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Life Arts    H2'ed 1/22/11

Celtic Pub Recreated in Downtown Evanston

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My guest today is Deborah Evans, chef and partner of the Celtic Knot Public House.  Welcome to OpEdNews, Deb.  The Knot has only been in existence for a few years but it's already quite the hangout in downtown Evanston.  Where did the idea come from and how did you make it happen?

[Patrick Breslin is from County Down, Ireland, Liz is from Mt. Prospect, County Cook, Illinois, Debbie and Jamie Evans are from Liverpool, England (aka the capital of Ireland). We all live in Evanston, share a passion for honest hospitality, and have a combined 50 years of experience in the restaurant business.]

Well, Joan, this will be our sixth year.  I can't believe how fast that has gone.  It seemed like only yesterday that I left my job as a chef in an Irish Pub and started the process of opening my own place. It's something I have always wanted to do but never had the finances or the confidence till then.

The biggest hurdle I felt was trying to find a place in Evanston that felt right. I am a firm believer in the karma of a place, and Evanston didn't have many ready-to-go places with a bar. I had eaten at the Roxy Cafe a long time ago and remembered there was a lovely dark wooden bar there, so I set out to go take a look.

I knew it was vacant because I had passed it a few times. When I looked in the window, it was love at first sight. Next came contacting the owner of the building, who promptly told me it had been taken. I seriously felt like someone punched me in the stomach.  I couldn't believe that this place that felt so right was not going to be.

A week passed and I had done all the asking in my prayers for help from the people upstairs (you know what I mean) and I decided to take a drive-by, and lo and behold, they were cleaning the place up.   I asked one of the staff what was going to be in the spot and she said, "Nobody.  It [fell] through." That they were cleaning it to lease.  I couldn't believe it.  I got back on the phone and made arrangements to view the inside.  I called Patrick who was going to join me in this journey as a partner and we went and took a look.

The whole time looking around,  I felt it was already our place.  When we left after viewing the spot,  I actually screamed with excitement at the prospect of it possibly becoming our restaurant. Then, of course, we had to get all the permits, licenses and decorate, which my dad and his friend did.

The Celtic Knot was built with a lot of love by family and friends. That's what makes it so special.

Let's talk about the layout and design. How did you agree on a plan? Were there any fistfights along the way?  What did you all know about Irish pubs in the first place?

Well the layout stayed pretty much the same. My dad moved a few things around, we put up some dark wooden partitions to match the woodwork that was already there. As for the colors, Patrick, my partner, asked me to go ahead and choose. So, I tried to pick colors that were warm and inviting. I still tear up when I talk about this, but I was totally taken aback by how many friends and family showed up to paint and decorate.  That's what makes it such a special place.

The partners are two couples Patrick (from Ireland) and his wife Liz (from the USA) also Jamie, my husband, and me (from Liverpool).

The plan sort of fell into place. We both had a passion for our vision and step by step it evolved. Fistfight?  Not really. I feel we were so busy trying to get the restaurant open, there was no time. At the very beginning, Liz was working and Jamie, my soccer crazy husband, broke his leg, so they were not around as much.

Patrick and I both worked in pubs in the past and grew up in and around them. I also have to say we are not solely a Irish pub; we are a Celtic pub...

Okay, got it, Celtic pub. You and Patrick parlayed your experience at other pubs to create a warm and inviting atmosphere at the Knot. But you're not simply an establishment for eating or drinking. You've also incorporated music and other activities to draw in patrons. What goes on over there, how did you decide what to offer, and how did you make it happen?

Yes, we offer quite a few things at the Knot. The first to appear was the live music. We all felt that music was going to be a part of the Knot from the beginning. Our first hurdle was sorting out the music for St Patrick's Day, and we also added the Irish dancers at the same time. It was a joint effort by all of the partners.  Then, after St Patrick's Day, Patrick took on the music and most of the musicians we have playing, play folk, bluegrass, rock.

Next,  we added the Afternoon Tea, which is where I came in.  That had always been a love of mine. As a kid, it was what I did as a special treat for my birthday. It always seemed calm, quiet and lots of time talking to my mum and friends, which most of the time nobody had time for. So, in this fast-moving world, it's my way of saying, "stop and smell the roses."

The Afternoon Tea consists of mini finger sandwiches, homemade scones, whipped cream, strawberries and jam, and a selection of homemade desserts. As much tea as you would like and all is served in white china.  To top it off, we play classical music; it has become quite popular.

Liz, Patrick's wife, started putting on storytelling events. We now do about two-three  a month, and have had a huge response to these events.  We have had people such as Syd Lieberman  and Sandi Sylver.

Next, my husband Jamie keeps us on top of the soccer at the Knot. We are proud to say we showed most of the World Cup games, which consisted of getting in to work extremely early to be ready to open. But, as with all the rest of the things we put on, we have a passion for what we do so that make the longer hours and and effort all the more worthwhile.

On some occasions in the past, I have set up with local artists to hang their works in our party room. What next?  I don't know. 

Burns Night at the Knot

I was definitely salivating as you described the Afternoon Tea. Anything else you'd like to add before we wrap this up?

One thing I would like to add is that this place would not have survived these past two years or so of the recession without the loyalty and support of our wonderful customers and staff.
Joan, I would like to thank you for being very patient and doing this story.

My pleasure, Deb! You've poured your hearts into the Knot and it shows!


Celtic Knot website

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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