Someone should name a drink for Pat Kennedy.
“The Prisoner” or “The Barricade.”
Kennedy is the intrepid owner of the Grayland Pub, 3734 N. Milwaukee. The bar is like a Bears secondary receiver, it is easy to see, but hard to find. Just look past a couple blocks worth of seven-feet tall chain link fencing and piles of concrete.
Kennedy calls the Grayland a dive bar, but the city of Chicago has gone beyond the call of duty to make it even more so. Milwaukee Avenue street construction between Irving Park and Addison has obliterated the bar.
I’ve been going to Chicago bars all of my adult life, and I’ve never seen anything like this. It is as if the Grayland has been quarantined.
I had to circle north around Schurz High School, and park three blocks south to find the bar.
Kennedy, 64, was happy to see me. He was happy to see anybody.
He looked around his empty tavern and said, “I’ve lost 50 percent of my customers. I had to lay off my bartender (now only Kennedy and a weekend bartender staff the bar). I never expected the whole street to be shut down. Progress has to be, but everything went wrong with this project that has gone wrong. Sewer work. Viaducts. They’re putting in a new water main. Electrical problems where they have to move all the lines. There’s EPA laws. OSHA is out here,” he said. “They are about five weeks behind schedule.”
The work started July 8. Kennedy was told it was going to be done by Dec. 15.
“And starting on April 1, they will be doing city streetscape and put in new curbs,” he said.
He actually smiled a little bit.
Kennedy said the bar dates back to the 1950s when it was a mom-and-pop joint, the Grayland Cafe. During the ’60s the tavern was the Irish Wolfhound, which was raided by the FBI for alleged connections for gun running with the IRA (Irish Republican Army.) The bar mascot was a big Irish Wolfhound. Kennedy has owned the tavern for the past 15 years.
An empty lot sits south of the bar. The NFL’s Riddell football l helmets used to be made in an empty building south of the lot. The Grayland METRA stop is directly west of the bar.
“Right now you have better access to the bar from the train than the street,” he said. “Our customers are working class and people off the train.”
A paper sign above the bar’s cash register pays tribute to real country music with a Johnny “CASH ONLY” logo.
He could have written the construction song “I Walk The Construction Line.”
Kennedy has dropped his prices to keep the bar alive. A shot of Jameson is $3, PBR on draft is 75 cents. “You can’t be your own best customer in this business,” he said as he stood in front of a beautiful mahogany back bar.
After spending an hour with Kennedy in his empty bar I began to feel sorry for him.
I started identifying passersby as potential customers.
“No, she’s going to catch the train,” he said of one woman. “The only way to catch the train is to come by the bar. All the other sidewalks are blocked.”
Then, “No, he’s the mailman coming here to use the bathroom.”
Parking is at a premium with Milwaukee Avenue torn up. Kennedy looked at the condo building across the street and said, “We all fight for the same spot on the side streets. And, between 300 and 400 people a day catch this train. There’s no parking for them either. When I started here 50 people a day caught this train.”
Kennedy’s alderman John Arena (45th) is sympathetic to the Grayland’s train of pain.
“It’s a very complicated project,” Arena said earlier this week. “They are lowering the street underneath the viaduct (north of the bar), lowering the sewers and many times what you see on paper with certain utilities are don’t match up when you get in the ground. I’m not going to put this on incompetence, but when things get in the way they have to adjust, so we’re disappointed. It’s not just creating an inconvenience for him, it’s creating an inconvenience for residents of the area. As for the streetscape, they’re hoping to get that done by July 4.”
Independence Day. Perfect.
Kennedy said, “The alderman did me a favor. He got the dust screens off the fencing. Before that people couldn’t see me at all.
“I do exist.”