Photo by C. Blatchley
[This article also appears in Active Transportation Alliance’s Mode Shift newsletter.]
A cozy brewpub serving house-made craft beer and hearty fare can be the cornerstone of a thriving retail district, and a magnet for out-of-towners seeking memorable drinks and eats. That’s especially true when the brewery is located a short walk from, or even right next door to, a commuter rail station. Chicagoland is fortunate to have a growing number of snug brewpubs a stone’s throw from Metra stops, making them ideal destinations for a car-free suburban safari. Here’s a guide to some of the best ones, including feedback from the staff about why brewpubs and transit go together like beer and pretzels.
Flossmoor Station (1035 Sterling Ave., Flossmoor, 708-957-BREW)
As the name suggests, this tavern is adjacent to the Flossmoor stop on the Metra Electric District line. In fact, the 1906 structure that houses the bar actually served as this Southland community’s train station until the current one opened in the 1970s. “We get a lot of craft beer enthusiasts riding Metra down from the city,” says manager Sandi Nelson. “And quite often we get people who bicycle here. They have a few beers and then catch the train home.” Naturally the décor includes railroad memorabilia, including old photos of the Illinois Central and Canadian Pacific lines, and there’s even a working electric model train suspended above the bar. Try a pint of their award-winning Pullman brown ale or Station Master wheat ale, along with an order of beer-battered fish and chips or a Brewery Burger.
At the Roundhouse – I walked there instead of taking the train
Two Brothers Roundhouse (205 N. Broadway St., Aurora, 630-264-BREW)
Next door to the Aurora stop on Metra’s BNSF Railway, this pub will appeal to beer foam aficionados as well as “foamers,” a nickname for rabid fans of trains. It’s housed in the nation’s oldest limestone railroad roundhouse, a massive circular structure built in 1856. “The location is great because the Chicago crowd can come out here, have some beers, and catch the 11:20 home,” says manager Kate Pfiffner. Formerly Walter Payton’s Roundhouse, the space was recently purchased by Jim and Jason Ebel of Two Brothers Brewery in nearby Warrenville, which currently produces beer for the roundhouse as well. Sample a Domain DuPage French country ale or a Northwind imperial stout, plus interesting small plates like roasted bone marrow toast and locally sourced entrees like vegetable pot pie.
Photo by Karla Kaulfuss
Stockholm’s (306 W. State St., Geneva, 608-208-7070)
A five-minute walk north of the Geneva stop on Metra’s Union Pacific West (UP-W) line, this so-called “vardshus” (Swedish for tavern) honors the town’s Scandinavian heritage with flags, dragon ships and Viking images in the bar. “Being near the train means makes it easy for people to access us,” says owner Michael Olesen. “Not just folks from downtown Chicago but also other communities along the line like Oak Park and Lombard.” He says it works the other way as well. “They do a beer fest in Oak Park that’s just steps from the Metra station – it’s really convenient for us.” If you visit Stockholm’s, Olesen suggests you try a State Street Pilsner, Belgian Abbey Ale or house-made root beer, along with a plate of Swedish meatballs or spicy Seafood Diablo pasta.
Lunar Brewing Company – photo by Jeff Lorenz
Lunar Brewing Company (54 E. St. Charles Rd., Villa Park, 630-530-2077)
Four blocks south of the Villa Park station on the UP-W line, Lunar Brewing is a comfortable neighborhood tap that happens to serve tasty house-made beer. “Being near Metra is great,” says bartender John Biel. “People can get smashed here and not have to drive home.” [If you prefer, feel free to alter the quote to “People can enjoy themselves here and…” – I’m sure the guy won’t mind.] Moons and stars dangle from the ceiling and signs for craft breweries from around the country hang on the walls. Visiting beer geeks and wisecracking locals belly up to the bar, keeping the conversation popping. Try their Moondance India pale ale or Total Eclipse stout; no food is served but you’re welcome to order in.
Photo by Jeff Lorenz
Mickey Finn’s (412 N. Milwaukee Ave., Libertyville, 847-362-6688)
A seven-minute walk southeast from the Libertyville stop on the Milwaukee District North line, this family-friendly Irish pub is located in a building that dates back to the 1870s and housed a speakeasy during Prohibition. “We get a lot of people who come up from the city on weekends,” says owner Brian Grano. “Being near Metra is nice so people don’t have worry about driving home.” He suggests you sample their sweet, chocolaty Pint O’ Porridge oatmeal stout, or the 847 “suburban wheat ale” (a play on Goose Island’s 312 “urban wheat ale.” Unique menu items include Irish Eggrolls, stuffed with corned beef and cabbage, and a Hangover Pub Pie (ham, jalapeno cheddar, sautéed onions and fried eggs in a bread bowl).
Photo by Neal Patel
Lake Bluff Brewing Company (16 E. Scranton Ave., Lake Bluff, 224-544-5179)
Just east of the Lake Bluff station of Metra’s Union Pacific North line, this taproom opened last March with communal tables reminiscent of a German beer hall. According to co-owner Rodd Specketer, it’s a popular a popular stop for North Shore commuters on their way back from the city, as well as Chicagoans who take shuttle buses from nearby Abbott Laboratories or Rosalind Franklin University and pick up a growler to go before catching Metra home. Munch a hot Bavarian pretzel or a beer-boiled bratwurst, and enjoy a pint of Black Squirrel bourbon-infused stout or Hard Tail imperial I.P.A., whose name is a nod to Specketer’s love of mountain biking.
Steven adds: You can find more bars and restaurants on the Carfree Chicago Train Stop Guide.