In 1900, 25% of Chicagoans were either 1st or 2nd generation Germans. The German-American community first settled along North Avenue, in what was called German Broadway. They later found their way north to the Lincoln Square neighborhood. Evidence of that rich history is still embodied in places like Chicago Brauhaus, Resi’s Bierstube, and Huettenbar. However, for the better part of three decades, the ranks of these classic spots had been dwindling like a bankroll in a nightclub. Then along came Überstein—(and I should probably mentionGlunz Bavarian Haus , as well). With a dedication to importing authentic beers from Bavaria, a focus on sports, and a desire to redefine how we use the term “sausage fest,” Überstein offers a 21st century take on the German beer hall that’s not just popular, it’s multiplying.
The Wicker Park Überstein opened in early 2010 and is the second in the series. Smaller than the original Wrigleyville location that formerly housed the third iteration of Heaven on Seven (and its delectable Cajun fare), WP’s Überstein can be found on North Avenue. This location previously served as the decidedly unpopular Parlor Restaurant, followed by a brief stint as Ledge Bar & Grill. A brightly lit sign, featuring the Hofbrauhaus beer logo, serves as your beacon to Überstein’s glassed-in storefront entrance. You’ll likely have to dispense with the doorman, before finding a seat in the elongated rectangular room, either along the small counter in the front window, at the handsome curved bar affixed with classic European beer taps, or at one of several tables in back that face the open kitchen. An intricate bar-back and blue & white paneled backlit ceiling give the room a sophisticated urban look that is sometimes at odds with the various flyers and posters you’ll see scattered about. A dozen flatscreens provide plenty of viewing coverage, especially along the bar, and Überstein offers the complete Sunday NFL ticket and Saturday college football with sound. (Additional fun also comes courtesy of German sing-along bands, which are occasionally featured.) At the rear of the room, a glass door leads to a rather plain biergarten, which is separated by a fence from the alley and has room for 4-5 standard picnic tables.
Yes, Überstein has a fully stocked bar, the inevitable Jägermeister dispenser, and even a selection of cans and bottles stored out of sight below the counter, but going here and drinking American swill is like going to Gibson’s and ordering fish. Überstein imports all their draft beer directly from the original Hofbrauhaus in Munich, offering authentic selections brewed in accordance with the German Purity law of 1516, Das Reinheitsgebot, which restricts beer-making to barley malt, hops, yeast and water, with an exception made for the wheat used in Weiss beer. Of the eight taps on hand, Überstein features 3-4 “regulars” like Hofbrauhaus Original and Dunkel (dark) with the remainder rotated seasonally. Drafts are served in three sizes: half-liter (sane), liter (lift with 2 hands) and the infamous glass boot—which you pass around with friends until it’s gone, at which point the second-to-last person who drank from it has to buy the next one. On weekend nights, expect to pay a fair amount (between $7-12) for these hearty, strong and flavorful beers, depending on the type and size. Weekdays and football weekends, however, offer a range of food and drink specials to soften the blow.
The best thing about the gastropub trend that’s been sweeping Chicago is that it’s forced every bar worth its salt to step up their food game. Überstein is by no means gourmet, but it delivers homey German-American fare that falls somewhere above standard pub grub. It starts with little touches, like serving fresh cut fries and onion rings and homemade German potato salad. It continues with a full lineup of burgers, sandwiches, salads and wings that is supplemented by the likes of potato pancakes, giant pretzels, a schnitzel sandwich, and no fewer than six variations on the humble bratwurst. Considering the priciest item on the menu is $10.95, you can easily treat yourself to a low-priced, if not low-cholesterol meal and not feel as though you dined in a fast food restaurant. Though depending on how close you sit to the open kitchen, you may leave smelling like one.
Considering the beer and sports focus, if you go to Überstein expecting a male-dominated crowd, you won’t be disappointed. This is probably not the top spot in the city to find gaggles of single women (I exclude the Wrigleyville locale from this comment), but this is compensated for by the cast of comely bartenders and servers, who, regardless of temperature, seem to wear logoed tank tops that are approximately 1-2 sizes too small. The largely 20-40 something crowd pretends to keep their focus on the game and when my wife stepped away to use the phone I kept my eyes locked firmly on the floor, of course. Überstein is open Monday-Friday from 3pm-2am, Saturday from noon-3am, and Sunday from 11am-2am.
For simply excellent Old World beer served with some New World style, Überstein is definitely worth a visit on game day, or any day. If you like Überstein, you might want to grab your lederhosen and try some of the places mentioned above, as well as Laschet’s Inn or the somewhat pricier Mirabell (Austrian). And, in case you were wondering, “Überstein” is not actually a German word but, if it were, it would mean something like “the ultimate stein.” For more information, check out the Überstein website, or stop in and give your troubles “the boot.” Prost.