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The Northman, Now Open, Is More Than Chicago's 1st Cider Bar

The highly-anticipated follow-up to Fountainhead opens in Lincoln Square

The Northman
The Northman
Ashok Selvam

The apple, that forbidden fruit and bringer of good health, is the inspiration behind the long-awaited, and oft-delayed Lincoln Square tavern, The Northman. The concept, which has been touted since 2014 as the city's first cider bar, is about more than just the trending beverage. It's a sanctuary of fermentation and food, showcasing the apple's versatility and history.

Opened on Saturday, the bar features the city's largest hard cider selection —with 18 on draft and an additional 80 offering in bottles and cans— and it's also home to an extensive selection of calvados, or apple brandy. The list, curated by Brian Rutzen, AKA "Cider Brian", is organized not by style (a highly-disputed topic amongst producers), but by origin. "I chose geography not as a way to lump in all ciders from a particular area as similar, but because it is agricultural product," he says. "By identifying where it comes from, you begin to tell the story of how it was made and what it might taste like."

"The heart and soul of our identity is France," Rutzen says, pointing to the Normandy and Brittany-dominated menu. However, he is also proud of the rare selections on his list, such as Farnum Hill Dooryard, a dry cider out of New Hampshire; Farmhaus Trocken, a funky Michigan cider; Etienne Dupon, a "keeved" cider from Normandy; and Trabanco Sidra Natural from Spain. "Two years ago, I couldn't get some of these brands in kegs, now I can and they are shipping them over; I have an entire line dedicated to a rotating Spanish draft handle, so we can recreate that Spanish element."

Northman

Photo: Courtesy of The Northman

The 68-seat space brings together elements reminiscent of the original 1920s bar —€” red velvet wallpaper, double-paned windows, and band-powered fans suspended from the original tin ceiling — €”with tributes to the cider regions of England and France €— photos and paintings of prominent producers, a wooden alcove called a "snug" that is filled with high-top booths, and a custom landscape mural covering two flat-screen TVs over the bar. The bar itself, adorned in dark wood with a pale blue back bar, is all about servicing the cider as well as its customers. Eight taps have been repurposed from wine taps to serve the cider at the right temperature, while an additional foot pedal-operated tap is fixed above the bar for high pours of Spanish varieties.

Complementing the cider service is a global food menu channeling the cuisine of Spain, France, and England. The results are chef Sean Sanders' version of Jalfrezi curry, döner kebab, plus fish and chips. He also turned to cider as a leading ingredient, substituting it in place of wine or beer in Welsh rarebit and maple-glazed cider donuts. Sanders took over the project after Cleetus Friedman's sudden departure last month. His next task will be to overhaul the menu at Fountainhead following what will certainly be a busy few opening weeks at The Northman.

The Northman is open Sunday though Friday from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. and Saturday from 4 p.m. to 3 a.m. It's closed tonight, but starts regular hours on Tuesday.

Northman

4333 N Lincoln, Chicago, IL

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