Map Room

“Drink local, think global…”

The Map Room is a great place to enjoy a beer you’ve never had before as you pour through a National Geographic, enjoy some international cuisine, or as you learn the finer points of alcohol and excessive inebriation. Located at the corner of Hoyne and Armitage, the Map Room has become one of Bucktown’s best corner bars.

The Map Room celebrates owners Mark and Laura Blasingame’s love of traveling, different cultures, and this great big crazy world of ours. When you walk into the bar you will see a long wooden bar to your right, drum machine-like tables to your left with high-backed, red vinyl chairs, red and black linoleum floor, and a tin ceiling. A bookcase runs along the side of the room and holds National Geographic magazines, atlases, travel books, globes, and an ancient Random House Dictionary. Other walls are adorned with postcards from patrons, floor-to-ceiling wallpaper consisting of physical maps of the world in relief, and the Map Room is the only bar in Chicago that hangs a flag of Tibet. Back when the World Wide Web was in its infancy, the Map Room even had a Macintosh offering patrons a gateway to the internet (which is still there, in a state of hibernation underneath the table). It has since been replaced by an ATM machine that dispenses cash at a rate that makes CTA buses look fast. Now you can take out a wad of cash in full view of an entire room of drunk people. My recommendation: get your cash beforehand.

“Great Bar. Great Beers. Great Service.”

Every Tuesday night features “International Night.” On these nights, a country is designated and the Map Room hangs that particular flag, hosts music and guest lecturers, and a local restaurant provides a free buffet of delicacies from that country. The food is free, following the purchase of two drinks. Choose a beer from that country, or one from a rotating selection of 26 beers on tap (illustrated by a dizzying array of tap handles) and over 250 in bottles, representing 36 brewing styles from around the globe. Some notables include: Lindeman’s Frambois (a raspberry lambic that is out of this world), Rogue’s Dead Guy Ale, Delirium Tremors, and Three Floyds. The selection is so diverse, you are bound to find your favorite regional microbrew or foreign beverage while you have a chat, play a board game, or shoot a game of pool on the table with purple felt that conveniently has wheels and doubles as a serving platform. During any other night, food is available from Cafe Laguardia down the block but you have to go there and order it yourself and pick it up about ten minutes later. I would recommend the Cuban sandwich on egg bread. In the words of the Simpson’s Flanders: scrum-diddly-umptious.

“A Traveler’s Tavern”

When it comes to beer, not only do they have an extensive selection, but the Map Room also serves cask-conditioned ale and “Real Ale” served from a hand pump, and drawn from the floor above by a traditional beer engine from firkins stored in a cooler kept at a constant 50º Fahrenheit. Feel intimidated by the Map Room’s extensive beer variety or terms like “cask-conditioned”? Have no fear, you have the opportunity to receive an education in barley and hops at Beer School, held one Saturday afternoon per month. For $12, you will receive, learn about and sample around a dozen beers of whatever type they are highlighting that month. Sometimes these samples are small because the beer might be hard to find and expensive, while other samples might consist of a few glasses’ worth. Don’t worry, there will be enough beer to put you in a very good mood, as well as send you to the Map Room’s modernistic metal bathrooms quite often. Bread, sausage, cheese and other items to nosh on are available to complement the beer. Beer School “classes” feature a guest speaker that will instruct you on seasonal brews to varying brewing styles. Although I love Beer School, I recommend taking a pass on Barley Wine night. While Quencher’s and Hopleaf have same or better beer selections, neither have Beer School.

Since the Map Room does not have a kitchen, I recommend heading over to Smoke Daddy afterwards for some blues and BBQ or get some inexpensive Cuban take out (recommended: the nacatamal or “Cuban sandwich”) from Cafe Laguardia located just down the street and bring it into the Map Room (Gilgamesh, which was under the same ownership as the Map Room, used to serve this purpose but is now closed). Otherwise, don’t hesitate to have a pizza delivered even during busy times. For wine enthusiasts, there is also Wine School once a month. There is even something for coffee lovers, as the Map Room turns into a coffee house each morning at 6:30am and offers scones, Torrefazione Italia-espresso, cappuccino, latté, regular coffee, “microbrewed” teas from Tazo of Oregon, the New York Times and all Chicago newspapers. Dogs are welcome until 6:00pm.

“I would rather die of thirst than drink from the cup of mediocrity.”

– Stella Artois ad seen in the Map Room

Every Friday and Saturday around 9:30pm, a different band takes their spot on the Map Room’s elevated stage at the back. The music includes rock, blues, reggae, jazz, funk, zydeco, and whatever else they can find. One such band is Snatch Incorporated, which is an interesting mix of traditional jazz, R&B and smooth jazz. Best of all: there’s never a cover. On nights without bands, there are a few televisions to stare at. While not a sports bar, the Map Room does show all Chicago Fire games and host gatherings by the Barn Burners 1871, similar to those held at the Black Rock.

“Maps at The Map Room do get used, Blasingame said. In the middle of a band’s set on a recent Friday night, ‘someone suddenly wanted to see a map of France,’ he said.”

– excerpt from “Map Room a Bar for Travelers” article by Mark Shuman in the Chicago Tribune (April 17, 1994)

The crowd consists mainly of well-traveled locals, some rough and tumble old-school Wicker Park types, and some well-to-do newcomers to the area. The mix is a friendly crowd with stories to tell; including the little old man that comes in regularly with two canes, a white hat, a pair of handcuffs, and a badge.

“We take beer seriously”

The Map Room is a perfect place to spin traveling yarns, have a brew, and maybe learn a thing or two. Owner Mark Blasingame has indeed created a Chicago classic ever since he opened up the joint in 1992. For information on upcoming International Nights, Beer and Wine School, bands, or to read journals written by Chicago travelers, check out the Map Room website. Bon voyage!

“What can I say about the Map Room? It is without a doubt one of the best bars I’ve been to in my life. It brings together within its walls an unpretentious bar atmosphere, an energetic and friendly clientele, live music and incredible beer. Perhaps it was due to being on a trip, a “grass is greener on the other side of the fence” mentality – but this place was outstanding. There really isn’t a bar in Toronto that I could compare this too. There are many fine establishments in Toronto, but the Map Room was something special.”

Bar Towel, Toronto’s Premier Beer Resource