BYOB While You Can: The Red Lion Lincoln Square

The Red Lion, an English pub that poured pints in Lincoln Park for 27 years, has been open in its new Lincoln Square location since January, but due to a paperwork snafu, owners Joe and Susan Heinen have been waiting on their liquor license for what feels like a bloody long time…

Susan and Joe Heinen at the bar
Susan and Joe Heinen at the bar . . .

The Red Lion, an English pub that poured pints in Lincoln Park for 27 years, has been open in its new Lincoln Square location since January, but due to a paperwork snafu, owners Joe and Susan Heinen have been waiting on their liquor license for what feels like a bloody long time.

At long last, Joe says, the inspection is scheduled for next week, and then it’ll be another 40 days or more before the license is granted. “It’s this biblical thing the city’s got going on: First you wait 40 days and 40 nights, and then we’ll be giving out 40 loaves of bread,” he jokes. “But they’re waiving the water-into-wine step.”

Curious to visit a BYOB bar, I made a date to meet Kate, an aspiring writer who wanted to talk about how to make it in Chicago, there last night. On my way over, I picked up a four-pack of Half Acre’s brewed-in-Lincoln-Square Gossamer Golden Ale ($8.99), which—silly me—I mentioned I wished came in bottles. “You’re about to become a can convert,” said the cashier, swiping my credit card with the faintest of eye rolls. He was right: The mild beer had all the chill and carbonation a girl could ask for on a warm spring night.

At The Red Lion, a few neighborhood couples were eating on the patio and a group had taken over a big table in the main room, leaving what I thought looked like the best perch in the house free: a four-top on a raised platform right by the window. A low partition gave it a VIP feel. “Drinking onstage—yes!” I scribbled in my notes as I decanted my Gossamer and waited for Kate.

As befits someone who has the gumption to e-mail a stranger and request a career summit, Kate turned out to be a go-getter type with a big smile and lots of enthusiasm. We ordered dinner (curry chicken for me, $10.95; fish and chips for Kate, $10.25) and talked business: “Don’t be scared to take a job that seems kind of iffy at first,” I advised, describing my first desk in a basement on Hudson Street, where bags of garbage would crash down the chute next to my head as I composed paragraphs extolling the joys of $4,000 suitcases and multimillion-dollar yachts. Soon the conversation turned to boys. “When he told me he was moving to Boston, I was like, ‘Yes! Please! If only all my exes would move away!’” Kate said.

Queen Elizabeth lamp
. . . which is outfitted with a double-decker lamp and a wee queen.

“One of mine just moved in across the street,” I said, then lowered my voice for shock effect: “He also joined my gym.”

Boys aside, I did manage to learn a few more things about The Red Lion from Joe, who was on duty last night:

• Once the liquor license is in place, the draft list will feature mostly English beers, with a few options from local breweries such as Half Acre and Metropolitan.

• The menu has been tweaked for summer: less heavy stews, more sandwiches. “At the old place, the cooking had become sort of out-of-the-can. But here, my wife’s making everything from scratch.”

• Amid the Beatles memorabilia and other nods to the British theme, Joe pointed out a framed fold of fabric on the south wall. “One of our regulars gave us that. It’s her scarf from Oxford.”

• In a room adjacent to the bar, dubbed The Anchor Gallery, the Heinens carry a selection of books for sale, including their own, Lost German Chicago. “In Lincoln Park, there were a lot of bookstores around us, and people used to love to browse and then stop in for a drink.” Beginning this week, the room will also serve as an exhibition space for local artists. First up is Diana Berek; an opening reception runs from 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday.

• The Heinens have lived near this part of Lincoln Square for 11 years. “It was still considered the wrong side of the tracks when we moved in,” Joe says. “There was a lot of Latin King activity.” The couple had been planning to move The Red Lion north for at least a decade, and though the neighborhood is now “more yuppie,” Joe says, “There’s been an effort to keep the diversity intact, which we like.”

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