Hopleaf and The Map Room, two of Chicago’s most beloved beer bars, celebrate their 25th anniversary. To mark the occasion, Chicago Tribune beer writer Josh Noel sat down with Hopleaf’s owner, Michael Roper, and The Map Room’s owner, Laura Blasingame.
The establishments that Roper and Blasingame acquired to turn into “good beer” bars were Chicago taverns’ equivalent to Mediterranean and Baltic Avenue.
Blasingame describes she started out with:
When my husband, Mark, walked me up here to show me the building, there was this little window on a door facing Armitage, and I saw somebody’s bloody hand going down it. Literally. There was a fight going on in the back over the pool table. I was appalled. Fighting, smoky, a drop ceiling—just disgusting. All men. No women.
And there were problems outside the bar, too:
We had a part-time gang in the neighborhood, which apparently had one gun among them. They insisted that we “pay rent”—they wanted a case of Miller High Life or something every time they came in. We didn’t want them to feel like they had a piece of the place and intimidating people. So we said, “No, we’re not paying rent.” One day these guys pulled up in a car and got out with baseball bats and banged out all our windows. We got our punishment, but then it was over.
Yikes. But Roper topped Blasingame with these stories:
We bought the place stocked with all the stuff we would never want to sell. There were cases of Boone’s Farm, Ripple and Everclear. One of their most popular things was Everclear in plastic half pints. We ran it like that for a while, opening at 7 in the morning. I didn’t even tell my friends we bought the place because I didn’t want anyone to see it. It was so horrible….
There was a line every morning. It wasn’t people that wanted to drink. It was people that needed to drink. There were a lot of panhandlers in the neighborhood, and the bar sold those little airplane minis for a buck. So anyone who could come up with a buck on the street would come in, down one and go back out.
The kind of people that came in were fairly nasty. Every day at noon—they had a TV and VCR built into the wall—a guy from a video store dropped off a porno movie and picked up yesterday’s. So the old guys would sit there and watch a porno. There were several traditions that ended when I took over. I took the poker machines out—the main revenue source of the place. Some lowlifes came in to sell stuff they’d stolen—like steaks from Jewel.
Slowly but surely, Blasingame and Roper upgraded their bars and the beer they poured. Eventually, they became destinations for beer lovers from Chicagoland–and later, from places farther afield.
“Old school” is the term both owners use to describe their bars: they keep prices reasonable, and attend to details such as keeping beer menus current. They’re single-location establishments in an age where hospitality companies and pub chains are opening beer bars. Now that craft beer has filtered down to bowling alleys and VFW halls, the way to stay ahead of competition is “to be a good bar first and then to have interesting beer.”
Cheers, Michael and Laura, and best wishes for another 25!
Last month, Food & Wine magazine asked 21 members of the craft beer community to rank the most important craft beers of all time. Josh Noel of the Chicago Tribune decided to follow up with his own top 25.
What makes a beer important? Noel elaborates:
To me, the definition is simple: It’s one that either changed consumer tastes or how breweries approach making beer. Some of the beers below have influenced both drinkers and brewers. Others hew more in one direction than the other. Others find their power in the brand or the package even more than the beer.
Noel agrees with much of the Food & Wine list, but also take several exceptions. You might, too.
Josh Noel of the Chicago Tribune attended the Festival of Wood and Barrel-Aged Beer, which recently took place in Chicago. His takes on the 14th edition of this event:
- The beer is good, and getting better. He rates 20 percent of the beers “genius”, and another 60 percent “good to very good”. The “undrinkable” beers likely sat in the barrel too long.
- John Laffer, the co-founder of Off Color Brewing in Chicago, has emerged as a star. He’s an alumnus of Goose Island Brewing Company’s barrel-aging program.
- Festival-goers didn’t shun Goose Island on account of it having been taken over by Anheuser-Busch. If the beer is good, they want it.
- It’s possible to brew bad sour beer. The style “requires layers and nuance.”
- The best thing about the festival is discovering new beers. One, in particular, was Peach Climacteric from Colorado-based WeldWerks Brewing. Co-founder Neil Fisher was amazed that attendees knew so much about his new brewery. fisher said, “You guys have a very connected beer culture here.”
On this day in 1939, the Baseball Hall of Fame opened in Cooperstown, New York. Currently, 310 people are enshrined in the Hall. They will be joined this summer by Craig Biggio, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martínez, and John Smoltz.
And now…The Mash!
We begin in Bavaria, where President Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel rankled traditionalists by drinking non-alcoholic weissbier during the G-7 conference of world leaders.
Collaborative brewing has taken off in the past few years. One notable collaboration is the one between San Diego’s Green Flash Brewing Company and Belgium’s St. Feuillien.
Snoop Dogg has filed a breach of contract suit against Pabst Brewing Company. He contends that the brewery’s sale of Colt .45 triggered a clause entitling him to part of the purchase price.
You’ll have to wait to buy a bottle of Founders Breakfast Stout in New Hampshire. Citing the state’s underage-drinking problem, Governor Maggie Hassan vetoed legislation that would allow children to be depicted on beer labels.
Tech Times has assembled a list of 13 beer apps for Android and IoS that are generally rated at the top of their category:
Hard cider sales have skyrocketed in Central Europe, the home of the world’s heartiest beer drinkers. Global brands like Heineken and SABMiller are trying to cash in on the trend.
Finally, Josh Noel of the Chicago Tribune hosted a panel of beer experts headlined by Randy Mosher at the famed Map Room to discuss the state of craft brewing. There are more than 60 breweries in Chicagoland.