In the 19th Century, the South Loop neighborhood was one of Chicago’s many Vice Districts; brothels, prostitutes, and gambling were prevalent and city police often looked the other way. Fast forward a hundred years and “SoLo” has befallen the fate of many Chicago neighborhoods: gentrification. In place of the houses of ill repute are high-rise condos and townhouses. But it also brings world-class restaurants and, now, craft breweries. Vice District Brewing is the first in a line of breweries (including Motor Row Brewing and South Loop Brewing Company) to open in the South Loop. I was able to stop by the brewery (Flynn’s 25th brewery, for those who are keeping count) on a bustling Saturday afternoon to taste some brews and talk shop with brewery owners Quintin Cole and Curtis Tarver.
Vice District is the brainchild of Cole and Tarver, friends who live across the street from each other and began homebrewing together. The idea to start a brewery ignited in December 2012 and they pursued their dream in earnest. They toyed with the idea of crowdfunding (a popular method of gaining capital for breweries these days) but opted to go the more traditional route of seeking investors and applying for a loan. They were approved for the loan, but only if they stayed in their day jobs. So, Tarver continues to go to work as an attorney and Cole travels the country as Director of Operations of a Physical Therapy company in order to be compliant with the terms of their loan. They also solicited funds from family and friends who knew their work ethic. These possible investors were still skeptical that a tap room that only served beer could be profitable so Tarver and Cole began taking these individuals on field trips to the Half Acre Beer Company tap room to illustrate how a neighborhood tap room that served house-brewed beer could be a sustainable business venture. They were successful in convincing friends and family members to invest small amounts to supplement the loan and they were in business.
If working two full-time jobs wasn’t enough, both are married with children. I asked them how they juggled it all (I have difficulty with my full-time job, a family, and a wannabe blog) and they said that they couldn’t do it without being able to lean on each other. They are good friends and help each other out. “I wake up tired but it is to pursue my dream,” said Cole.
I commented on how crowded the tap room was on this particular Saturday and they both agreed that business is better than they expected. “It’s definitely busier than we anticipated,” said Tarver. “The neighborhood is responding very well to us.” This falls in line with their business plan which is to be a neighborhood tasting room; they want to see consumers experiencing their beer. That is also the idea behind the set-up of the tasting room, which involves many communal tables that will result in strangers becoming friends over a pint and conversation. That isn’t to say that you will not be able to eventually purchase Vice District beers at your local bottle shop. The long term plan is to brew for production, but they will need another (larger) brewery for that. Right now, they are just brewing for the tap room and a few local keg accounts. They feel that the sense of community is just as important as the beer, and they are getting to know their customers and enjoy the sense of community that comes from that.
While they are setting up their seven-barrel brewhouse, they are contract brewing at Finch’s Beer Company, where their head brewer, Charlie Davis, previously brewed. Their current line-up of beers follow classic style guidelines and are more on the approachable/ “gateway” beer side, but there is definitely something here for the beer geek. My favorites on their line-up are the Everleigh ESB (this got my bottle-cap at Festivale last month) and the South Town Small Porter, a velvety chocolate dream with slight roast notes and a hint of sweetness from the addition of molasses. These not adventurous enough for you? Never fear because you will soon see more experimentation and unique brews, such as the upcoming Metrosexual Chocolate, a collaboration with Metropolis Coffee Company.
Cole and Tarver knew they wanted their brewery to be south of Madison Street; they wanted to fill a void where consumers did not have to travel so far north for great beer. Both gentlemen are native South Siders and they wanted to give back to this community. Plus, the South Loop is very walkable and many of their customers are just passers-by who walk by their huge glass windows, come in to explore, and stay for a beer. While they do not serve food, they have a collection of menus for local restaurants that deliver and they are one of the most family-friendly tap rooms I have ever been to (changing tables in the bathrooms! High chairs!). So, head on down to Vice District Brewing and, as Cole says, “get a case of VD on the South Side.”
For more photos, check out Christopher Murphy’s photostream.