Johnny O’Hagan’s

Outside of Johnny O'Hagan's Irish Pub

Lindsey Arquilla

Hidden beneath the Brown Line El tracks is a proud and distinguished Irish pub, Johnny O’Hagan’s. Ever since  I can remember, when asked what nationality I am, I have always quickly responded, “Italian.” As soon as I would give that answer, I would realize that that isn’t the whole truth. Especially when my mother would always be there to remind me saying, “You’re Irish, too!”

To say that I grew up strongly priding myself, and my family, in our Italian roots would be an understatement. I was raised by a father who has an assertive and ambitious Type-A personality, who is practically fresh-off-the-boat Italian-American.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything against Irish heritage, but it’s difficult to recognize that segment of my background when every Saturday and Sunday morning of my life I have been woken up by blaring Italian music and television programs. Sure, my mother enrolled my sisters and I in Irish dance classes—we even danced in Chicago’s South Side Irish Parades (Which will be dearly missed). Somehow, though, the Italian side always outweighed the Irish.

With St. Patrick’s Day around the corner, I knew I wanted to feature Irish food, but had no idea where to start. With the assistance of my good Irish friend and copy editor Jess Geiger, we spent weeks seeking out the best Irish spot in the city, until we found Johnny O’Hagan’s.

Located at 3374 North Clark Street, O’Hagan’s is Wrigleyville’s favorite Irish Restaurant and Pub. Since I have been to maybe three Irish pubs in my life, I really had no idea what to expect. The moment Jess and I, along with a mutual friend, walked in, we knew it was going to be a good time.

Author Lindsey Arquilla with Owner/Manager Coley Newell

The place was packed, so packed that we could not find enough chairs for all of us to sit down. After asking the bartender if he could grab us another chair, I let him know that we would like to speak with him and the manager or owner, if they could spare a few minutes. By the time I got back to the knee-high wooden table, the manager, Coley Newell, was already waiting graciously there to talk with us.

Although the pub was very loud due to the huge crowd, the conversation was successfully entertaining. I managed to hear Newell say, “I’ve been here ten years and when I go out drinking with the guys—this is where I come.” And I had no problem seeing why. Upon entering, it was as if I traveled to Ireland and sat down in a local pub for a pint (which I later learned is equivalent to a regular draft size glass of beer). The atmosphere of O’Hagan’s alone is enough to hook some true, and even not-so true, Irishmen.

Interior of O'Hagan's

The restaurant, which has been in Wrigley for a solid ten years, is filled with employees from Ireland.  Not just Irish, but actually from Ireland; Irish brogues (accents) and all. We were able to learn a lot about the native country simply by having some friendly chats with our server, Lynn O’Neill. After moving to Chicago in October of last year, O’Neill didn’t have trouble deciding where she would seek out a job. “The bar is named after a guy from my hometown,” she told us. O’Hagan is originally from Buncrana, Ireland, just like new employee, O’Neill . After sharing all about what it’s like “back home,” O’Neill admitted to favoring Chicago over Ireland.

Jess Geiger with server Lynn O’Neill

Jess Geiger with Server Lynn O’Neill

After spending time talking to O’Neill about Irish culture, she then introduced us to the menu items which consist of a mix of American, English and Irish foods. We learned that some of the most popular dishes at O’Hagan’s are the Fish n’ Chips and the Irish Breakfast. The Irish Breakfast is a rather extensive dish -consisting of rashers (otherwise known as bacon in America), sausages, eggs, black and white pudding, batchelors beans, grilled tomato and fried spuds and toast, which is served during primary hours of operation.

The Irish Breakfast with a Pint of Guinness

“The Burgers…I have to stop myself from ordering one every night!” said O’Neill about her favorite item on the menu. They might be good, but their price is even better: $5.95 for a burger and a plate full of wedged fries. Everyone knows that in this city, you can’t beat that!

With O’Hagan’s putting everyone in high spirits, getting complimentary feedback from customers was an easy task. A family nearby lit up when I asked them why they fancy O’Hagans over any other Irish spot in the city. Regular customer Grainne O’Mailley told me, “I’m an Irish-American and I can always come in here and talk with people who are from Ireland.” Looking at her face, full of Irish pride as she basked in her element at O’Hagan’s, for the first time in my life I began to understand the Irish culture. It wasn’t about the ridiculous South Side Irish Parade antics, or the Irish Car Bombs served at virtually every bar in Chicago. It’s about the people and the love of life and the excitement of sharing it with others. After all these years, I finally started to recognize my Irish heritage.

As we sat in our wooden booth, sipping our pints of Guinness and snacking on Americanized Irish fries and curry, we were also able to soak up some live entertainment from the Irish band “Shindig”. Shindig performed a set filled with fierce Irish brogues, instruments and sound. After toasting our shots of O’Hagans signature Irish liquor, Jameson Irish Whiskey, I glanced around the pub one last time before we closed out our tab and heard Jess say, “I just texted my mom that I have never felt so Irish.” Our thoughts were in sync.

Whether looking for a chill night with good people and great lager or a meal unique to this city that will keep you salivating for Irish grub for days, Johnny O’Hagan’s is where it’s at. Experience St. Patrick’s Day 2010 like none before and follow the rainbow to Chicago’s North Side where the pot of gold resides at Johnny O’Hagan’s.

Check It Out: Johnny O’Hagan’s

3374 North Clark Street