The city still needs to grant them rezoning, but HopCat —a Michigan-based chain of craft brewpubs— is going forward with their plans to open an outpost in Lincoln Park. While a zoning hearing is scheduled for April, HopCat management has begun looking for employees via Craigslist. They hope to open in late summer, said VP of Marketing Chris Knape. Chicago's part of a massive expansion plan for the company.
The bar/restaurant would take over the space at 2577 N. Clark St. that Vapiano vacated in July 2014. The plan calls for 270 seats on a curved section of Clark, near Wrightwood, so there's no room for sidewalk seating. However, Knape said they'll have large windows open and provide an al fresco-like experience. The first HopCat opened in Grand Rapids, Mich. in 2008, and Chicago would be the 10th overall, as a Louisville spot will open before Lincoln Park.
"You'll step into the one in Chicago and it will feel different and unique," Knape said.
The beer list will focus on Illinois craft brewers, as Knape touted the local nanobrewery community. With 130 taps and 200 bottles and cans, HopCat's Chicago location will offer more beers than any of the others. The Trib pointed out that because of the Budweiser ties, HopCat won't offer Goose Island beer. Drinkers wanting a Bud or Miller-Coors product will have to find another bar. Cocktails, cider, wines and mead are available for non-beer drinkers.
While the beer list will differ, the food menu will remain similar to other HopCats' "from scratch" pub fare. Knape touted the "Crack Fries": beer-battered French fries sprinkled with black pepper with toppings options including jalapeños, cheese sauce and onions that made Food Network's America's 10 Best French fries list. There's also Sunday brunch, which HopCat punningly calls "Brunch Right Meow."
Lincoln Park might not be the only HopCat planned for Chicago, as Knape said further expansion is possible. HopCat's parent company is BarFly Ventures, which Michiganders know from Grand Rapids Brewing Co., Stella's Lounge and Waldron's Public House. HopCat president Mark Sellers last year filed a lawsuit against Chicago woodworker Aaron Heineman over failure to finish work on HopCat bars in Detroit. Heineman was known for his affiliation with BreakRoom Brewery in Albany Park. Heineman Bar Co. closed in November.