While Rock Bottom is a brewpub chain, they do allow their brewers considerable autonomy. The one in Chicago has changed since my last visit a few years ago and is now more of a sports bar, which while annoying in some ways, with various televisions tuned to different sports channels and all blaring out at full toss, it isn't peaceful,but it is busy. And this is unmistakeably a business and if it works for them, who am I to argue? It's an American Sports Bar Brewpub. Got a problem with that?
We all met there on Saturday afternoon, variously tired, excited and content and spent a few hours putting the world to rights and drinking beer. I more or less went through the list, while concentrating on a fine German style pilsner, but mindful of Pete Brown's admonishment about boring blogs full of "what beer I drank", I'll not mention it further, except to say it was all super fresh and well made. What I will mention is the pub itself and how it works. Firstly you get served at your table (unless you get a seat at the bar) and you have to understand that the servers are paid little and rely on tips. While alien to our culture in lots of ways, it does result in extremely attentive and pleasant staff, who seem genuinely happy to have you there as a customer and to actually make you feel wanted and welcome. Your server will make sure you never run out of drinks, check on you frequently, bring glasses of water (Yankees drink a lot of water with their beer) and remove empties. That in itself is an extremely welcome thing and seems to me to be a direct result of the relationship that has to be established between customer and server.
The Rock Bottom crowd was predominantly in their 20's and 30's (we bumped up the average a bit) and a lot were watching the sport. All were drinking craft beer and of course some were getting merry too. Pretty good food is also available and it was there I had my only burger of the trip. It was bloody good too, with the home made coleslaw being absolutely superb. One nice touch for me was the generous imperial pint at the same price other pubs charged for 16oz or less. For those interested, you can see the very hi tech brewery from the stairs on the way to the toilet, sorry, restroom.
So is it like a British pub? Well it was reasonably pubby - at the trendier end of the spectrum - and very friendly - so yes, it is. The only real difference was the table service and the tab at the end, rather than pay as you go. It is a place well worth a visit, with a good atmosphere and excellent beers. If in Chicago try it.
Our server got a $50 tip afterwards. She earned it.
A bit of a CV. Tandleman is a veteran beer lover, local CAMRA Chairman and activist, beer writer, beer reviewer and pursuer of all things good in beer. He lives in the North West of England and London. Despite his CAMRA membership, he does not limit himself to cask conditioned beer, though he believes that cask conditioning, when done correctly and appropriately, brings a quality to beer that is hard to equal by any other kind of presentation. He is a strong supporter of Northern methods of beer dispense and avidly detests poorly presented beer and dislikes pasteurisation. He regularly visits Germany, has conducted corporate British and German beer tastings for CAMRA at the Great British Beer Festival where he has worked for years on Biere Sans Frontieres and was Deputy Organiser at CAMRA's very successful National Winter Ales Festival in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 and at the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival from 2013 to date. He admires good brewers wherever they are and has travelled extensively in pursuit of good beer to drink. He also judges beer at both the International Beer Challenge and the World Beer Awards.
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