A ‘loss to the DePaul community’: Lincoln Park mourns Kelly’s Pub owner’s death

Amy Do | The DePaulia

DePaul students and the larger Lincoln Park community mourn the loss of a beloved local business owner.

John P. Kelly, the owner of Kelly’s Pub, died of esophageal cancer on Feb. 14 at the age of 82. Kelly is survived by his wife Polly, children Kevin and Megan, siblings William, Dennis, Mary, Frances and Kathleen, as well as four grandchildren.  Kelly is preceded in death by his son John.

Kelly’s Pub opened in Lincoln Park in 1933 following prohibition being repealed and is one of Chicago’s oldest family-owned pubs, according to the pub’s website. The pub is a staple of Lincoln Park, and was even featured in the 1986 film “About Last Night,” starring Demi Moore, Rob Lowe and Jim Belushi.

John P. Kelly was a Chicago native, having attended DePaul schools throughout his education.

“He grew up here,” said Megan Kelly, manager of the pub and John P. Kelly’s daughter.  “He went to DePaul for grade school, high school, college, and one year of law school.”

Megan stated that her father’s outgoing and friendly personality made him very well-known within the community.

“He certainly was a personality,” Megan said.  “Everyone knows him, he’s known all over the place. He got around, too.”

Patrons of the bar stated that John P. Kelly’s warm, welcoming nature was palpable even to those who did not know him well.

“I never had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Kelly one on one but he was almost always

there when I am around. He and Mrs. Kelly would always come in through the back and

park at their same spot at the end of the bar,” said Brigid Creamer, a DePaul senior. “They are both such friendly and loving people who truly appreciated seeing their bar full of smiling faces. Losing Mr. Kelly is a true loss to the DePaul community.”

Kelly’s has been family-owned since its inception, with John P. Kelly taking ownership of the bar following the death of his father Frank Kelly in 1957. According to Megan Kelly, her father took great pride in the bar’s roots in family.

The familial ideology is reflected even in the pub’s decor, with pictures lining the walls.

“I think [being family owned] makes it a bit unique because there’s just not that many left,” Megan said. “It hasn’t really changed much in the last 30 years.”

“The family photos lining the walls make it seem as if I were apart of the family and this was my living room. In fact, it is a running joke that one day I am going to put my own photo up on that wall,” Creamer said. “But even more than just the photos, it’s the bond that Kelly’s creates for so many people. Regardless of when I go in there, I am likely to see at least one familiar face.”

The pub was undoubtedly a staple of both John P. Kelly’s professional and personal life. He met his wife Polly at Kelly’s Pub in 1962, and the two were married the following year, according to the bar’s website,

Customers similarly value the familial nature of the pub, stating that it contributes to a welcoming environment.

Every time I walk in there with my friends it feels like home. I know that’s so cheesy, but we say it all the time. I’ve made some of my absolute favorite memories there,” said Ally Sledz, a DePaul senior.  “I’ve spent a lot of my time during college at Kelly’s and have become friends with some of the people who work there. There’s nothing like walking into Kelly’s and seeing the people you know and love.”

John P. Kelly additionally served as a firefighter, balancing his obligations at the bar during his off time.

“Fireman work 24 [hours] on, 48 [hours] off,” Megan said. “Almost every fireman has another career that they do, and this was his other career.”

Kelly’s Pub is often considered a quintessential DePaul bar, being located approximately a block away from DePaul’s Lincoln Park campus.

“It’s a 90-year relationship with DePaul students. They’re always customers and even when they’re alumni, they come back to visit too,” Megan said. “Its college memories, everyone has them. You’re here with your friends, you kind of coming of age with your friends and it’s good memories and you come back to revisit them.”

This theory is represented within current DePaul students, with many revisiting the pub to remember good experiences made there.

“I owe so much to Kelly’s because that is where I met the majority of my friend group. In fact, I met most of those people during my very first week of college. It is the place where my friend group’s bonds began and continued to grow,” Creamer said. “Regardless of how our days or weeks were, going Kelly’s was, and still is, a spot we can count on to be there for us. Long stressful days can always be put at ease by the familiar faces smiling at us from behind the bar, the slightly sticky tables and the minor smell of beer wafting through the air. For most, this may not seem appealing, but for us- this is our home.”

Students who frequent the bar appreciate the casual atmosphere and friendly staff, stating that it is a welcome change from other bars in the area.

“Of course there’s value in family businesses. I think it makes a business unique unlike a chain or corporate run place,” Sledz said. “Big developers don’t really care about the community, but with a family business, they’re most likely active members in the community which I think is important.”

The front window of the pub has been adorned with a photo and written tribute to John P. Kelly. According to Megan Kelly, there are no current plans for a further tribute from the establishment.

While Kelly’s Pub and the larger community will continue to lament the loss of John P. Kelly, his legacy and effervescent personality will continue through the connections and community existing within Kelly’s Pub.

“Kelly’s isn’t your fancy club with bottle service and laser lights. Kelly’s is your local watering hole where people are welcome to come as they are and be who they want,” Creamer said. “It is rare to find a place so fun but also mellow when you need it to to be. That is one of the best things about Kelly’s. It is whatever you want it to be.”