Kevil’s, a longtime Circle Avenue bar and restaurant in Forest Park, closed April 30 after nearly two decades in business.
“I’m closing up shop because it’s been a long 18-year run,” owner Frank Kevil said in an April 30 phone call with the Review. “We’ve been here a long time. … I guess you could call it a retirement.”
Kevil said eight employees will be out of work and he plans to sell the property.
Early Sunday evening, the bar, on the corner of Elgin and Circle, several blocks from Forest Park’s Madison Avenue strip of bars and restaurants, was filled with patrons of all ages, enjoying Kevil’s while they still could.
“All during the week the place has been packed.” Kevil said.
On Sunday, there were regulars casually sipping drinks at the bar, families with children gathered around tables and a few customers enjoying an early dinner. The mood was fluid, with patrons joyfully reminiscing one minute and wiping tears from their eyes the next.
“This has been our West Side ‘Cheers,'” Bridge Herald, a longtime customer, said, referencing the famous NBC sitcom set in a Boston bar. “It’s touched so many lives.”
Several other folks added that the customers gathered inside Kevil’s on Sunday were a good sample of what kind of establishment it was to so many people — a multi-generational neighborhood hang-out spot to socialize with family, catch up with friends and grab a good bite to eat.
At Kevil’s, several patrons said, everyone knew everyone. The bar was a spot anyone could come to for assistance, no matter the circumstance. One longtime customer, Colleen Dunigan, described Kevil’s as a “full gamut place, happy and sad.”
“If you needed help, you came here,” Dunigan said. “This was a big family house.”
“It’s more than just a place,” said Rich Wilkie of Forest Park, echoing Dunigan. “It’s really more of a home.”
Others mentioned the endless list of family occasions, neighborhood gatherings and one-off events that Kevil’s has hosted over the years. Many patrons referenced high-school reunions, school graduation parties, funeral luncheons, fundraisers and wedding receptions.
“There are so many stories, if these walls could talk,” Joan Feireck, who has worked at Kevil’s since it opened, said, before mentioning how grateful she was to have made so many friends at the bar over the years.
Kevil’s walls are covered in old framed photographs of patrons’ friends and family. Class photos from local Catholic schools dominated the décor (Kevil was a 1964 graduate of Ascension School in Oak Park). On Sunday there were noticeable blank spaces, as next-of-kin customers claimed their photos before it was too late.
“It’s my watering hole,” Josh Bernat of River Forest, said. “I learned about where I grew up through coming here. There’s a sea of local history here if you want to tap into it.”
A few customers mentioned Kevil’s vibe will be hard to recreate and no other bar nearby has quite the same atmosphere.
“It’s not easily replaced,” Bernat said. “The relationships that we fostered here don’t end with this place.”
Kevil said he’ll remember all the events his bar has hosted over the years and all the friendships he’s developed. He did add, though, that he’s looking forward to not working 18-hour days.
“The only thing I’ll miss is the people and that’s what’s it’s all about,” he said.