Regional Dining Guide

A New Irish Pub in Rockford’s Midtown District

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Discover this 21-and-over pub featuring American and Irish dishes and an extensive alcohol selection.

Gene Hayenga opened Gene’s Irish Pub in Rockford on Sept. 10, 2019. The 21-and-over pub features American and Irish dishes and an extensive alcohol selection. (Samantha Behling photo)

Gene Hayenga opened Gene’s Irish Pub in Rockford on Sept. 10, 2019. (Samantha Behling photo)

Gene Hayenga pictured a specific vision when he opened Gene’s Irish Pub at 1025 Fifth Ave., Rockford. After closing his previous restaurant, Gene’s Place, earlier this year, he imagined a smaller pub “in all aspects,” he says.

“Fewer seats, fewer staff, fewer hours, a smaller menu – and I feel like everyone likes an Irish pub,” Hayenga explains. “It’s about good food and good service in a friendly, relaxing atmosphere.”

Indeed, the pub has a quaint, relaxing atmosphere with dark green walls and humorous Guinness posters surrounding less than a dozen tables. As a 21-and-over bar, it’s a place where people can enjoy a drink after work or go on a date.

Hayenga’s storied journey to becoming a restaurant owner includes serving in the military, earning an MBA degree, and working for Chrysler for nearly 10 years. He opened Gene’s Place in Rockford in 2011, but the thought of owning a smaller Irish pub was always in the back of his mind. So, after working with Rockford’s Business First Program, Hayenga seized the opportunity to bring something new to Rockford’s Midtown District when he opened Gene’s Irish Pub on Sept. 10, 2019.

“The Midtown District is going to be growing a lot more in the next several years,” Hayenga says. “I think this has been a great move for us.

“People appreciate what we offer here. So far, I have to say, the clientele we’ve had in Midtown has been wonderful. We get people who appreciate the craft beer and finer Irish whiskeys that we have.”

True to any Irish pub, there are multiple options from Guinness Brewery on tap, such as Harp, Smithwicks and classic Guinness, as well as beer from Bass Brewery, based in England. There’s also a selection of rotating craft beers.

Irish whiskies like Red Breast 12 Year Old, Jameson, Powers Signature, Tullamore Dew and many more join several non-Irish whiskeys on a lengthy list of available options. Vodka, rum, gin, tequila, brandy, scotch, schnapps and wine are also available.

Favorite dishes from Gene’s Place are still on the menu, including the pork chop sandwich, half-pound cheeseburger, grilled salmon, gourmet mac & cheese, and (of course) Gene’s Famous Fish & Chips on Fridays and prime rib on Saturdays.

New items with an Irish flare are already proving popular. The Chicken O’Sullivan features two seasoned boneless chicken breasts char-grilled and topped with an Irish Whiskey cream sauce, served with homemade mashed potatoes and the vegetable of the day. The Lassie Mandy’s Shepherd’s Pie satisfies with a hearty mixture of tender ground beef, carrots and peas layered with homemade mashed potatoes.

Real Irish banger sausages are steeped in Irish stout beer and then char-grilled for the Bangers & Mash, a classic Irish dish. And the Rueben Egg Rolls “fly off the menu” with house-made corned beef rolled up with Swiss cheese and sauerkraut.

“There’s also an Irish twist on some of our older dishes,” Hayenga adds. “A lot of our meals have Irish whiskey infused into the sauces, like the rib-eye, which comes with a peppercorn and Irish whiskey sauce.”

It’s Irish through and through, as Hayenga distinctly envisioned. “I’ve always wanted to open an Irish pub,” he says.

Hours: Tues.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m., Fri.-Sat. to midnight; closed Sunday and Monday.

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