So, while everyone else has gone to the Great American Beer Festival, I'm holding the fort down here in Chicago. No, that doesn't sound very plausible, does it? Okay, then. What happened is I had an interview downtown this week, and thought I'd cap it off by visiting one of several places to which I've been invited as a beer writer.
Square One (1400 S. Michigan Ave.) is a new combination of neighborhood bar and "light bites" place in the South Loop. Since, as a suburbanite, anything between Roosevelt and the Sox Park Red Line stop is Terra Incognita. This is the area, though, that planners want to link with the redevelopment in Bronzeville to create an avenue of retail and dining all the way north from McCormick Place, a few blocks west of where the Daleys lived for a while. This is where Square One has set up as a public space for residents.
The single room takes up a storefront along one corner of a condo building. It's open all the way to the second story, giving it a 30' ceiling and room for a 12 foot projection screen over the usual couple of flatscreens over the bar. It has a concrete bar and plenty of various sized tables for cocktails or dining. While it combines kind of a French Post-Modernist aesthete (like I would know!), my server said they still got their best crowds for the baseball playoffs, as well as for the first Presidential debates. I wonder which event provoked the most arguments there.
The menu is a simple affair: two pages. One for just nine "plates", the other bunching in the beverages and small bites. Focusing on food first: there's a rotating list of five meats and five cheeses, each available for $3-$5, or assemble a plate with what looks interesting. I had a Cowda, Cubeddu and a semi-soft goat cheese with just some chorizo in cold-cut sausage form. This was brought to me, of course, on a piece of slate tile just like all the other… okay, just "the" other cheese plate I've had before. I followed that with the most expensive item on the menu, a Parmesan crusted chicken on penne with pepper vodka tomato sauce, for a whopping $9. It was served on a small, hot iron skillet, keeping the chicken's cheese coating nice and crisp. A small plate to be sure, but my cheapskate math says the amount you get is in line with any other place. Besides, if you've had some appetizers before, this will completely file down your appetite.
But as the beer guy, I'm focused mainly on the beer menu. First, there are no taps in this place, only bottled beers. However, the beer list has 21 items, and no Bud, Miller or Coors. Instead we have a nicely chosen and rotating selection including beers from Metropolitan, Three Floyds, Revolution, Two Brothers, and others craft brewers. Most bottles were $6, with 22 ouncers at $10-$12, and a Tripel Karmeliet 750 ml at $22. Plus their chalkboard had two more seasonals, the Dogfish Head Punkin and St-Ambroise Oktoberfest. The beers are still outnumbered by the wines, but I call it a win if there's nothing "light" crowding the list. As always, a list of specialty cocktails, these named after James Bond characters. I went for a nice bomber of Revolution's Coup D'Etat Saison, served in a flute glass at just a bit off room temperature to let the farmhouse character out. And that one bottle was enough to see me through the entire evening.
As I told my server, being a beer-focused writer, I could have just peeked at the beer list on the wall to see that it would be a decent beer bar. But I got to drop by instead and get to know another up-and-coming location using a curated beer list as one of its draws.
Also, this Wednesday, check out my Musical Cheese radio show. Listen in at 9:00 p.m. on WIIT, 88.9 FM, from the campus of Illinois Institute of Technology. If you live more than a mile away from State and 31st, check the live stream at radio.iit.edu.