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Chicago Beer Bar Discoveries

(As originally published on our other blog, GoFindBeer.com)

Back when Goose Island was the only local brewery in town, Chicago already had some better beer bars, like the classic 20-year-old Hopleaf. Today there are over 50 breweries (most of them without tap rooms as of yet), and a slew of newer beer bars that locals and visitors are quick to recommend, like the Map Room and Local Option.

We recently dedicated five full days and nights to finding out what’s new on the Chicago beer scene, so everywhere we went we asked for advice from local bar patrons and beertenders. With their advice, we found some great places for craft beer in Chicago that you may not have heard of – yet.

GreenDoor4
Photo by Kim Sharpe Jones

Green Door Tavern – The trendy River North neighborhood of Chicago is just a half mile from Magnificent Mile hotels, but has a vibe all its own. This neighborhood has hip new places like the Acme Hotel and Berkshire Room, the Italian department store Eataly (complete with in-house birreria), and new beer bars like Watershed (below a champagne bar, Pops for Champagne).

And then River North has the old classics like Frontera Grill, Blue Chicago and this gem, the Green Door Tavern. Billed as “Chicago’s Oldest Tavern” it’s one of the only wood-framed buildings that survived the great fire of 1871. Packed to the gills with décor – mostly beer and sports memorabilia and taxidermy – with sports on the TV and craft beer on draft, the vibe is comfortable and welcoming.

Photo by Kim Sharpe Jones
Photo by Kim Sharpe Jones

When we visited, there were 13 beers on the list including a few that we hadn’t found anywhere else in Chicago. They also have their own beer, a Biere de Garde made by Two Brothers Brewing from Warrenton, IL. For the indecisive, the beer flight has four beer samples for $8. The food menu goes beyond typical pub fare with things like venison sloppy joe sliders, poutine and a Chicago fried chicken sandwich with Sriracha mayonnaise.

 

Photo by Kim Sharpe Jones
Photo by Kim Sharpe Jones

Jerry’s Sandwiches – The Andersonville neighborhood of Chicago is about 20 minutes north of downtown via cab, and on the red line via train. Most craft beer visitors head that direction to hit the classic Hopleaf (which has recently doubled in size and expanded hours to include lunch service). With a true neighborhood feel, Andersonville is packed with eateries, yoga studios, drinking establishments and antique stores.

The newbie in town is Jerry’s Sandwiches, with two years of serving over 50 draft beers, all from American craft breweries. They offer beers in two sizes, a 6-ounce or a full pour. We sampled a slew of local Chicago and Great Lakes-area brewed beers using their 6-ounce taster sizes. Also of note – the beer servers and manager are certified Cicerone servers, and the tasting notes on the menu were among the most detailed and concise we’ve seen. For example: “Half Acre Daisy Cutter Pale (IL). Gold, med body, cut pine, resin, weed, orange, grapefruit, caramel.”

Photo by Kim Sharpe Jones
Photo by Kim Sharpe Jones

If you are hungry, Jerry’s was voted “Best Sandwich Shop” in Chicago Magazine’s 2014 readers poll. The sandwich list at Jerry’s is insanely long with over 100 to choose from. It’s also insanely creative with combos like a fried pickle and portabella mushroom po’boy, or the Korean BBQ-glazed fried chicken, or the BLT made with fried green tomato.

While we visited the Andersonville location, there’s a Jerry’s Sandwiches closer to downtown in Wicker Park with fewer taps (closer to 20), but more rare bottles on their “reserve list.”

Farmhouse – Also in the River North neighborhood, Farmhouse is a two-year old gem that refers to itself as a “Midwestern Craft Tavern.” They are not just farm-to-table – they OWN the farm, 130 acres just outside town where they have started to plant and grow crops to serve at their own restaurant. What they aren’t growing on their own, Farmhouse chefs and owners are sourcing from the local farmers and growers in the four states around Lake Michigan.

The atmosphere is rustic and comfortable, intimate yet bustling, packed with diners at 7:30 on a Wednesday night. There are open tables, quiet booths or less formal seats at the bar. Over 85% of the interior décor and build-out were built using salvaged materials, much from a shuttered local furniture factory, giving Farmhouse an aura of a more rural restaurant and one that has been there longer than two years.

Photo by Kim Sharpe Jones
Photo by Kim Sharpe Jones

It’s no exaggeration to say that Farmhouse offered the most flavorful, fresh meal we had in Chicago. It may also be the only Michelin-guide recommended craft beer-focused restaurant that we’ve ever come across.

The menu is as seasonal as you would expect from a farm-to-table restaurant, with starters like house-smoked jerky and candied almonds, roasted cauliflower and chanterelle mushrooms and wheat berries with citrus dressing. Our favorite entrée was the pork tenderloin with lobster mushrooms, peanuts and savoy cabbage in tangy dressing.

Photo by Kim Sharpe Jones
Photo by Kim Sharpe Jones
Photo by Kim Sharpe Jones
Photo by Kim Sharpe Jones

As a beer bar, Farmhouse is no slouch with 28 beers and ciders on tap, hand selected to pair well with food. That means there was no powerhouse IPA, but instead a Half Acre Lager Town Oktoberfest style beer paired perfectly with the pork dish. As with the food, the majority of the beers are locally sourced.

(Disclaimer: our meal at Farmhouse was comped in full, but we would rave about it regardless, especially since it was under $100 for two, before tip, and included the beers.)

7 comments

  1. Please tell us while in Chicago you made the trip to Three Floyds in Munster Indiana.
    No trip to the area is complete without going there.

  2. John – we were on a Chicago focus with no car, so we reluctantly skipped a visit to Three Floyds this time. But we had plenty of their beers around town.

      1. John, yep those and more. Half Acre was our fave. Plus there are plenty of new small breweries without tasting rooms, so the local beer bars are the best place to try those. That’s one reason this article was specifically about the bars, not the breweries.

  3. Small correction – Two Brothers Brewing is located in Warrenville, IL — I grew up there and am to this day stunned that anything so interesting is operating out of that suburb…

  4. As much as we wanted to like Revolution beers after seeing “Drinking Buddies”, we felt they were sorta average. The food at their pub was sublime and the best meal we had on our Chicago trip. A close second is the food at Millers Pub (no relation) downtown, which is always packed but with quick service. Over the past 15 years I’ve seen Millers go from neighborhood watering hole with a couple of craft handles to full-on craft beer bar with FFF, Founders, GI and other Midwest stars on full time.

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