Arrest In O’Lanagan’s Slaying Stirs Grief And Troubling Memories

By Carrie Miller | Monday, November 28, 2011

Melissa, bartender at O'Lanagan's, said she's been emotional since a recent arrest and renewed attention to Robert Gonzales' 2009 murder. Credit: Carrie Miller

From his defensive ballet on the pool table to the watchdog eye he kept on his Montrose Ave. corner bar O’Lanagan’s, 2335 W. Montrose  Ave., Robert Gonzales was viewed by his friends and employees as an ultra-cautious guy.

That’s one reason those who knew him were so shocked by his early morning brutal beating murder on October 4, 2009, which recently yielded one arrest, a 25-year old laborer named Andrew Salamon who has named another man as his accomplice.

Salamon goes to court next this Wednesday.

Police have questioned but not arrested a second suspect whom Salamon said beat Gonzales with a metal pipe, according to prosecutors.

Though they are grateful for the sudden progress in the two-year old case, friends and co-workers say the arrest and renewed investigation have stirred up troubling memories and lingering grief.

“It’s killing me,” said bartender Melissa, who has 12 years at O’Lanagan’s under her belt, and still wears a memorial button bearing her former boss’s face pinned to her black satin jacket.

“I still talk to him sometimes,” she said, chuckling sadly, looking at the button. “I say ‘We’re going to get ‘em tonight Bobby O.’”

“It’s hard,” she said, no longer laughing. “I loved him.”

A longtime Northcenter fixture as a tavern owner, friends said the 69-year-old was of Filipino heritage, had a big heart and was an excellent cook. His daily lunch special, which ranged from beef tips to burritos, regularly sold out.

Gonzales also kept an careful eye on the bar’s bottom line.

“Bobby O was like the tyranosaurus rex of bar owners,” said longtime pool teammate Danny B, referring to his thriftiness. ”He had very deep pockets and very short arms.”

When he first took her on as a bartender, Melissa said she was showing off, twirling a liquor bottle as she made a drink.

“He came over and pointed at a drop on the floor,” she said. “He said ‘You know what that is? It’s liquid cash and if you want to keep working here, you’ll keep it in the glasses.”

She said Bobby O’ (his bar-derived nickname) taught her to always card people and to look at addresses as well as birth dates, just in case there was trouble. He was the kind of owner who practically lived at his bar, keeping an eye out and shooting some stick with the dozens of regulars who came to play on what was known as the best bar table in Chicago. Though they are dusty now, several dozen billiard trophies and plaques line high shelves above the bar and near the pool table.

Pool was the one thing he gave away, regularly leaving the ball return window open so you didn’t need quarters.

Among Gonzales’ most closely fought opponents was Carol Kolek, his partner of more than four decades.

It was like a ballet to watch the pair play, Melissa said, putting a finger on her head and twirling a pantomime pirhouette. Neither wanted to give the other a shot, and the defensive play meant a single game would drag on for more than an hour sometimes.

Kolek doesn’t want to talk details of the case lest she jeopardize it, but she said the arrest and newfound attention has been unsettling.

After Bobby’s death, the bar was closed eleven days, she said. Although Kolek never aspired to bar ownership, she reopened the “beer and a shot” working man’s tavern and has run it ever since.

Without the gregarious Gonzales around and in light of the tragedy, O’Lanagan’s has suffered a drop off in business, regulars say, with its three pool league teams relocated to Liberty Lounge on Western.

“It’s nothing against Carol,” said ‘Danny B,’ as he downed a pint at Liberty. He described how Gonzales taught him to shoot pool, and how he was always ready to pitch in when one of the teams was short a man.

“When Bobby O’ was killed it was like my own father died,” Danny B. said.

The teams tried to play again at O’Lanagan’s, but they were constantly reminded of Gonzales murder, he said.

“I’m a smoker; a lot of us are and where we used to go is out back,” he said; in the alley where Bobby O’s body was found.

Now that there has been one arrest, and the prospect of another, a lot of people are talking about closure.

But not Carol Kolek, who was rousted from bed by the alarm company calling, and who rushed to the bar to find a blood-soaked sidewalk. An ambulance had taken Gonzales to the hospital by the time she arrived.

“People always talk about closure, but there is no closure,” Kolek said. “Maybe if he’d been ill and died, but not how it happened.”

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