More Obscure Stories Of How Chicago's Favorite Bars Got Their Names

By Anthony Todd in Food on Jul 22, 2016 2:50PM

This week, we brought you the stories of how some of Chicago's most legendary bars got their names. Here's more of those stories.
By Madeline Hester

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Photo via Matilda.

Matilda

It's rare to see a bar venture into the realm of the supernatural, but that's just where you are headed when you enter Matilda. Yes, this bar is named after a ghost.

Matthew Golden, who runs the bar, told me that the building was previously the home of the Chicago Draft House. During demolition in 1994, the overnight work crew reported strange incidents, including seeing a young girl in the bar. Apparently she looked like Natalie Portman when she played Mathilda in Léon: The Professional. The bar didn’t have a name yet, and Matilda seemed like a fit.

People have reported seeing the ghost for over 20 years. She’s everywhere, even on the menu: the cocktail "Happy" (coco rum, hazelnut liqueur, cream, and a cherry) was created for her as an inside joke, since in the film Mathilda and Léon only drink milk. So next time you visit and you order over your spending limit, maybe blame it on Matilda and they’ll take one off the tab. (Or not. Definitely don’t say a ghost ordered your drinks. Trust me, it doesn’t work).

Matilda is located at 3101 N. Sheffield Ave. #1.

Moe’s Tavern

The story behind the "Moe's" in Moe’s Tavern is simple: the name belongs to owner Maureen “Moe” Clancy. The bar was originally Simpsons-themed, inspired by the owner’s nickname. But as Moe's booking manager JB told me, “Fox put the kibosh on that so we had to change the paintings on the wall...we also had to change the name of the "Flaming Moe" to the "Flaming Cease and Desist."

Moe herself can usually be found "sitting in her office or at the bar near the stage talking to the bartender and making sure everything is clean and running smoothly,.” according to JB. When I asked if there were any crazy drinking stories we should know about Moe, the response is: “Haha no.” Not a big drinker, responsibly managing a bar, and praised as “one of the coolest business owners in Chicago”? Looks like Moe is getting the last laugh after all. Though she didn't say this herself, we're saying it for her: Fox can eat her shorts ©.

Moe's Tavern is located at 2937 N. Milwaukee Ave.

Cunneen’s

Cunneen means rabbit in Gaelic (at least according to Janet Pratt, one of the bartenders at Cunneen's) but that's not where the name comes from. Owner Steve Cunneen is the source of this bar's name, and after graduating from the University of Illinois with a “useless degree” in “political science” he opened a bar with a girl friend. She got her name on the LLC and he got his name on the bar (he eventually bought her out).

Cunneen’s might not be around today if not for the dropping of the legal drinking age from 21 to 19 in 1973. Being next to Loyola, this really helped boost business, and even after the drinking age was raised back to 21 in 1980, the reputation of Cunneen’s as a solid dive stayed.

Steve is 81 and has no interest in slowing down; even a collapsed (and repaired) ceiling can’t stop him. “I’m healthy.” He comes in each morning after opening, reads the papers, drinks the coffee, and does crosswords. Cunneen’s: an 8-letter word for a good time.

Cunneen is located at 1424 W. Devon Ave.

Emmit’s Irish Pub

Emmit's is one of Chicago's most famous bars, thanks to its many on-screen appearances: it's been featured in Uncle Buck, Only the Lonely, Blink, Backdraft, The Untouchables, Ocean’s Eleven, Ocean’s Twelve, U.S. Marshalls, Eagle Eye, and Overcoat and even a few Playboy shoots as well. But Emmit's wasn't the original name of this historic bar.

The building was originally a bank, notorious for Chicago gangsters and underground tunnels. After Prohibition ended, the building was converted into a tavern, and during the 1980s, it was known as O’Sullivan’s. In 1996, Kevin Doherty and Ron Halvorsen (both firemen) re-opened the bar as Emmit’s. They named it after Robert Emmet (with the e changed to i so that it can be dotted with a shamrock, because you know, Irish), the famous Irish nationalist and republican.

Emmet was known for rebelling against the British king and was tried and hung for high treason. He almost had a chance to escape but wanted to protect his love, Sarah Curran, and was caught. His remains have never been claimed. Sounds like the material for a great period piece. And if for some reason this film is shoot in Chicago (modern reboot? Taxes?) this is a bar always ready for a close-up.

Emmitt's is located at 495 N. Milwaukee Ave.