Chicago Craft Beer Week, or #CCBW, is an annual celebration of Chicago and Illinois craft beer. Throngs of beer enthusiasts flood Chicago area breweries and events at the end of May. But, the party doesn’t have to end there. At The Barrel (2015 S. Damen, Chicago, Il), the celebration of #CCBW is a daily occurrence.
Let me introduce you to The Barrel
What is The Barrel? It’s the corner bar. The local tavern. The mom & pop pub down the street.
The local watering hole has been a staple of American drinking culture since the 1950s – at least. The Barrel, located in the Pilsen neighborhood, is striving to reintroduce tavern culture to a society who spends more time looking at their phones than they do talking to each other. Simultaneously, they are showcasing Chicago’s (and nearby Illinois’) brewing prowess. A less pretentious place you will not find. If you want to go in there and get a 12-pack of macro brews to-go, that’s fine. No one is judging you there. But, the unmistakable love of craft beer is present the minute you walk down the stairs of the El stop (right across the street) or walk in from your easily-parked car on the street. Craft beer signs, two huge colored chalk boards filled with Chicago brewing menu options, and tap handles all point patrons to Chicago’s best brewers.
What is The Barrel? It’s the epitome of friendly.
If Cheers is the place where everyone knows your name, The Barrel is the place where you don’t have to know everyone’s name, but you will before you leave. Owners George Spiratos and Pat Frazer, make it a point to shake the hands to every person that enters the bar and introduce themselves. It’s not fake, it’s sincere. The welcoming feeling is palpable, and it is contagious. Anyone sitting at the bar eventually converses with others who are sitting near them, or anyone within earshot at the bar, for that matter. The Barrel feels more like a party thrown in a Chicago bungalow than it does a bar. I’d say it feels like family, but chances are you will have more arguments with family than you will at The Barrel.
What is The Barrel? It’s a place where you can try a multitude of Chicago craft beers!
If you like Chicago craft beer, you’ll love this place. They make sure to offer crafts you probably know – Half Acre, Revolution, Lagunitas, and beers of that ilk. But they also offer a ton of beer from smaller breweries in which you are less acquainted, or haven’t been able to try the beer. George and Pat have no issues about the beer from the rest of the country, but this is the epitome of local helping local. It reminds me of the story I did about my friends at Westmont’s Prestige Liquors Granted, they sell beer from all over, but they are exceptionally Chicago-centric, too. In both cases, it’s about chicago craft brewers making beer, which helps the dive bar and local liquor store. In turn, the local businesses sell the beer, which helps the brewery. The Barrel is adamant about getting people to try Chicago beer and supporting the local beer industry.
What is The Barrel? It’s a dive bar. It’s A GREAT dive bar.
The Food Network’s Guy Fieri has reinvigorated the romanticism attached to dives and brought it back to the forefront of American culture. Dives don’t have to be a S***hole. This place may be a “dive,” but The Barrel is clean, well managed, and feels like a a cool basement bar area (albeit, with far more toys and tables, obviously). The El runs overhead, but you can’t hear it while in the place. Two large screen TVs mimic the old days where the old tube TV sat in the corner and people gathered to watch the fight, or maybe a Cubs or Sox game. Today, the view is much better though, given the presence of large HDTVs and, due to smoking laws, no cigar smoke. Almost everything in the bar was purchased through Craigslist, bought from another bar, or repurposed. Pat and George basically paid for it, built it (or had a brother–in-law help), and run it. Two guys like you and me running a bar because they love Chicago, love beer (and cocktails), and love people. Nothing more. Nothing less.
What is The Barrel? It’s a place Chicago brewers know about, and respect.
While there, two people who worked at nearby brewers stopped by and had a drink. When I was at Temperance Beer Co conducting an interview for a story I was working on for Porchdrinking.com, the brewing operations manager reacted to my mention of the Barrel with, “Oh Yeah! I love those guys.” While at Chicago Ale Fest, I mentioned The Barrel a few times and each time was met with either a positive reaction because they knew about The Barrel, or a feeling of “I have to get over there.” In short, the buzz (pun intended) with The Barrel is fantastic. And, it should be.
What is The Barrel? It’s a place that also has great cocktails!
If beer isn’t your thing, they have many spirits, and great cocktail skills. They also have fresh fruit on hand to make the drinks even better. It may be a dive bar, but quality is never compromised.
The Barrel is a dive bar, and it’s a great one. It will remind you of the no-frills nature of a corner tavern, but with the added bonus of craft beer and fresh cocktails. The place is friendly. The place is fun. The place exudes passion for Chicago.
Pull up a stool and order a drink. They are happy to serve you.