Alas, Chicago Ale House is no more.
Between the phone being disconnected, the website being down, the doors closed at 11pm on a Saturday night when there’s a street festival right down the block and Yelp deeming it CLOSED, it would appear that the Chicago Ale House has gone to that great taproom in the sky. That’s a shame – and it was also a shame even before they went under.
Opened in mid-2007, they were run by the people at the helm of the Cy’s mini-empire of restaurants around Chicago and I personally was hoping that they’d bring some knowledgable minds and good beers to a part of the city that still hasn’t really left Bavaria when it comes to beer choices. Sadly, that never happened, and Chicago Ale House has left a history of failed expectations, wasted potential and 60 taphandles of disappointment.
When I first saw that they were open I was still in the early days of my craft beer appreciation, but even then I knew that any place wanting to cater to beer aficionados that also had Old Style Light on draft was confused at best, ignorant of basic tastes at worst. Thankfully the macrobrews diminished in the first few months but they still seemed to believe that beer types would be excited by having Delirium Tremens on draft and bombers of Hobgoblin inexplicable stacked up in droves over the bar. Despite stopping in every few months or so to see if they had anything exciting on draft, it never got any better than a Christmas beer here or a Belgian there.
I tried to figure it out – really I did – but no matter how many times I would stop in I could never wrap my head around what exactly they wanted to be. Obviously, neither did they. One part family friendly restaurant, one part wannabe craft brew destination, one part sports bar, one part neighborhood joint, one part gastropub and one part Thai joint. Yes, Thai. For some reason, the ownership decided that because the general manager was from Thailand, that was reason enough to throw pad thai and other types of Thai entrees on the already schizophrenic menu. All of this came together to make a place that tried to be all things to all people, and didn’t try hard enough at the one thing that could have separated them from the Lincoln Square pack – the beer.
With a discerning beer guy behind the ordering, they could have made much more of an impact on the neighborhood. As I mentioned, there are a few places in the area that have some sort of an idea about craft beer availability, but the heart of the square is all about Julius Echter, BBK and Kostritzer. When we heard that there would be 60 taps at our disposal, our hearts eagerly anticipated something more than what we got, and we were left to find establishments as excited about craft beer as we were – which is why many of us now hunker down at Sheffield’s, Fountainhead, the Bad Apple and a handful of other places that at least appear to be enthusiastic about our business.
There were a few good things to come out of the place – a long morning spent there a couple of years ago helped me finally dial in my palate to hops and IPA’s, Goose Island’s in particular, and they made a very respectable bar pizza there as well. Others online dispute the staff’s friendliness but they were never anything other than fine with me, occasionally poured a free drink and were willing to track down whatever baseball game I wanted on any of their numerous flat screen TVs. (Speaking of which – think they’re for sale?) I spent part of a New Years Eve there and enjoyed watching my brother-in-law talk Thailand with the aforementioned owner due to the authentic Chang beer t-shirt he was wearing, all while he was on the receiving end of some heavy flirting from someone whose gender remains questionable. It wasn’t without its entertaining occasional positives.
Unfortunately, they were all overshadowed by a space and location that wasn’t right for what they were trying to do, compounded by not knowing what the hell they wanted to do in the first place. It could have been that the opening of Fountainhead was the final nail in the coffin for the Ale House, and I’m amazed that they made it 3 years in an economy that’s as terrible as it is. Maybe the rent is low enough that a small group of intelligent beer writers could open the doors again and do it some justice. Who knows – maybe we should have offered our services in the first place and helped out. As it is, even with all its shortcomings, the neighborhood is down one more drinking establishment that occasionally seemed to accidentally get things right – and there’s still a need for the place that the Ale House could have been.
As it remains, the Ale House is no more, which is both overdue and disappointing. Ale House, we hardly knew ye – almost as much as ye hardly knew ye.