Photo by Dermot Connolly
Tim Desmond pulls a pint, perhaps for the last time, behind the bar at Jack Desmond's Irish Pub, 10339 S. Ridgeland Ave., which he recently sold after 17 years of ownership.
When Oak Lawn Trustee Tim Desmond (1st) opened Jack Desmond’s Irish Pub in Chicago Ridge 17 years ago, he named it in honor of his father and his eldest son.
And although new owners took over last week, the family name is staying on the popular bar and restaurant at 10339 S. Ridgeland Ave.
The pub was officially sold last week, to a business group called Matchpoint Inc. The new owners weren’t ready to talk publicly this week, except to say that there are no plans to make any changes to either the menu or the look of the restaurant, which has the look and feel of an authentic Irish pub.
Desmond, from Iniscarra, County Cork, may no longer be behind the bar, but the weekend entertainment will also continue to have a distinctly Irish feel for the foreseeable future, especially with St. Patrick’s Day around the corner.
“I was 35 when I opened it. I didn’t expect it to be here this long. Seventeen
years is a long time. A lot has changed,” said Desmond, 52, during a casual chat at the
bar last Monday.
From the beginning, he sponsored men’s and women’s Gaelic football and
hurling teams that play at Gaelic Park, a few miles south on Ridgeland Avenue in Oak
Forest. He also sponsored the South Side Irish rugby team. So, it became a popular
place for the players to stop in before or after their weekend matches.
With party rooms upstairs and downstairs, Desmond's also has become a popular spot to celebrate everything from First Communions and confirmations, to graduations and wedding showers.
“It could get loud. But it was always interesting, and a lot of fun. A lot of the local
bands played here first. I am not saying we gave them their start, but they played here
Besides the music and the proverbial Guinness and other drinks, something else
that always kept people coming to Desmond’s was the menu. And that is not expected
to change too much either with the new ownership.
“Not as many Irish people are moving here as were coming when I arrived in
1986, but I think the Irish-Americans are as Irish as the ones at home now,” he said.
“We’ve changed the menu over the years, taking items on and off. But a few
favorites have always been there—things like the full Irish breakfast (including eggs, sausages, bacon and beans), curry chicken, fish and chips and other dishes popular in Ireland,” he said.
Asked if he ever did the cooking himself, Desmond said, only at the beginning.“Thankfully, I have a very good chef now. He’s staying too.”
“I think I have been lucky to have very good staff. Some have been with me for 13 years. No one has been here less than six years. That’s unusual in the bar business,” he added.
He didn’t say it was a cutthroat business, but knows about them too, having left a job in a slaughterhouse to come to Chicago at age 20 in 1986. “After three years of cutting cows’ throats, I figured there had to me something more to life,” he said with a grin.
“I didn’t know the drinking age was 21, I could have waited a month until my birthday in April,” said Desmond, who still has the airline ticket from his flight to Chicago on March 10, 1986.
He went on to establish a successful career construction, building homes around Oak Lawn and elsewhere when he decided to get into the bar business as a sideline. When the construction industry was hard-hit by the economic downturn in 2008, he became a stationary engineer, and now works nights at the Lanham Hotel in Chicago.
In addition, he was also elected to his second term as a trustee in Oak Lawn last year. He and his wife, Eileen, also have six children, ranging in age from 11 to 21. So, while the pub business grew, Desmond said, “it wasn’t fun anymore.”
“There are four or five parties booked here every weekend. The business needed more attention than I could give it.”
He said he plans to get back into construction, now that the economy is improving.
“I want to build some new houses in Oak Lawn. The prices are going up there, and there is a shortage of new construction,” said Desmond. “The average-sized houses are more popular now, not the 4,000 sq. ft. McMansions.”
Desmond said he and his family also hope to make a trip to Ireland in June, with the Brother Rice rugby team, which his sons, Tim and Aidan, play for. His older sons, Jack and Conor, also played there, before going on to play in college. He and Eileen also have two daughters, Lily and Grace, ages 11 and 12.
“Of all of them, Grace was most interested in Desmond’s and didn’t want me to to give it up. She said when she gets old enough, she’ll buy it back,” he said with a smile.