Diehard sports fans gather at Timothy O’Toole’s two Irish pub locations in downtown Chicago and Gurnee, Ill., to get their food and sports fix, whether it’s during White Sox games in the summer, Bears games in the fall or Blackhawks games in the winter.
Bringing together sports fans certainly is important, which is why Timothy O’Toole’s Owner Humberto Martinez Jr. is putting on a Tailgating 101 class. In fact, Timothy O’Toole’s management team puts on 101 courses every month, each focusing on a specific drink that is paired with great food while simultaneously educating guests, for $20 per participant. In the past, Timothy O'Toole's featured 101 classes on Margaritas, Irish beer, vintage cocktails and more.
Led by Chef Corey Grupe, guests enjoy friendly company and five courses of game-day fare; the Gurnee location held its Tailgating 101 course on Aug. 18 while the Chicago location’s class is Sept. 8.
The menu's first course has patrons drinking a 16-ounce Pabst Blue Ribbon (PBR) can served in a paper bag along with a PBR-marinated grilled bratwurst topped with brown mustard and sauerkraut. Next is a second course featuring a loaded Bloody Mary and a Mini Chicago-style Burger (a hot dog placed on the hamburger, topped with tomatoes and neon-green relish).
Kansas City BBQ ribs are served with Rocky’s Revenge Bourbon Brown ale for the third course, and in homage to Texas, the fourth course has patrons sipping on Shiner Bock and noshing on Tri-tip Texas Chili, made with fresh jalapenos, bacon, cornmeal and topped with Fritos. Finally, the dessert course is a Guinness caramel corn, served in a popcorn bag with a Black & Tan pint.
The Irish pub is casual enough to entice guests who want to try new things but don’t want to be intimidated by food and cocktails that may be outside of their comfort zones. “It’s just introducing people to new things — to break them out of their routine,” Martinez Jr. explains. Not to mention, “it’s a bargain; it gets you five courses!”
Posters along with a huge email database and coverage in local papers helps the 101 series continue to grow. Additionally, Martinez Jr. added more elements for Tailgating 101 by asking patrons to come decked out in football gear; guests also will receive recipe cards and tailgating-themed prizes.
“People really like the pairings, and it gets them in the mood for fall and fall-style foods,” Martinez Jr. explains. “It’s a lot of fun,” even though “it’s a ton of work." Yet, it’s worth it, especially when 75% of people who sign up for these classes aren’t regulars, and they tend to stay and hang out for a few more drinks after the 101 classes are over.
The 30-person 101 classes aren’t necessarily monetarily lucrative for Martinez Jr.
“We don’t make money on it,” he says, but it’s about much more than that. “You try to cultivate clientele that might not come to Timothy O’Toole’s. We’re multi-dimensional. You can come here and enjoy these things; we pull them off and pull them off correctly.”
Being innovative and at the forefront of new ideas is important to any thriving business. Martinez Jr. knows that pushing the boundaries means he’ll reap the rewards, ultimately making Timothy O’Toole’s the go-to destination on game days, as well as every other night of the week.
“We don’t rest on our laurels. We’re doing whatever it is that we feel that our customers want. We adapt and make changes and keep things interesting. Our motto here is, it’s always a party at Timothy O’Toole’s.”