The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

MyGrain Brewing Co., Joliet

Welcome to stop #49 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: MyGrain Brewing., 50 E. Jefferson St., Joliet
Train line: Heritage Corridor or Rock Island, Joliet
Time from Chicago: 70 minutes (Zone H)
Distance from station: At the station

One of the subtle (to American audiences, anyway) bits of satire in Simon Pegg's 2013 movie The World's End is the sameness of the pubs that the characters visit. They have the same faux-handwriting, faux-chalk menu boards; the same layouts; the same food; the same prefabricated vibe. I have experienced this sorrow as well, when the lovely Blackbird in Earls Court got hollowed out in 2019 and became just like every other corporatized pub in London.

As I did at Emmett's in Palatine, and at Ten Ninety in Glenview, upon walking into MyGrain last Friday I felt...nothing. The servers, all of them just old enough to serve alcohol but not old enough to remember a world before Facebook, seemed friendly enough, even as they missed things like my request for a glass of water with my beer. Or silverware with my hamburger. (The food was fiiiiine.) They did let me charge my phone, though. That was nice.

While watching the US Women's Soccer team beat the Netherlands in penalty kicks to win the quarterfinal, I tried a 9-ounce Service Dog New England IPA (7.3%, 50 IBU) and a 16-ounce Pincher's Pale APA (5.7%, 60 IBU), both of which were fiiiine. They were well-designed, focus-group-tested, inoffensive, and utterly boring examples of the styles.

I get that opening a restaurant inside a large space under railroad tracks has a lot of risk in and of itself. I just wish that restauranteurs would sometimes stray, just a little, from the most-average-customer's tastes and try something interesting. But they didn't, so I finished my beers and my hamburger and checked to see if the 7:30 return train was on time.

Except there is no 7:30 return train. There's a 7:15 and an 8:30. So I wound up having another pint of Pincher's (still just fiiiiine) and watching the USA-Japan women's basketball game with half an eye, reading my book, and forgetting that I would arrive at LaSalle Street Station just as a million teenagers wearing inappropriate clothes would leave Lollapalooza and board the El I needed to take home.

Beer garden? Yes
Dogs OK? No
Televisions? