In the distant southern shadow of the Willis Tower, on Michigan Ave, lies Vice District Brewing, a brewery that dares to be a little bitter – English Bitter, Scottish Bitter, Double IPA bitter. I’m not talking about bitter that makes one scrunch up one’s face; I’m talking about an exercise in balance that makes bitterness sit alongside other flavor notes in the same fashion a violin, oboe, and bass drum work harmoniously together at the Chicago Symphony, located just up the road from Vice. Oh, they also happen to make one of the best stouts in the city. It will conjure up images and feelings associated with consuming a Guinness until you realize Vice District’s is substantially better.
In fact, in lieu of doing a full-scale beer review, let me just say that the overall quality of the beer is sublime. They not only brew an amazing variety of beer, they offer many sessionable beers so that one can “knock down a couple” without getting drunk. Vice District reminds me of an old fashioned Chicago summer night where Chicagoans hang out with friends and family on the porch or in the backyard. Have a beer. Have a laugh. Relax. That’s Vice District.
It seems fitting that Vice District Brewing offers a mix of English, German, and American brews. Much like their flavors, their staff and clientele are the embodiment of Chicago’s rich cultural heritage, and America at large — black, white, Asian, Latino, Christian, Muslim, old, young, men, and women. At one corner of the bar, a black man and a white man — two thirty-something professionals — with their perfectly shiny shaved heads and legit-stylish suits indulged in a couple of stouts. Near me, two bar stools to my right, there sat a man who stopped in to enjoy his Vice District Brewing membership perks. Behind me, in another corner of the brewery, at a table crafted and constructed by the brewery’s owners, sat a host of law students whose very own cultural mix served as the personification of diversity. I assume from their laughter and revelry; they didn’t seem to care — they had two things in common, a love for law and love for good beer. Quoting one of them as she came to pay, “I love this place!”
Meanwhile, The biographical story of those who own, operate, and run Vice District Brewery is a story within itself. Co-owner, Quintin Cole, affectionately referred to as “Q,” is a physical therapist and he also manages clinics around the country. The other half of the great team, co-owner Curtis Tarver II, is a lawyer and is also co-owner of his own law firm. Additionally, Vice District Brewing General Manager, Sarah Melon has a Masters in Social Work. Melon commented about the eclectic nature of the Vice staffers, “We have someone who is an event coordinator for March of Dimes, someone else is a lawyer who just opened his own cocktail bar, another guy is working on a masters in mathematics with a concentration in actuarial science, another woman is working on her Ph.D. in neurobiology, while another is working at March of Dimes and working on a masters in nursing. So we have a ton of interesting backgrounds at the bar. ” It’s those varied backgrounds and mix of personalities that speak volumes about the essence of of Vice District Brewing – it’s a place where anyone can feel welcome.
Although truth be told, if you visit Vice District, make sure you wear shoes. Apparently, Sarah Melon has the propensity to break a few glasses — they even have a chalkboard spot dedicated to how many days it’s been since she last broke one. So, watch your feet.
Maybe it’s too crowded at Vice. Maybe it will help Sarah if Vice District expands. She’ll get her wish soon. The journey from home brewing to brewery operations for Vice District is about to take the next step. Melon explained, “We just signed on a space that is [three times] our brewing capacity [and] will have a small taproom connected to it. The expansion is going to allow us to can and start distribution…we are shooting for late spring/ early summer  for that.”
Meanwhile, Vice District Brewing will continue to operate on Chicago’s South Side. Their success in Chicago’s South Loop neighborhood is a testament to the burgeoning craft-beer culture for the Chicago folks that live south of Madison. From the South Loop to Northwest Indiana, craft beer is flourishing. The amount of breweries and craft-brew friendly establishments forming on the South Side is astounding, but that is another blog entry for another day. Although, I alluded to it on a previous blog: Chicago Burger Bar & the South Shore/South Loop.
Lastly, at Vice, parking is easy and affordable. Vice doesn’t offer a kitchen, but pizza boxes are a common site — feel free to bring in the food! You can also bring your dog, and there are plenty of board games to play, too. No matter who you are, what you are, or where you’re from, Vice District Brewing is the place where you walk in and immediately feel right at home.
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