Chicago’s Hopleaf Bar and I share a common kodawari.
Kodawari こだわり is hard to translate, but it roughly means an obsession, a fixation, a preoccupation; something you’re picky about and possibly addicted to. I see this word all the time on products and advertisements, but I didn’t really grasp its meaning until another English teacher I work with told me that “Yakitori is my kodawari,” and then proceded to gorge himself on yakitori with such a relaxed, dreamy countenance, I began to worry that he might fall asleep mid-meal. But he isn’t just some hopeless yakitori junkie; he’s a connoisseur. Even after obviously relishing his dinner, he flatly said something to the effect of “I’ve had better.”
There are a few things I could call my kodawari. Ska music comes to mind. So does ramen, especially tonkotsu ramen. And then there’s the whole beer thing. The review-writing, cheese-pairing, glassware-collecting beer thing.
The Hopleaf understands the beer thing. It encourages the beer thing. This is a bar that treats beer and beer drinkers with intelligence and respect and refuses to sacrifice quality for popularity. The closest thing to a Miller or a Budweiser you’ll find there is Carlsberg, and probably the most mainstream offerings on their menu are Guinness and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. But obscurity for obscurity’s sake does not seem to be the Hopleaf’s primary goal. The menu seems to indicate an honest dedication to quality and to variety, ranging from aggressive barleywines to mellow saisons, from effervescent Pilseners to viscous imperial stouts, and from bracingly sour lambics to perfectly balanced pale ales. The draft list alone made me wide-eyed with excitement, and when I saw the bottle list, I could hardly speak. I was a little disappointed to find that the Hopleaf stocked fewer highly-hopped beers than I expected from the bar’s name, but I pretty much stopped caring about that after indulging in some Cantillon Bruocsella 1900 Grand Cru, Vuuve Witbier, and Three Floyds Black Sun Stout.
But the Hopleaf’s commitment to providing its patrons with a superior beer experience doesn’t stop at the menu. Every beer is served in its appropriate glass – usually official brewery glasses, if available – and at the appropriate temperature. No tastebud-numbing ice-cold brewskis poured into frosty mugs here. After all, this is a place to smell, to sip, and to savor, not to refresh yourself after mowing the lawn.
And to pair with your beer, the Hopleaf offers a tempting food menu as well. Their signature dishes are the mussels and the Belgian frites, both of which are excellent. The mussels come perfectly seasoned with herbs, cooked to plump and tender perfection in an aromatic Witbier. The double-fried frites are crispy and devastatingly munchable, especially when dipped in the creamy garlic aioli with an odor that will seep from your sweat glands for days.
After going to the Hopleaf, I think I know how my fellow teacher felt that night at the yakitori bar. There was a certain release in satisfying my kodawari, a sense of goodness that came from allowing fine beer to flood my brain and wash out any negative thoughts – and I’m not talking about getting drunk. Oh, Hopleaf, where have you been all my life?
Michael & Louise’s Hopleaf Bar
5148 North Clark Street
Chicago, Illinois 60640