Kerryman was opened by brothers Mick and Trevor O’Donohue natives of Castle Island, Kerry County Ireland, whose inspiration is to bring “modern Irish nightlife to the Chicago Bar scene.” I’ve not yet had the pleasure of visiting the Emerald Isle, but if Kerryman is any indication of modern Irish nightlife, sign me up.
Kerryman is an attractive spot for those looking for a lovely pint of Guinness or for a lovely member of the opposite sex. If you like Kerryman, you might like Vaughn’s, Celtic Crossings or Sully’s Public House. For more information, check out the Kerryman website. Sláinte.