The Keg is tapped: Storied student bar shuttered after 36 years in downtown Evanston

The Keg of Evanston, 810 Grove St., closed its doors for the last time Sunday after 36 years in business.

Skylar Zhang/Daily Senior Staffer

The Keg of Evanston, 810 Grove St., closed its doors for the last time Sunday after 36 years in business.

Marshall Cohen, Managing Editor

The Keg of Evanston, a bar engrained in Northwestern and Evanston lore, permanently closed early Sunday morning after 36 years in business. The embattled watering hole lost its lease this month after a tumultuous year of legal wrangling with city officials.

Dozens of patrons filled the bar Saturday for one last night of partying at 810 Grove St., and owner Tom Migon shut the doors for good early Easter Sunday. The property, described by Chicago Real Estate Resources as “one of the most popular locations in Evanston,” is listed as available for rent with an annual rate of $145,800.

“It’s unfortunate the way things unraveled,” Migon said. “We had some great memories and touched a lot of people’s lives. It was a great run, and unfortunately it had to come to an end. It’s sad to leave something that was a part of my life for twenty years.”

More than a year has passed since Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl pulled The Keg’s liquor license. The bar stayed open during a drawn-out legal process, but all appeals were dropped last month as the bar’s fate became clear.

Underage college and high school students were known to flock to The Keg, and Evanston officials and residents worried for years that the bar endangered young people. These fears were confirmed by a string of detrimental incidents in recent years that placed pressure squarely on Migon to get his bar under control.

A 22-year-old man was killed in 2005 after a gang-affiliated shooting inside the bar. An underage patron landed in the hospital after a brawl in 2010. Seventeen people were arrested on the same night in January 2012 for underage drinking — the last straw for a weary mayor, who called a hearing of the city’s liquor board and revoked the bar’s license.

“I think the high school students who were driving home after drinking at the Keg are safer,” Tisdahl wrote in an email Sunday, hours after the bar was shuttered.

The Keg opened in 1976 as an upscale steak-and-seafood restaurant — a fine dining establishment where parents took out their students and alumni occasionally proposed to their future spouses. The restaurant was one of the few places for residents to enjoy a meal with alcoholic drinks after Evanston ended its self-imposed prohibition in 1972.

“This was one of the early nice restaurants in Evanston,” said Geoff Judge (Weinberg ’76), who worked as a waiter on opening night in 1976. “It was not a cheap place, and there was a lot of capital put into the building. Adults who lived in Evanston ate there.”

Migon bought the Keg in 1993 and turned it into a popular dive bar for the thirsty NU crowd, and Complex magazine anointed it the ninth-best American college bar in 2011. With a reputation for a porous front door and a patio in the back with a fence that could be easily jumped, students packed the bar Monday and Saturday nights.

But the unsavory distinction as an underage hotspot finally caught up to the Keg, which had been shut down temporarily in the past but now is gone for good. Migon owns two other bars: One in Morton Grove and one in Chicago, establishments he said will now receive his full attention and energy. He is done doing business in Evanston.

“One door shuts and another door opens,” Migon said. “I truly will miss Northwestern. It’s hard to explain how it feels to leave something behind that was a part of my life for twenty years — I loved every minute of it.”