I’ve always thought that if Mexicans, Irish, Italians, and Germans ruled the world, we would live in a better place because happy, social, story-telling drinkers would then be in charge. Oh, and everyone would be dancing too. Being Mexican, it’s no wonder I love St. Patrick’s Day. The Irish…these are my kind of people. Throw Chicago into the mix and then life is really good. Does it get any better? These are the high holy days and although Chicagoans begin to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day about 364 days prior to March 17th, it’s only appropriate I begin our adventure with an Irish tavern.
O’Shaughnessy’s Public House is located on the corner of Wilson and Ravenswood on the north side of Chicago. While it’s a recent discovery for me, it’s quite the hidden gem and a historic treasure. The earliest information I uncovered from the location listed as 4555 and 4557 N. Ravenswood was from 1910 when a man by the name of James Higgins owned a drugstore here. The pharmacy biz proved fruitful and it remained as such until the 1950s with the last known name of Ravenswood Pharmacy. Shortly thereafter it became Wilson Currency Exchange. In the late 1970s/early 1980s it transformed into a Chicago institution known as Zephyrs – a lovely place for some delectable ice cream concoctions. In 2008, O’Shaughnessy’s came to be. But what makes this location especially interesting (for this blog anyway) are not the businesses, but the owners of the building. Between 1918 and 1921, the corner property changed hands between Wilder A. Pickard and Foreman Brothers Banking several times.
Mr. Wilder A. Pickard was the proprietor of Pickard China, a small company founded in 1893 in Edgerton, Wisconsin that specialized in hand decorating dessert and tea sets. In 1897, the company moved to Chicago and into a small studio on Ravenswood Avenue that housed artists to hand decorate the imported blank pieces (many of the artists were from the Art Institute of Chicago). Pickard China was the go-to company for Chicago’s elite and finest restaurants and hotels during the early 1900s. With business thriving, Wilder Pickard needed a larger space and eventually moved the company to Antioch, Illinois in 1938. Pickard China continues to exist today.
Abe Froman was not the sausage king of Chicago. But Adolph Luetgert was. And Oscar G. Foreman of Foreman Bros. Banking owned the mortgage loan note of Albert Luetgert’s prosperous sausage making business. Confused yet? Don’t be. Oscar Foreman was also, at one point, the owner of 4555-4557 N. Ravenswood. The Foremans are significant to Chicago history for a variety of reasons. First, Henry Foreman, Oscar’s father, was one of the first German immigrants to the city to make it big and fulfill the great American dream. While his background was in leather and tanneries, he veered a bit and started a clothing and shoe business that skyrocketed providing enough capital for his sons to start a bank. Foreman Bros. Banking also made it big, but also suffered during the depression. Oh, and here’s another twist. Oscar Foreman just so happened to be the uncle of Nathan Leopold, one of the two goofy college kids that, in 1924, kidnapped and murdered fourteen year old Bobby Franks just to see if they could commit the perfect crime. Crazy. And as I earlier wrote, Foreman Bros. funded Adolph “Sausage King of Chicago” Luetgert’s business loan. In 1897 Adolph Luetgart murdered his wife, Louise, due to financial and marital problems. Adolph chose to dispose of her remains in his sausage factory, yes, just as you imagine. Ew. It was actually a much publicized, media-crazed trial that proved famous not only in the Windy City, but all over the nation. Oscar Foreman testified at the sausage king’s trial regarding his debts. Adolph FOREMAN and Abe FROMAN. I can’t help to think that John Hughes knew his history. And I wonder if any of the current condo owners that live in Luetgert’s original sausage factory at Diversey/Hermitage ever see Louise wandering the halls.
Mike and Liz Finan purchased the building in 1999 when this corner still housed Zephyrs. When the Finans realized that the only thing they could do with the space was create another restaurant or bar they decided to take on the endeavor themselves. Named O’Shaughnessy’s after Mike Finan’s mother’s maiden name (his parents are Irish immigrants), they thought the name represented a true Irish family without being overly cliché. In addition to the name, the bar’s logo is the O’Shaugnessy coat of arms whom originally hail from Galway.
One of the coolest things about O’Shaughnessy’s is the fact that the entire place was truly built with Irish hands. No, this is not one of those places that was built in Ireland, shipped to Chicago, and then reconstructed. You see, Mike Finan is also a carpenter. No, not just a carpenter, an artisan. This is probably one of the most beautiful bars in the city. The details are absurd, the woodwork and craftsmanship unreal. Gorgeous. Mike was the lead carpenter on this nifty little project and he had help from his father (also a carpenter) and from a variety of his Irish-born friends that also happened to be tradesmen – electricians, plumbers, and painters. EVERYTHING was made by Irish hands (except for the main bar which was crafted by Canadian hands). The clock on the outside corner of the building, the stained glass, and all of the decor were imported straight from the Emerald Isle. And check out the soccer ball and hurley stick on the wall. Both are from Dingle and were given to the Finans from some of the workers that helped build the bar.
Now for some other insider information. Guinness here? Of course. But what you should know is that the Irish born regulars who head to O’Shaughnessy’s appreciate the top-notch quality of Guinness because of how it is carefully controlled through temperature, nitrogen mix, line cleanings and even the way the glasses are washed. There are two other Irish musts….the Irish breakfast and the Irish curry. Yeah, curry. The Irish like curry….didn’t know that, did you? Give it whirl. One last thing that is unbelievably important from my perspective – O’Shaughnessy’s is an Irish pub, no doubt, but Liz and Mike are also well-rounded folks. Mike is the beer guy and you’ll get good beer. But Liz is the wine gal and for that, I am thankful. I am a self-proclaimed beer geek, but man do I love wine. Liz focuses much of her efforts on providing a fantastic wine list. Do me a favor and give that a whirl too. You won’t be disappointed. Lastly, for those of you that use a restroom on a regular basis, this is the pub for you. O’Shaughnessy’s is known for the cleanliness of their bathrooms. Ok, an odd thing to point out, but whoa, a bar bathroom that looks good and smells good? Yup, it exists and Liz and Mike take much pride in this particular aspect of their bar. You see, this is where Liz explains what this bar means to them. This bar isn’t just their bar. They built it with their hard earned cash, their own two hands, with the history of their heritage, and the pride of their city. They host their family Thanksgiving here. This isn’t just a tavern, it’s their home away from home. So why wouldn’t you have a miraculously clean bathroom? Exactly.
One last thing. Liz and I had such a great time chatting about her bar, it’s history, and this blog, that you get to benefit from it all. Head to O’Shaughnessy’s from March 18-March 31, 2010, mention Tales, Taverns, & Towns (and how much you love it, of course) and you, my friend, get a free pint of Guinness. Like I said, my kind of people.