Guinness won’t make its Chicago dream come true this year by opening its brewpub in time for St. Patrick’s Day. But opening a new restaurant in the summer in Chicago isn’t a bad consolation prize.
The brewpub, announced in September 2021, is coming along at the corner of Kinzie and Morgan, a three-minute walk north of Randolph Restaurant Row in a mostly industrial part of the West Loop where places like Recess and Tabu have found a home. Those restaurants serve as pioneers of sorts in terms of developing an area that construction crews have left mostly untouched as crews plow through West Loop and Fulton Market. Construction delays provide the reasons Guinness has pushed the opening back.
The brewpub, officially called Guinness Open Gate Brewery Chicago, won’t just be about beer. There will also be a morning bakery, Guinness’s first, where customers can order breakfast sandwiches and an Intelligentsia coffee and linger. They can also bring brown bread back home for their own St. Patrick’s Day celebrations if they don’t want to hang out in the 15,000-square-foot facility. Chicago will share some similarities with the Baltimore brewpub, the brewery’s first in the U.S. But Guinness’ Ryan Wagner, knows the Chicago location needs to differ from Guinness’s post in his native Charm City.
Wagner, who baseball fans might know, possesses a long title that could compete with Guinness’s history which dates back to 1759 in Dublin. He’s the brewery’s national brand ambassador and head of marketing and community partnerships Open Gate Brewery.
The brewpub isn’t far from Goose Island Beer Co. and other West Town breweries. So, to grab the attention of Chicago’s beer drinkers. Sure, the classic stout will be poured at the ideal temperature of 42.8 degrees and in the proper glassware. Staff will make sure the draft lines are clean. But Guinness wants to show off a little bit more of its experimental side. Yes, there will be a barrel-aged selection, and Wagner mentions drinks inspired by cocktails, an emerging beer trend as shown by Goose Island’s 2022 Bourbon County Brand Proprietor’s variant (it’s based on the jungle bird). Guinness will brew a beer inspired by an Old Fashioned.
“We certainly are Guinness in every sense of the word,” Wagner tells Eater. “But also, we’re an extension of our more innovative side.”
There’s a wait-and-see attitude when it comes to beer selection. When Baltimore opened in 2018, Wagner says the brewery expected the classics would be in demand. They were wrong: “That lasted a day and a half,” Wagner says as the brewery found customers were more interested in the experimental brews. There will be 12 to 16 beers available with some brewed onsite. The bar will also sell crowlers to go.
The brewery, now owned by multinational company Diageo — which counts Smirnoff vodka and Tanqueray gin, and other liquor brands as holdings — means expect to see cocktails mixed with those spirits at the brewpub. They’ll also have non-alcoholic cocktails.
The bakery aspect is a new development, sprouting from a pandemic pivot in 2020 when the Baltimore brewery began baking brown bread and donating loaves to the Maryland Food Bank to feed the community and keep brewery workers employed while COVID restrictions kept bars closed. Bread isn’t the only thing available. The menu will have traditional Irish staples like Beef & Guinness stew. Wagner doesn’t want Guinness to dive into pizza or Italian beef off the bat. In Baltimore, Guinness made sure it could deliver a proper crabcake: ”We had to have a mean crabcake,” Wagner says. “It better be legit because people see through that.”
But mirroring Guiness’s expansion — Guinness’s first brewery outside of the United Kingdom opened in 1962 in Nigeria — there will also be items with global flavors from the Caribbean, West Africa, and Malaysia. Look for jerk seasoning, cassava flour, and other global ingredients.
Many national brands will hire a general manager familiar with the Chicago market. Guinness has gone a step further bringing in a new entity, Dream Team Hospitality. It’s a partnership between Stefani Signature Restaurants — the company that grew from Phil Stefani’s restaurants and now includes Bar Cargo, Tuscany, and Broken English Taco Pub. The other entity may not be so well known to restaurant customers. Hyde Park Hospitality is a consultancy that partners with hotels, airports, food-service companies, and corporate clients like Facebook parent Meta.
The property, owned by local developer Fred Latsko, is a Pennsylvania Railroad terminal building that’s being repurposed, Latsko has tried for years to bring development to the area. The brewery could ignite efforts.
Part of Guinness’s mystique is its history and branding. Many Irish Americans are compelled to buy the beer around St. Patrick’s Day to properly celebrate the holiday. In Dublin, the brewery specializes in welcoming tourists and making them feel like a part of the beer’s history, regardless of ethnic background. In Chicago, Guinness is already building a narrative. The first Guinness supposedly reached Chicago in 1910, a barrel of extra stout arriving by rail. Wagner mentions a Guinness employee named Arthur Sand who traveled the world in the early 18th Century on behalf of the brewery. Wagner feels he’s a modern-day version of Sand. Sand apparently visited Chicago in 1911 and delivered this quote to the brewery: “Chicago is and will continue to be a very important point for our stout.”
The brewery might as well put out a big sign reading “no ketchup allowed.” Guinness is promising a lot to Chicagoans, but the brewery is confident it will deliver, and they’re already prepping for St. Patrick’s Day 2024.
Guinness Open Gate Brewery Chicago, 901 W. Kinzie Street, planned for a summer opening