I spent Monday night engaged in just about the best possible Monday-night activity: drinking $4 Allagash Whites on Smallbar’s dreamy patio. I named the Logan Square spot my favorite bar in my very first Chaser post, and things haven’t changed much since then—for me. But for the guys behind the bar, and its sibling location on Division Street, change is afoot: namely, a third location, slated to open in October at 1415 West Fullerton Avenue, just west of Southport. I caught up with owners Ty Fujimura and Phil McFarland to talk about their plans for Smallbar’s Chicago domination.
Why a third location? And why Lincoln Park?
TF: We’ve tried a few other concepts—Lava, Piccolo—[but] the food and beer combo is something we do very well.
PM: We’ve done as much as we could on the West Side and wanted to be far enough away that we would be hitting a new neighborhood. We found a really cool old building with built-in character. It was in the Color of Money. We didn’t really go out looking to do a bar in Lincoln Park, per se. This is just where we landed.
TF: And we’re far enough west from DePaul-centric bars that you can sit down, have good beer, and not necessarily get run over by people in college colors. We’ll certainly be serving that crowd, but I think there’s a void Smallbar can fill.
Are you nervous about opening another bar in this economy?
PM: The whole deal has been in motion long before the recession started. At Division Street and Logan, [we’ve noticed that] people aren’t going out to $100 dinners, but they’re still buying a great $5 beer.
Is three it? Or are you out to take over Chicago?
PM: It’s something we talk about a lot. I think, at this point, this might be the last one we open in Chicago.
“In Chicago” being key?
TF: Maybe …
Will anything be different at the new location?
PM: The biggest change will be layout. It’s a bigger space than we’ve had before. It’s 20 feet tall inside, and we’ve broken it into two levels: a big main room with a 30-foot bar and a mezzanine in the front.
TF: We’re planning a series of pub crawls between all three Smallbars.
Between bars that have opened in the last couple of years (The Whistler, The Burlington) and those on deck (Cole’s, at 2338 N. Milwaukee Ave; Rocking Horse; Revolution Brewing), Logan Square is turning into quite a hot spot. How are you dealing with the competition?
TF: I enjoy knowing that other people are realizing what an amazing neighborhood Logan Square is. The neighborhood has really changed, but, at the same time, it’s stayed the same. We’re getting the same clientele, just more.
When you’re not at SmallBar, where do you drink?
TF: Every now and again we’ll swing through the Map Room, cruise into Lemmings. But sometimes the last thing on your mind is ending up at a bar after spending all day and night in one. I go anywhere from Le Bouchon to Urban Belly to Coast.
A few years ago, most bars thought Stella Artois was as exotic as they needed to get. Now you can find microbrews all over the city. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
PM: We enjoy seeing craft beer pick up because it makes it easier for people to enjoy what we had here.
What should I be drinking at Smallbar, besides Allagash White?
PM: Tyranena Scurvy IPA, an early-summer seasonal brewed with orange peel.