He was tall, six foot five at the low end, and angry.
He lived at the point where middle age starts turning old. Faded jeans sagged off his lack of an ass. He wore a tan windbreaker and a salmon-colored baseball cap advertising some vacation destination he wanted to commemorate.
He had a drunken, gape-mouthed, thick-lipped face. He stood by the bar, lolling and leaning against the back of a tall chair as his short, sturdy wife whispered what appeared to be calming things to him.
He picked up the chair — just a few inches — and slammed it down again against the tiling surrounding the bar.
One of the parade of nondescript bearded white men bartenders glared at him.
“We’ll get you in a second,” he said.
The tall man said nothing, just shook his head and wobbled toward the door to grab a smoke.
The bartenders, as mentioned, were a parade of nondescript bearded white men, the type often seen in chaotic craft beer bars like this. These were men who spoke of hops and mash, who had strong opinions on IPAs and ABVs, who secretly had the labels and recipes in mind for the microbrews they hoped someday to make.
They rushed and flustered behind the bar, grabbing menus, filling small snifters with lovingly crafted brews from around the nation and world, tried to calm angry drunks like the tall man.
One of the bartenders was a woman with short, dark hair and the same flustered, overworked look on her face as the bearded men. She wore a black top designed to twist into an open back, which revealed a field of tattoos. Japanese characters, flowers and a cursive phrase written in Latin.
“I don’t tell anyone what that means,” she said with a smile.
And the room was full of noise, chatty, chaotic, beautiful noise. The din of diners, of conversations about family, friends and “Oh, have you tried this Belgian trippel?” It was a roar, with conversation sometimes dipping so you could hear the 1970s pop songs that had been playing underneath the whole time.
It was a noise so loud you could hear your own thoughts and yes you read that right.
A quiet room lets you hear details. You pick up a stray word or phrase from the conversation across the bar. A single ticking clock somewhere feels overpowering.
No, this place was just a din of white noise and white bartenders. Chicagoans looking to shake off months of claustrophobic winter all in one night. Grabbing gastropub fare and beers made with novelty ingredients like the Polish prune paczki pastry that flavored the lightly sweet, full-bodied ale I sipped from the tulip glass in front of me.
The tall man bumbled back in the bar, a hint of stale smoke still clinging to him. Soon, he and his short wife were involved in a stern discussion with a staffer trying to make right whatever it was that went wrong for them.
The night would continue long after my burger and novelty beer were done. New drunks would complain and new groups would keep the noise and chaos afloat. The bartenders would rush to fill new orders and new people would ask the woman about the Latin on her back.
A new cast would continue the play I had walked in on, the first night in Chicago a warm breeze set us free.
Hey, it’s #450! Let’s see a few other milestones: