This article is part of a monthly collaborative beer blog series: Ale to the Burbs. Five Chicagoland beer blogs…five communities…five suburban beer destinations…all on one day. From the hidden neighborhood gems to the well-known pillars of suburban craft beer, we’ve got the Chicago ‘burbs covered. Links to the other four articles are listed at the bottom of this post. Check back next month for another set of articles.
When I first stepped inside Bigby’s Pour House a couple years ago, I instantly realized that it was unlike any other bar I had ever been to. I also immediately knew that I had just found myself a new favorite craft beer bar. Nestled behind an Italian deli in Addison, Illinois, Bigby’s opened in November 2010 and has thrived as the suburb’s “best worst kept secret,” according to President/CEO Ed Simbol. As much as he would like to keep it that way, with the bar’s ever-impressive drink and food menus, and an upcoming second location, Simbol may need to get used to a lot more attention.
Like most bar owners, Simbol’s path to opening Bigby’s came about through a mixture of experience, good timing and a little fortuitousness. A college dropout and surfer while living in Florida, he got into the fine dining business and spent the next 10 years working all sorts of jobs – from server and bartender to sous-chef. After a few years working in Illinois, Simbol decided to venture out on his own. He came across Bigby’s, a struggling wine bar and retailer in Addison, and bought the name rights. Looking to make the place his own, Simbol scrapped the retail side of the business, redesigned the interior to give it a more comfortable, loungy feel and brought in craft beer.
Simbol’s love of craft beer started during college when he first tried Sierra Nevada’s pale ale (he even named his dog Sierra in its honor), and the way he’s brought beers to Bigby’s is unlike most bars. Upon first stepping inside the doors, you’re faced with a choice: beers on the left or wines on the right. On either side of you are shelves lined with empty bottles and cans representing what’s currently available (the beer tap list is on a chalkboard in the main seating area). On second shelves are even more bottles and cans representing beers and wines that the bar could make available. At any point during a visit, guests are encouraged to grab a handful of small glass beads near the entrance and deposit them into the empty bottles of beers and wines they’d like to see either remain available or become available. This system is a great way to put the power of the beer selection literally into the hands of customers, keeping them happy and coming back again and again. Due to the diversity of bottles being chosen, Simbol uses 15 distributors (three times more than the average bar) to keep his wide range of choices running.
The first thing you’ll notice when walking into Bigby’s main area is its relaxed vibe. Couches and a coffee table are tucked into the corner and along the far wall, various seating options are scattered about, and the lighting is set lower. A fish tank, countless beer signs and paraphernalia, and mementos from Simbol’s many beer trips around the country line the walls, giving guests a constant feast for the eyes. Adding to its “friend’s basement bar” feel, Bigby’s has a shelf stacked with board games to choose from for those looking for some friendly competition during their visit. They also have cornhole/bags outside alongside their patio and will be resurrecting their Movie Night once a new projector is installed in the coming weeks. Simbol and his staff of six employees are knowledgeable and friendly, and approach guests like longtime friends even upon first introduction. They’ll give you the scoop on the wall of bottles and how it works and help you find a beer or wine that best meets your tastes.
The ever-changing draft list, which is updated religiously on BeerMenus.com and always offers a wide variety of beer styles, features 20 lines (including one nitro and infuser) and a cask engine. Fully knowing how vital the draft system is to his business, Simbol has his tap lines cleaned every 1-2 weeks. Wines choices veer toward small batch/boutique/deep vintage/hard-to-find labels. In addition to bottles and drafts, Bigby’s also offers flights for both beer and wine for those looking to sample a handful of choices. For those looking for something more mainstream, a bottle of Miller Lite is yours for the special price of $1000. No joke.
The food menu, which is small but unique and delicious, offers items that are perfect for pairing. This includes flat breads, tapas, pizzas and charcuterie plates. The Muddy Pig is a house favorite dessert that combines Nutella, bacon, Belgian dark chocolate, chocolate syrup and powdered sugar on baked flatbread. It was even featured on WGN’s Chicago’s Best last year. If guests are looking for something heartier, they are welcome to bring over food from next door neighbor Mario’s, an Italian deli.
While Simbol hasn’t spent even one dollar on marketing or a website, focusing instead on good service and positive word of mouth, Bigby’s still makes a great effort in hosting fun, distinctive events. In addition to tap takeovers, open mic nights and special beer releases, Simbol works with local breweries to hold Provisions & Libations. These ticket-only events are held four times a year, pairing dinner courses with a local brewer’s beers. Not only are guests treated to a guided tour of the beers, but Bigby’s chef is allowed to show his chops with complex dishes not found on the bar’s standard menu.
Another unique feature is Bigby’s Beer of the Month Club, a membership that allows you to purchase any of their bottled beers to go and provides you with a case of beer every month. This isn’t your usual case of beer however. Simbol frequently travels all over the country, tasting beers and bringing back his favorites that aren’t usually available in Illinois. He then shares a handful of these with Club members. Talk about going the extra mile for your customers.
Simbol’s business model for Bigby’s has proven so successful that he is currently working on opening a second location in the Cook County suburbs by the end of this year.
Most bars are worth stopping by if you’re in the neighborhood…Bigby’s Pour House (1700 W. Lake St., Addison, IL) should be planned for as a destination.
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