Good Beer Hunting

Critical Drinking

MAKER/Drinker #2 — Joshua Longbrake

I first met photographer and writer, Joshua Longbrake, over email when he was living in Seattle. A part of him will always live in Seattle. He shared some beautiful images and stories on his blog, currently in at least its fourth manifestation, and it caught my attention when I was looking for inspiration and a wedding photographer. I could tell from the way he wrote a sentence, that he'd be a real friend some day. "I wish I could just invite this guy to the wedding," I told my wife Hillary at the time, "I wish he lived in Chicago." And in 2011, he did move west to Chicago to be with a girl. And they both came to the wedding. It's been sort of like that ever since — speaking words to power. 


Joshua is mostly a Scotch guy, and he's taught me a thing or two about peat. But when he first arrived in Chicago, with everything he owned and a dog named Jack in his tiny Honda Civic, we met at The Northdown Cafe for our first beer. I think that was the first time I ordered a beer for him. Now it's just a habit. 

His girl, now his wife, is a real Irishwoman. They spend many nights at Irish bars, appreciating a cold Guinness. But when he's at a neighborhood spot, he looks for Scottish-style ales. Three Floyds' Robert the Bruce is his Midwestern jam. He still lets me order for him from time to time, but there will always come a moment when he interjects, and orders a Robert the Bruce, or a Scotch, neat. That's when my job is done for the evening and it's time to listen to Joshua for a change.

Since his arrival in Chicago, Joshua has taken on a lot of different jobs, from barista, to commercial photographer, to novelist. When he was still working at Intelligentsia in Lakeview, he sparked a conversation with a guy who was starting a brewpub. Tall, young, bright-eyed and ambitious, that guy turned out to be DryHop's Greg Shuff who just launched up the street from the cafe two years later with some of the best food and beers in the area. One of the ideas they shared in their many conversations has lead to a time-lapse video project of the DryHop adventure, now nearing completion. Stay tuned for that. Joshua will tell us when it's ready. 

But what I really want to share today is a piece that Joshua wrote about the bar in his neighborhood. This piece is about Fischman's in the far northwest at Lawrence and Milwaukee near the geographical edge of Chicago. It's an old-school bar, in an old-school neighborhood. And it's a bar in transition. But this piece is also about what happens at the figurative edges of a scene like craft beer. And it seems like, even way out there, Joshua still has guys ordering his beers for him. 

Here is that story.

14 May 2013

We were at our bar, a pronoun I use with humility and pride. It’s not ours but we know the owners and the bartenders and they know us. Jimmy is almost always working and now that Kirby and I go there two times a week he’s begun, per my request, choosing what I’ll drink without me asking. Give me a beer, Jimmy and he picks what he likes. I don’t know anything about beer and I don’t care much to learn. I’d rather glean from his experience and I’ve yet to be disappointed. One less thing to think about.

Fischman’s will not get featured in some expensive quarterly magazine for young adults, no low contrast photos of beautiful people in tight pants, suspenders and hair product that molds hair to look as though there’s no hair product. No, the only hair product in Fischman’s is sweat and the only suspenders are holding up the heavy pants of firemen and postal workers, Cliff Clavins at the edges of the bar. Actors and improvisers and comedians from the theater down the street are there nightly, never performing but always performing. They all walk around the world thinking that an invisible microphone floats in front of them. Courage! I listen; it’s a gift. Their irreverent jokes are sacred, for everything that was once called holy is no longer holy; all we have now is the profane. If that is true then these people are the new saints. If there is a bar of mercy and forgiveness for all walks of life, it’s this one.

Fischman’s is fodder for some expensive quarterly magazine for young adults.

We were there on a Monday night, something afforded by being married to a woman with a mutual admiration for going out for a drink and a laugh. Her love for Fischman’s correlates to her love for me, her husband with a uniform of the same pants and same flannel shirts, despite the weather, because he loves not having to think about what to wear. The consistency is calming, a blanket or memory of the womb; she understands.

There’s a digital jukebox on the wood-paneled wall, one that streams music and even has an app for phones so you can play music without getting up from the bar. How about that! I put in $5 each night we’re there, chalk it up in the budget as an extra drink, and ritually put on 5 or 6 Waits tunes, always Hoist that Rag, The Earth Died Screaming, Make it Rain, Come On Up to the House, and maybe something from Small Change if I want to channel the beat poets. So we’re there and I put on the music from my phone and sip from my glass of Maker’s Mark on the rocks (Jimmy was off that night). First tune plays and my soul has settled. Second tune plays and cuts out after 30 seconds, I chalk it up to computers. Third tune plays, same thing after 30 seconds. Fourth tune, same.

Kyle was with us, an actor from the theater down the road and a friend. He asked Dawn the bartender if she knew what was going on with the music.

“Was that you all who were playing Tom Waits? I’m so sorry! I changed it after I looked around trying to figure out who was doing it. It’s not those guys over there; they don’t know how to work the machine. That guy is basically asleep. You all looked too young. I thought it was someone from their home pulling a prank on their phone.”

She gave me $3 compensation and apologized until we left. It’s alright, Dawn. We’ll be back. 

there’s nothin in the world
that you can do
you gotta come on up to the house
and you been whipped by the forces
that are inside you
come on up to the house
well you’re high on top
of your mountain of woe
come on up to the house
well you know you should surrender
but you can’t let go
you gotta come on up to the house

Michael Kiser