Pagan O’Leary Public House, referred to as “The Pearl of Granville” here at the Chicago Bar Project, offers all the best an authentic Irish pub can offer for a small town that needed an alternative to old-school dives and biker bars. Granville, Illinois, has 1,400 residents and, on St. Patrick’s Day, New Year’s Eve and the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, it seems the entire population is at Pagan O’Leary. Granvillains, LaSalle-Peruvians and even the occasional wanderer from Chicago looking for a Finley Dunne’s South all come to Pagan O’Leary for their impressive beer selection including Guinness on tap, a meal at what has become the best restaurant in town, live music, and a bit of craic – downstate style.
Once a hardware store, Pagan O’Leary opened in 2005 just off of Granville’s Main Street, near the corner of McCoy Street and Harrison Court and across from the Second Chance Saloon. O’Leary’s can be easily spotted with its brightly painted red façade with yellow trim around a wooden door with paned glass, which is similar to what you see in Ireland in a place like Kinsale or Dingle. The second floor of the building housing Pagan’s features interesting architecture of columns and windows, particularly when compared with the building next door that is strangely sided from top to bottom with vertical slats of aluminum. Both buildings were actually hit by a tornado that came down Harrison Court in 2003 but have since been repaired. When you step through the door at Pagan’s, just remember to pull it shut behind you on colder days or you might make a less-than-favorable first impression on the locals.
The interior at Pagan O’Leary is a far cry from its roots in ironmongery. The hardwood floors, wood-paneled walls adorned with sepia-tinged photos from yesteryear, and drop ceiling with stained wooden panels (instead of white panels stained by water, commonly found elsewhere), all give Pagan’s a warm feel. The wooden bar runs halfway down the northern wall above which hang two tubas that serve as light fixtures. Guinness and a handful of others are served on tap, and a walk-up cooler at the end of the bar contains over 100 different types of bottled and canned beer – I spotted Tsing Tau, Murphy’s Irish Stout, Redbridge, Butthead, and Young’s Double Chocolate Stout. Wooden shelving behind the bar holds a bevy of booze for those of you cocktail enthusiasts out there.
Beyond the bar is the kitchen that produces a surprisingly good selection of food. You’ll find traditional bar faves along with steaks, shrimp and corned beef. I had a few slices of sausage and prosciutto pizza, wings that were pleasantly spicy (all you can eat for $5 on Wednesdays) and some of the largest cheese sticks I’ve ever seen – they looked a bit like sea cucumbers and had so much breading that there were pointy fried satellites emanating from the main body of each cheese stick. Though it’s mainly a pub, O’Leary’s has become the best restaurant in town with each low-slung table needing to be reserved in advance on weekends. Next to the kitchen is a short, wood-paneled hallway that leads to two spacious, one-seater bathrooms that offer enough space for two girls at a time, which is something I still do not understand – guys would never do this unless one had to go so bad that he’d push his way in to relieve himself in the sink, not that I speak from experience or anything…
For entertainment, you’ll find an electronic dartboard in southeast corner of the bar. It was here that my teammate and I once gave one of the owners a thorough drubbing in a game of cricket. Near the end of the game, he literally ran off, “with things to do,” rather than facing his humiliating and crushing defeat like a man. Stairs to the right of the dartboard lead down to a basement with wood paneling painted in the Illini colors of orange and blue. This area once served as an arcade and, though it even had Galaga, it didn’t attract much business. The game room now serves as the storeroom, so watch out if the guys are heading up the stairs with beer as you’ll likely be knocked over if you’re in the way. Pagan’s also features live music primarily from one-man-cover-bands from the area, and occasionally from bands with a little more ambition like Proto Incognito. When bands aren’t playing in the southwest corner of the bar there’s a jukebox just to the left of the front door, and you can have a go on my personal favorite bar game: shuffle puck. The waist-high shuffle pack table is located along the southern wall and, for those of you unfamiliar with the game, it is played like shuffleboard but you use your hands to slide metal pucks down the table – the closer you are to the end of the table, the more points you score but be aware that your opponent can bump you off the table and into the gutter that runs along the outside of the surface. Silica is used for the pucks to roll smoothely. If you’re in Chicago, Toons is a great place and also features shuffle puck. Pagan’s also features a few TVs, just enough for you to get your SportsCenter fix but not enough to ruin the atmosphere.
