If you want to know how the beer scene has changed in Chicago over the past couple decades, you need go no further than Hopleaf Bar on North Clark Street in the city’s Andersonville neighborhood. Proprietor Michael Roper is celebrating his 20th year in business by expanding; he’s bought the building adjacent to Hopleaf, which will allow for an additional 100 spaces to a bar that already boasts some of the best beer offerings the city has to offer.
“When I opened 20 years ago there were very few craft beer options in Chicago,” Roper explained while showing off his impressive establishment. “There were 3 or 4 bars that carried American craft beers and a half a dozen that carried a lot of imports, mostly German. Now there is a craft beer bar on every corner! Even the ‘old man’ bars in Polish neighborhoods feel that they have to carry some better beers. Nice restaurants with big wine lists are paying attention to their beer menus now.”
There is an explosion of local brewing, too. On any given night, you can find taps pretty much unavailable outside the Windy City’s boundaries: Goose Island, Metropolitan, Half Acre, 5 Rabbit, Revolution, Finch’s, Three Floyds, Two Brothers, and—soon to come—New Chicago. Among the beers offered recently were Three Floyd’s Zombie Dust (a surprising mild taste and low ABV belies the Warrenville, IN, beer’s name), 5 Rabbit Viday Muerte Muertzenbier, and Finch’s Cut Throat American Pale Ale.
Hopleaf embodies what all the Good Beer Seal bars do: a sense of giving back to the community. In addition to sourcing locally for its menu (or hyper-locally—Roper grows herbs and veggies in a back courtyard that offers outdoor seating in nice weather), Hopleaf hosts fundraisers for its community neighbors. When lack of funding threatened to cut off the art & music program at the local elementary school, Roper spearheaded an effort called “Kegs for Kids” that netted $44,000 and fully underwrote the arts program for the school.
Of course, with the 20th Anniversary expansion, Hopleaf will have even more room for beer dinners, tasting and pairing events, and brewmaster meet & greets. Along with great craft beer options you simply cannot find anywhere else.
As Roper sums it up, “We have quite a great beer scene in Chicago now. I am glad to be in the middle of it.”