A good deal has changed on Madison Avenue since 2003. That’s when brothers Jim and Dan Watts and childhood friend Matt Sullivan opened O’Sullivan’s Public House, 7244 Madison St. in Forest Park, replacing a Chinese restaurant. In 2006, the owners filled it with wooden carved tables and chairs that were bought at auction when the original Berghoff Restaurant closed in Chicago.
The bar fills a niche on Madison Street as an “old fashioned tavern” and the type of place that “Chicago was built on,” said Jim Watts. Born and raised in northern Oak Park in large, Irish families, the three men attended Fenwick high school together in the ’70s and ten years ago they teamed up to buy the bar.
“Everyone from bakers to lawyers to carpenters and painters,” are among the varied clientele who frequent the tavern, said Jim Watts. Really the only thing many of his customers have in common is their love of Chicago sports.
Watts described the bar as generational, meaning that it’s “not unusual to see fathers and sons” together at O’Sullivan’s. Watts’ own daughter was 12 when he bought the bar and now, ten years later she comes with her friends. “Some of my best friends are people I’ve met here,” said O’Sullivan’s manager, Abby Seiple.”Many people have met their spouses here” she added.
According to Watts, Madison Street had “more of a bar atmosphere” when O’Sullivan’s opened a decade ago. Since then, there’s been “a lot of good change.” Watts believes that Mayor Anthony Calderone, the Village of Forest Park and the Chamber of Commerce “did a good job” implementing positive change and promoting family friendly, respectable establishments. Seiple said that Forest Park has made “a push to keep things more upscale and family friendly.” Additionally, Watts believes that the continual development in Forest Park “makes business easier.”
The property and building itself changed a great deal over time. Originally, the building served as an 1890s roadhouse. The original Chinese restaurant had very few windows and a black drop ceiling. When the new owners took out the ceiling and uncovered the walls, they discovered the beautifully detailed copper ceiling and walls that are now visible. They had to keep a careful eye on the work during the rehabilitation of the building in order to prevent theft. They now have a retractable roof on the beer garden, enabling them to use it year round.
Over the years, menu has gotten “lighter,” catering to the more health-conscious public, said Seiple.
“We have a lot of regulars as well as a huge family business,” Seiple said. The old school retro arcade games like Pac Man and Galaga in the back of the tavern reflect O’Sullivan’s kid-friendly vibe.
The plan for the next ten years is to maintain business as usual, Watts said. The owners want to simply “continue to operate and be a family friendly, nice, neighborhood tavern.” There’s no room to expand as well as no need for it so they plan on keeping things as they are.
Watts says that the best part of owning O’Sullivan’s is its convenience in regards to family. He says it’s “nice to have a bar in the family for parties and get-togethers.” The worst part of owning a bar? The late hours. Nowadays, however, manager Abby Seiple works the most of those shifts.
O’Sullivan’s just finished its busiest month of the year: March. With the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Forest Park, St. Patrick’s Day itself, and the NCAA tournaments, it’s a hectic time of year for an Irish pub that caters to sports fans.
Watts does not accept all of the credit for his business’ success over the past 10 years. “I really have to compliment the village. It is a very pro-business environment. They’re always trying new events and bringing business to Forest Park.”