Clint Bautz waited five years to move Lake Effect Brewing to a former Northwest Side firehouse. Finally, he couldn’t wait any longer.
Bautz canceled his long-awaited and often-delayed move to the 116-year-old Jefferson Park building to open instead 3 miles to the south, in a former auto repair shop at 3076 N. Milwaukee Ave., on the north end. from the Logan Square neighborhood.
Bautz, a former architect and urban planner, had become fond of giving a second life to the old fire station, which sits a mile from his home. But after so long in limbo while operating Lake Effect from a Montrose Avenue alley, he’s glad to finally have concrete plans that will lead to more exposure.
“I’m more relieved to be moving forward than disappointed,” he said.
Bautz hopes to be brewing in the new space by the end of the year and have the taproom open by spring.
In Chicago’s robust beer scene, Lake Effect is one of the smaller breweries, churning out about 500 barrels of beer a year. The new space isn’t huge: a modest 1,600 square feet that will house both production and a tavern, plus outdoor space that Bautz will try to convert for year-round use. The move is a bid for stability rather than sharp growth; Bautz likes to run a neighborhood venue in a big city.
“The approach was always to be locally focused and not take over the world,” he said.
The renovation of the old fire station, at 4841 N. Lipps Ave., has been years in the planning and will continue, said Tim Pomaville, president of developer Ambrosia Homes. Pomaville said he wants to anchor the first floor of the property with another stylish brewery, bar or restaurant, the type of opening most commonly associated with the West Loop or Logan Square. “Something fun that people are excited about that we don’t really have in Jefferson Park,” he said. Eight apartments are planned above.
The renovation has been affected by factors including slow city permitting, the COVID-19 pandemic, remediation that Pomaville said included removal of lead paint and asbestos, and the discovery of “new structural elements that we didn’t know existed.” There was also a lawsuit in November 2020 by the Polish cultural organization, the Copernicus Foundation, which said the city never seriously considered its offer to buy the building.
the demand was fired in early 2021; Ambrosia Homes closed on the property that spring.
Pomaville said he was disappointed to lose Lake Effect as a tenant, but has no ill will.
“Nothing has been quick throughout this whole process,” he said. “You have to do what you have to do for your business. There’s a long way to go, and I think that’s what Clint was seeing.”
Two murals remain painted on the doors of the old firehouse touting Lake Effect as its future anchor. Bautz said that he was fully invested in the project, even as it dragged on.
“I live in the neighborhood and I love the building,” said Bautz. “I saw it as a catalyst for the development and needs of the neighborhood.”
But Bautz said he couldn’t wait any longer once his current landlord told him that in the spring he would lose the space where Lake Effect has operated since 2012, at 4727 W. Montrose Ave.
“We realized very quickly that there would be a pretty big gap in production if we waited, we would be waiting and waiting,” he said.
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Lake Effect will bring a unique business model to your new home. Like most breweries, it produces a variety of beers under its own banner available year-round and seasonally, including a nifty, an India Pale Ale, and a Blonde Ale. However, about half of its output is beers co-branded with other companies and organizations, including four beers with the legendary Superdawg hot dog restaurant, plus beers for the Morton Arboretum, Noble Square bar Chipp Inn, and the Recess restaurant in West Loop.
Lake Effect will continue its partnerships, but in its new home, the brewery will also be able to slide beers across the bar to customers for the first time, one of the most reliable sources of profit for small breweries.
Higher ceilings will allow for taller fermentation tanks and the Lake Effect to roughly double production, Bautz said. Most of that beer will be consumed on-site, a crucial step in stabilizing the business after years of ups and downs operating from the alley.
“Being able to serve people on site is the best thing for small local breweries, where stability is achieved,” he said. “We wanted to have a tavern for the second or third year. It took us 10 years.”
A clear path forward for Lake Effect, especially after having navigated the depths of the pandemic, makes Bautz feel like “we got our charm back.”
“It’s our project, and we can do whatever we want in space,” he said. “We will do the best we can (to be open in the spring). But I don’t think it will take five years.”