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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 2 of 3)

By Cassie Walker
 

Gastropubs

The Publican
The Publican

THE SPECIALTY CELLAR
The Bluebird

The Bluebird made its reputation as a cozy Bucktown wine bar, but somewhere along the way word got out that sommelier Jill Mott was indulging her own cravings for piquant ales and farmhouse saisons. After steadily building a 120-bottle menu, she recently introduced a reserve list of limited-supply vintage beers (The Lost Abbey’s 2008 Angel’s Share Ale, $40/750 mL; J. W. Lees’s 2007 Harvest, $19/9.3 oz.), as well as a surprisingly affordable monthly beer tasting ($25–$30) paired with plates. The regular menu beckons now, too, with beer-driven fare such as mussels steamed in Blanche de Bruxelles’s Bière Blanche ($15). 1749 N. Damen Ave.; 773-486-2473, bluebirdchicago.com

THE NEIGHBORHOOD STANDOUT
Fountainhead

Any weeknight is a reason to pull up a stool at this Ravenswood corner bar, where the beer director, Phil Kuhl, curates such smart-aleck themes as “It Might Get Hoppy,” devoted to imperial IPAs. But the place shines brightest when Robyn Marfurt gets in the game: For a recent Weihenstephaner night, the beer-loving executive chef paired $5 steins of the mild German brew with sausages braised in dark beer ($7) and porter-infused German chocolate cake ($6). Fortunately for neighborhood hopheads, Kuhl rotates in a few new or rare beers each month, and Marfurt whips up a beer-infused tasting menu to match. 1970 W. Montrose Ave.; 773-697-8204, fountainheadchicago.com

Related:

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Homebrewing and beer-drinking tips, plus our beer-making video and details on our beer release party

« TOP BARS, GASTROPUBS, AND LIQUOR STORES
Our 15 favorite places to find craft beer

BEER SCHOOLED »
A history of the Siebel Institute of Technology

WHAT’S IN YOUR FRIDGE NOW? »
Four connoisseurs tell us what they’re drinking

THROWING A BEER TASTING PARTY »
Pros tell us how to pair beer with food

CCBW 2011 »
Check out pics from this year’s Chicago Craft Beer Week

Plus:
Download your own tasting sheet (PDF)

And vote in our poll to name Chicago’s signature summer brew on our Facebook page

THE LOUNGE ACT
Gilt Bar

With more than two dozen varieties in the cooler and 12 drafts on offer, Gilt Bar can’t claim the largest selection around. But this sleek River North gastrolounge succeeds with a smart assortment of American craft ales and full-bodied Belgians, not to mention a wait staff of bons vivants. The beverage director, Jean Tomaro, who does double duty at sibling Maude’s Liquor Bar, regularly subs in new pours, each time introducing her staffers to the beers both by taste and how they pair with food. We tested our server’s mettle with an order for ham and cheese fondue ($12), beet salad ($10), and ricotta gnocchi ($14). Her winning pick? A complex, malty IPA (Southern Tier’s 2X, $6) that balanced the rich flavors in our meal and distracted us, perhaps permanently, from the first-rate cocktail list. 230 W. Kinzie St.; 312-464-9544, giltbarchicago.com

THE ANGLOPHILE’S RETREAT
Owen & Engine

There are a few secrets for hitting and not missing at this British-inspired pub in Logan Square—a considerably more stylish destination than the fluorescent-lit movie theatre across the street. Visit on a weeknight (shorter waits), sit upstairs (it’s quieter), and ask to chat with Elliott Beier, the mustachioed cicerone, who will handily recommend a cask-conditioned beer from the daily selection. Some ubiquitous dishes (fish and chips, $17) may cost more than you want to pay, so choose from the less common options, including an assortment of house-made sausages and charcuterie ($19). When we visited, the sticky toffee pudding ($9) paired with a Fuller’s ESB ($6) erased any anxiety over who was picking up the tab. 2700 N. Western Ave.; 773-235-2930, owenengine.com

THE EXEMPLAR
The Publican

Before opening his pork-and-beer hall in the West Loop, chef/co-owner Paul Kahan quaffed his way through England and Belgium—an odyssey reflected in The Publican’s meticulous selection of Trappist ales and Flemish reds, which pair superbly with the farm-driven plates (roasted chicken, $24; suckling pig, $23). On a recent visit, our order of boudin blanc sausage ($17) prompted a decisive recommendation for a German weiss (Weihenste-phaner’s Vitus, $8); the server went on to explain how the clove-accented beer balances the dish’s savory-sweet elements. No other Chicago establishment requires its wait staff to pass the first level of a cicerone certification program, and as a result, no one else speaks the language of beer with such expertise. 837 W. Fulton Market; 312-733-9555, thepublicanrestaurant.com

 

Photograph: Anna Knott

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