Galvin's Public House is one of the best Irish pubs in Chicago that you've never heard of, unless you live somewhere in or around Jefferson Park. While it would never be described as a "happenin'" part of the city, the sprawling northwest Chicago neighborhood of Jefferson Park has a decent bar scene that includes: Brigadoon, Grealy's Pub, Peabody's Pub, Brick & Bean Lounge, Jefferson Inn, and the Gale Street Inn (really more of a restaurant). Having opened in 2001, Galvin's now adds an infusion of Irish craic, food and flavor to a neighborhood predominantly consisting of both affluent and recently arrived Poles. Now, Jefferson Park residents and visitors can enjoy Guinness, shepherd's pie and sausage rolls as an alternative to the beloved Zywiec, kielbasa and pierogi served at such Polish legends as the Golden Duck.
To find Galvin's, just exit on Lawrence from either the Kennedy (90) or the Edens (94) expressways and look for the single-story building with a black and gold-painted, wooden facade, with its name written in gold-lettered Gaelic script – "Galvin's Public House" appears on one side and "O'Gealbhain" meaning "O'Galvin" is on the other. Plenty of parking can be found on the street but, as always, take a cab if you can as the well-poured Guinness can often be too tempting to have only one. Step into the pub through its corner entrance and you'll encounter a foyer that features an ATM, phone booth, and black & white pictures of old Eire. Enter the pub's main room through a wooden door, featuring stained glass like that which can be found on sale at Biddy Mulligan's next door, and you'll find a spacious, New England Red Pine wide-planked wooden expanse. A long, oddly shaped but mostly rectangular bar, tastefully adorned with mirrors, runs the length of the east wall under a copper-colored ceiling. Here, neighborhood regulars congregate, having a bit of a chat and watching whatever's on one of two televisions. Across from the bar and towards the front of the room is a wooden landing, featuring a few tables, a cupboard in the northwest corner with old-fashioned porcelain dishes with flower patterns, a half dozen windows covered by country Irish curtains, and a framed parchment, hanging over the fireplace and surrounded by kickshaws, that reads:
"In this city of Chicago,
As the evening shadow falls,
There are people,
Dreaming of the hills of Donegal"
A solitary cork dartboard can be found in the back by the cigarette and Golden Tee machines, two cocktail tables, and a small corner stage area that presumably offers Irish music from time to time (otherwise a big screen TV can be found set upon an ancient table). Galvin's draws mostly a somewhat older crowd as Jefferson Park's younger residents tend to head further south towards Chicago's North Side for their entertainment. This makes Galvin's a great place for a meal and a quiet pint rather than a big piss-up. Regarding the fare, Galvin's serves an impressive selection of Irish specialties, including bacon & cabbage (a.k.a. corned beef & cabbage), fish o' the day, all day Irish breakfast, and chips & curry (a basket of thinly slide potatoes with a gravy-like curry sauce – very nice). Galvin's also serves up quasi-Irish dishes including pork chops, 20-ounce porterhouse steaks, lamb chops, and roast beef. Prior to enjoying your food, take note: the portions at Galvin's are gargantuan, making the consumption of appetizers as well as your main course nothing other than downright dangerous. On the other hand, the friendly waitresses will take care of you, including the older lady that served us one night that kept knocking things over and dropping stuff, bless her heart. "Had to close out the register but you can drink all night!" she said later.
Overall, Galvin's Public House features very good Irish food, very friendly service and a mean pint of Guinness. The surroundings still have a somewhat prefabricated, not-yet-broken-in feel (the type that the Irish themselves refer to as "Oirish"), but in time I suspect Galvin's will exude neighborhood character mingled in with its Irishness. The crowd tends to be a bit older, giving the pub a quiet atmosphere, but don't let that stop you from visiting. Instead, head over to Galvin's for a meal before heading out to more adventurous activities anytime during the week and you'll be glad you did. On your way out into the night, check out the framed pictures around the door, one of which features the Irish patriot Michael Collins.
"I've been there many times and service is always excellent."
– C.H. (June 13, 2005)
"Quite simply, the food is fabulous, much better than it used to be. The service is excellent and the Guinness is first rate! It is definitely my bar of choice!"
– P.M. (August 19, 2006)
Paul and Kathy Galvin have done well in creating Galvin's Public House from what used to be the Island Inn (not to be confused with the similarly defunct Island Bar & Grill that used to be located on North Avenue and once featured a Caribbean flair). At Galvin's, the bar was moved out of the center of the room and the interior was remodeled by Irish craftsman, lending it a bit of authenticity. As a result, Galvin's is perhaps the best and least-known Irish pub in the city, able to hold its own against more popular rivals located further south, like Chief O'Neil's, Irish Oak, fado, Johnny O'Hagan's, and The Grafton. At the end of the day, Galvin's Public House is worth the long cab ride or drive to Jefferson Park. For more information, check out the Galvin's Public House website. Slainte mhath.
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Photograph taken by Carla G. Surratt of Picturing Chicago