You’re in Chicago and you need a beer. Happens to us all the time. Well today is your lucky day, because Chicago just happens to be one of the world’s great beer drinking towns, and you’re further in luck, because we know one of the world’s best beer drinking bars and it’s right there in Chicago! That’s right, it’s the Map Room. This week we’re hanging out with Laura and Jay from Map Room which opened back in ‘92 with a travelers’ theme, before they met brewer Greg Browne and members of the Chicago Beer Society. Through this relationship, Map Room has become one of the premiere stops for beer aficionados in Chicago. So grab a pint of your favorite suds while we sit down with Laura and Jay.
NightOwl: Is Map Room your first venture into the nightlife scene? If not, can you tell us how you got there?
Laura: Yes. I’ve worked in the industry since i was 19, but the Map Room was my first shot at owning/running a bar. Because my husband had a really good day job, we were able to go about building our identity and clientele in an unorthodox way — we didn’t have to worry about money for the first couple of years, which made it easy for us to really learn to be ‘the map room’, flesh out our theme, network, travel, and offer really cool experiences to our growing customer base.
Jay: I’ve worked in restaurants and bars most of my life. Washing dishes, expediting, cleaning, serving, bartending. It’s a lifestyle for sure. I moved into an apartment right down the street from Map Room and when I walked in for the first time (sick of unpacking all my junk) I was pretty floored. I was into good beer but not like that. I met a couple of the bartenders and after some hanging out, one of them asked me to write down some stuff about me and that parlayed into a job offer here.
NightOwl: Was beer always going to be a focus on Map Room? How much of an effect did the relationship with Greg Browne help shape the landscape?
Laura: Beer was NOT an initial focus, but pretty damn quickly we figured out beer was a great way to flesh out our theme as a ‘traveller’s tavern.’ So many places all over the world make beer! We set out trying to collect beers from all over…We were in danger of having one hundred beers that are all the same, mass-produced lagers from as many different countries as we could find. And then we met Greg Browne. We learned from him that not all nations are brewing nations. Thank god for Greg Browne!! We began to diversify our beer selection by styles, and focus on great brewing nations like Belgium, Germany, England, and the new American breweries, at that time called microbreweries.
Jay: I wasn’t here yet, but I remember seeing a really old beer menu from here. They were trying really hard, but the options available of really delicious beers were few and far between. We are absolutely spoiled rotten with beer options now. It’s a good situation to be in.
NightOwl: You offer 26 beers on tap and over 140 bottles, truly a beer lover’s dream. Can you tell us about curating such an impressive list? What goes into it?
Jay: Whenever someone asks about the beer list and how it gets picked, I can’t stress enough how important it is to have a well rounded list. I think it’s super important to cover as many styles as possible with the best examples of those styles. Not everyone is a hop-head and not everyone likes Bourbon-barrel aged Stouts with coffee from some little country no one has ever heard of. If you are a beer bar, you need those things but you also need a nice clean, easy drinking pale colored lager (or two), and a bunch of other things in between. Sours are hot, but I’m not going to have 5 of them on tap!
NightOwl: Do you have favorite beers? If so, what are they?
Laura: Celebrator Doppelbock, Schneider Aventinus and Caracole Saxo, but I don’t drink them often. I don’t mind a well-made mass produced lager. I’m no snob.
Jay: Too many to list. My last sip beer would be Rochefort 10. My favorite IPA is Firestone Walker Union Jack (anything by them, if you’re into that particular style, will not disappoint). I tend to spend more time drinking American breweries. I love Belgian-styles too, but when you have breweries like Allagash, their beers deserve that level of justice, you can drink amazing Belgian-styles, and they are generally much fresher!
NightOwl: What’s the craziest thing that’s happened at the Map Room?
Jay: I remember a monkey being in here for a bartender’s birthday. He was wearing a diaper and would jump from one person’s shoulder to another. His trainer said he was quite fond of me, and had to get him away from me before things got weird.
NightOwl: What’s the best advice you can share with anyone looking to open up a bar?
Jay: Don’t do it! Save your money! Go to Jamaica!
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