“The only Irish Pub on the Chicago River” (for now), Lizzie McNeill’s is home to one of the most scenic patios in the city. The décor is appropriately authentic. They pour a proper pint of Guinness. And yet, it’s impossible not to notice that something is missing. A transient crowd of people who are anything but transients leads to an appreciable lack of atmosphere that makes this a place better for one or two, rather than the long-haul.
You won’t actually find Lizzie McNeill’s on McClurg Court as advertised. Instead it’s tucked along Streeterville’s back streets on East River St. with the main branch of the river directly south and the Sheraton and Towers looming to the west. When you do find the door—around the corner from McClurg—you’ll find a mostly triangular one-room pub that neither dazzles nor disappoints.
The ceiling is exposed ductwork, with a row of Tiffany-style fixtures hanging from chains. An elbow-shaped bar features two miniature streetlamps jutting from the counter-top, which adds a nice touch. Slick two-sided beer signs hang from the support posts and an assortment of flags and Irish memorabilia fill the walls and shelves—some brought over by the owner himself. The bar itself sits a baker’s dozen. A low partition separates the bar from a mix of low and high-rise tables. An alcove in back is sometimes reserved for private parties and contains its own flat-panel to go along with the gas fireplace. The overall feel is only partially that of a true Irish pub though on St. Patrick’s Day Lizzie’s hoists a tent and brings in the bagpipers.
As for entertainment, you’re pretty much limited to drinking, people-watching and being outraged by the ATM surcharge. In addition to Guinness, you’ll find a short but adequate beer list, which includes microbrews like Magic Hat and imports like you’ll find everywhere else. The food is adequate, but the selection is so boring, to list examples would force me to nap. Prices are downtown-ish, but not downright outrageous. The free popcorn is worth the price.
A small patio is set up directly outside the bar in good weather, but Lizzie McNeill’s main attraction is the serene patio set up across the extremely un-busy street. A fenced rectangular area provides seating for around a hundred with only the pedestrian riverwalk separating patrons from the water. The entire area is surrounded by short trees which are lit at night, but don’t get in the way of the spectacular views, which can extend all the way from the lake to the Chump—I mean Trump—Tower. Water taxis and sightseeing boats chug past. The cars only a distant rumble. Every hour, Centennial Fountain—built at the site where the flow of the Chicago River was reversed in 1900—spews a jet of water that spans from bank to bank. With your favorite drink in your hand, the sun setting over the skyscrapers and the birds chirping, this might be the most ideal spot in town.
The crowd at Lizzie McNeill’s is best described as miscellaneous. Guests of the Sheraton make up a good portion of the clientele and reflect the geographical diversity of tourists to our fair city. Post-wedding parties often barge in on weekends. Local office workers come for happy hour and sometimes stay a bit too long. Once in a while a resident of one the area high-rises will descend for a nip. They come. They Go. They seldom mingle. And though it would make a great escape from the horrors of Navy Pier, 99.99% of visitors to the #1Illinois tourist attraction pass within two blocks, but are totally unaware.
On my last visit, a group of rowdy guys and gals were whooping it up nearby. I politely went over and asked two of the young ladies if they would pose for this humble site. They aggressively declined, telling me they were Northwestern Law students and couldn’t afford to have anything ruin their reputations. So, the moral of the story, straight from the Futures Lawyers of America: You can act like a drunken fool; just don’t leave any evidence behind.
If you’re looking for a more upscale environment, and a culinary upgrade, Lizzie’s sister pub D4 is located a few blocks north. Or take a walk and head over to Brehon Pub. Otherwise, Lizzie McNeill’s is a descent three-season bar to sit outside and enjoy a pint and the splendors of Chicago architecture. Hey, what’s that floating in the water?