Burnt City Brewing opens its new brewpub Friday in West Town with a few tricks up its sleeve. The operation, called District Brew Yards (417 N. Ashland Avenue), uses the same pour-your-own-beer taps that bars including Tapster and Navigator Taproom employ. Customers also have more than just Burnt City beer to pick from as the brewery has partnered with two others — Around the Bend Beer and Bold Dog.
The trio of breweries is different from Burnt City’s old Lincoln Park home which served beer and food for 24 years before closing in February. The business model is kind of a food hall, but for beer. Burnt City looked for the right partners in its new space. Around the Bend and Bold Dog get a space to showcase their beer with Burnt City assuming most of the expenses. That’s a similar set up to a food hall where operators assume most of the risk while chefs focus on their food and building a brand.
This is a cashless restaurant that serves barbecue. Customers are issued a plastic card upon entering the brewpub and they’ll use it at the beer taps (there are four stations with 10 taps each) and when they order and pick up food at the counter. As they exit, a staffer will collect their card and tally how much food and drink was ordered before issuing a check. The brewpub isn’t devoid of staffers — District Brew Yards will employ beer guides that can advise customers about what to pour. If a customer likes a beer, they can ask the guide to add cans for home consumption on their check. The canned beer will be ready to go at the exit when the customer’s ready to pay. It’s like a beer concierge.
There aren’t specific beer-food pairings as District Brew Yards’s staff is pretty confident that barbecue and beer naturally go well together. There’s brisket, pulled pork, and pork belly available by the half pound or as sandwiches. The smoked meats come with a trio of sauces, a traditional sticky and smoky, a Carolina-style vinegar, and one that’s mustard-based. Sides include elotes, pickled vegetables, and miso carrots.
Another little quirk that separates District Brew Yards from other pour-your-own-beer bars are the digital tap displays. A black icon shows the proper glass for customers to use for their beer. The icon may help educated customers, but brewpub staff won’t chide drinkers if they pour into the wrong glass. While not encouraged — management has made this clear — customers do have the opportunity to mix beers like movie theater patrons may do while pouring soft drinks using a Coca-Cola Freestyle machine. Again, ownership isn’t advocating that practice. They’re not responsible if customers take Dr. Frankenstein’s approach to mixing a beer.
Burnt City’s staff wanted to move away from trendy beer lineups full of IPAs. Highlights include “Cassie’s Revenge Wine Barrel Rhubarb Brett Saison.” It’s heavy on the fruit and is light at only 5.5-percent ABV. The brewpub only serves beer, but there are hopes to bring in ciders and wine on tap. District Brew Yards will focus on brew made on premises. However, there’s an exception. There’s a tap station called “the Fourth Wall” reserved for special beers made with other breweries. This fourth tapping station also gives Burnt City the flexibility to bring in another brewery partner if they find the right fit.
Customers enter and see coolers of canned beer and hang a right into the main space. There’s communal seating with benches and long tables with Edison bulbs hanging from the ceiling. The brewery’s business offices are stationed on the floor above. Customers will order and pick their food up from the counter. There’s also a patio space planned for later this summer. Despite the four-minute drive to the United Center, home of the Bulls and Blackhawks, there are no TVs. Management is thinking about offering a shuttle bus service to the arena in the fall.
Because it’s self service, the brewpub is figuring out if it will be all ages. Infants pose no problems, but it’s a different story for 20 year olds. Meanwhile, check out the space and menu below as Burnt City, one of Chicago’s first brewpubs, evolves its business model in a changing world for food and hospitality. With the power of three, District Brew Yards opens on Friday.