Since 1946, River Shannon has been an anchor for the Lincoln Park bar scene. The bar was opened back in a time that predates all the sports bars, swanky lounges, and meat markets that currently pepper the neighborhood (particularly those found along Lincoln Avenue). Today, River Shannon remains a Chicago classic in all its wood, brass and stained glass glory. Rather than being a musty, old man’s bar, River Shannon is as lively as other classic saloons like the Burwood Tap, Kincade’s
and Glascott’s Groggery. Whether it’s during the week or on the weekends, libation and conversation flows just as the real River Shannon does from Carrick-on-Shannon down to Limerick back in the Emerald Isle, especially when giant Jenga is brought into the mix (with dares written on each piece).
At the base of a stately, three-story, red brick building, River Shannon is rather inviting with its old-fashioned street lights, tasteful green awning from which evergreens hang, red-painted wooden façade, etched glass doors, and large picture windows that look out onto Armitage and are shaded by slatted wooden blinds.
Step inside and you’ll find a smallish, one-room saloon with a long wooden bar with brass railing on your left and a smattering of cocktail tables on your right. The floor is covered in quarter-inch ceramic tile with “RS” emblazoned in it, the walls are paneled in wood and covered with large, mirrored beer signs and black & white photographs of baseball players (including Babe Ruth pitching for the Red Sox) and Chicago, the ceiling is adorned in beige tin, and mardi gras beads hang from the lights – one has to wonder how they got there… The overall feel of the River Shannon is that of a polished Butch McGuire’s or the Lodge, which are also part of the Lodge Management Empire, that includes: Slow Down! Life’s Too Short, Pippin’s Tavern, Streeter’s Tavern, Bootleggers, Mothers Too, She-nannigans House of Beer, Downtown Dogs, and the Hangge Uppe. The bar’s handmade backdrop, one of the last made by Brunswick, is rather impressive with its thick oak columns, antique bulb lights, old wooden cooler, stained glass, wooden cabinets with beer steins, and plethora of booze. Grab a seat at the bar at one of the high-backed wooden stools, have a Guinness and nosh on the free peanuts if you’re hungry. If you get restless, there’s a Golden Tee machine in the back close to where the pool table used to be.
Formerly a fireman’s bar during the 1950s, the crowd at the River Shannon today tends to be Lincoln Parkers in their late 20s and 30s. Think of it as a Four Farthings that doesn’t serve food. On many nights, the craic can indeed by mighty as the bar is small, people gravitate towards one another and there’s only one thing to do: chat. While something of an older crowd may not be your bag, there’s a distinct lack of pretension on the part of patrons and staff as people here are just looking to talk, drink and who knows… While more of a classic Chicago-style bar, the River Shannon does get pretty jammed on St. Patrick’s Day thanks to the bagpipes and its Irish name.
Inexplicably, the River Shannon has eluded me in all the years I’ve lived in Chicago. Fortunately, I was able to rectify this when I participated in the annual 12 Bars of Christmas Pub Crawl. River Shannon was the first bar on the 2001 tour and was rather festive with Christmas decorations everywhere that included stockings, string lights, banners, and the Santa hats that we were wearing. The Lodge Management Group should be happy that we started at the River Shannon rather than ending up there. Near the end of the crawl, we were three sheets to the wind and I somehow managed to set fire to a bar, again. Take my advice: don’t try to light a candle in one of those little globes with a beer coaster that you’ve set ablaze from another candle.
When you feel like downing a good pint or two, hobnobbing with a few regulars, chatting about the most recent Chicago sports woes with the bartender, or enjoying the surroundings of one of the city’s older and most charismatic bars, head over to the River Shannon. One can imagine that the folks at Nightclub & Bar Magazine know what they’re talking about. For more information, check out the River Shannon website and póg mo thóin!