Those of you Irish history buffs will appreciate that Pagan O’Leary is named for Patrick “Pagan” O’Leary, a Fenian who gave up his Christian name “Patrick” in favor of not accepting any religion. The British, who were particularly fun-loving and tolerant at the time, incarcerated Pagan O’Leary in the paradoxically named Mountjoy Prison in 1865 after he criticized them in The Irish People newspaper. The Poms put him on a bread and water diet until he declared himself to be Anglican, Presbyterian or Catholic. Pagan finally relented after being subjected to near starvation and cruel treatment, and chose Catholic. According to Wikipedia, Fenians were Irish nationalists in the mid-19th Century who opposed British rule in Ireland and were named after the Irish “Na Fianna Éireann” who in Celtic mythology were an elite cadre of warriors who fought directly for the Ard Righ (High King) of Ireland, with Fionn Mac Cumhaill as the most famous. Ah, the good old days…
“I went here on a recommendation from an employee at Starved Rock State Park, based on their beer selection. They had great beers, an owner (Brian) who knew his beer as well. The food however was the real surprise. We had hot wings, which were as good as I have ever had and shrimp, which was all you can eat for like $12. My wife had a steak, which she thought was great. I also think the fries were fresh cut, either way they were great. There was live music, but we had to go.”
– February 19, 2007 by “Irishbeer1” on Yahoo! Local
Pagan O’Leary is one of only three bars in town. There’s also Junebug’s just outside of town and Second Chance Saloon across the street, which was a biker bar at one time but can now only be described as “quiet.” Though it’s less than two years old, Pagan’s easily attracts the biggest crowds and quickly became the most popular joint in town for both food and drink. People of all ages love Pagan’s, though the average age declines rapidly after 10pm. I once met an older guy there that wasn’t too impressed by Pagan’s St. Patrick’s Day crowd, so he had a few over at the Second Chance Saloon. He then came in, shared a shot with me out of his shamrock-shaped green plastic shot glass hanging around his neck and persisted in calling me “Jacque” even after being corrected by his wife repeatedly. And while the crowd is a mostly friendly lot, some good advice came in from my friend Jay, “I would just advise people not to come to Pagan’s dressed in a barrel, because other patrons may be compelled to rub their heads on you to the point of annoyance.” Overall, if you live in Granville, you can thank Bacchus for Pagan O’Leary and, if you’re traveling in or around the area, you’ll want to drop in for a pint and some pub grub. For more information on the menu and upcoming bands, you’ll need to give Pagan’s a call as they don’t yet have a website (the number is at the top of this page). Until then, sláinte!
“Pagan’s has great pub crawls!!! Call and check on the schedule, there has been just about everything you can think of. They own a small bus that fits around 20 (give or take 10) they meet at Pagan’s and then head out around 7:00pm. They usually target an area or small town. A couple weeks ago it was Utica. They try to visit each bar for about 45 minutes. This week they are doing retro prom night. Everyone has been hitting up the Salvation Army stores for dresses. They have taken two canoe trips. I went on one of them, it was a blast it is around 10 or 15 dollars and it included an event dated t-shirt and a couple of drinks. Sometimes late-night bar grub is waiting when you arrive back around 11:00pm. I have only heard each one is more fun then the previous, if you are going to be in town I would call and see if there is one schedule. If you were coming with at least 10 people they would pick you up for free at Starved Rock and return you safely when you’re ready, give it a try.”
– K.C. (September 28, 2007)
Granville tornado of 2003
Granville “Tornado” of 2007 – actual pagans heeding the pub’s call