Bald guy in work boots: check. Goth girls eating french fries: check. Mom and Grandma cooing at something in a stroller: check. Guy in a suit: check. Lesbian double date near the window: check.
It’s a Thursday at Fountainhead, the latest neighborhood tavern to hit the North Side, and the crowd illustrates the fact that nobody’s quite sure, exactly, which neighborhood we’re in. According to the bar’s website, Fountainhead is “nestled in the heart of . . . Ravenswood, Lincoln Square and North Center . . . in the northwest Lakeview area.” Huh. Let’s just say it’s in a rehabbed building at the intersection of Montrose and Damen avenues, where the previous tenant, a ramshackle pharmacy, probably didn’t see as many customers in a year as Fountainhead saw its first week.
For me, pinning down the neighborhood—and the bar—is an urgent mission. I’m about to take up residence a block and a half away, and after years of enduring frat-boy antics at Lincoln Park pubs, I’m eager to fit in with my new, grown-up drinking buddies. As it turns out, though, three visits in three weeks does not a regular make. Every time I stop by the bar—where wrought-iron light fixtures and 1930s posters make a valiant effort at coziness but could use a little breaking in—I feel less like everybody knows my name and more like I should grab a clipboard and give the besieged hostesses a break.
“We had some kinks to work out,” says a co-owner, Aaron Zacharias, also part of the team behind The Bar on Buena. After one such kink-laden dinner involving lots of waiting around, I decided to go back alone and sit at the bar. There I made friends with Gail, a longtime fan of the food crafted by Fountainhead’s chef, Robyn Marfurt, formerly of The Bar on Buena (get the Swine Swoon sandwich, $8). “This place has been an education for me,” Gail raved. “The bartenders are always suggesting things. It encourages me to branch out.”
The menu’s pages of beers and whiskeys offer plenty of chances to go exploring. Among the rarities are Rogue’s Morimoto Soba Ale ($6), but it takes a patient beer geek to advise a stuck-in-a-rut drinker like me. On one of my visits, Mike, the bartender on duty, provided a tutorial on the spot’s beer engine, a hand-pumped tap that uses suction rather than added carbonation to move the beer from cask to glass.
To the uninitiated, the result can seem warmish and, well, flat. But when I pointed out the engine to a more adventurous drinker on a subsequent trip, he was all enthusiasm: “You never see that in the U.S. It makes me love this place to death!”
Speaking of branching out, I’ll be keeping an eye on the progress of Fountainhead’s rooftop garden, slated to open in August. By Labor Day, I plan to be a card-carrying regular. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even come around to warm beer.
1970 W. Montrose Ave.; fountainheadchicago.com
Photograph: Chris Guillen