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Chicago’s 15 Best Bars, Gastropubs, and Liquor Stores for Craft Beer

Which spots rise to the top like a nice foaming head on a cold pint? We crawled the city and suburbs to bring you our favorites

(page 1 of 3)

By Amalie Drury
 


 

Bars

The Map Room
The Map Room

THE ARCHETYPE
Hopleaf Bar

This Andersonville tavern has stayed busy since opening in 1992, but its booming past decade demonstrates Chicago’s exponential thirst for craft beer. So many pilgrims trek here that, come late summer, Michael Roper and Louise Molnar will launch an expansion next door (bigger kitchen, more seating, 20 new taps). Michael, the keeper of the beer menu (325 bottles, 45 drafts), tends toward Belgians (Van Honsebrouck’s Gueuze Fond Tradition, $7) and Belgian-style ales brewed in the United States (Goose Island’s Matilda, $6). Whether a beer makes the cut often depends on its backstory: Take the father-and-son farmers who grow their own barley (Hof Ten Dormaal’s Wit Goud, $8.50). As for his role in shaping generations of palates, Michael says: “When I try to take a popular beer off the menu, people freak out. We’ve created a bunch of beer Frankensteins.” 5148 N. Clark St.; 773-334-9851, hopleaf.com

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THE HOPS HOSTEL
Map Room

The ceiling hung with flags and the bookshelves lined with back issues of National Geographic say it all: Patrons should prepare to try something off the grid at this self-dubbed travelers’ tavern. The manager and certified cicerone, Jay Jankowski, is happy to surprise indecisive drinkers with Bockor’s Bellegems Bruin or ’T Gaverhopke’s Extra ($7 each) from the globetrotting beer list (26 drafts, plus one on cask and some 150 varieties by bottle), which delves deepest into German-style and domestic craft brews. At night, Beer School classes bring beer geeks by the dozens, while daytime hours are ideal for quiet sipping at this 18-year-old Bucktown standby (coffee service starts at 6:30 a.m. weekdays; taps flow at 11). 1949 N. Hoyne Ave.; 773-252-7636, maproom.com (cash only)

THE OLD NEWBIE
Maria’s Packaged Goods & Community Bar

When Ed Marszewski revamped his mom’s 25-year-old Bridgeport institution in 2010, he kept its tried-and-true format—liquor store up front, bar in the rear—but introduced a chic new décor, a DJ schedule, and a shockingly long beer menu. After touring a friend’s microbrewery in Amsterdam, Marszewski decided Maria’s should carry “every craft beer distributed in our neck of the woods,” including hard-to-get seasonals such as Founders’ Cerise ($5), bringing the total count to 18 drafts and roughly 400 bottles and cans. The beauty of having a liquor store on the premises? About 75 percent of the beer list is available to go. 960 W. 31st St.; 773-890-0588, community-bar.com

THE DECEPTIVE DIVE
Quenchers Saloon

It was Quenchers’ second owners, Earle and Nisa Johnson, who skewed the now-32-year-old Bucktown bar toward beer in the early 1980s, when six or seven taps were considered a lot. The international thing came later, Earle says. Today, Bob Ehrlich, a certified cicerone, oversees a list of 275 bottles and 24 drafts, with finds including Bockor’s Cuvee des Jacobins Rouge from Belgium ($8) and Stiegl’s Pils from Austria ($5). That doesn’t mean this lovably scruffy corner tap, home of the free popcorn basket and Earle’s Famous Chili ($3.50), has forgotten its blue-collar roots: “There’s still the guy who only has $10 in his pocket, so you can still get a Bud Light or a PBR,” Earle says. 2401 N. Western Ave.; 773-276-9730, quenchers.com (cash only)

THE DRAFT PICK
Sheffield’s

Although a tavern has stood on this Lake View corner since the 1940s, we can thank Rocky Albazi and the late Ric Hess, who purchased the bar in 1992, for really bringing the beer. With April’s addition of 12 new draft lines, Sheffield’s now pours from 50 taps (Left Hand’s Milk Stout, $5; Stone’s Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale, $7), including one cask option and six devoted to the beer garden—an Edenic haven in the midst of riotous Wrigleyville. Hess, who died last year, was a fierce champion of regional brewing and a perfectionist when it came to the bar’s other specialty, barbecue. 3258 N. Sheffield Ave.; 773-281-4989, sheffieldschicago.com

 

Photograph: Anna Knott

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