Like many Chicago drinkers, a major part of my beer journey began at the Hopleaf in Andersonville. By the time I moved from the east coast to the Midwest, the reputation for the place preceded it as one of the country’s great Belgian beer bars. Walk in to the tiny front cafe area and you see old wooden tables topped with Kwak, Tripel Karmeliet, Saison Dupont. These days you see a lot more American craft, but the Belgian tradition is still alive and well. This is a place where I’ve drank more of the world’s greatest beers than anywhere else.
On occasion, I’ve heard Michael and Louise Roper talk about the old days, going all the way back to their beginnings in Detroit, and as I started to piece these stories together, I realized that the Hopleaf I’d come to know and love was only one of its many identities over the years. It was time to sit down and set the story straight.
Who is this couple that came to run one of the country’s greatest drinking experiences? How did they get a city to drink Belgian beers at a point in history when something like Heineken was still considered a fancy import? And once they had all those people drinking exotic beers, what did they do with them?
It’s an incredible tale of a reluctant barkeep who kept developing his vision even as the world around him seemed so unchanging for so long.