First Look: The Fountainhead

In Bar Review by Karl

For starters, let me say that for the most part, I disdain the writings of Ayn Rand and the tenets of her Objectivist philosophy.  (Strange way to start a bar review, right?) So it interested me — and irked me just a little — that a taproom I was very much looking forward to would be named after, or at least reference, Rand’s first major novel.  The fact that I can get past that and move forward should be testament to how much people in the neighborhood and beer geeks such as myself have been wanting to check out The Fountainhead, in the makings for 18 long months, located at Montrose and Damen.

Considering we’ve been keeping our eyes on the corner back when it was an abandoned drugstore, just starting to be rehabbed, it’s safe to say we’ve been chomping at the bit for this joint to finally throw back the doors and say “Yes!  Enter!  Enjoy us and imbibe heavily!”  We wandered down to the corner, and surprise — there it was.  A little birdy had told me they might be up and running, and lo and behold, they were.

FOUNTAIN1I stopped in for a beer and to see if, on first impression, The Fountainhead would objectively (get it?) live up to my expectations.  Let’s take a quick look:

First off, these are just observations and should be considered a simple snapshot of a place we’ve been looking forward to hitting up.  I don’t want to be in the habit of rushing to be the first outlet to write something, anything about a new joint in town.  Any location takes a while to get up and running and shake out the kinks, so we won’t be focusing on what’s necessarily right or wrong or anything like that.  Capice?

That said:  What about the effing beer, man?  Tell us about the BEER.

When we heard that Fountainhead had peeled off Phil Kuhl, who basically built the Beer School bar at Sheffield’s in Wrigleyville (which is basically the only reason to go to Wrigleyville aside from the seemingly rebounding Risque Cafe, more about that later) to be their beer director, we got extremely interested in seeing what he’d bring to the North Center neighborhood.

There are lots to like.  Two beer machines offer cask-pulled brews, one of which was New Holland’s Dragon’s Milk.  Others included local favorites Metropolitan with their small-release I-Beam, Two Brothers’ Long Haul, another small-batch beer, Three Floyds Topless Wytch, and another beer brewed just up the street, Half Acre‘s Davey Totes stout.  I enjoyed a pint of the Half Acre for $5, while looking at the rest of the expansive bottle list.

Surprising to me, The Fountainhead is not just a beer bar.  The wine list is larger than I had expected and their spirits menu is even larger, focusing on whiskeys and a ton of scotch.  I spied a fruit press behind the bar, seemingly for fresh juices usually used in craft cocktails, but I didn’t see a single mixed drink on the list – but of course, I might have missed it and the menu distinctly specified that they were featuring a slow rollout of a limited menu for the time being.

Actually, it was the whiskey list’s layout that I found the most interesting, because it seemed to be aimed directly at my tastes.  Set up with three prices – one for a shot, one for a drink, they also have a category that highlights the Manhattan.  (Not all whiskeys are available in all categories.)  As someone who defers to a good Manhattan — and good Manhattans can be hard to find — it’s nice to see a focus on my particular drink of choice for when I opt away from brewed beverages.  I don’t recall being consulted about the menu, but if Fountainhead chose to stick that nozzle into my subconscious without me knowing, I really can’t complain if they’ve got selections like this.

While I didn’t partake from the food side of the menu, I did peruse.  It’s laid out in sections of Starters, Salads, For Sharing and Not For Sharing, and a few desserts.  The Not For Sharing appeals to our sense of selfishness – another subtle Rand reference? – but the For Sharing section seems destined to be the real go-to section for drinkers, made to graze on a la tapas.

A couple of the For Sharing plates include a sampler of sausage with braised cabbage and rye bread, and a pate/rillete combo with compote and grainy mustard, both $14.  The Fountainhead’s staff page says that chef Robyn Marfurt spent time in both Germany and Spain, which seems to point directly to these dishes.  Like I said, I didn’t order anything last night but I certainly saw a lot of people enjoying food equally as much as just drinking quality beer.

The Fountainhead has been promising a rooftop deck for seasonal enjoyment, but it’s not open as of yet and while it’ll be a draw, we really see ourselves deferring to the also-not-yet-open rooftop at Gene’s Sausage Shop up the street.  (Mostly because it’s closer.)  To be honest, the prospect of staring at either the Le Sabre diner across the street, a strip mall or the head banging Metal Haven kitty corner to The Fountainhead doesn’t exactly set our hearts alight, but perhaps the view is better than we imagine.

Long story short, speaking from a beer-centric mindset, it’s like they picked up everything we liked about Sheffield’s, added a more ambitious and a bunch more whiskey and moved it a few Brown Line stops closer to my Albany Park/Lincoln Square abode.  And let’s face it – we’ve been to Sheffield’s Beer School bar for enough events or special releases and spent enough time there to know that we can trust Phil Kuhl to pretty much take care of us as he sees fit, and we’ll say “thank you” and ask for more.

Fountainhead, we’ll be seeing you again soon enough, and next time I’ll bring my dog-eared copy of this.

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About the Author

Karl

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Karl has written about food, travel and beer for Chicago Magazine, Draft Magazine, Thrillist, Time Out Chicago and more. His book, Beer Lovers Chicago, comes out in early 2017, and if you're buying, he's likely having a porter or a pale ale.