The Quest for the Holy Grain - Best Beer Bars
Illinois

 

 

 

First Draft
649 S Clark St
Chicago, IL 60605
312-461-1962

I have a home bar when I visit Chicago. It feels good. First Draft is the 600 block of Clark Street...there is not much else around it.
You walk in and to your right is a brick wall with a fabulously large Brunswick bar. On the right is an exterior wall with nearly floor length warehouse windows that open to a parking lot.
It is not scenic but it is outdoors.

The ceiling is industrial high and tin. From it hang extended fans and chandeliers. It has a sort of industrial look. It feels dark and comfortable.
The bar is large and long, many high tables for four and two fill the floor. Classic slow rock plays in the background, an old hippie's dream...the Beatles play now.

TV ' s are all over the place. I think the ration of taps to TVs is about 2 to 1 but I am not going to count, although there are 63 beautifully varied and balanced taps. I am attracted to the twelve beers of Christmas, an eclectic set of Xmas beers that give me a reason to return on my short stay.

The bar has been here one and a half years; it is still building its personality. Early in the evening, the scattered patrons were young.
As I get ready to leave there are pockets of different ages...it is fun to see.
First Draft has a nice neighborhood feel in a locale where there is absolutely no neighborhood to be seen.

Let's talk beer.
With 63 taps there are several somethings for everyone. Twice as many bottles complement the beer list.
I began with Delirium Noel, followed with a St, Bernardus Christmas Ale, Three Floyd ' s Alphas Klaus, and I finished up with Avery Old Jubilation-Ho, Ho, Ho, Ho Merry Christmas to all.
If you visit the Second City have your First Draft here.

 

 

 

Monk's Pub
205 W Lake St  
Chicago, IL 60606
(312) 357-6665

Sometime's its work. I am sitting in my hotel and I look down at my WWWD wrist band. I think, He darn sure would not sit in his room, He'd find a beer bar for the Quest. And so I did.

I walk under the L tracks and turn left at Lake. Two big doors greet me. I grab the right one and push. Wrong answer. Pull. I have never seen a bar with a vestibule but
Monk's Pub has one. I look for a holy water font and find none so I just walk in and hope a demon does not possess me.

It is dark inside. Dark wood, a dark place. The right interior wall is done like an exterior wall. It is lined with small booths. The left interior wall is half library, and half bar. On closer examination the bar is set into a bunch of old book shelves. It is packed and loud at 6 PM, and it has been so every time I have been here. Yes, I have been here before an never reviewed the place. Mea culp, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

On the left wall is a long wooden bar with heavy metal stools. I am flying solo so I grab one of the few available. It will be crowded. Sometimes the Quest is work...I must sit near people. Between the library an the outside wall are round tables and chairs. A small L completes the room. There is a duct work ceiling decorated with beer tap handles.

I must be in Belgia or whatever that country is called that makes all the Belgian beers. Monk's has 11 taps...most are Belgian...but I have XX Bitch Creek by Grand Teton Brewing and goddam it is good! It is double ESB; who knew I'd like it so much?
They list 19 new releases in bottles and have an eleven page list of bottles, four of them Belgians, one of those just Trappist ales.

TV's are scattered an set into cubby holes that used to be bookshelves. Two are CNN, two are NFL and one is sports center. What do we conclude from that? My neighbors to the left are drinking Coors Light. Why, weren't the perch biting? More on my neighbor on the right later.

This is a dense part of Chicago. It is close to the financial district where there is a canyon on LaSalle with major bank buildings lining the canyon. I go La Chouffe for brew number two. I am high on the fragrance of too much coriander. I see ties and briefcases but there is a t-shirt to offset each tie. Business casual seems the order of the day. This is definitely an after work crowd; hundreds have been made and lost by this group.

Barrels and barrel ends decorate the top of the bar wall. Each beer has its own glass...glassware is big here and European pours are de rigueur. By the third beer, a tripel, I am sure all the barmaids are Belgian—all muscles and cleavage.
Then I wonder, has anyone ever actually seen a Belgian woman? Perhaps if they have visited Belgia.

I get fish and chips and live to regret it. The fish was good. The cole slaw had so much vinegar the cabbage tasted like pickles.
I got curly fries and immediately wondered about the process of making them. They must use potato parts (let's hope) to extrude these things because I had one fry that I know would have been seven feet long if I could have uncorkscrewed it.

My neighbor on the right found a buddy and spoke to him all night. His buddy left and my neighbor checked out. He LOOKED normal. Neatly trimmed beard, suit, maybe 40-ish, had a stack of files, the tip one said CLEAdvantage. He paid his bill and left a tip that made the bar tender shake his hand and say thanks man. Then he sat there. As I waited for my bill he asked how long I had been waiting and then told me he had been waiting longer. He said he felt trapped in a time warp.
I paid my bill and neighbor knucklehead asked the same guy for his bill. He told him he was already cashed out. Mr. Normal asked me what that meant. I said it means you owe me $100. As he reached for his wallet I got up in left, that is WWWHD.


 

 

 

Primebar
155 N Upper Wacker Dr  
Chicago, IL 60606
(312) 884-0000

You've been to this bar, in the movies. The guys are late 30s and way better looking than you ever were in your best fantasy. They wear expensive dark suits, white shirts with the collar undone. You know they are important. Their women are preternaturally beautiful with legs that say be fruitful and multiply to the lizard deep within your brain. The bar is modern, airy, lots of windows fronting a busy wide boulevard, the ceiling are way to high to ever approach intimacy. A peanut shell will never see the floor here. In fact a peanut in a shell will never enter the door here.
Padded leather horseshoe booths line the walls. Semicircle tables unite the boothsayers. Track lighting, brick walls, bar tables nicer than your best furniture. The best looking of the good looking guys with their preternatural women holds up two fingers and gorgeous waitress knows exactly what to bring them. You've seen this bar. If you forget what it looks like look up urban chic in the dictionary, it is right there. It is Primebar at 155 West Whacker Drive.

It is hard to believe people really get loaded here. It is just so bright and chic and way too nice to stagger in much less to become boisterous or pass out. Enjoy an acai cosmo or a dirty ceo with your chic-chic friends after a hard day on Whacker. Or, if you are a Questor, have a beer.

This is the part that hurts the most because I really want to dislike this bar—and I do. But, there is always a big but. Let me tell you about my big but. But the beer lists is one of the best in that part of town. And, goddammit, to make things worse the big German pretzels are fantastic. Dammit.

If you're from the East the Great Lakes and Goose Island beers alone will make you happy. You'll also find Bells as a regional beer here. There is a nice selection of about ten wheat beers, some appealing lagers, enough IPA's to scratch your itch, almost all of these on tap.

It is back to the movies though for some of the real treasures here because they sell a nice selection of 650 and 750 bottles for twenty-some dollars a pop. I enjoyed Delirium Tremens fresh from the tap at a chic-chic price of $10. When I went to the men's room I wanted to live there.

Some people ate there because that is what civilized peope do at a bar like this, they eat food. Vegetarian bahn mi is the perfect finish to a six pack of Delerium Tremens. No way I was eating there. No way I was getting drunk there. Oh grow up, that is a big part of being a Questor.

Primebar is not for friends, it's for associates. Friends head to Stock and Blondes where it is grimey or Monk's where it is too damn noisy, but at least stuff crunches under your feet there when you go in.