Houses of Craft

Watershed's Quiet Presence in Chicago

I’ve taken too long to share the secret of Watershed, hiding out like a speakeasy below Pops for Champagne in the River North neighborhood of Chicago. I haven’t even told some co-workers yet. Sometimes a guy just needs to have his place, you know?

Owned and operated by the Pops crew above, Watershed features an amazing curation of craft beers from the Great Lakes region (hence the name), as well as some local wines and artisanal spirits that call the Great Lakes home. The two taps rotate often with beers from Bells, New Holland, Great Lakes Brewery and the likes, but the extended bottle menu is nothing short of brewing bible for the region. 

The list is full of flagships and obscure recipes from Chicago breweries like Metropolitan, Goose Island, Two Brothers as well as regionals from Lakefront, Tyranena and Dark Horse. Lately I haven’t been able to say no to the Dark Horse Black Bier with its rich baker’s chocolate and coffee flavors balance with hops and slight effervescence. Watershed might be the only bar in Chicago where I can thoroughly enjoy a beer this heavy in 95 degree heat. Did I mention it’s underground?

Even more unique is Watershed’s regional spirits menu. Featuring vodkas from Death’s Door in Wisconsin, North Shore, Grand Traverse, Crop Organic and Koval distilleries, as well as gins, rums, liqueurs, even a hopped tequila from New Holland, Watershed leaves no regionally produced alcohol un-poured. They’ve even sourced a number of Great Lakes whiskeys, including Lion’s Pride Organic, a remarkably clean and smooth whiskey from Chicago. And of course, all these spirits make for an impressive cocktail menu. Try the Girl Scout on Valentine’s Day or the Misanthrope. You’ll get the idea.

The food menu too, is full of delicious small plates like marinated olives, oysters and my favorite, the mussel salad — a chilled blend of mussels, green olives, chiles and lemon. Entrees are hearty, but I’ve been coaxed into more than one deep fried cornish hen (now replaced by the crispy chicken thigh with lentils and chorizo) as well as the risotto with spring peas and pine nuts, perfectly prepared every time.

Watershed transports its guests to another time and place. It has the timelessness of your grandfather’s den, and all the contemporaneity of the local food and craft brew movement. In other words, this place has class and pride. 

The concept, formed by Pops managers W. Craig Cooper and Gregg Anglebrandt, feels restrained, refined and warm, unlike anything else in River North. This approach is evident in the woodwork, lighting, soft furniture and end tables, but also in the attitude of the staff, who treat guests with an uncommon dignity and appreciation, but also a neighborly familiarity. 

I recommend going on Thursdays when a bluegrass band, the Northside Southpaws, set up in the far corner of the parlor and soak the room in their particularly well-suited tone of rustic americana. 

@mpkiser@goodbeerhunting

Michael Kiser