GALENA, Ill. — A bit of every part of Ireland can be found at Frank O’Dowd’s Irish Pub & Grill in Galena.
The dark mahogany wood that makes up the bar is reminiscent of the many pubs in Dublin. The middle section features stands and shelves that resemble the grocery store-pub hybrids that sprouted throughout Ireland in the 19th century. The back of the establishment pays homage to the Gaelic influence, replacing the ornate with the more simple wood designs that are found in the country’s poorer communities.
That aesthetic appeal was given more credence on a recent Friday night, as the band Hearthfire played tunes from the Emerald Isle.
“We like to play Irish music with attitude,” said violinist Jenn D’Alessio. “It’s pretty fun stuff.”
Since 2003, Frank O’Dowd’s has hosted live music every weekend to accompany its Irish drinks and food.
Many often ask who Frank O’Dowd is. Owners Jack Coulter and Basil Conroy gladly share that he was their grandfather.
“He gave us our first drink, so it only seemed right to name it after him,” Coulter said.
Both Coulter and Conroy, who are first cousins, originally hail from Ireland, and they always wanted to share their culture with Galena. For them, there was no better way to do that than opening a pub.
“It was a dream of ours to re-create a little piece of Ireland in Galena,” Conroy said. “If you haven’t been to Ireland, this is the closest you’re going to get to the real thing.”
From the drinks to the food, nearly everything at the pub has connections to Ireland, and that extends to the music.
Conroy said he specifically books bands and artists that play a combination of Irish songs and American favorites.
“We want to bring Irish music here, but we also want to please everyone,” Conroy said. “They have to be able to bond with the crowd, so that’s the biggest thing I look for.”
Conroy said many of the bands hail from larger cities such as Milwaukee and Chicago, but they also occasionally bring in local musicians to give their renditions of Irish favorites.
On many Saturdays, the live acts will be accompanied by Irish dancers.
“We wanted to give the true flavor of Ireland,” Coulter said. “You really get the full experience.”
Jim and Margaret Bull often travel from their home in Port Byron to come hear the live music at Frank O’Dowd’s.
“We like the Irish music a lot,” Jim said. “You know you’ll get that here.”
D’Alessio said she finds the crowds at Frank O’Dowd’s to be enthusiastic, something she appreciates as a performer.
“The people are always really excited,” she said. “They don’t mind if we play something a little different. They want to enjoy the music.”
Even after 16 years, Frank O’Dowd’s is going strong. That’s no surprise for Coulter, who said there has and likely will continue to be a local fondness for Irish culture.
“We knew that this would be a nice fit for the community,” Coulter said. “There’s a lot of Irish heritage in the area, and people want to connect with that.”