More craft beer follies on Route 66

So you thought we’d mentioned all the local summer events on Route 66 already, did you?  But wait – there’s more!  This very weekend, on Saturday, July 20 from 5:30pm to 9:00pm, there will be a craft beer tasting on the very lovely rooftop deck of the Joliet Area Historical Museum!  The Rooftop Terrace will host a vast array of premium and import beers and ciders from more than a dozen craft brewers.  And the view there is fantastic.  Imagine:  you could be watching the sun set over beautiful (?) downtown Joliet while sipping a handcrafted brewski and enjoying what little breeze there is likely to be, given the sweltering forecast.

Joliet Historical Museum & Route 66 Welcome Center  Photo copyright 2012 by Keith Yearman

Joliet Historical Museum & Route 66 Welcome Center   Photo copyright 2012 by Keith Yearman

The museum is at 204 N. Ottawa St. (near Cass & Ottawa) in Joliet, and there’s parking across the street.  But you have to RSVP, and pronto:  register online at: or call those nice folks at (815) 723-5201, ext.222.  And drink one for me!  (I’ll be gasping for air next to an air conditioner somewhere.)

Meanwhile, on another front: Lagunitas Brewing Co. founder and CEO Tony Magee announced on his Twitter feed last week that his new Lagunitas Chicago facility will be headed by … a woman.  Mary Novak, aka May Bauer, to be specific (not sure which one is her maiden name).  Way to go, Tony!  We like women in charge in this town.  Mary and her family are apparently moving down from Minnesota soon, so we hope she finds a nice place to settle down in the Chicago area.  Tony also assures us in his tweets (which he calls twitts – cute!) that the installation/assembly of the brewery is on schedule and should be completed in time to start brewing beer in early autumn. We can’t wait to welcome in the new boss and the new brew.  The new taproom/beer cafe/whatever you want to call it should open shortly thereafter.

Because of Magee’s own background, Lagunitas has long been thought to have a Chicago connection, if not influence.  “I think our brand’s already a Chicago brew” – it just hadn’t been made here before, Magee said in a recent interview.  “There’s just something in the ethos of it all that’s Midwestern.”  The company’s website, however, gives equal credit to “St. Louis, Memphis, Walker Creek [CA], and the highlands of Quincy” as the sources of the brewery’s leadership team.

There is actually a business reason as well as hometown pride behind building a manufacturing and bottling plant in Chicago:  Magee wanted to ship more beer here, but shipping costs kept rising, as his wife was quick to inform him.  Given that they were already paying such a steep price, it made more sense to take the money the firm had already been spending on shipping and build a second brewery and distribution point instead.  Until now, Lagunitas has had a 32-state distribution footprint.  Its new Chicago plant will brew beer for all markets east of the Rockies, and lots of it – each Lagunitas brewery will be able to produce about 600,000 barrels of beer per year.  Then there’s the fact that he’s bringing his product back to his hometown, not to mention the name recognition, Magee explains:  “I wanted to have Chicago, Illinois, on the labels.  I mean, they know where Chicago is in Moscow.”  And in lots of other places on the planet, dude!

Indeed, since the soccer World Cup tourney was held in Chicago a few years ago, many more people around the world know where Chicago is.  That is, those folks who hadn’t already figured it out while Michael Jordan was leading the Bulls to victory on the basketball court.  Certainly, Route 66 buffs all around the planet know Chicago as the route’s starting point and eastern terminus (and some of you are no doubt snarking:  At last – finally, people think of something besides Al Capone whenever they hear mention of Chicago.  About time, too, eh?).

We should say something about the neighborhood in which Lagunitas Chicago will be doing business.  The former Ryerson Steel warehouse on Rockwell Avenue near 18th Street is in an area now largely occupied by Cinespace Chicago, the local outpost of a Toronto film company that owns most of the historic former Ryerson Steel plant campus.  Last year, Cinespace signed a 20-year lease with Lagunitas.  At the time, it looked like Lagunitas would only be using part of the large former warehouse building, but it now expects to occupy all of it, with room to spare for future expansion.

That’s fine with Cinespace, which has more than enough space in nearby buildings for soundstages, where locally-based TV and cable series are filmed, including Chicago Fire (currently on NBC), The Chicago Code (2010, canceled after one season on Fox), The Playboy Club (2011, a snoozy bit of retro sexism canceled by NBC after only three episodes), and Boss (the excellent, critically praised but underviewed series starring Kelsey Grammer, which ran for two seasons on the Starz channel, canceled in autumn 2012).  Boss was Cinespace Chicago’s first film project.  Currently filming there is the new movie Divergent, with Shailene Woodley, Kate Winslet and Ray Stevenson, among others

Cinespace moved in two years ago, in May 2011, although it had made promises as far back as 2009 to move in and create a lot more jobs than were actually forthcoming.  Gov. Quinn and the state legislature gave the film company a $3 million grant during the height of the Great Recession – at a time when the state should have been raising more tax revenue and solving its public pension problems instead (you know: the ones that still aren’t solved yet four years later?  Uh-huh).  Even then, as owner Nick Mirkopoulos paid $3.3 million for the first of the former Ryerson buildings, he was saying that he hoped to acquire the entire 48-acre Ryerson Steel campus – which he eventually did.  Ryerson still has its headquarters in downtown Chicago.

Meanwhile, the spot Magee and his comrades have chosen lies in a little up-and-coming no-man’s land between the Chicago Technology Park, the homey Tri-Taylor neighborhood with its unusual Queen Anne cottages, and the burgeoning medical campuses of the Illinois Medical District, all immediately to the northeast; the slowly gentrifying Douglas Park area to the north and west, where Mt. Sinai Medical Center is; the deeply impoverished North Lawndale area, once the heart of the Jewish West Side, to the northwest; and South Lawndale, aka Little Village, to the southeast.  South Lawndale, once overwhelmingly Bohemian with some other Eastern Europeans thrown in for good measure (Slovaks, Moravians, Poles, Croatians and Serbians) is now Hispanic and prospering, despite the resident Latin gangs, who mostly only bug each other.

To the south of the former Ryerson Steel property are rail lines separating it from the former International Harvester/old McCormick Reaper Works site and the Sanitary & Ship Canal.  A mile to the east lies the curve of the South Branch of the Chicago River and the Pilsen neighborhood, which was also once Bohemian (they went there first), then Mexican (ditto), and now on its north and eastern fringes is increasingly gentrified as University Village impinges upon it.  A mile and a half further west, starting at Pulaski Road, are the areas once known as Lawndale-Crawford and K-Town (so named for all those streets that begin with K).  Many of the Bohemians, other Eastern Europeans and Mexicans who once lived in Pilsen and South Lawndale eventually pushed off further west down Route 66/Ogden Avenue to Berwyn and suburbs further afield.  It’s like we’ve said before:  Route 66 wasn’t just the way to get out of town and hit the open road to California, it was also the local migration route through successive neighborhoods as new immigrants gradually got jobs and families and became upwardly mobile enough to search for that little house of their own with the picket fence.  It’s the American dream.

In short:  What you have here in this corner of Douglas Park is a nexus of change in the middle of all those other next-door areas that – once the seemingly never-ending recession finally loses its grip in Illinois (oh please, someday soon, yes?? – should become a very interesting neighborhood indeed.  And Lagunitas Chicago will be there to see that future growth and perhaps contribute to it.  Cool.  Welcome, guys!!

More on Lagunitas Chicago later as we get more updates.

Until next time,


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