Enticing Blarney Island

By Caryl Clem:

A popular vacation escape opening in 1908 promoted the lure of lotus fields in bloom off a peninsular in Grass Lake, Illinois.  A wooden platform was built on a peninsula to provide a breath taking view of the surrounding wild beauty of lotus beds floating on the water. Rohema sounded exotic and exciting, a novel adventure waiting to be explored. Nearby Fox Lake was gaining the reputation of “the place” to go.  Hotels, bars, restaurants were available to broaden your touring satisfaction.

Jack O’Connor had an idea to cash in on this new business. An example of American ingenuity, he bought a house boat dubbed “Blarney Island” offering tours in vogue spot. His boat ride added a layer of excitement that passed standing still on a platform looking at the lake. Shorty Shobin, the owner of Rohema did not appreciate the competition.  A high stakes poker game played between these rivals would determine who had sole rights to the buildings and view of the lotus fields. Jack won the game and Shorty disappeared. One version claims Shorty shot himself in a bar’s backroom, or he shamefully left town for good. He was never seen again.

Karma or fate burned Jack’s houseboat down. The land and buildings jutted out from shore.  Over time the water deepened and the platform was an island.  Jack named this paradise, “Blarney’s Island “. In 1972, the Haley’s couple purchased the island. The ravaged by floods in the 1950’s structures were repaired and enlarged.  Entertainment activities blending a bar with bands and dancing, or drag boat racing were added.  A ferry would transport you to a place with the reputation anything could happen.  The ceiling of the bar sported stapled pieces of clothing as poof. 

By 2003, the business was bought by a former business partner of one of the Haley’s brothers, a banker named Rob Hardman. The wooden telephone poles and pier posts were replaced with steel pylon anchored in the ground. A red wood platform was built on top. Palm trees were added, a new kitchen, a new bar and increased enclosed protected space for patrons. Live bands play Friday through Sunday. The theme is a Key West vibe. A ferry carries 40 passengers shuttling to the boating bar that has room for 300 parked boats.  Extreme Boats Magazine awarded Blarneys Island, “the greatest boating bar” in the country.  Festivals such as Blarney’s Mardis Gras and Fantasy Fest mirroring the Key West event are held.  Blarney Island is open for business;  a novel place still providing an unique experience.

Favorite Chicago land clubs, taverns and suburban bars: Gone but not forgotten

After exploring extinct restaurant favorites in one article, I decided to check out the bar scene; the gone but not forgotten taverns/clubs in the Chicago land area. Though I don’t drink today, my most frequented places were generally lounges attached to restaurants. I visited my first vodka gimlet and last vodka gimlet at Cavalinni’s in Dolton on Sibley and Chicago Rd. My first was wonderful but after visiting again years later, my last vodka gimlet took everything out of me. I was celebrating a South Suburban College dedication which was once known as Thornton Community College; not knowing I had a serious case of mono. That drink lead me to a doctors visit and was confined to bed for three weeks.

Balducci’s in Willowbrook when my children were little was another lounge/restaurant I liked to frequent with my husband. However, during a Halloween party after trick or treating with my little ones covered in trash bags due to the rain, my stamina was not there. One shot sent me home shivering. Maybe that is why I don’t drink!

After my research, two that I enjoyed during my hayday or whatever it was called was Lassens in Homewood and  Blarneys Island where you traveled by boat to the wild island in Fox Lake. Still open today, Lassens has not changed. Blarney’s Island, located in Grass Lake ,was and still is, the place you wore your swimsuit, danced to local bands , drank alot of beer, always got picked up: catching a ride in a boat. Today, when Blarneys Island is mentioned, I get the usual wide eye looks like you went to that place. Yes, I, too had my moments.

The following gone but not forgotten bars and clubs may bring that smile of oh no, (or oh yes) to your face too!

Nicks Sports Page  was filled with autographed sports stars and pennants because this truly was the American sports bar and only appreciated by the oldtimers from Dolton, Riverdale and South Holland.  For me, Nicks was the best place for a beer and they had excellent hamburgers if you were hungry.

Jukebox Saturday Night had three locations; one on Lincoln Avenue in Chicago, Oak Forest and Lisle. Lisle is where I went for a casual return to the 50’s with a girlfriend that always said this was the place she could release all tension and get crazy. It was here that we danced are problems away with contests that included the twist and you could show off your expertise with a hula hoop.

Studebakers owned by Walter Payton was located in Schaumburg/Woodfield Commons and was quite a success. People really had fun with an active dance floor, crazy bar attendants and not potentially dangerous in anyway. They closed but opened to another venture-Thirty Fours. All of this between the late 80’s and early 90’s.

PJ Flaretys in Evergreen Park hosted many rock legends that included Three Dog Night, Edgar Winter,Leon Russell,  Rare Earth and the list goes on since they really tried to pack in new local and national talent. They had a capacity for over a 1,000. Blue Oyster Cult played there on Feb 8th, 1992 with a set list till available on line. You had to buy tickets in advance which were only about 10 dollars and 12 dollars at the door.  Today, that would be the cost of your drink.

Poor Richards Pub in Gurnee was a northside landmark finally torn down and located on Grand Avenue. I remember the bar back in the late 70’s and they actually held one of the largest Miller beer accounts. Halloween parties were always fun while always hosting special events.  It was a comfortable place to wind down and meet people.

Last Chance Saloon was a Grayslake institution for nearly 20 years owned by father and son. Again, known for some fun parties that took place surrounding a Western decor. I actually remember making my first toga and toga party at the Last Chance with a date. It is now Emil’s Tavern on Center street.

Finally, Fiddlesticks in Lincolnshire was a place I enjoyed with a square bar where you could sit on one one side and flirt with others, not too far away, but far enough if you decided it wasn’t the right move. A small, crowded dance floor existed behind one end of the bar.  People always talk of the bars that they met their significant other and I, too, met the man I married and had two children in this bar on Olde Half Day Road. He was quiet…not your average flirt who liked to read books on bar stools rather than assume the normal pick up role. And I loved to read.

(Picture:  a Chicago Speakeasy 1920)