Having a few at Maria's Community Bar

Having a few at Maria's Community Bar

First off, some of us ChicagoNow bloggers have been a-giggle over a website, I Write Like, which purports to analyze samples of your writing and tell you which author's style yours most resembles. So I pasted in my article about 5 Rabbits changing their contract brewer, and I was told it was written in the style of H.P. Lovecraft. Then I pasted one of my long scholarly articles about MST3K. Still Lovecraft! I was so awestruck by the comparison I had to snee… ah… ah… Cthulu! Gesundheit! Better go take my Miska-Tonic.

Anyway, I wanted to offer some impressions of a new place when I drop in there for the first time. Not a full review, since I just stopped in for a few beers. But certainly some impressions, especially of the Dark Places… there I go again that host some of the events I write about.

Somewhere in Bridgeport stands Maria's Packaged Goods and Community Bar. It's at 960 W. 31st St., where Morgan St. ends. It's been in place since 1939 as Kaplan's Liquors, and is now somewhat of a rarity: a bar attached to a package liquor store. Mrs. Maria Marszewski bought the place in the 1980's, and it became informally known as Maria's. In 2010 she turned management over to her sons Ed and Mike, who formally renamed it Maria's and took the place into the craft beer world, which still makes it a rarity for the South Side.

The building looks tiny and nondescript, with a small lighted sign indicating its place almost on the down-low. The building is on a wedge-shaped piece where S. Farrell St. meets 31st, floating in a small island of asphalt where you can easily park your car and not worry about neighborhood parking permits, unless it's a busy night.

The beer store in the front shows a bounty of rare beers, and a good collection of locals, like Half Acre, 5 Rabbit, and so many others, obviously working with several distributors to build this eclectic mix. More bottles of older beers line the windows in case you don't notice the sign going by.

The bar itself is behind the back end of the store. Despite looking like it's been her forever, much of the barroom has been built from reclaimed materials/ Yet the classic elements are there, including a pressed tin ceiling, and a high back bar with top shelf bottles stacked in front of a mirror. Just for fun, a small collection of stuffed animals and a bear rug staring at me as I sit in front of a tap tower.

And there are 18 taps in all, not a BudMillerCoors in the lot. Not even a Stella. Instead, there were drool-worthy craft treats like 3 Floyds regulars and seasonals, and, during the time I dropped in, Stone Vertical Epic 11.11.11, Jolly Pumpkin La Parcela, Great Divide Oak Aged Yeti, and Greenbush Closure. All were on draft at between $6 and $8, the most expensive being the Dogfish Head Fort, and they were having a Monday $1 off draft special.

With so many hard to find beers, I had to pick out some local rarities from Half Acre: their Big Hugs Imperial Stout, which usually sells out in one day at the brewery, and Chairman, their commemorative for the anniversary of Lumpen magazine. I chatted beer with an older guy who could have been a regular, pondering the question of whether humanity discovered beer in Sumeria and brought it over the land bridge to the Americas, or could the Meso-Americans have come up with it on their own. Just what I liked: a dive bar with interesting customers and a big craft beer selection.

Oh, I don't doubt that hipsters might have the place staked out; I did not chance checking the canned beer cooler for the telltale tallboys of PBR. After all, Maria's does have a program of DJ's and bands, and does events with fellow Bridgeport establishment, the Co-Prosperity Sphere arts collective. But no doubt, Maria's is a great place worth stepping a few blocks off the beaten path.

Too bad I didn't bring a camera with me. But the Google Streets view shows the place before it was officially renamed Maria's and went craft:

View Larger Map

Oh, yeah. The I Write Like site said this article was in the style of Lovecraft, too. Go fig.

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    Mark McDermott

    Writer, trivia maven, fan of many things. I thought to learn all there is to know about beer as a way to stay interested in learning. It is my pleasure to bring Chicago's craft beer scene to you.

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