Editor’s Note: we have been informed by the new management of U.S. Beer Co. that, while under the same ownership, the place has been transformed from the “toilet” it once was. They now have: “[a] consistent product line from liquor to beer, micro brews, professional sound tech, theme & furniture innovation – on a strict tight budget, large screen TV, flat screen, more seating, bands organized with time slots and compensated with integrity, functional bathrooms, cold tap beer, 5 on tap, 31 bottles.” We have not yet dropped by to confirm, so drink at your own risk.
It is very rare that I pan a Chicago bar, as it is against what few principles we have here at the Chicago Bar Project. However, things have gotten so bad at the U.S. Beer Co. that I had to make an exception. While formally known as a great beer bar that hosted some of the best local and regional talent around, the bar has fallen into severe decay. Gone are the 100 beers still promoted outside the bar, gone are many of the bands that used to play there, and gone is whatever has kept the place going since it opened in 1939. Within the last few years, the joint has slid from dive status to that of “pay no mind.”
The U.S. Beer Co. is located at the corner of Clybourn, Willow and Sheffield, steps form the Goose Island Brewery and in the southwestern most tip of Lincoln Park, called “Ranch Triangle.” Two rocket-like signs advertise the bar on opposite sides of the corner brick façade. Step through the door and have your ID handy, but not for the regular I thought was a doorman on my last visit. You’ll find a long room with exposed brick walls and a cracked cement floor in front of you, with a wooden bar on your left that runs half the length of the western wall. They used to offer 100 beers at the U.S. Beer Co., many of which were brewed just for them. This offering was whittled down to one, and now they only have about 20 taps that dispense beer about as warm as the service found behind the bar. The selection is mostly domestic (including taps two for Bud Light alone) and a few drafts are likely to be out with plastic cups placed over the tap handles. Sitting at one of the few battered cocktail tables or at the bar, you’ll be bathed in fluorescent white light – incongruous with the old fashioned wooden bar back, old metal cash register and ornate metal tap fixture – that illuminates half-empty shelves of booze rumored to be watered down. You may also notice a stone Labrador statue behind the bar with its front legs broken off. Heat in the winter, if turned on, finds its way out of ancient radiators located around the room.
Beyond the bar is a small, makeshift stage area that used to have wooden railings but now is adorned only by what looks like a large patterned blanket that someone hung on the north wall. Here, mostly local bands come to play even though many have sworn off playing at the bar due to issues with the poor sound system, inexperienced sound men, lack of time for sound check, not playing at previously agreed upon times, not getting paid fairly by the management, etc. In fact, there’s so much discontent with the U.S. Beer Co. by local musicians that someone even started a blog about it. The bands that do play are mostly rock bands with a bit of edge to them, similar to those found at Beat Kitchen or Elbo Room, only they are much less promoted. There’s another performance space downstairs, in an area lined with silver padding that gets very hot and does not have a bar down there so you’ll have to go back upstairs for drinks. When bands aren’t playing, you’re likely to hear KISS FM playing loudly on the radio. All of the above appeals to a fairly young crowd, almost teenage.
Additional entertainment can be had across from the bar area at the foosball table set amongst a smattering of seating, or in another room next to the bathrooms, which sports a red-felted pool table. While it may have just been the night I was there, I went to the bathroom that was mostly likely the women’s (there was only one sign for women, spaced equally between both bathrooms and with no men’s sign in sight), and the taps on the sink in there didn’t work. Nice.
How has this wedge-shaped Dive bar (with a capital “D”), with its false advertising and frat basement-like décor, stayed in business for so long? Good question. Let’s hope the bar finds new ownership, management, vision or whatever it takes to return this joint to its former glory. For information on upcoming bands playing there, check out the U.S. Beer Co. website. Otherwise, head over to Goose Island just to the west, Zella just to the north or Copa just to the south instead, unless you’re up for some slummin’.