Josh Noel

Iconic Chicago Beer Bars Turn 25

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!

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Wood and Barrel-Aged Beer Fest: A Review

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.”

The Friday Mash (Baseball Hall of Fame Edition)

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.

What’s Brewing in the Windy City?

Travel + Leisure magazine readers have voted Chicago the nation’s number-one summertime city. The city’s seasonal attractions include Lake Michigan beaches, outdoor dining, and the Navy Pier. You can add good beer to the list as well.

Ludwig has invited the Chicago Tribune’s Josh Noel back to his blog to give us a rundown of Chicago’s newest micros. He says that “The world of Chicago-made beer is expanding so quickly–at a rate unseen in the lives of modern-day beer lovers–that new entries arrive almost monthly.”

Lake Effect

The Chicago Tribune’s Josh Noel took a four-day, 1,000-mile tour around Lake Michigan, where he discovered dozens of breweries and brewpubs, none of them more than a few miles from shore. His travels began at The Livery in Benton Harbor, Michigan, and wound up at the Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee, where guests are handed a beer at the beginning of the brewery tour–an idea that ought to catch on.

Josh’s account of the tour (”we drank well, met fine people, and learned about the Midwest”) recently appeared in the Tribune, and you don’t have to be a Midwesterner to enjoy it.

Beer on Your Thanksgiving Table

Beer. It’s what’s for Thanksgiving dinner.

Randy Mosher, who knows a thing or two about pairing food and beer, has some suggestions for the Thanksgiving table.

Another Chicagoan, Josh Noel, talked to the experts and got their suggestions for Turkey Day beer pairings.

Do your friends insist on wine with dinner? Lisa Morrison, the Beer Goddess, suggests how to win them over to beer.

Mark Bona of the Cleveland Plain Dealer asked beer guru Andy Tveekrem and bartender Pat Daniels for their beer and food pairings.

Jay Brooks of the Brookston Beer Bulletin declares that “beer is for the bird”, even if the bird is extra spicy.

Finally, Monk’s Kettle’s Sayre Piotrkowski, who’s a certified Cicerone, chooses the seven best Thanksgiving beers.

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