Colleen Flood, the longtime co-owner of The Four Treys Tavern, poured her heart and soul into shaping what Roscoe Village is today and was known as the “unofficial mayor” of the North Side community.
“Walking the dog a distance of two blocks could take two hours because she knew everyone,” said Paul Seng, who co-owned the bar with Ms. Flood and was the love of her life and partner of 45 years.
“And if she didn’t know you, she’d ask you, ‘Now where’d you grow up? Who’s your parents?’ and find a connection,” said her niece, who’s also named Colleen Flood.
“She was the eyes and ears of everything going on,” said Mark Worthley, a longtime Four Treys bartender.
Ms. Flood took immense pride walking its streets because Roscoe Village was not always the trendy neighborhood that people know today, friends and family said.
When she began living above the dog-friendly tavern in the late 1970s with Seng, who purchased the bar a few years earlier, it was a rough neighborhood.
“Gangs were a problem,” Seng said. “There was fighting, tagging, burglaries and the occasional shooting.”
In the 1980s, Ms. Flood and a small group of neighbors came together to patrol the neighborhood on foot and in cars. They would also flood the police with calls about illegal activity and show up to court dates when anyone was criminally charged with causing problems in the neighborhood, said Al Johnson, a close friend and Realtor.
“She’d walk up to gang bangers and tell them, ‘This is our neighborhood, not yours.’ And they’d avoid her. You’d have to meet her to understand,” Johnson said.
Ms. Flood and others formalized the group into Roscoe Village Neighbors, a nonprofit neighborhood association.
Ms. Flood, who for several years also ran a salon on Roscoe Street, reached out to business owners from around the city and implored them to consider opening shops in the neighborhood.
A small block party that Ms. Flood and a handful of others started in the 1980s grew into Retro on Roscoe, one of the city’s most popular street festivals. It includes an antique car show because Ms. Flood and Seng were both enthusiasts. Money raised from the festival is used to support local schools and fund community projects.
She also had a hand in creating other seasonal neighborhood events, like Winterfest.
Ms. Flood died Sept. 19 from cancer. She was 79.
In the 1990s, she loved seeing young families move in, despite some worries that young professionals with kids wouldn’t drink at her bar or might drive out the motorcycle crowds that for years had been loyal customers at The Four Treys.
“Then dive bars started becoming cool, and Four Treys reinvented itself. For years, it was your standard watering hole tavern, and then people started loving it for that,” said her niece, who noted Ms. Flood was no pushover behind the pine.
“I’ve seen her throw full-grown men out of that bar. She was afraid of nothing,” she said. “I worked there years ago in my 20s and would tell people it was time to leave at closing, and nobody would budge, so I’d call Aunt Col and she’d come down and the door would fly open and all those tough guys would be like, ‘We’re leaving! We’re leaving!’”
“It was like they feared her, but they loved her, too, because she was so witty and had a one-liner for everything, and really, once you got past her tough exterior, she had a gigantic heart,” she said.
Ms. Flood, who more recently moved into a home down the street from the bar after years of living above it, always extended an invitation to her family holiday parties to a particularly lonely regular who sat at the end of the bar and had no close relatives.
She also took his dog when he died — a mutt named Odie that was hard to like at first.
“She had a soft spot for the lonely and people down on their luck and would often hire people who were in a tough spot in life,” said her niece.
“She’d say, ‘Everyone gets that way. You’ve got to give them a chance. Sometimes it works out. Sometimes it doesn’t,’” she said.
Ms. Flood was born on Aug. 22, 1944, in Chicago to Thomas and Lenore Flood. Her father was a truck driver, and her mother was a grocery store worker. They raised their six kids in Bridgeport until they divorced, and Ms. Flood, who was 9 at the time, moved with her mother and siblings to the North Side to live with a relative and escape what had been an abusive marriage.
Ms. Flood attended Carl Schurz High School but dropped out to attend beauty school and opened her first salon in her early 20s on the Northwest Side, said Ms. Flood’s sister, Charlis Flood Paglini.
“Her family was poor, and she always told herself, ‘When I grow up, I’m not going to live like this. I’m going to be something,’” said Ms. Flood’s niece.
Margarita Torres rented a space from Ms. Flood, who owned several properties, to open a salon in 1992 and said she was a “light in the darkness” for her and other business owners on Roscoe who counted Ms. Flood as a friend and mentor.
“She was a visionary,” said Charese David, who is vice president of Roscoe Village Neighbors.
“She was special. I can’t believe she’s gone,” her sister said.
A memorial is planned for Saturday from 2 to 6 p.m. at The Four Treys, 3333 N. Damen Ave., where visitors will be able to take a selfie with a cardboard cutout of Ms. Flood — perhaps in front of the 9-foot hammerhead shark that she reeled in off the coast of Florida in the 1970s and decorated for the holidays.
“She loved silly stuff like that,” her niece said.
Folks at Roscoe Village Neighbors are looking into naming a street by the bar in her honor.