3.5 days in Chicago | VailDaily.com

3.5 days in Chicago

Caramie Schnell
Vail, CO Colorado
Special to the Daily/Erin ThamesChicago resident and beer lover Cory Brown opted to spend his 30th birthday touring two breweries in Chicago, including Half Acre, shown here, and one in nearby Munster, Indiana.

Editor’s note: This is the first story in a two-part series about a long weekend visit to Chicago. Check next Sunday’s High Life to read the final installment.

I’ve been to Chicago in the winter, when the sleet slaps you in the face like a tipsy woman you’ve just offended, and the biting cold burrows deep into every coat crevice. I’ve heard stories about the horrendous heat and humidity mid summer brings. So when is a good time to visit Chicago?

After a trip last weekend to help my great college buddy Cory celebrate his 30th birthday, I figured it out: Fall. It’s cool enough on some days to break out the new sweater you’ve been itching to wear, and warm enough on others to don jeans and a T-shirt to one of the many outdoor festivals that take place in the city every weekend during the summer and fall months.

Consider taking a long weekend and heading to the Windy City for a few days of big city culture before the snow starts to fly, both here and there.

Beer buzz

After a 6 a.m. flight (and a 3:30 a.m. alarm – ouch), my friend Erin and I arrived in foggy, slightly chilly Chicago around 9 a.m. Saturday. The weather didn’t matter though, since a group of 11 of us planned to spend the day touring a few breweries in and near Chicago. Turning 30 is a big deal and should be celebrated in style, which is why we traveled to the breweries in a black stretch limo, stocked with local microbrews and snacks.

After dropping off our bags at the charming Majestic Hotel (more about our digs later) we started the festivities with brunch at Revolution Brewing Company (2323 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 773-227-BREW, revbrew.com). We sipped on beermosas made with the eatery’s refreshing Bottom Up Belgian Wit and noshed on sweet potato cakes with roasted red pepper yogurt and bacon fat popcorn, rife with crunchy bits of bacon, crispy sage and a hefty sprinkling of parmesan cheese.

Next up, we headed to Half Acre Beer Company (4257 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-248-4038, halfacrebeer.com), where, with a beer in hand, owner and former Colorado resident Gabriel Magliaro told us the company’s tale, the abbreviated version being he ditched his nine-to-five and opened the brewery with some buddies in 2006. For a while they brewed their beer at Sand Creek Brewing Co. in Wisconsin and shipped it in. Starting in ’08, Magliaro and friends built a new brewery on Lincoln Avenue and, using equipment they bought and brought in from Durango’s Ska Brewing Co. in four tractor trailers, started brewing in the city. Magliaro’s story was entertaining, and even better, he made sure there was plenty of (free) beer for beer tourees to sip on as we listened and walked around the two-story space. Be sure to try the brewery’s Daisy Cutter Pale Ale and Gossamer Golden Ale – very tasty beers indeed.

Buzz kill

We piled back in the limo and headed for Indiana. Yep, our next stop, about 45 minutes away, took us to Three Floyds Brewing Company (9750 Indiana Parkway, Munster; 219-922-3565, http://www.3floyds.com) in Munster. The tour, though very informative (read: probably more in depth than it needed to be) was a bit of a buzz kill. It was too long (an hour and 15 minutes), super hot in the warehouse, and worst, while our tour guide sipped on a beer the whole time, every tour attendee remained empty handed. We were sweating and pretty bored by the end, and, thanks to the militant pub guy next door barking at us to get in one of two lines following the tour, we left without trying a single beer. We had a very sour taste in our mouths – and certainly not from a tasty Flemish brown or any other beverage. These guys would be well advised to take the Half Acre tour and learn a thing or two about how to do it right.

After the tours, we filled our bellies with a tasty home-cooked meal of beer beef sandwiches (sense a theme yet?), spinach dip, and oven-roasted potatoes, before rallying the troops. We took a cab to Sheffields (3258 N. Sheffield Ave.; http://www.sheffieldschicago.com), three blocks south of Wrigley Field’s Saturday night mayhem, to finish out the evening.

Blue-and-orange devotees in Bear country

By 9 p.m. most everyone was holding back yawns, so we called it a night and headed for the Majestic Hotel (528 W. Brompton Ave.; 773-404-3499) a cozy 52-room boutique hotel in the Lakeview neighborhood, a few blocks from Wrigley Field and just a block off Lake Shore Drive. The hotel, which feels a bit like an upscale country estate, is tucked in a beautiful old brownstone building on a quiet street. At one time the hotel served as a women’s shelter, then was a women-only dormitory back in the 1920s, according to the friendly front desk staff. Apparently musicians performing at local venues often stay at the hotel since it’s tucked away on a quiet street. Our room was spacious, clean and comfortable, with two flat-screen TVs, a mini fridge and an reasonably priced “honor” mini bar (sodas were $1 and beers just $2), something I’ve never seen before.

Sunday morning, after a continental breakfast of coffee, hard boiled eggs, bagels and yogurt, we headed to Riverview Tavern in Roscoe Village to watch the Broncos battle Jacksonville with – surprise of surprises – a roomful of fellow blue-and-orange devotees. Afterwards we headed to the very crowded Renegade Craft Fair along Division Street in Wicker Park.

The free annual street fair hosted 300 vendors from around the country, along with live music and DIY craft workshops. The vendors, most of whom had uber-clever names, peddled everything from hipster lens-free “vintage” glasses (Labrabbit Optics) to beautiful hand-woven scarves (Spincycle Yarns). Some of the jewelry and prints were kitschy cool, though expensive and other than a “Moose-tache” T-shirt our friend Colleen bought, depicting a moose donning a mustache, our group left empty-handed and headed to Cory’s sister’s beautiful home for birthday celebration part two, an Italian dinner feast.

Heather’s Italian family followed tradition and gave her a pasta machine when she got married. As her food quickly proved, she’s more than adept at using it. She made, from scratch, the entire scrumptious meal – four-cheese ravioli, red sauce, giant meatballs, eggplant parmesan and tender gnocchi swimming in a pea and bacon cream sauce that made you close your eyes and moan. We toasted Cory, his next 30 years, and that blessed pasta machine, before saying goodnight to our more than hospitable hosts.

Check back next week for the second part of this story. E-mail comments to cschnell@vaildaily.com.

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