December 8, 2017 “It’s not a taproom.
It’s a lounge.
When the founders of Maplewood Brewery & Distillery began envisioning the barroom at their 3-year-old Logan Square establishment, they wanted something eminently familiar and comfortable.
The result, which opens Dec. 15, is Maplewood Lounge (2717 N. Maplewood Ave.), because, well, what’s more familiar and comfortable than a lounge?
It’s an understated little bar, a pie-shaped room tucked in a quiet nook at the end of Maplewood’s namesake avenue. You’d never happen past it, and the sign out front — Maplewood’s clean “M” logo above the word “Lounge” — is deliberately low-key. “We wanted to harness the fact that we’re hidden away with that little sign,” Maplewood co-founder and head brewer Adam Cieslak said. “We want that neighborhood feel. Nothing too …”
“Pretentious,” brand manager and brewer Adam Smith finished. “When you walk in, we want you to feel like you’ve been here before.”
Maplewood pulls it off with a contemporary-meets-classic look in what is part-neighborhood bar, part-cocktail bar and, yes, part-brewery taproom. Brick walls. Polished concrete floor. A bar made of oak. Wood tables adorned with blue Venetian candles, the kind more typical of a neighborhood pizza joint than a craft brewery. Medieval-style chandeliers hang from the ceiling. A TV hidden behind the bar will only be switched on for “for significant local sporting events or anything important enough to distract a group of patrons from socializing,” Maplewood co-founder and head distiller Ari Megalis said.
Get past the low-key neighborhood vibe, and several wrinkles make Maplewood Lounge stand out in an increasingly crowded landscape of Chicago taprooms.
There’s the beer-and-booze-friendly food menu, which includes a burger, poutine and sausages sourced from Publican. (Maplewood lucked into its kitchen. Its neighbor happens to be a catering company that agreed to make the food to order and pass it through a hole cut into the wall behind the bar.)
There’s the concise, but fun cocktail program, curated by Matt Frederick, who most recently managed EZ Inn. Maplewood spirits will initially appear in two draft cocktails, two slushies (one inspired by the mudslide, the other by the pina colada) and two made-to-order drinks. (Four kinds of ice! Beer and cocktails served in 10 kinds of glasses!)
But beer will be the star. Maplewood Lounge has 14 taps, and among them will be Maplewood’s core beers — Charlatan pale ale, Son of Juice IPA, Pulaski Pils pilsner and Fat Pug nitrogenated oatmeal milk stout — plus seasonal releases and one-off beers.
The opening menu will include Margarita Gose (gose with lime and strawberry), Juice Pants 6 (one of those oh-so-trendy hazy IPAs), Double Charlatan (a double IPA) and an IPA made in collaboration with Denver’s Great Divide Brewing. The lounge will also feature a house beer: Fluffy Bottoms, a lactose pale ale made with rotating hops.
Much of Maplewood’s beer volume is made under contract by Chicago’s Great Central Brewing, including Charlatan, Son of Juice and Pulaski Pils. But the taproom — ahem, lounge — is a means to showcase not just the smaller-scale brews made at Maplewood’s brewery, but the spirits that will finally debut at the lounge. Maplewood has been aging whiskey since 2015.
Maplewood’s three house-made whiskeys to be poured during the coming week — plus a rum made of 100 percent molasses, and a gin — offer a welcome point of differentiation.
“We didn’t start distilling to differentiate ourselves,” Megalis said. “But now it’s a nice little bonus.”
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