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SmallBar Division Announces November Shutter

Owner blames changing neighborhood scene, not enough appreciation for craft beer.

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The owner of SmallBar Division announced his gastropub will close next month, a big blow to Chicago's craft beer scene.

The bar, a pioneer and huge supporter of the burgeoning local craft brewery landscape, will be sold and the last day of business will be Thursday, Nov. 13, according to the bar's website. Owner Phil McFarland couldn't be reached for comment and there's no word yet on who bought the bar.

Changing demographics led to the decision, McFarland told Good Beer HuntingNew customers didn't appreciate the quality of food and drink served at SmallBar, instead preferring binge drinking on cheap alcohol, McFarland added. SmallBar also left its a mark as a place for Chicago's soccer fans, drawing large crowds this summer for the FIFA World Cup.

At one point there were three SmallBars in Chicago; the original continues to operate in Logan Square at 2956 N. Albany Ave. Back in 2011, McFarland amicably parted ways with that location and later opened SmallBar Fullerton (1415 W. Fullerton) after doing an extensive remodel of the site. That site, St. Paul Billiards, was a one of the locations where Tom Cruise and Paul Newman filmed 1986's "The Color of Money." McFarland sold that bar in 2012 and it became Beer Bistro North; at the time, he said he wanted to focus more on SmallBar Division which doesn't have anything to do with the Logan Square spot.

Part of the transformation with the Fullerton location included Beer Bistro offering beer selections from Anheuser-Busch/InBev and MillerCoors. SmallBar prided itself on offering brews from smaller companies, forging relationships with local breweries including 3 Floyds and Two Brothers.

UPDATE: Reached by phone, McFarland wouldn't reveal the identity of the buyer, only saying they're a "great operator" and he's excited that they will give the space a fresh start. He also doesn't think Chicago's craft beer scene will miss SmallBar too much.

"If we had done this five years ago, we would have been leaving a big void," he said. "But with Chicago being what it is now, there are so many places in town you can get a great pint. Beer is more accessible now."

SmallBar excelled in a couple of ways, McFarland said, the first being its selection of craft beers. They weren't pressured or influenced by beverage distributors; SmallBar picked the beer they thought customers enjoyed the most. McFarland was also proud of his staff, and how they would treat a beer novice who may be intimidated or unaccustomed to their large beer selection. SmallBar servers aimed to reduce the snark that sometimes plagues the hospitality industry, McFarland added.

—Ashok Selvam

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