If you’ve been keeping an eye on the Chicago bar scene, you’ll notice two popular trends: gastropubs and bar names that combine two seemingly random nouns (see: Elephant & Castle, Firkin & Pheasant, Angels & Mariachis). Longman & Eagle solidly falls into both of those categories, yet offers up something truly original that’s not to be missed. Taking the “shot and a beer” joint to levels rarely seen, L&E is a veritable paradise for whisky-lovers, beer-lovers and foodies alike. And don’t worry if you’ve had too much to drink as Longman & Eagle’s boutique hotel is now open…
At first glance, L&E looks like it’s weathered decades of Chicago winters, but as recently as 2008 the site operated as Caribbean-inspired bar/restaurant Winds Café. Located a block north of Logan Square’s confusing roundabout, easily accessible from the Blue Line, the small rusted “&” sign above the door is the primary indication of L&E’s existence. Upon closer inspection, you’ll find the bar’s motto stenciled on the front window—”Eat, Sleep, Whiskey”—which pretty much sums the place up, though maybe not in that order. A sizeable, tree-covered sidewalk patio runs adjacent to the bar, along quieter Schubert Street.
The interior of L&E is built around an early 20th century saloon aesthetic, that’s at once both 100% Chicago and a little European. From the unfinished wooden ceiling and brick walls to the mismatched tables and chairs, there seems to be some sort of planned disorder going on. The would-be spacious main room is filled with as many tables as possible, while allowing for some standing room near the front hostess stand and space for the long, classic bar running along the south wall. A few hooded overhead lamps and votive candles supply the lighting, with the exception of the over-lit cramped open kitchen, situated at the end of the bar. A small secondary room adds a half dozen tables, capping seating in the 60-70 range. It’s not uncommon to find a wait, over an hour in our case, so put your name down as soon as you walk in, unless you’re planning to eat at the bar, which isn’t such a bad idea. L&E does accept reservations for parties of six or more.
As for booze, it all starts with L&E’s philosophy of “whiskey for your mouth, not for our shelves.” This encompasses a selection of 37 American whiskies for $3 a shot. A half-dozen reasonably priced flights can guide newbies through the intricacies of bourbon, rye and even “white whiskies.” In total, there are around 68 types of bourbon, another 30+ American whiskies, a dozen scotches and a nice nod to Irish “whiskys.” Most of these are offered in both taste (shot) and glass sizes at two price points. For carbonated delights, the dozen taps offer a wide selection, ranging from the likes of Old Style to Goose Island Pere Jacques. To that, add another five-dozen bottle and can selections that also go from penthouse (Hanssen’s Gueze $13) to flophouse (Old Milwaukee, often $1 on Mondays). A half-dozen house cocktails are available on a rotating basis, and there is also a thoughtful and moderately priced wine list, though only a few selections are available by the glass.
Following another popular, and welcome, trend in the food scene, L&E uses locally-sourced produce and proteins whenever possible. That doesn’t extend to executive chef Jared Wentworth, however, who was imported from Seattle. Perhaps that’s why L&E has hosted a few oyster-oriented happy hours where you’ll find the shucking done right behind the bar. The classically prepared, casually presented menu covers a compact list of bar snacks, small plates, sandwiches, salads and entrées. The use of fresh and seasonal ingredients means the menu changes often, but you’ll likely find staples such as the wild boar Sloppy Joe and roasted marrow bones with onion jam in regular rotation. [Editor’s note: I personally had the wild boar Sloppy Joe. It not only is the best Sloppy Joe I’ve ever had, it was also one of the best meals I’ve ever had; and along with two craft beers on tap, the tab was a miniscule $22.]
This may technically be called “bar food” but the execution and flavor are worthy of city’s best bistros. The grilled sardine appetizer we tried was smoky and amazing. The plate containing a special of beer battered soft-shell crab left our table with no evidence that it ever contained food. And the only burger on the menu, a bacon/cheddar number, was tasty, surpassed only by the hand-cut beef fat fries. Amazingly, prices start as low as $4 and cap out in the low $20s. I can think of dozens of restaurants where the entrées start in the low $20s, ala carte, and the food doesn’t hold a candle to L&E. In terms of the quality-value quotient, Longman & Eagle scores incredibly high. L&E also offers a more limited lunch menu and brunch on weekends. Eggs with an ice cold PBR, anyone? In recognition of its superb fare, the inaugural 2010 Chicago Michelin Guide gave Longman & Eagle a coveted star—one of about a dozen in the world. Esquire Magazine also named it one of Chicago’s Best New Restaurants for 2010.
L&E is the kind of place Logan Square locals wish was a neighborhood secret. It’s not. The place has generated a ton of buzz, both locally and nationally, and deservedly so—especially now with its Michelin star. So expect a crowd drawn from throughout the North Side, the suburbs on weekends, and add a few adventurous tourists to boot. Patrons range predominately from their mid-20s to 40s, with those dressed for casual Friday or disheveled Sunday feeling equally at home. Longman & Eagle is open 11am-2am Monday-Friday, 10-3am on Saturday and 10-2am on Sunday. If you’re a bit of a night owl or have a few too many $3 whiskeys, Longman & Eagle offers six boutique hotel rooms on the second floor, resurrecting the idea of an inn that dates back to the city’s beginnings. For those looking to stay somewhere off the beaten path, I cannot think of a more quirky or cool location, though one has to wonder about the soundproofing.
Longman & Eagle is one gastropub that shouldn’t be bypassed. If you enjoy L&E, you might want to make room for a visit to Publican, Paramount Room or, one the first places to implement this concept, Hopleaf. For more info, check out the Longman & Eagle website, find them on Twitter and Facebook, or better yet, visit them in person. Down the hatch.