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An interior shot of a dark wooded Irish bar. There are tables, chairs, and framed photos.
Above is O’Shaughnessy’s Public House, elaborate millwork is a telltale sign your in an authentic Irish bar.
Photo by Flint Chaney

What makes an Irish bar authentic? Look for these 6 design elements.

Here are a few ways to spot the real deal in Chicago

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Above is O’Shaughnessy’s Public House, elaborate millwork is a telltale sign your in an authentic Irish bar.
| Photo by Flint Chaney

There always seems to be an Irish pub in every city, and Chicago is no exception. We do, however, claim a particularly strong Irish heritage. Most notably in Beverly which lays claim to a 133-year-old Irish castle.

It’s true the Irish bar abounds, but it isn’t defined by a green clover emblem or what beer is on draft. There are defining architectural characteristics that single out only a handful of bars in Chicago as authentic Irish drinking establishments—and we’re here to point those out to you.

In Ireland, there are several types of bars—cozy rural ones run by small town landlords to the lavish Victorian gin palaces in Dublin. They all have snugs (small, private rooms with frosted glass windows), fireplaces, and a corner for live music.

By no means is this list exhaustive, but the bars here will give you a good idea of what a true Irish bar should feel like.

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1. The Galway Arms

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2442 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60614
(773) 472-5555
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Design element: A designated corner for musicians

As with any local architecture, the weather dictates style. Historically, rural pubs were in the landlord’s house and a fire in the hearth would keep patrons warm in the heart of the home. The fireplace in Galway Arms, while not a central feature, makes Chicago’s winters all the more tolerable. It is reserved for musicians who play four times a week—music is a crucial feature in Irish pubs, too. Stages aren’t provided, instead they circle up and play Celtic tunes in a designated corner.

2. Mrs. Murphy & Sons Irish Bistro

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3905 N Lincoln Ave
Chicago, IL 60613
(773) 248-3905
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Design element: Etched glass and mirrored bars that were part of Dublin’s gin palaces.

The Murphy family, which also owns Murphy’s Bleachers in Wrigleyville, opened up this restaurant in a former 1920s funeral home. The teak bar at the center of the pub was hand-crafted with delicate etched mirrors by friends of the family and imported from County Wexford. Another smaller bar in the back was shipped in from Northern Ireland, too.

Traditionally, the gin shops were designed for short stays. Mostly they were for takeaway and had standing room only. However, these days guests at Mrs. Murphy & Sons Irish Bistro can sit down and stick around for a while.

A large bar with stools and dark wood.
The main bar imported from Ireland.
Photo by James Murphy

3. The Grafton Pub & Grill

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4530 N Lincoln Ave
Chicago, IL 60625
(773) 271-9000
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Design element: Get comfortable in a snug—a room within a room.

A true Irish pub will offer its patrons more than a row of bar stools and high-tops—they’ll have snugs. Essentially, they are tiny wooden booths, sometimes rooms, with latched doors and frosted glass. Originally, the snug was designed as a private area for clandestine gatherings, wealthier patrons who wanted special treatment, or for ladies who couldn’t be seen drinking.

Snugs are distinctly part of Irish culture and aren’t originally found in Chicago, so any snug in an Irish bar here is a recreation or import. The Grafton deliberately set out to achieve the same intimacy a snug provides through its high-back booths with art glass. You’ll get a tease of what it feels like to be in a snug: Secluded while still belonging to the larger room.

4. O'Shaughnessy's Public House

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4557 N Ravenswood Ave
Chicago, IL 60640
(773) 944-9896
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Design element: Dark wood and detailed millwork.

In the iconic Pickard China building, the O’Shaughnessy’s Public House is a prime example of pub acting as a community space. There’s an importance to fostering a sense of comfort, which is why dark wood and elaborate millwork are central components in Irish pubs.

Bar owner Michael O’Shaughnessy comes from a line of carpenters and designed this bar himself. His father flew in from England to help assemble and craft the interior which features detailed shelving, panels, columns, and embellishments in the woodwork.

A dark wood bar with four stools.
One of the bars in O’Shaughnessy’s.
Photo by Flint Chaney

5. Emmit's Irish Pub

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495 N Milwaukee Ave
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 563-9631
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Design element: Small windows and almost no natural light.

In Ireland, the best pubs are a bit hidden away—just like in Chicago there’s nothing like a dimly lit dive bar. However, in Ireland is a reason for being discreet. Drinking laws prevent pubs from serving pints past a certain time, but occasionally barkeeps will initiate a “lock-in” where they’ll close shades, lock the door, and quietly keep filling up glasses. It’s illegal of course, so the after-hours guests must exit silently.

Emmitt’s in River West is a cozy, dark pub that’s quite similar to what you’d find in Ireland. There are hardly any windows, which would make it easy to have a “lock-in” if that were the case, and there are plenty of snug-like booths.

