I’ve received mail at the Hopleaf at least once, as I’ve been a regular since it opened in 1992, well before “gastropub” was a hipster notion. Back in the day, it was a pub sans gastro, consisting of only one room, a jukebox with blues and jazz 45s, and a TV that was turned on, with the sound down, only for Bulls and Cubs games. At some point the TV was eliminated altogether. What I loved about the Hopleaf, and still do, is that it was clearly intended as a place not of entertainment but of conversation. And it featured a revelatory beer list—what I know about beer, I learned there.
Mike Roper, the Andersonville bar’s owner and chief ideologue, never wavered from his clear concept of what the Hopleaf should be—a haven for adults who want to talk and enjoy their drink without the unnecessary, annoying stimulation of Jell-O shots, loud music, and sports. That’s the way it was then, and that’s the way it is now, even after the place impressively expanded. So, no Cubs pennants, no buckets of lite beer, no drunken bros high-fiving each other, no ’80s playlists pummeling your ears with delusional nostalgia. Instead: a place where you can stop by on a quiet night and read at the bar, where Mike might suggest a new beer to try, where you can actually hear the other person talking. Now that the Hopleaf has a kitchen, I come to satisfy my craving for the brisket sandwich and the phenomenal fries, with a Belgian beer to wash it all down. Most of all, I come for the pleasure of being in a public place that feels like home.