In the dear, dead days of my youth, Saturdays were synonymous with Wrigley. It was implied more than set in stone, but those available would quickly wrangle bleachers tickets to start soak up the sun and Old Style. While the bleachers are still isolated from the rest of the park, they are less so from time. Old Style is all but gone, replaced by overpriced IPA, and the smell of Hot Doug’s legendary sausage creations dominates.
Long decried as one of the worst beer menus in all of Major League Baseball, flowers are pushing through the cracks. Present both in the bleachers, and throughout the park, is Goose Island, a facet of Chicago's prideful craft past, specifically Four Star Pils. In the main concourse is the relatively new 1060 Wit, their light-bodied witbier, so named in honor of the address on Elwood Blues' driver's license. You can even get two of the sour sisters: Matilda and Sofie.
According to Josh Noel of the Chicago Tribune, Lagunitas IPA will have more than 30 tap handles at Wrigley Field this season. They supplanted some of Goose’s presence, but knocking off 312 Urban Wheat and Green Line Pale Ale, during last year’s playoffs. They aren’t giving up on their beachhead, either. Noel also noted that Half Acre is making a foray into the friendly confines, with Daisy Cutter available in cans.
Close to Home
When it comes to drinking, however, some of the most noticeable changes are happening outside the field. The scope of improvements continues into the neighborhood. On a triangular spit of land outside left field is The Park. It’s an expansive game day experience with a huge video board and bands. Hidden around the right side is a smallish space and patio. Welcome to Lucky Dorr.
Named for a combination of a former groundskeeper and his superstitious totem, some of their offerings border on the divine. Owner Matthias Merges wanted the best beer list in the city and Niilo Hayes, his bar manager, has helped him achieve that goal. At any point in time, they’ve got more than a dozen local brewers lining up to collaborate on beer specifically for this room. Production is only a few barrels at a time, so, as we say with elections in Chicago, come early and come often.
They debut in 2018 with 20 offerings. In the leadoff spot is Summer Lager from Moody Tongue, a perfect-for-baseball crusher at 5.3% ABV. Crafting a beer as Spartan as this, there is no room for error. “Simple is difficult,” says Merges. The team executed flawlessly.
Personal favorites are Helmet, a barrel-aged farmhouse ale from Whiner Beer Company, and Limewire from Lo Rez. Perhaps better known for their saisons, Limewire is a Belgian wheat beer with Indian coriander, “tons” of lime peel and agave syrup. It’s cloudy and one can barely tell there’s alcohol in it. It’s also undeniably elegant.
Across the street is the new Hotel Zachary. It’s the anchor of a burgeoning development which includes a slew of contemporary eateries such as Mordecai (Merges’ whisky-forward sister to Lucky Dorr), West Town Bakery & Tap, Big Star and Smoke Daddy. The latter are your best bets for a beer, with Big Star offering its usual selection of 3 Floyds on draft and Smoke Daddy serving every Bloody Mary with a garnish of pulled pork wrapped in smoked brisket and a pony beer bottle sidecar.
Tucked neatly behind all this and a couple blocks west on Addison awaits Guthrie’s Tavern. In typical Midwestern fashion, it’s nigh indistinguishable from the surrounding apartment buildings. That’s because it’s been around since the turn of the century (not this one, the one previous). While they keep a set of operating hours, they’re always open after a Cub game.
They run a modest dozen(ish) taps, ranging the gamut from the German brewery Ayinger's Brau-Weisse to Three Floyds’ Alpha King and Cigar City's Jai-Alai, which is a recent player in the Chicago market. Don’t see what you are looking for? Then pick up the “arm’s length” bottle menu, which offers myriad styles and is sure to please. An unexpected accompaniment to the excellent beer menu is a bookshelves full of board games, from Trivial Pursuits and Bladerdash.
A bit further west is the Southport Corridor, where a string of boutique shops, businesses and restaurants satisfy those looking to escape the crowds of Wrigleyville. Among them is Corridor Brewery & Provisions, a modern industrial space housing a wall of brite tanks feeding nine taps. Brewing is performed on premises and they don’t have distribution. They do have rotating guest options, for instance Maplewood’s Juice Pants, and cider.
It’s best to follow them on social media, as they run something new each week. If you like juice bombs, The Juice Beyond is fantastic. They also produce Avant-Garden, a Bière de Garde with elderflower and black walnut, and a Great American Beer Festival silver medal winning tripel Rapunzel, marked with citrus and floral spice. Most options are available to-go in a 32-oz. Crowler or 64-oz. growler. They also offer six 5-oz. pours for a beer flight for less than twenty dollars.
The great uniter of Chicago’s neighborhoods is the “El” train system. The Red Line runs through some of the richest and poorest areas in the city. Just outside right field is Addison station, the most expeditious way of getting to and from Wrigley Field. Head south along Sheffield Street and avoid the adjacent postgame nonsense. Just keep the tracks on your left and you’ll be fine.
The first place you’ll happen upon worth your time is Dark Horse Tap & Grille. It’s just over a block south of Addison. The beer garden out back is covered, so head there rain-or-shine. This was the first pub where I enjoyed a sour outside of my abode. The offering had the wait staff walking on eggshells. “You do know this is a sour, right?” “Would you like a taste first?” In an area where Schlitz Beer in bas-relief can be seen on a building’s façade, this response was to be expected. They’ve since been inured to the style and the customers educated.
You can still find a sour or two, in the form of Founders’ Green Zebra gose and Whiner’s flagship saison Le Tub, among the two dozen tap offerings. Ballast Point has been known to dominate the choices, but area breweries also find space here, from Half Acre’s Daisy Cutter to Revolution’s Anti-Hero. I opted for a 3 Floyds Permanent Funeral, a double IPA clocking in at 100 IBU. It plays more smooth malty than hop bitter with big citrus flavor and some funk.
A couple blocks further south is Sheffield's Beer & Wine Garden. They have over 20 draft options, including cask, and nearly 100 beers and ciders in cans and bottles. While they feature a brewery each month, they proudly rotate draft options daily. Tap offerings range from Firestone Walker's Leo vs. Ursus series Adversus to Marz's Pineapple Jungle Boogie or Illuminated Brew Works' Orange Sunshine.
If that’s not enough, you can head to the Beer School bar in the back of the building. They have a separate draft list that includes Hopewell Cold Brew Brown Ale, brewed with Metric Coffee's Pacamara, and Founders barrel-aged Imperial IPA by the name of Doom as well as War Pigs Salmon Pants. This doesn’t include the Smoke Room selection, which is guaranteed to include something you’ve never tasted before.
Fortunes have changed for loyal North Side folks. The craft beer scene has exploded. The Cubs ain’t half bad, either. You always wanted to relive your youth, but now you can do it with more style, because nostalgia isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be.