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CTA Brown Line Bar Map Comes Up a Few Stops Short

By Patty Wetli | February 21, 2014 9:15am
 In search of watering holes west of the river.
Brown Line Bars
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ALBANY PARK — An otherwise ingenious CTA bar map produced by the folks at Thrillist has one major flaw: The Brown Line doesn't end at Rockwell.

The guide, which swaps out station names for the nearest tavern — Belmont goes by Sheffield's, Irving Park is converted to the Globe Pub — completely snubs the Francisco, Kedzie and Kimball stops.

"Life happens past Lincoln Square," tweeted one Albany Park resident.

Does it? A quest in search of watering holes west of the Chicago River commenced.

Francisco: Montrose Saloon, a disappearing breed

Francisco is easily the sleepiest stop along the Brown Line, and the good folks of Ravenswood Manor like it that way. But just because there's no pub within immediate sight of the station doesn't mean those looking to hoist a pint are out of luck.

A 10-minute walk — no further a stretch than the distance covered on the beer map from the Paulina station to its corresponding Four Moon Tavern — will land someone at the Montrose Saloon, 2933 W. Montrose Ave.

Thrillist can be forgiven for omitting the establishment. Even Timeout Chicago said, "This ideal neighborhood dive is somehow still an overlooked gem."

On a recent weekday, manager Barb Orre, who used to own the saloon and has spent the last 35 years pouring drinks there, could be found sitting on a stool at the far end of the bar opposite the front door, just after the saloon's 4 p.m. opening. Her attention flitted back and forth between her guest and the Olympics playing on the TV screen fixed to the wall.

The neighborhood had changed over the years, as had the clientele, from the "wild" patrons of the 1980s — a lot of drugs, she said — to today's "very mellow crowd."

Bottles and cans of Budweiser and Old Style gradually gave way to Guinness and BBK on tap, she said. And the addition of an outdoor patio offers a space in the summer for games and horseshoes and bean bags, with customers free to bring their own meat to grill.

"Being fair to everybody, welcoming people in" was Orre's approach to running the saloon, she said.

Called "rough around the edges" but a standout for its "warmth" by the Chicago Bar Project, the Montrose Saloon is one of a disappearing breed — a bar that doesn't pretend or aspire to be more than a place to hang out and have a drink or four.

Still, "There's a lot of competition," said Orre.

"Most new bars have food" and the era of knocking back three beers on the way home from work has fallen by the wayside.

"It's hard to just be a bar," she said.

The team behind the Fountainhead (Montrose stop on the CTA bar map) has bought the building, but a representative told DNAinfo Chicago said that they "currently have no agreement in place" to operate the business portion of the site.

Kedzie: Golden Crust Pizza and Tap, on the rise

Mike Santos saw the Thrillist map and would like Chicagoans to know "there is something at Kedzie" — specifically Golden Crust Pizza and Tap, 4620 N. Kedzie Ave., less than 100 feet from the Kedzie station, where Santos has tended bar since "the last Bears season."

Golden Crust has been around for nearly 50 years, but reinvented itself with an extensive remodel in late 2012. Owners glammed up the interior — exposed brick, lots of wood — added a 60-seat enclosed patio and, most importantly, brought in 40 beer taps, putting the Golden Crust on par with Fountainhead and The Grafton in Lincoln Square, Santos said.

"We have a lot of revolving taps, a lot of seasonal beers," he said, with a focus on local and craft beers. "We try to find ones that are nowhere else."

The dozen or so high-top tables all have a view of at least one of the bar's several TVs. "We're an official Blackhawks bar," said Santos, as evidenced by not only a sizable banner on the wall but the cap on his head.

If the bar's reputation hasn't extended outside of Albany Park, that's because Golden Crust draws "mostly people from the neighborhood," he said.

During the day, the restaurant does a brisk lunch business, attracting 20- and 30-somethings with free Wi-Fi. The crowd skews a little older at night, with a good number of people stopping in straight off the train, he said. Families tend to pop in at 5 or 6 p.m. for dinner.

"We get a lot of people who say, 'I just moved into the neighborhood,'" Santos said.

Kimball: Nighthawk, coming soon

Depending on one's direction of travel, Kimball is either the beginning or end of the Brown Line. Regardless, it's a big honking station that routinely handles more than 4,000 riders per day — ill-served until recently by a "dank and forbidding" hole-in-the-wall bar, Just Butch's, 4744 N. Kimball Ave.

But the stop is about to get a major upgrade.

In November 2013, a pair of developers presented their concept for The Nighthawk, a coffee shop/tavern combo that would replace Butch's.

The interior would feature wood floors, exposed brick (natch) and a tin ceiling, which had been covered over.

The plan for the business is to open at 6 a.m. daily and offer coffee and pastries. In the early evening, The Nighthawk would transition to a bar, serving craft beers and classic cocktails, as well as coffee.

"To go to that kind of tavern, you're probably leaving Albany Park and going to Lincoln Square or Logan Square," Howard Windmiller, a partner in the enterprise, told those gathered at the November meeting. "We feel this concept will keep neighbors coming back."

While the Nighthawk is still very much in coming soon-ish mode, Tortuga's Cantina, 3224 W. Lawrence Ave., will be happy to wet your whistle with a selection of nearly a dozen cervezas, margaritas and cocktails like the El Sur, a mix of brandy and homemade ginger ale.

Said co-owner Jairo Lopez, "We are not like a bar on the corner selling only beer."