O'Leary's Public House
541 N. Wells St. (550N, 200W)
Chicago, IL 60654
If you're looking for a laid-back escape from the River North buzz, O'Leary's makes for a decent little getaway. Just think twice if you're thinking of bringing a coupon or your experience might not be quite so laid-back...
O'Leary's is located on Wells next to Gilda's Club, the non-profit cancer support group founded by Gene Wilder to honor his late wife, original Saturday Night Live cast member, Gilda Radner. The bar is located at the base of a four-story walk-up that would look at home in Manhattan's East Village. With its muted green paint job and '80s era backlit sign, O'Leary's storefront has a look that, depending on your view, is either a throwback or a little worn. A narrow street-side sidewalk café sits out front, perfect for keeping an eye on your car should you be lucky enough to find parking.
Full-length hinged windows span the entrance, opening in pleasant weather and giving the small rectangular space some much needed light. A couple of cocktail tables sit just inside the windows in front of the richly crafted dark wooden bar that occupies much of the south wall. Track lights and fixtures hang beneath exposed floor joists from the elevated ceiling. A handful of tables are located opposite the bar along the exposed brick northern wall. O'Leary's most interesting feature is the crow's nest balcony that sits above the entrance. The trio of two-tops, perched up a short staircase, offer an interesting setting if you don't mind dragging yourself back and forth for refills. The overall feel is comfortable and broken in, not broken down... except when it comes to the bathrooms—a pair of one-seaters with fixtures ready for display at a plumbing museum.
The ten TVs hanging throughout the room provide nice coverage for the space. Other entertainments include a digital jukebox and a bass fishing video game—circa 2007 edition. Beyond the requisite Guinness, O'Leary's offers about a dozen beers on tap, most consisting of the familiar mass-market import and craft beers like Pilsner Urquell and Blue Moon. Another 15 by the bottle add to your options. Specials were neither offered nor on display, except a single small sign offering the somewhat tired "recession special" for $3: PBR. Pass. Overall, beers are market-price for the area, but the food is another story. The entire menu of bar food staples runs under $10, which is why O'Leary's is a popular lunch draw.
My interaction with the staff was pleasant if not overly chummy, but coupon-bearing patrons tell a different story. O'Leary's is featured on restaurants.com, where you can purchase $10 gift certificates for $4 and $25 certificates for $10. Based on angry reports scattered across the internet, O'Leary's doesn't mind issuing the coupons, but redeeming them is the problem. My advice: avoid the hassle. The certificates are only valid for food, which isn't pricey to begin with. Expect to find O'Leary's busiest at lunch and happy hour, with a mix of patrons spanning the socioeconomic scale.
For a peaceful pint or quick bite, if not the most authentic Irish atmosphere, O'Leary's is worth a visit, especially if you're a Cincinnati Bearcat fan. If you like O'Leary's you might want to look into Brehon Pub, O'Callaghan's or, for the riverside patio, Lizzie McNeill's. For more information, check out the O'Leary's website.