The Legendary Kelly's Logan House Lives On in Trolley Square
Here's how this historic Irish bar stays afloat in one of Wilmington's most ever-changing communities.
Legendary Kelly’s Logan House, owned by Michael Kelly, will again serve as the hub of St. Patrick’s Day in Wilmington.//photo by Joe Del Tufo
On the corner of Delaware Avenue and North Dupont Street sits a towering structure, one that is rich in tradition. Built in 1864, the Logan House has gone through its share of transformations but has persevered in an ever-evolving Forty Acres and Trolley Square community. As the oldest Irish bar in the state and the oldest bar continually operated by the same family in the United States, it still draws customers young and old.
Current owner Michael Kelly smiles as he recalls the bar’s rich history. His great-grandfather, John D. “Whiskers” Kelly and his wife, Hannah, purchased the former hotel in 1889. “She wasn’t college educated but she was the brains behind the business,” says Michael. When Whiskers passed away in 1939, Hannah ran the bar by herself until 1954.
Kelly's Logan House is the oldest Irish bar in the state.//
“The Logan House was the center of Irish culture,” he says. The three-story building—named after American Civil War general John A. Logan—served as a bar on the ground floor, a hotel on the second floor and as the Kelly family residence on the third floor. It was located across the street from the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, and “Irish immigrants who were arriving were told to visit John D. Kelley for work,” says Michael. “Most were employed at DuPont or Bancroft Mill where they were used as fodder in the explosive business.”
Today, the train station is home to an ACME supermarket, and the former trolley and bus depot is the site of the Trolley Square shopping center. But through it all, the Logan House remains.
Michael’s father—John D. Kelly III—assumed the management role not long after Hannah died. By then the Logan House was operating as a full-time bar and restaurant (The hotel closed in the 1930s). It was under his ownership when the Logan House transformed into a quintessential neighborhood bar. “He would perform stand-up comedy every Friday and Saturday night,” recalls Michael. He became involved in politics and was elected New Castle County sheriff and register in chancery. He was your typical Irish publican,” says Michael. “He would give money to anybody who needed it.”
He is also credited with co-founding Wilmington’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade with former mayor Tom Maloney.
Michael and his sister Mary Ann took over the bar in 1990. “During that time my sister took the bar to a new level as far as entertainment. We started showcasing a lot of popular bands and musicians, like Hootie & the Blowfish and Pete Best,” says Michael.
But Michael doesn’t frequent the Logan House too often. Despite a recent bout with gallbladder cancer (he was told his cancer was inoperable, “but two surgeries and one year of chemotherapy and radiation later, I’m still kicking”) he still works full time as chairman of the Newark, New Jersey-based McCarter & English law firm. “I think I’m trying my best cases now,” he says. “The moment I sense I’m losing my fastball I will stop trying cases.”
Instead, he and his sister rely on general manager Joe Mujica to keep things running smoothly. After shots were fired at the Logan House during the most recent Halloween Loop, the decision was made to no longer participate.
“We have to stay one step ahead,” says Michael.
He says that the Logan House will still be involved in the St. Patrick’s Day Loop March 9 and will participate in events that contribute to charity.
“We are proud of the tradition of charitable giving,” says Michael.
This month, the institution is set to celebrate another St. Patrick's Day.//photo by Joe Del Tufo
Mujica came on board a little over two years ago and he has made it his mission to return the Logan House to its status as Trolley Square’s original neighborhood bar.
On a Friday afternoon, the crowd at Kelly’s Logan House is as diverse as the drink options. There’s a handful of retirees sitting at one corner of the bar, sipping whiskey and cheap beer. At the other end is a group of 20-somethings watching sports and enjoying a round of craft beer.
“I love the fact that we still have people who have been coming here for 50 years,” says Mujica. “On Sundays we get a lot of regulars and 20-somethings who come in to watch the game.”
Brice Brown IV, 29, moved to Trolley Square a few years ago from Newark and is now a regular at the Logan House. He likes the bar’s relaxed atmosphere while he watches sports. “I call it the clubhouse; I feel like I’m at home.”