There’s late to the party, and then there’s so late to the ball that Cinderella has already turned back into a scullery wench. Case in point: West Lakeview Liquors, ranked the nation’s ninth-best beer store by ratebeer.com and the only Chicago retailer to crack the top 20, celebrated its 20th anniversary this year on the corner of Addison and Leavitt Streets—but I only found it last week. Fortunately, some wrongs can be righted. Get this Cinderella a beer.
From the outside: Nothing special. Your average neighborhood liquor store—if anything, smaller than usual—open until 10 p.m. weeknights and 11 p.m. weekends. But inside, it’s a different story. Shuffle past the wine racks and give the beer cooler the old onceover, then turn your full attention to the shelves located at 12 o’clock. There, tucked into what amounts to less than a pantry of space, is a beer inventory that should blow your mind. The selection is both as wide and as shallow as a vast puddle: Breweries from Kenya to Malta are represented, but sometimes by only a bottle or two. Choosing what to take home is like picking snowflakes off your jacket: Each is unique but gone before you know it.
Although the spot has been in her family since opening, Kristina Bozic, who took over the reins in 2002 and estimates the current number of beer offerings at around 500, is the one who deserves credit for steering West Lakeview Liquors down its very beery path. "I’ve been to some of these crusty little breweries and seen what they go through," she says. "It’s amazing to sit at the table with the brewer when he’s hand-wrapping bottles. You get a different perspective on what’s on the shelves.
"I get a little emotional," she says.
Kristina, you had us at "crusty."
If you stop by the shop, Bozic’s absolute top pick, De la Senne’s Taras Boulba, is an extra-hoppy pale Belgian beer "that’s just yum." It’s $10.49 for 750 ml, but hurry. She only had two bottles left when we spoke.
Closer to home, Bozic names Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales, based in Dexter, Michigan, her favorite domestic. I’ve been drinking my way through this brewery’s jewel of a catalog all summer, so expect some barely restrained gushing shortly.
In the meantime, this reformed slowpoke did manage to snag one exclusive tidbit from Bozic: She’s in talks with Jolly Pumpkin to develop and brew the shop’s first West Lakeview Liquors-label beer.
Now that’s one party I’ll be unfashionably early to.