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This is the last weekend that Gunther Murphy’s, 1638 W. Belmont, will be a live-music venue. Co-owner Pat Mooney (who also owns the Abbey Pub) says that he and his partners simply needed to make a business decision. “We were struggling," he says. "We need to get a kitchen back in there, and there’s no room to do it now.” Construction on a three-flat next door also revealed repair work that needs to be done to the building’s foundation. "It’s a shame," Mooney says. "We have a PPA and a tavern license, and a lot of people are trying to get those. It’ll be turning into a restaurant, and we may try and do something very limited with music, but not the way it is now. I don’t even know if I’m going to be involved. It’s a shame.”
The speed of the decision, which was made early last month, prompted a lot of phone calls to a lot of bands. “Everyone wants to get in before it closes,” Mooney said. “I want to say, well, if you’d played there in the last couple years, it might not be happening.”
When Mooney's father bought the club with a partner in 1989, it was called the Belmont Lounge and was originally a German bar. “My dad and his partners named it [Gunther Murphy's] as a sort of Irish-German combo," he says. "When they first bought it, it was just an Irish bar, and then I started doing music at the Abbey and then pushed it over there, sometime in the early 90s, mostly acoustic, Irish music. I wish I had more information for you—I’ve been asking around and nobody remembers anything. But by the mid-90s the bar became more of a music club, but the front bar still had its following so we set up the back room."
Mooney sounded a bit dejected about it all, and it made me sad too. I liked Gunther Murphy’s, with its front bar and back room, even if I suspect that part of the reason I liked it was that it was so often—I will try to put this tactfully—spacious. Breathable. Lots of, er, liebensraum. It was a friendly and comfortable place, even if it never established much of a strong identity as a music venue, unlike its big sibling the Abbey.
The neighborhood is changing, of course, and Mooney says that's also a factor: "People come in and ask for a menu. They're shocked that we don't have food." (We digressed for a while, lamenting the passing of River Kwai, the literally fly-by-night—open only at night—family-run Thai restaurant that served absolutely fabulous food to drunks and cabdrivers in a cramped, harshly-lit hole with fewer right angles than a submarine. Who needed Gunther Murphy's to serve food when you had that?)
The quickly-assembled farewell party this weekend begins at 3 PM on Saturday and goes late into the night. In addition to the more than a dozen bands listed at the venue’s Web site, Mooney tells me that Michael McDermott and the New Duncan Imperials will also play, Ike Reilly has said he will try to make it, and there will be some surprises. There’s no cover charge. Sadly, it will probably pull in the biggest crowd the club has ever had.