Hello Brew Crew!
I hope that you are all doing well and have had a fantastic summer! As we transition into fall, I want to provide you with a little “insider’s look” on our Pioneers & Pints beer tasting and history tour in Bucktown & Wicker Park, especially for those of you who have never been on it. If you’re interested, we’re touring all fall long, and you can find more info and purchase tickets here.
We’ve been touring in Bucktown & Wicker Park since fall 2012. I wanted to develop a beer tour in these neighborhoods because they showcase interesting history, feature great establishments, and have a different feel from different parts of Chicago. While researching the area, what really stuck out to me was how many different groups of people pioneered through it. From Germans (and their brewing history) and Norweigans, to Eastern European Jewish, to Polish, to African American and Latino, the neighborhoods have welcomed many different groups that have shaped Chicago. Today, the area has some hipster elements but is pretty fully gentrified, although I still feel some Nelson Algren vibes when walking down Milwaukee Avenue.
The tour starts at Lottie’s Pub located in Bucktown. I don’t want to give too much good stuff away, but the history really starts at this location when Walter “Lottie” Zagorski, a 6’ transvestite with ties to the Mob, turned this place into a bar in the 1930s. Many nefarious activites took place here until it was finally raided by the FBI in the late 1960s. After several ownership changes, it was renamed “Lottie’s” in 1986 to pay homage to her and its colorful gangster past. It also moonlights as inspiration for “Mollie’s” on the NBC show “Chicago Fire.” We taste four different beers here, and we’ve been sampling a lot of Lagunitas’s A Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ recently, one of my favorites.
After, we take a short walk to pick up a Chicago-style hot dog at George’s, which has been family owned and operated since 1948. In my opinion, it is one of the best pure-play Chicago-style hot dogs in the city. The trick with a Chicago style hot dog is to get a bit of each ingredient in every bite – considering that these dogs have been “dragged through the garden,” this is more of an art than science. You can build your own online here.
We pair this hot dog with the first of four beer tastings at our next stop, Lemming’s Tavern, which has become a tour guide favorite over the years because of their extremely friendly staff, historical yet low key atmosphere, and killer beer list. We have even been able to surprise certain tours with Three Floyd’s Zombie Dust on occasion – which is ranked the #1 American Pale Ale in the world on Ratebeer.com – although no promises! Since they were one of the award-winning Indiana brewery’s first accounts in the early days, the bar is always able to get great Three Floyd’s beers on draft. Lately, we’ve been pairing our history here with a tasting of Chicago brewery Aquanaut’s MoonRay Porter, which has become a tour favorite and turned many tourists into believers of darker beers.
Next, we take a longer stroll down Damen Avenue, including a short break at Cowlileo. Quick aside: during one of the walk throughs while I was developing the tour, my friend Meredith sang a song about Mrs. O’Leary’s cow, which was blamed for starting the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, and some of you may know it as a popular summer camp song. Then, we cross under the new and most excellent 606 path, which was an old train line that has been turned into a running and biking path, and enter the Wicker Park neighborhood.
Our third location, Chop Shop, is the swiss army knife of the tour. It is a bar/event space/restaurant/butcher shop that somehow is able to do everything well. During this stop, we discuss a little historical brewing from 10,000 years ago to modern day and have a lot of “fun facts” here. For example, want to see the oldest beer receipe? Check it out here. We pair this history with their delicious beer list, and Ale Syndicate’s Baptise French-Style Blood Orange Saison has been a big hit this summer.
Then, beer jackets fully fastened, we take another walk through the neighborhood down Hoyne Street, also known as “Beer Baron Row,” where a number of the old German beer barons used to live in the 1800s, including one of the Uihlein Brothers of Schlitz beer fame. We pause in front of the house at 1558 Hoyne that has a real cannon displayed out front. The crowd favorite is one of the oldest homes built on the street and served as an American Legion Hall for 50 years in the mid 1900s. Often, the friendly elderly couple who lives there is out gardening in the spring, summar, and fall, and they have been known to occasionally greet our groups – you can tell that they are tremendously proud of their home and the work they’ve put in it to restore it, as they should be!
After meandering through the actual Wicker Park, we dart down Milwaukee Ave. for our final beer, a full pint, at Emporium. The arcade bar combines old school video games with one of the best beer menus in the city, and I have given up listing beers on the guidesheets because they rotate so frequently! After you’re done here, you will receive a token to play a video game of your choice, and then can play at your whim. A fun way to end a tour.
We are really proud of our beer tasting and history tour in these neighborhoods, and would love to have you join Neal, Glenn, Anna, Vince or I as we lead you through it pairing history and beer.
Thanks for your time, and here’s to a great fall of drinking beer!
Bruce and the CBE Team