6. Fado Irish Pub

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100 W Grand Ave
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 836-0066
Visit Website

Design element: A historic bar and hearty stone fireplace.

To get a sense of how Irish pubs have evolved, visit Fado. The pub exemplifies two different varying styles: the first floor pulls from more contemporary bars in Dublin and the second floor is entirely more rural showcasing the historic pub attributes like the stone fireplaces.

Much of the bar in Fado was built in Ireland—one 100-year-old piece was reclaimed from the 18th century Purty Kitchen in Dublin.

A stone fireplace with small windows nearby and curtains.
The second floor features a more rural pub.
Courtesy of Fado

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1. The Galway Arms

2442 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60614

Design element: A designated corner for musicians

As with any local architecture, the weather dictates style. Historically, rural pubs were in the landlord’s house and a fire in the hearth would keep patrons warm in the heart of the home. The fireplace in Galway Arms, while not a central feature, makes Chicago’s winters all the more tolerable. It is reserved for musicians who play four times a week—music is a crucial feature in Irish pubs, too. Stages aren’t provided, instead they circle up and play Celtic tunes in a designated corner.

2442 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60614

2. Mrs. Murphy & Sons Irish Bistro

3905 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL 60613
A large bar with stools and dark wood.
The main bar imported from Ireland.
Photo by James Murphy

Design element: Etched glass and mirrored bars that were part of Dublin’s gin palaces.

The Murphy family, which also owns Murphy’s Bleachers in Wrigleyville, opened up this restaurant in a former 1920s funeral home. The teak bar at the center of the pub was hand-crafted with delicate etched mirrors by friends of the family and imported from County Wexford. Another smaller bar in the back was shipped in from Northern Ireland, too.

Traditionally, the gin shops were designed for short stays. Mostly they were for takeaway and had standing room only. However, these days guests at Mrs. Murphy & Sons Irish Bistro can sit down and stick around for a while.

3905 N Lincoln Ave
Chicago, IL 60613

3. The Grafton Pub & Grill

4530 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL 60625

Design element: Get comfortable in a snug—a room within a room.

A true Irish pub will offer its patrons more than a row of bar stools and high-tops—they’ll have snugs. Essentially, they are tiny wooden booths, sometimes rooms, with latched doors and frosted glass. Originally, the snug was designed as a private area for clandestine gatherings, wealthier patrons who wanted special treatment, or for ladies who couldn’t be seen drinking.

Snugs are distinctly part of Irish culture and aren’t originally found in Chicago, so any snug in an Irish bar here is a recreation or import. The Grafton deliberately set out to achieve the same intimacy a snug provides through its high-back booths with art glass. You’ll get a tease of what it feels like to be in a snug: Secluded while still belonging to the larger room.

4530 N Lincoln Ave
Chicago, IL 60625

4. O'Shaughnessy's Public House

4557 N Ravenswood Ave, Chicago, IL 60640
A dark wood bar with four stools.
One of the bars in O’Shaughnessy’s.
Photo by Flint Chaney

Design element: Dark wood and detailed millwork.

In the iconic Pickard China building, the O’Shaughnessy’s Public House is a prime example of pub acting as a community space. There’s an importance to fostering a sense of comfort, which is why dark wood and elaborate millwork are central components in Irish pubs.

Bar owner Michael O’Shaughnessy comes from a line of carpenters and designed this bar himself. His father flew in from England to help assemble and craft the interior which features detailed shelving, panels, columns, and embellishments in the woodwork.

4557 N Ravenswood Ave
Chicago, IL 60640

5. Emmit's Irish Pub

495 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60654

Design element: Small windows and almost no natural light.

In Ireland, the best pubs are a bit hidden away—just like in Chicago there’s nothing like a dimly lit dive bar. However, in Ireland is a reason for being discreet. Drinking laws prevent pubs from serving pints past a certain time, but occasionally barkeeps will initiate a “lock-in” where they’ll close shades, lock the door, and quietly keep filling up glasses. It’s illegal of course, so the after-hours guests must exit silently.

Emmitt’s in River West is a cozy, dark pub that’s quite similar to what you’d find in Ireland. There are hardly any windows, which would make it easy to have a “lock-in” if that were the case, and there are plenty of snug-like booths.

495 N Milwaukee Ave
Chicago, IL 60654

6. Fado Irish Pub

100 W Grand Ave, Chicago, IL 60654
A stone fireplace with small windows nearby and curtains.
The second floor features a more rural pub.
Courtesy of Fado

Design element: A historic bar and hearty stone fireplace.

To get a sense of how Irish pubs have evolved, visit Fado. The pub exemplifies two different varying styles: the first floor pulls from more contemporary bars in Dublin and the second floor is entirely more rural showcasing the historic pub attributes like the stone fireplaces.

Much of the bar in Fado was built in Ireland—one 100-year-old piece was reclaimed from the 18th century Purty Kitchen in Dublin.

100 W Grand Ave
Chicago, IL 60654