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.
“Ummm, let me check with the bartender.”
“Uhhhh, I’m not sure. I’ve never tried it.”
“ABV? What’s that?”
Chances are you’ve suffered through at least one of the above responses when talking to a server at a bar or brewpub. As a beer drinker, one of the more frustrating experiences of visiting some watering holes is waiting an extended period of time for your cold one because the server doesn’t know what’s on the menu, if your beer is still on tap or anything about the beers you’re considering (style, taste, alcohol content, etc).
You won’t run into any of these issues at Tribes Alehouse, where the staff – from management and bartenders to servers and hostesses – takes craft beer seriously. The mindset starts at the top with Niall Freyne, owner of both Tribes locations in Mokena and Tinley Park. Born in Ireland and raised in New York, Freyne has worked in the restaurant business since the age of 15. After earning his culinary degree out east, he spent 15 years in the hotel industry, managing bars, restaurants and catering, and honing his skill set for future opportunities. “I had helped about 50 others open their restaurants…I wanted my own,” said Freyne.
In 2006, more than two years into owning Galway Tribes, an Irish pub and restaurant in south suburban Frankfort, Illinois, Freyne decided to give Rogue’s Dead Guy Ale a shot on his tap row. Then Bell’s Two Hearted and Three Floyds Alpha King. The response was so positive that he began eliminating more and more domestic and Irish ale taps until he ended up with Guinness and 23 craft beers on tap. “I couldn’t understand why no one else was doing it,” he said, reflecting on the lack of south suburban bars sharing these new beer styles with customers.
After closing Galway Tribes in early 2009 due to small business tax hikes and the overall economic downturn, Freyne’s passion for craft beer and high-quality food lead him to opening Tribes Alehouse in Mokena (11220 W. Lincoln Hwy.) only five months later. In gutting a former pizza parlor, he was able to design the space from scratch and mold his vision for a perfect spot to eat and drink. “Beer and whiskey only, only the best craft beer, a simple menu and a cozy, comfortable feel,” he said. “Basically, I wanted to be the Map Room of the south suburbs.”
With 40 taps, a mean whiskey list and a menu of delicious apps, burgers and entrees, Tribes took off and has not looked back since, growing in sales by about 30% every year. Freyne’s passion for craft beer can be seen in every facet of Tribes – from the décor, which is swathed in brewery signage and tappers, to his knowledgeable staff. He even created his own test for bartenders and servers to properly train them on styles of beer, their characteristics and how to serve them. This training definitely comes in handy as Tribes changes its beer list 3-4 times per week and holds special tappings every Wednesday and Thursday. The staff is friendly and attentive, and you can tell they all love working together at Tribes and being a part of a craft beer revolution on the south side. In fact, six of their 10 bartenders have been working with Freyne since his days at Galway Tribes.
The menu is best known for its burger selection, which offers a patty choice of chicken, beef, turkey, bison and elk, and toppings such as pork belly, habanero pepper jam, BBQ pulled pork and roasted corn and tomato relish. The variety in dishes is remarkable, covering comfort food (aged cheddar and pancetta macaroni and cheese, pesto marinated grilled chicken), southern-inspired (blackened catfish sandwich, Carolina BBQ pulled pork sandwich), unique (four styles of poutines, lamb lolli-chops, lobster roll, grilled antelope bratwurst) and traditional steakhouse (double cut pork chop, filet mignon, black and white sesame crusted Atlantic salmon). There’s literally something for everyone.
Last October, Freyne seized an opportunity to further his vision for Tribes by opening a second location in Tinley Park (9501 W. 171st St.). Once again starting from scratch, he was able to mimic Mokena’s cozy atmosphere despite the new space being much larger. Similarly decorated with brewery artifacts, Tribe’s most eye-catching piece is a massive mural high on the wall, depicting several popular beer label characters such as Alpha King, Delirium’s pink elephant and Old Rasputin. A long-time Tribes customer, Erika Foray painted this as well as drew several of the chalkboards at the Mokena location (see slideshow below for pictures).
The two Tribes locations, less than 15 minutes apart, are a two-headed force of reckoning on the south side when it comes to craft beer and high-quality food. While the menu is the same, beer selections and tappings vary week-to-week, offering customers the chance to frequent both spots. With 57 taps in Tinley and 40 in Mokena, that’s a lot of choices for your palate. If you’re unfamiliar with most of the beers or just want to sample a handful, a new flight option allows you to choose four 5oz. pours from any of the taps (except the high-gravity beers).
Freyne’s craft beer and culinary passions have translated into a thriving business that continues to grow and sprout new branches. A perfect example is the inaugural Tribes Alehouse Beer Fest, being held July 27 in the outdoor courtyard of the Tinley Park location. With 18 breweries on board, including Allagash, Bell’s, Firestone Walker, Three Floyds, Stone, Pipeworks, Solemn Oath and Founders, Freyne is sticking to his usual high standards for craft beer. “I don’t want any beers being poured that people can find at a store or another bar,” he said. “Only rare and unique beers that will really get people excited.” Along the same lines, he is having brewery reps pouring instead of volunteers so that attendees can learn more about the beers and the brewery. Plus, special tappings will be offered inside the bar every hour, and all attendees will get a 25% discount on the food menu that day.
The fest is broken into two sessions (11am – 1:30pm and 2:30-5pm). Session II sold out in three hours, but tickets for the first session are still available through the Tribes homepage for $35. Don’t miss out on this fest!