My first thought after whooshing through the revolving door at the new West Loop brewpub Haymarket (737 W. Randolph St.) was a grumpy one. Numb from nose to fingertips after a two-block walk so arctic I couldn’t bring myself to remove a glove and check the bar’s address on my phone, I muttered: “So what? There’s a place like this in every neighborhood.”
A few minutes later, seated across from my date at a high table and with a crisp Victory Golden Monkey ($6 a pint) in hand, I felt my mood and metacarpals begin to thaw. Yes, the surroundings seemed familiar: This former Bar Louie had been freshly outfitted with lots of dark wood, and a sports fan could sit anywhere and have a TV in eyeshot. A well-executed version of your typical upscale sports bar, I thought—until I took a mental hike around the surrounding blocks lined with fine dining establishments and realized the area didn’t have something like this: an easygoing, relatively affordable place to chill out, try a new brew, and watch a game with little prior consideration for wardrobe.
“Our main goal,” co-owner Pete Crowley, a 13-year vet of Rock Bottom Brewery and self-described hophead, told me later, “was to create a place we’d want to go.” A big fan of the house-made concept, Crowley ran down the list: “Our sausages are made in-house; we make our mustard and other sauces from scratch, toasting and grinding our own seeds; the ribs are smoked in-house; and then there’s our house-brewed beers.”
Our waitress, a young woman possessing an almost unnatural level of midwinter cheer, led us through the beer menu, which, in addition to those 10 to 15 house brews, includes a long, Belgian-heavy list of bottles, plus a draft selection of guest pours in four sizes, from 4-ounce tastings to 20-ounce imperial pints. Prices vary widely; most are midrange, though a few large bottles reach the $40-plus stratosphere. We sprang for the sausage platter ($13): a bratwurst, Italian, and lamentably uncrispy-skinned hot link trio with a side of delicious, piping-hot fries. “Isn’t it great with the house-made?” our waitress enthused as we chewed; I couldn’t tell if she was referring to the mustard or the meat.
I would have wrapped up this review with an encouraging word for sports-fans-slash-beer-snobs and filed Haymarket in my personal cache as a place to sip a pint while waiting for a table at nearby De Cero, but then Crowley told me about Drinking & Writing. The theatre series, which was founded by two Neo-Futurists and has volleyed among a bevy of local watering holes for the past eight years, now has a permanent home in Haymarket’s backroom. Beer and barside ruminations on famous people who liked to drink and write? Turns out Haymarket is one book I won’t judge by its cover.
Photograph: Chris Guillen