Changing of the bars

Author: John O'Callaghan '96Ph.D.

I first came to Notre Dame as a graduate student in Mathematics in 1984, and then again in Philosophy in 1987, so I did not have the undergraduate experience so well described here by Kerry. My undergraduate days in bars were in Wisconsin at a place called The Abbey Bar and (it seems every college town must have one) Nicky’s, both across the street from my college.

But at Notre Dame my graduate friends and I thought we really didn’t need the undergraduate experience any longer. Our place was Albert’s out on the way to the airport. We were the Philosophy Department touch football team, “The Rigid Designators,” and we won the university championship five years running against the best undergraduate teams as well as all the other graduate programs. It helped that we practiced three days a week, had a playbook of 30 or so plays, and would simply call them out in a clear precursor to the modern NFL no-huddle offense (more than just the forward pass was invented at Notre Dame), where the other teams would return to their huddles to draw out plays on the palms of their hands. We were like Thales cornering the market on olive presses just before harvest.

We liked to retire in the evenings to Albert’s for beer and Mrs. Albert’s goulash at 11:00 pm. We’d show up around 8:00, but you dared not order the goulash until 11:00. There we would talk philosophy and speak of our football prowess, often plotting how we could get the department to put on the graduate application a request for the applicant’s bench press and speed in the 40.

As the evenings wore on we might toast the bust of the Pope behind the bar with the Notre Dame cap on it. Albert’s no longer exists. It was a sports bar for a while. But now it stands empty. Requiescat in pace.

Since I came back to the faculty it has been Murph’s. Where is Murph’s? Well I once had to instruct a member of the editorial staff of ND Magazine, whom I had asked to go for a drink after work, on just that point. “It is known to outsiders as Leahy’s and it’s in the Morris Inn. But no one who has spent any time there calls it anything other than “Murph’s.”

Some regulars, usually the guys who sit at the actual bar, call Murph “Murphy.” But for me and mine who sit at the tables it’s “Murph”. I try to make it over there with a colleague or friend (sometimes they don’t exclude one another) about once every week or two. Sometimes I worry that Murph knows my drink, and asks me as I come in—until that is I’ve actually had the Jameson’s on the rocks.

He grew up in South Bend but is a huge Chicago sports fan. I grew up in Green Bay. I usually try to make sure to go in after yet another victory of the Packers over the Bears, and make a point of telling Murph that I didn’t wear my Packer hat into the bar out of respect for him. He scowls and joins in with the likes of David Solomon in expressing his disgust with everything having to do with the Packers. Together they try to warm themselves to the thought that the season isn’t quite yet over for the Sox.

Murph’s is closing this week. It will be destroyed in the Morris Inn renovation. There will be a new thing, much larger I’m told. Probably not as warm and cozy. It won’t look out on the remains of the old putting green, but rather the Law School—a profanation of the memory of Murph’s. But the only evidence of life is change. If you want to get a spit-take and a laugh out of the guys sitting at the bar this week, as you pay your bill tell them you’ve heard that the University has contracted with the Tilted Kilt (that place advertised during the commercials on ESPN on the TV above the bar) to run the new place, and Murph has been told he has to wear a shirt unbuttoned to his belt. Then look down to sign your check while you listen to the guys choke on their beer or spit it out, and hear Murph express in disgust his understated “Aw geez.”

Like an old MP, Murph will soldier on at the new place. But now is the time to say thanks for the memories, Murph.

John O’Callaghan is an associate professor of philosophy and the director of the Jacques Maritain Center at Notre Dame.