Beth Murphy, beloved owner of Murphy’s Bleachers, occasional thorn in side of Cubs, dead at 68

Beth Murphy loved the Cubs, but she did not fear opposing the team when it came to businesses and the interests of residents of the area, where she was loved and respected.

SHARE Beth Murphy, beloved owner of Murphy’s Bleachers, occasional thorn in side of Cubs, dead at 68
Wrigley Field rooftop owners George Loukas, owner of Cubby Bear, Sports Corner and Vines, left, and Beth Murphy, owner of Murphy’s Bleachers, at a community meeting in 2013. She understood the relationship between the neighborhood and the Cubs and advocated for the neighborhood.

Wrigley Field rooftop owners George Loukas, owner of Cubby Bear, Sports Corner and Vines, left, and Beth Murphy, owner of Murphy’s Bleachers, at a community meeting with the team over signs blocking their view in 2013. She understood the relationship between the neighborhood and the Cubs and advocated for the neighborhood.

Rich Hein/Sun-Times file

Beth Murphy was more than the owner of Murphy’s Bleachers, a tavern with rooftop seating across from Wrigley Field. She was an icon in the neighborhood around the ballpark.

She was chosen as a spokeswoman among rooftop owners in their battle with the Cubs over signs that might block their view, but she also advocated for business owners and residents alike when it came to renovating the ballpark, introducing concerts and expanding the number of night games at the Friendly Confines.

“She was often the only woman in the room, and trust me she never took a back seat to anybody,” said 44th Ward Ald. Tom Tunney. “And, you know, she was tough. Like, Chicago tough, no nonsense, and in some ways a thorn in the side of the Cubs for a time, but certainly well loved and respected by the community and residents.”

Mrs. Murphy had the bona fides.

She grew up a Cubs fan on the North Side. After graduating from Northwestern with a degree in journalism, she moved into an apartment across the street from Wrigley. She worked as a buyer for Marshall Field’s, focusing on modern dresses and gourmet foods, before taking a job at Long Grove Confectionery. She’d caught a fly ball at Wrigley. She kept score during games. And after marrying Jim Murphy, a former Chicago cop who bought the bar in 1980 and renamed it Murphy’s Bleachers, she eventually became his right hand as the two worked to improve the bar and the neighborhood around Wrigley Field.

When her husband died in 2003, she took the reins.

“She was an icon,” said Cubs Vice President Mike Lufrano. “She had credibility and the respect of the neighborhood. We didn’t always agree, but I always worked hard to earn her respect because it was so important. And her advice was usually right. She understood the relationship between the Cubs and the community really well and wanted nothing more than to see the Cubs win.”

Mrs. Murphy died Monday morning at Rush University Medical Center after a long battle with cancer. She was 68.

Her family steered conversation away from rehashing old issues with the Cubs, stressing their excellent relationship in recent years.

And the Cubs honored Mrs. Murphy in a way only the Cubs can: The iconic marquee outside Wrigley on Monday bore her name and the years of her birth and death.

Mrs. Murphy loved Murphy’s Bleachers and operated the business with stepsons James and Brian Murphy.

“I don’t think you can help but love this place, the thrilling fabric of the neighborhood,” said her brother, Frank Newell.

A well-known cast of characters regularly visited her bar, including Cubs players and other celebrities, but a few of her favorites were former Cubs pitcher Rick Sutcliffe, actress Bonnie Hunt, former Blackhawks defenseman Chris Chelios and Pearl Jam singer Eddie Vedder.

One of her favorite stories was the time Pearl Jam rehearsed on the roof of Murphy’s Bleachers for a show they were slated to play across the street at the ballpark in 2016.

“Like, five minutes before the band showed up, there were 30 security guys in black suits and ear pieces, it was like they came out of manholes, they even had a guy stationed by the telephone pole in the alley because they were afraid a fan would climb up the pole to the roof,” her brother David Newell said.

“And she believed in treating her employees well,” he said. “She did not have issues with hiring people that many other places have had. Many of her employees have health insurance, and that’s almost unheard of in the bar industry.”

Following the Cubs World Series win in 2016, which brought a ton of business to the bar, Mrs. Murphy donated thousands of dollars to programming in neighborhood schools, her family said.

“I will miss her at every community meeting, and I’ll miss seeing her watering her flowers outside Murphy’s Bleachers and knowing she’s out there watching over us and advocating for the neighborhood,” Lufrano said.

Murphy’s Bleachers is located at Sheffield and Waveland avenues. The family also runs Mrs. Murphy & Sons Irish Bistro at 3905 N. Lincoln Ave.

“We just got a text from her go-go dancing teacher who said she was ‘generous, feisty, a little bit goofy, and she called it how she saw it,’ and I think that’s about right,” James Murphy said Monday.

Mrs. Murphy lived for years with her husband at a home near Rockwell and Wilson avenues but moved to a condo near Ashland Avenue and Grace Street after she became a widow, her family said.

Mrs. Murphy could often be found in the office at Murphy’s Bleachers with her dog, Ivy.

“I was fortunate to be her neighbor and comrade in arms in the community,” said Joe Shanahan, founder of Smart Bar and Metro, who recalled sitting next to Mrs. Murphy at community meetings focusing on a range of things from safety to traffic. “This is a huge loss for us.”

Services are being planned.

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