“Travel the world without leaving the corner”
Since 1979, Quenchers has been eradicating thirst on the fringes of Bucktown with its massive selection of brew, highlighted by the annual “European Beer Tour,” every Thanksgiving – and we indeed give thanks for Quenchers. Add to that a loungey back room hosting music, comedy and open mic seven nights a week, phenomenally good chili, and a laid-back atmosphere, and you’ve got one of the best saloons in the city.
Quenchers is often described as being located in Logan Square, but is technically found in Bucktown, just south of the Kennedy and the rocker-bar Mutiny, and on the northeast corner of Western and Fullerton. Not much else of interest is located nearby, so cab it over and keep your eye out for the purple Quenchers wooden sign with name in gold lettering, at the base of a brown brick two-flat.
Step inside the cloud-muraled front room—painted by Quenchers’ former “bartender, artist, contractor, plumber, chef, electrician, stage manager, sound board operator, and Scotch drinker” Shawn Thomson—and, if you love beer, your eyes will light up as you see enormous chalkboards proliferating the space above the “L” shaped bar illustrating all 270 beers available from, literally, all over the world. I found such notable brews as Thirty-Three Export from Vietnam, Xingu Black from Brazil and Sinebruchoff Porter from Finland. Marvelous. A bell is rung every time the bartenders receive a tip. The front room also features a few wooden cocktail tables across from the bar, a tin ceiling stained from many years of cigarette smoking (now banned), a table top Mrs. Pac Man game, vintage photobooth, and five TVs. Quenchers once featured electronic darts, a few couches and the inevitable Golden Tee machine, but all have been purged as time marches on. They only take cash at Quenchers, but they do have an ATM.
Originally designed as a Lincoln Park bar for Bucktown and Logan Square young professionals that replaced “Jug-Full Liquors” that operated since 1946, Quenchers started life as a “fern bar” back when the term “microbrew” held no meaning and Coors and Berghoff were the closest Chicago had to anything alternative to the major labels. Once Earle Johnson became involved, and ultimately the owner of the bar, Quenchers began offering a variety of beer rivaled only at the time by Ranalli’s and the Weinkellar in Berwyn, with eight beers on tap and 40 in bottles. Since then, many have bars like Map Room, Hopleaf and Sheffield’s have followed suit, but few offer the atmosphere and variety of beer that Quenchers does, which has grown to 24 taps and 237 in bottles (as of our last count). If you get to know Earle, ask him to show you his collection of over 300 tap handles that line the basement’s ceiling planks.
Step through the trophy-encased passage to the back room, and you will find an elevated stage on your left with a black curtain covering up windows overlooking Western. Plenty of comfortable couches and a coffee table are located in front of the stage for you to take a load off in. Check out the large case of “brewiana” consisting of a diverse collection of beer steins and glasses. Elsewhere in the room are a variety of World War II relics, an old phone booth, giant painted flowers, and a stone carving of Roman soldiers. On a wooden shelf above your head are some of the tap handles from Earl’s collection. Both the front and back rooms offer plenty of space and a low-key crowd. If you’re feeling a bit peckish, Quenchers offers a somewhat limited menu of pub grub highlighted by Earl’s Famous Chili,” along with a respectable selection of salads and sandwiches, all priced well under $10. There’s also free popcorn at night and the Tamale Guy even makes a regular appearance. Entertainment is available seven nights a week, mostly featuring jazz bands, but also includes open mic night on Mondays and occasional comedy. Shows come on at 9:00pm and while there’s no official cover, patrons are asked for $5 all of which is given to the band—so pony up, cheapskates… Notable annual events include the three-mile “Walk to Wrigley” (an eleven bar pub crawl), the “European Beer Tour,” and the “Quenchers Artificial Baseball League.” Quenchers also supports local sports teams, is often host to Bike Winter and Critical Mass meetings (both Chicago bicycle-related groups) and even has WiFi.
Photo courtesy of Your Friend RobinFor me, the European Beer Tour stands out. For $35, you get six beers of your choosing from the 24 featured on tap, a t-shirt, collector glass (usually from one of the breweries featured), a cheese & sausage basket. The final option runs for $60, includes all of the above except you get 12 beers, two collector’s glasses, and two cheese & sausage plates (as if that will help you). I love it and my liver hates it, though it is evil and must be punished. Those who have taken beer tours in the past may be somewhat unhappy to learn that, while the price has gone up, you get one less beer on the shorter tour, the selection is limited to what’s on tap instead of the longer list of bottles featured at the bar, the “Grab Bag Tour” has been discontinued ($20 got you five beers from the “grab bag” and a t-shirt). and they’ve dispensed with the Polaroid that once served not only as your “passport photo” affixed to the list of beers to choose from, but also served nicely as a “before” photo if you’re unwise enough to take an “after”… Now you get a bulky menu that lists all of the beers served at Quenchers, but you can only choose from 24 of them. It’s kind of frustrating to get less and pay more but, all in all, if you’re in town after Thanksgiving, the European Beer Tour at Quenchers is still a must.
For its efforts, Quenchers has become notable nationwide for its variety of beer and atmosphere, was one of only 12 bars rated Four Mugs (top rating) by The Official Chicago Bar Guide in 1994 and 2001, and was even featured once on “Wild Chicago” on WTTW Channel 11. Quenchers is a great place to visit, day or night, and is one of Chicago’s classic bars. For more information, beer menu and upcoming events, check out the Quenchers website. Kippis!
“Chicago’s best beer bar”
“Penguins running away from polka” according to my girlfriend (now wife) following a Polkaholics show at Quenchers