WALWORTH — Lois Gilfoy was frequently the life of the party.
Once she opened Sweeney’s Pub, she became the party.
Gilfoy founded the downtown Walworth tavern with her husband in 1985, and in the process, she helped to create an institution that would serve local bar goers for more than 30 years.
“It was a great bar,” her son, Dan Gilfoy, said. “It became probably the best bar in Walworth.”
After a successful run with a business that combined her own appreciation for a good cocktail with her passion for a friendly tavern crowd, Lois Gilfoy died June 5 at the age of 89.
A resident of Fontana, she was the mother of eight children, and a grandmother, who also had a knack for growing impressive flower gardens around her home.
But it was her association with Sweeney’s Pub — situated on a corner overlooking downtown Walworth’s village square — that made her a well known figure in the community.
So much so that the new owners of Sweeney’s Pub plan to include a tribute to Gilfoy inside when they reopen the tavern later this year.
As new business owner Alisha Kalous said of Gilfoy: “We’ll make sure she won’t be forgotten.”
Born in Chicago as Lois Schick, Gilfoy met her future husband, Leo Gilfoy, when he walked into the 1950s-era soda fountain shop where she was working behind the counter.
The couple married in 1952, and they stayed in Chicago until relocating to the Lake Geneva region in 1976. Leo had a career as an attorney, and Lois stayed home with their six daughters and two sons.
After the children had grown, Gilfoy and her husband decided to indulge his longtime interest in owning a tavern, especially one highlighting his Irish heritage. So they bought the small place at 103 Kenosha St. and transformed it into Sweeney’s Pub in 1985.
Daughter Peggy Jensen recalls that her father borrowed the name from a local gentleman named Sweeney, simply because it sounded better than Gilfoy’s Pub.
Jensen said her parents enjoyed running the business, and her mother had a wonderful time bringing her own outgoing personality to the bar.
“She was really a strong woman, and a strong personality,” Jensen said. “Feisty, I like to say.”
The couple soon discovered that by opening their doors at 6 a.m., they could build a strong following among third-shift factory workers looking to throw back a few drinks on their way home.
Sadly, Leo Gilfoy died unexpectedly from natural causes just four years later at the age of 60.
Lois Gilfoy decided to keep Sweeney’s Pub going, with help from her children and with support from loyal customers, many of whom she had come to regard as friends.
Family members say Gilfoy never talked about giving up Sweeney’s Pub when her husband died.
“She loved that place,” daughter Robin Gilfoy said. “That was her second home.”
Finally, Lois Gilfoy decided it was time to move on, and she sold the tavern in 1992 or 1993. But the Sweeney’s Pub name and theme remained, and Gilfoy continued frequenting the spot as a regular customer.
Whether it was a cold Old Style beer or her favorite Brandy Old-Fashioned cocktail, she enjoyed sipping a beverage while watching her beloved Chicago Bears or Chicago Cubs on TV with friends around the bar.
“That was her go-to spot,” Jensen said.
Nearly 35 years after Sweeney’s Pub made its debut, the tavern changed hands again last year. As the new owners, Kalous and her husband, Jason Mannon, closed the establishment temporarily for a makeover. The couple is renaming it the 46 Tavern, in honor of the year when the place first opened as a bar.
Kalous said she plans a display honoring Lois Gilfoy and other past owners of the historic property. Kalous had hoped that Gilfoy could visit the 46 Tavern and witness the reopening.
“We’re sad that she won’t be there to see it,” Kalous said.
Family members say Gilfoy accepted that the Sweeney’s Pub name and Irish theme were going to fade away. She was comfortable simply enjoying her memories, knowing that she and her family had created a local institution.
Jensen said her mother looked forward to welcoming the 46 Tavern to town. Knowing that the new bar will have a spot to memorialize her mother is touching, Jensen said.
“I think it’s beautiful,” the daughter said. “She would love it. That would mean so much for her.”
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