I’ve noticed this in recent travels and talked about it with beer fans — good craft breweries are opening, and bars that focus on serving good craft beer are finally finding their way into the heartland. No more do we have to suffer a wasteland of PBR and Coors when we visit southwest towns like Tucson or midwest towns like Chicago. Now we can get beer worthy of the food in this fabulous and friendly region.
So when heading to Chi-town with friends and fellow beer-lovers Tim and Nancy, armed with some good advice and a little research, we found some good beer bars, gastropubs and even a real neighborhood brewpub.
Clark Street Alehouse — they don’t have their own website so I’m giving you a Yelp page link instead for this sweet, dark, little neighborhood beer bar in River North. Similar to the Beveridge Place in West Seattle in that there’s just beer and pretzels here, and you step up to the bar to order from a deep draft list with beers we don’t see on draft here in the Northwest. We sampled selections from Goose Island, 3 Floyds and Bell’s Brewing, and particularly enjoyed the Bells Two Hearted IPA.
Hopleaf — also in River North, this is a 21+ bar with food and another deep draft list. Possibly the biggest selection of Belgian-style beers I’ve seen on draft outside of Brouwer’s. On a Saturday night, this place was packed with a loud, friendly crowd of mixed ages. We felt right at home.
XOCO – ok, not a beer bar, but they did have 22-ouncers of Matilda to pair with our delicious Rick Bayless creations. This is his “fast food” concept that’s attached to the Frontera Grill. Sigh. I have a major food crush on Rick Bayless. (It’s ok if Kendall knows that, he has a man-crush on Rick Bayless so he understands.)
Rock Bottom Chicago – In the continuum of good Rock Bottom and bad Rock Bottom, because they are not all created alike, this is very near the good side. The bartender was a recent transport from Portland, OR, so he had a good feel for the beer and what we might enjoy. We sampled Erik’s Red, a dry-hopped oatmeal stout, and a brand new Rye P.A. that they tapped while we were sitting there. They were both quaffable, well-balanced and well-hopped. Great downtown location just north of the River and west of Michigan, perfect for tourists like us.
The Gage – credited by some for starting the gastropub craze in Chicago, this should be a tourist joint, being right across from Millenium Park. But it turns out locals love it too, and why wouldn’t they? Comfortable environs, friendly service, and a mix of people from well-heeled diners to folks in Bears jerseys having a victory beer on their way home from Soldier Field. So comfortable that we hung out for upwards of five hours sampling from the menu. The beer list isn’t extensive, but it’s thoughtful and they had a Southern Tier Pale on that was delicious.
Revolution Brewing – We found this one on Yelp, a brand new brewpub in the Logan Square neighborhood, about a 15-minute ride northwest of downtown on the Blue Line. They just opened in February and brew about 12 of their own, most of them on the draft list along with ten or so guest taps. Our server, Bear, was friendly, enthusiastic and knowledgable. The beers were outstanding – we tried the Bottom Up Wit, Anti-Hero IPA, Eugene (their porter), Bourbon-Barrel Aged Eugene, Reel Ten ESB, and Thee Destroyer, an outstanding citra-hopped double IPA.
We dug into their food menu as well, including an absolutely ridiculous bacon fat popcorn with shaved parmesan and fried sage leaves, and a Flemish stew on cream-cheese mashed potatoes. My favorite: a dessert of citra hop ice cream with orange pound cake and cranberry compote, paired with Thee Destroyer it blew my mind.
Regrets from Chicago? Sure I had a few. Mostly due to eating only pork, beef and beer for three days straight. Not so good for a fiber-eating girl’s stomach. But ahhh, Chicago. Until next time.