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I’ll Have What He’s Having: Taking Cues from the Hopheads at Hopleaf

If you want to snag a seat in the Andersonville bar Hopleaf, you might want to aim for, say, 3 p.m. As The Creative Director and I stood on Clark Street around quitting time last night, we sweated every agonizing second it took for our parking slip to print, worrying that each passing moment meant one fewer bar stool…

If you want to snag a seat in the Andersonville bar Hopleaf, you might want to aim for, say, 3 p.m. As The Creative Director and I stood on Clark Street around quitting time last night, we sweated every agonizing second it took for our parking slip to print, worrying that each passing moment meant one fewer bar stool. Thanks to its rep as the beer lover’s nirvana, Hopleaf is almost never not packed, and I suspect they’ll have no trouble filling the 120 new seats that are part of an expansion due for completion this summer.

“The place is like a black hole,” said TCD. “Every person who walks by gets sucked in.”

We were lucky: The last two seats at the far end of the bar were free, and as I searched in vain for a purse hook and TCD checked out the beer list, a crowd of postwork drinkers leaned in on all sides to place orders with the bartender. It was 6:15 p.m.

While I appreciate the assortment—Hopleaf has about 40 beers on tap and 250 in bottles—I never can seem to muster enough patience to thoroughly weigh my options, so sometimes I give up and let TCD choose for me. This old-fashioned gallantry is especially apt at Hopleaf, where, one night about five dates after our first meeting, TCD leaned in and said in the most refreshingly direct and cheerful way: “So, I can’t think of a reason to see anyone else at this point. Can you?” I could not.

As we sipped last night’s first round (a $6 Half Acre Daisy Cutter Pale Ale for me; a $5 Victory Prima Pils for TCD) and waited for a bowl of Belgian-style mussels ($12), I noticed a man in a black fleece jacket seated around the corner of the bar who seemed to have no qualms about taking his time to select a beer. He scanned every page of the menu with great intensity, peppering the bartender with questions, then decided to hold off for his drinking companion’s arrival. Since Hopleaf is ground zero for the beer nerd set, I decided to find out if he was a card-carrying member.

The Chaser: Hi! So, come here often?

Possible Beer Nerd: Not as much as I’d like. I try to make it up every few months.

TC: What’s your name? Where do you live?

PBN: Eric. Logan Square. It’s kind of a trek.

TC: What keeps you coming back?

PBN: Pretty much no bar in Chicago can beat it for selection. Especially when it comes to Belgians.

TC: What’s your favorite beer here?

PBN: [Nervously] Are you writing this down?

TC: Yes. It’s for my nightlife blog for Chicago magazine.

PBN: Oh. In that case, I don’t think I’ll say what my real favorite beer is. Too many people will start getting it, and then they’ll always be out.

TC: [Nodding sympathetically while scribbling, “nerd status = confirmed”] I hear that. What about your second favorite?

BN: Hey, are those Brussels sprouts you guys ordered? You know who else has great sprouts? This new place near my neighborhood, Leopold. Good Belgians, there, too.

I decided to drop the interrogation and let the man enjoy his night, but a little while later, when the bartender set down a bottle and a shapely glass in front of him, I snuck a peek. It was La Trappe Quadrupel (described as having “very strong full malt richness,” according to Hopleaf’s menu; $10). There you have it, readers: Reporting. Just don’t all go ordering it at once.

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