The rumors have swirled since spring, but Guinness — the makers of the Irish super stout — have officially announced they’re opening a taproom in Chicago’s Fulton Market neighborhood. No, the brewery won’t make that famous thick and dark stout in Chicago (Guinness will continue to import that from Ireland). But the 15,000 square-foot venue will contain a full-service restaurant with room for 300 — including outdoor seating — inside the long-vacated Pennsylvania Railroad Depot, north of Randolph Restaurant Row and west of Halsted.
The Fulton Market space will become Guinness’s second taproom in America. Owned by Diageo, a multinational company headquartered in London, Guinness opened a Baltimore facility in 2018, where it makes exclusive beers. Expect the same at the venue the brewery is calling, for now, the Guinness Chicago Taproom. There’s a modest 10-barrel system that will produce beers only available at the taproom. Ownership isn’t sure if they’ll bottle or can beers onsite to take home, but to-go beers will available in some fashion.
The team imagines a fairytale debut, opening in time for St. Patrick’s Day 2023. Guinness’s parent company Diageo — they also own alcohol brands like Smirnoff, Johnnie Walker, and Ciroc — have been enamored by Chicago’s history and architecture, looking at spaces for some time.
The food will be of the Irish pub variety, mixed in with local favorites (just don’t make Chicago put ketchup on hot dogs). The Baltimore venue is currently served by a food truck with pretzels, ribs, and cheeseboards. Prior to the pandemic, it housed a full-service restaurant. In Chicago, local officials like to talk about culinary tourism — Illinois Restaurant Association President & CEO Sam Toia is even quoted within Guinness’ press release — and the Chicago brewery’s food program will be more robust. It has to be; Guinness will be competing with Randolph Street, a nearby thoroughfare filled with trendy restaurants including three from esteemed chef Stephanie Izard.
West Loop and Fulton Market have attracted large brands that hope opening a location can help elevate their profile. McDonald’s moved its headquarters to Randolph Street from the suburbs in 2018. The Near West Side has plenty of breweries, including Goose Island Beer Co., On Tour Brewing, and Cruz Blanca — the microbrewery founded by Rick Bayless (the chef is no longer involved).
Before the rise of microbreweries, Guinness was a favorite at bars for craft beer drinkers. Bars and liquor stores are now flooded with more local choices than ever. So where does the brewery fit in Chicago’s scene? Guinness isn’t trying to put those brands out of business, says Diageo Beer Company’s chief marketing official Jay Sethi: “We’re obviously international,” he says. “We’re proud of our roots, we’re proud of how far we’ve come.”
Sethi, a Chicago-area native — he attended Elk Grove High School and the University of Chicago — says Guinness is here to blend in the background, to augment the city’s existing scene. Sethi, who perhaps was coached by Toia, in the same interview mentioned Chicago’s neighborhoods, mentioning how Guinness wants to team up with local chefs and artists to make beers that encapsulate the flavors of individual communities, namedropping the Pilsen neighborhood and its Mexican population. Guinness, founded 262 years ago, may be steeped in Irish history, but Sethi says the company also is open-minded about its future.
Sethi declined to say how much Guinness was investing in the project, but said it was a substantial amount. The brewery is housed in a former railroad depot that has seen its share of failed redevelopment proposals. It’s in an area north of Randolph Street near Recess, the popular outdoor bar surrounded by shipping containers. Sethi says the railroad depot provides the ideal backdrop for Guinness. “We wanted something old that we can make beautiful again.”
The brewery has a bottling plant in Plainfield, and Sethi says there may be ways for the venues to work together.
Guinness also played a hand in the stealthy effort from Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office, as it teamed with Plumbers Union Local No. 130 to pull off a St. Patrick’s surprise in March with an early-morning boat run to dye the Chicago River green. Worried about crowds during the pandemic, Lightfoot had announced the city’s holiday tradition wouldn’t take place, but crews dyed the river anyway.
Sethi says the 2023 projected opening timeframe has little to do with COVID-19. Hopefully, the disease is under control well before then, but Sethi says Guinness has plenty of work in front of them before opening. In the interim, he’s excited about coming home to make the announcement. Chicago is traditionally one of Guinness’ largest markets.
“It’s a big day, I won’t lie,” he says.
Guinness Chicago Taproom, 375 N. Morgan Street, scheduled for an early 2023 opening.