Bartender Nancy Barry (left) stands behind the bar with Cordial Inn owner Joe Kenny. Melissa Elsmo/Food Editor
Joe Kenny, owner of the Cordial Inn wants the Brookfield bar he bought to stay the same. (Melissa Elsmo/Food Editor)

When veteran bar owner Joe Kenny went in search of an establishment to purchase, he knew what he was looking for and The Cordial Inn, 9207 31st St., Brookfield, proved to be the perfect fit. 

After months of negotiation, Kenny and his business partner, Ronnie Milchhoefer, took over ownership of the long-standing neighborhood bar on August 1.

Kenny spent months visiting The Cordial Inn in advance of the purchase — he was attracted to the number of regular customers and longtime loyal staff. He qualified it as a place that catered to people from all walks of life, where anyone could feel comfortable. 

“When I came into the bar after the purchase went through, one of our staff members looked at me, wagged her finger and called me a stinker,” said Kenny with a laugh. “I had been coming in so much she could put my face to the name of the bar’s new owner.”

Kenny brings 25 years of experience to the new endeavor, including 22 years owning and operating Finley Dunne’s in Chicago. Milchhoefer was the proprietor of R Place in Forest Park for 16 years before selling the property and closing the bar in January 2020. 

Though both men had left the business behind, they missed the people who made up their regular clientele and the sense of community that came along with owning a bar. 

Joe Kenny, owner of The Cordial Inn (Melissa Elsmo/Food Editor)

Looking to re-enter the hospitality industry, the two teamed up to purchase the Cordial Inn from the Volpe family, who had owned the watering hole since at least 1965. In the 1940s, the Cordial Inn was owned by Frank Kvasnicka before being sold to the Volpe family.

“This is a legacy business that had been owned by one family for a long time,” said Kenny. “They were no longer living in the area and our ownership will allow new local families to oversee the business and honor what they built.”

Kenny, who oversees operations, resides in LaGrange Park and his children attended Riverside-Brookfield High School, while Milchhoefer, who is in charge of the physical plant, is raising a family in North Riverside. Their proximity means both are capable of being onsite in minutes, though Kenny has been working at the bar from open to close since the sale went through.

“People were really afraid we’d turn this into some kind of lounge,” said Kenny. “But we are never going to be a place that has bottle service. We are a shot-and-a-beer kind of place and always will be. The Cordial Inn will always be the Cordial Inn.”

Top of mind was retaining veteran bartender Nancy Barry, who has been pouring drinks and grilling burgers for 29 years. 

Cordial Inn regulars Donna Cook and Steven Hundrieser have been enjoying drinks and camaraderie at the 31st Street bar for 20 years. (Melissa Elsmo/Food Editor)

“We love Nancy — this place is full because Nancy is here,” said longtime customer Steven Hundrieser, who is also a professional bartender. “This is a working-class bar where we’re going to see people that we like.”

“It’s just easy to be here because nothing is over complicated,” chimed in Donna Cook. “It’s a gem. We can sit outside, have a bucket of beer and something to eat. It’s like one of the last little neighborhood places.”

Kenny says being onsite tending bar, taking out the trash and cleaning tables has helped build trust among both longtime staff members and skeptical patrons. Kenny and Milchhoefer are committed to making improvements to bring the building up to code. They have already fixed the plumbing, replaced the water meter, upgraded the bar stools, and completed a tuck-pointing project. 

They are in the process of repaving the parking lot, aim to update the front entry and hope to transform the back alley into an outdoor beer garden, but beyond maintenance projects, Kenny says they are committed to keeping the spirit of the business exactly has it has been for decades.

“The Cordial Inn is a true old-fashioned Chicago-style tavern,” said Kenny. “It’s a place for the neighborhood and that’s how we want it to stay.”

The Cordial Inn is open from Monday through Thursday from 7 a.m. to 1:30 a.m., Friday and Saturday from 7 a.m.-2:30 a.m. and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1:30 a.m.