NEAR WEST SIDE — On Tuesday, I shared a drinking lunch with Gov. Pat Quinn, a stilt walker, a rock DJ, two hula-hoop girls, a juggler and a bunch of beer geeks at the Lagunitas Brewery TapRoom — which opens to the general public next week.
Craft beer aficionados have been clamoring to get a beer inside Lagunitas' massive Chicago brew house — big enough to pump out 1.7 million barrels a year — since the first keg got filled there this year.
"This place is just great. Great entertainment. And obviously, great beer," Gov. Quinn said while making his way past a band of circus performers on his way to the bar.
After answering questions from reporters, the governor sucked down a glass of "Little Sumpin' Sumpin' Ale" served up before noon by Lagunitas owner Tony Magee, who joined Quinn on the other side of the bar.
"Tony is great Chicago guy, and when he wanted to expand east of the Mississippi this was the place," Quinn said. "And what we've got here is the biggest brewery in Illinois."
And the Lagunitas TapRoom at 1843 S. Washtenaw Ave. proved to be no slouch in either size or ambition.
Just getting there from the parking lot — through the purple door, down a long corridor illuminated with psychedelic lights, past a bottle cap mural of the Lagunitas "Horseshoe Girl" mascot and up to the third floor — felt more like a stroll into Willy Wonka's factory than trip to a brewery bar.
There's room for nearly 300 people, more than 25 Lagunitas flavors on tap and a menu packed with gourmet pub grub — including beer-soaked bratwursts, beer-flavored ice cream sandwiches and homemade bread baked fresh with grain pulled straight from brew tanks.
Aside from the stuff you'd expect at a brewery tasting room — post-tour tastings and day-drinking visits (the place shuts down at 9 p.m.) — TapRoom General Manager Brian Fadden says he plans to book big-name musicians to play free shows there, too.
"We're really into music and we sponsor and support bands that tour all over," he said. "We'll start with local bands to begin with but I plan to book national acts as well. [Primus front man] Les Claypool played our beer circus in Petaluma. He's going to be at Riot Fest, so we might try to do an after-show performance in the TapRoom."
And all those concerts will be free.
"We don't sell tickets. Whether we book Lucinda Williams or anybody else, all our shows are free to the public. It's one way we give back to the community, he said.
And another way they'll cater to locals, Fadden said, will be to offer Chicago charities use of the brewery bar — and free beer — for fundraisers and other events on Mondays and Tuesdays.
McGee says it's all part of his beer-brewing mission.
"Brewing beer is a little like writing music, you need to blend creativity and art with passion and perseverance to create something memorable," McGee said. "And that's our goal and something we want to share with our friends."
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