Johnny Kola and Sparklyn Jade

CHICAGO CALLING: A Windy City Landmark which Epitomizes the Irish Pub Experience

“Jeopardy” comes on the tube on Fridays at 3:30pm and that’s when the Landmark Pub starts to jump. It’s a little bit like walking into a sit-com.

The pool table is waiting for suckers and so are all the gambling machines packed into this efficient little pub in Harwood Heights, just along Foster Avenue on the edge of Chicago. There is an infectious energy about the place, guys are slamming shots and laughter erupts out of nowhere, the jukebox gets turned off for Jeopardy.

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I don’t know if that’s a house rule or not, but I don’t wanna find out either. Amid the music our hero enters, Johnny Kola, aka Tarzan, aka Big John, Red John,  and who I will now christen The Irish Viking. He’s an imposing Ginger with muscles and tats and wisecracks as he walks behind the bar and buys every group a round of drinks. This is the Landmark Pub in Harwood Heights and with the parking lot, the pub itself, and his darlin’ Irish gal, and four of their kids climbing the rafters and chasing silly in the kitchen of their home next door; it’s become the Kola Kompound.

Johnny and his kids

Johnny and his kids

Johnny at one time owned a pair of pubs in Chicago but just a few years ago, (two months before Covid hit), sold Big John’s Club Belmont and threw all his talents into the legendary Landmark. 

The ”woman of the house” and the pub is Sparklyn Jade Logan, and she is an Irish pure bred hubahuba! She sez, “We ended up crossing paths when I showed up at Club Belmont and then I started working for him. You can’t out-drink him, he can hang. He needed a strong Irish woman in his life, to keep him in line.”

His dad was killed in a car accident on the Kennedy when Johnny was in 4th grade. He went to high school at St. Pat’s and later founded Chicago’s only semi-pro football team, The Chicago Chargers. “We did that for 22 years, won the national championship in 1999 and in 2000 I was inducted into the Canton, Ohio Hall of Fame for minor league football.”

John’s son Jake is 29, a married Marine headed to Medical School in Virginia on their dime, with a baby on the way. The rest of the menagerie is daughter Kylie 13, Jason 9, Trinity-Clover 8, and the adorable Harley-Rush 4. They are a spirited bunch, to say the least. 

John & Sparklyn

John & Sparklyn

They’ve owned the Landmark for 17 years but just four years ago purchased the house next door for their growing family.

Johnny and Sparklyn Jade sing the  praises of Harwood Heights Mayor Arlene Jezierny, who laid down the welcome mat and knows all the kids by name. “She’s an amazing lady!”

Johnny toots his horn, “We have the coolest neighborhood bar! We’ve got everybody: cops, firemen, politicians, union guys, everything. People around here, they’re great people, they help each other. This guy goes to that guy’s house. One guy’s an electrician, and he’ll help this guy and the tuck pointer will help that guy and a plumber will help that guy, it’s just unbelievable!”

Sparklyn chimes in, “And when the 80-year-old lady at the end of the bar has her birthday party, all of them will show up for it. It’s such a great neighborhood.”

In the summer they hold open air concerts with live music in the parking lot and the whole block rocks.
Landmark Pub was founded back in 1938 and for many Harwood Heights residents, “It’s like a way of life for a lot of people.” Sparklyn tells me, “It was the first established business in Harwood Heights.”
Johnny sez, “It’s a family-owned business and we’re a real family. Ya’ know what I’m sayin’? This neighborhood, it is our family.”

THE Kola family

THE Kola family

For my money, it’s the type of joint where it’s easy to sink a root. Stories flow like a flooded basement, each better than the last. Johnny’s mom Arlene still works here one day a week. Last time I was there Sparklyn started telling me about the photo of her mom and the late US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on a horse! Its R-rated!

Johnny tells me, “One of the best things in my life was meetin’ this Irish young lady!”

Sparklyn agrees, “This is where our heart is, yeah!”

Johnny sez, “Anybody in the neighborhood please stop by and come have a drink with us!”

Betcha have more than one! Ya’ know what I’m sayin’?