New Metropolitan taproom easily one of Chicago's prettiest

Perched on a bend on the Chicago River, the Metropolitan Brewing taproom offers an idyllic slice of city life.

Don’t be deterred by the plywood and gravel in all directions, the heavy machinery or the trudge through a literal construction site. Keep walking and you’ll find the new Metropolitan Brewing taproom.

It’s like stepping into Oz.

Just beyond the tornadolike chaos of construction, you’ll land in a handsome taproom of concrete, steel and wood, highlighted by floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking a quiet bend in the Chicago River.

“It’s worth walking through a construction site for this,” I told Metropolitan co-founder Tracy Hurst last week, a day after the taproom finally opened to the public.

“We’re calling it an adventure,” Hurst said with a smile.

In a city rife with taprooms, Metropolitan’s long-awaited addition, which opened last week at 3057 N. Rockwell St., is among the prettiest. A U-shaped bar anchors the room, surrounded by tables built from wood salvaged from a 125-year-old former tannery.

Perched on the west bank of the Chicago River, and positioned toward a leafy south-facing vantage of the river, it undoubtedly boasts the finest view. As I cradled a roasty Magnetron schwarzbier on the narrow patio overlooking the river, a goose loudly honked to declare its approach, then skidded into a water landing just below where I stood. It circled for a while as I sipped, presumably looking for its next meal.

You won’t see that at Half Acre.

The construction site outside the taproom won’t last forever. Developer Paul Levy, who is behind the Bridgeport Arts Center, plans to turn the space into a public market of locally made food and drink. Metropolitan and Metropolis Coffee, which opened in 2015, are the anchor tenants.

Doug Hurst and Tracy Hurst opened Metropolitan in December 2008, in a warehouse in the Ravenswood neighborhood, at a time when the city was home to just a handful of breweries. It was a different world then.

“A taproom wasn’t even in the discussion in 2008,” Tracy Hurst said. “At that time you were either a production brewery or a brewpub.”

But dozens more breweries have opened in Chicago and the importance of taprooms — and their accompanying profits, which are not siphoned off by distributors or retailers — have become obvious. When Metropolitan began envisioning a larger brewery five years ago, a taproom was an inevitable part of the plan.

The result, which opened last Thursday, is what Hurst calls a reflection of the German-style lagers that are Metropolitan’s specialty.

“Clean, lean and mean — the German style,” Hurst said. “Efficient, no nonsense.”

The windows opposite the river have a decent view of their own: a new brewery that can raise Metropolitan’s beer production by 10 times — from 4,000 barrels per year to 50,000. (Though they’ll need years to get there.)

And what of that beer?

Metropolitan has quietly made some of the best and most consistent beer in Chicago for years. It isn’t flashy — the brewery has (gasp!) never made an IPA — but it claims several gems, including its Oktoberfest, Afterburner and Heliostat, a zwickel unfiltered lager.

The taproom’s 12 taps pour Metro’s core beers (Krankshaft Kolsch, Dynamo Copper Lager, Flywheel Pilsner and Magnetron), plus seasonals (the aforementioned Heliostat and Afterburner), special releases and experiments, such as a rotating coffee-infused beer made, naturally, with Metropolis beans.

One thing that will not change: no ales. No pale ales. No IPAs. And no stouts.

“Doug and I are old-time small-business people,” Hurst said. “That’s not about asking people what they want. It’s showing people what you’re good at and telling them why it’s great.”

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