Neighborhood feel the key to new restaurant venture in Libertyville
The former tenant moved weeks ago yet a hint of beer lingers in the air as a testament to one of most popular places to meet in Libertyville and among the longest continuously operating taverns in Lake County.
Husband and wife team Sara McKinnon and Humberto Martinez Jr. aim to keep that mojo going while adding some new twists with the planned opening in late summer of O'Toole's of Libertyville in what is believed to be a century-old building at 412 N. Milwaukee Ave.
"It's a town with a lot of history," said Martinez. "We felt it fit our niche. We always wanted to be a neighborhood gathering place. That's our goal."
The prominent spot has operated continuously as a tavern since 1936 but is best known as Mickey Finn's Brewery, which was established in 1980. That business moved a month ago about a block south to a much larger building.
While the Long Grove couple knows there will be a big gap to fill, they have been business partners for 22 years and bring extensive experience to the venture. This will be the third restaurant for O'Toole's Pub Group, joining Timothy O'Toole's bars that opened in 1992 in Chicago and in 2009 in Gurnee. The group employees about 130 employees and expects to hire 45 to 50 workers for the new place.
The couple had been looking for a place in Libertyville that had depth and character. And in what may be destiny, they found it at the first place McKinnon, a Libertyville native and then a Mickey Finn's regular, brought Martinez to years ago when they were dating. "It's very cool," said McKinnon. "I've been wanting to be part of Libertyville for some time now."
Structurally, the interior will remain largely intact. However, the kitchen, restrooms, and former brewing area have been gutted to the studs as part of what is expected to be a $1.5 million interior renovation and exterior improvement. The couple have an option to buy the building from owner Mark Loeb but that has a horizon of five to 10 years, Martinez said.
One of the most dramatic features of the renovated interior will be a custom-made bar, which will be built on site. The construction is in the running to be featured on a new Discovery Channel reality series.
The old brewery space will become a "statement piece," according to Martinez, as a walk-in cooler showcasing beer barrels.
"We're going to carry a lot of craft beer," he said. "We're going to carry 48 handles." There will be no brewing on site.
Outside, Loeb recently received village approval to bump out the patio/dining area fronting Milwaukee Avenue by 17 feet and the space will be redone with a 26-foot tall gas fireplace as a centerpiece.
Generally, the theme will be sports-oriented, but the mood will change with the holiday and the couple plans to incorporate several different attractions into the mix.
For example, "Comedians You Should Know," which is popular at the Chicago location will become part of the Libertyville operation. Features such as piano bar night or karaoke also are possibilities as is the 101 Series, which teaches people about various aspects of food and drink.
And from the herb garden on the roof to healthy choices for kids, and locally produced foods, O'Toole's of Libertyville is planned as test kitchen of sorts for the restaurant group.
"Coming into Libertyville, we wanted to kick it up a notch," Martinez said. "We want to be able to incorporate more farm-to-table items."
He said he considers O'Toole's of Libertyville and Mickey Finn's to be the anchors of the south end of a downtown that increasingly has become a destination for restaurants and bars.
"Of course there is pressure in (maintaining) a site like this, but we're confident in what we can do," Martinez said.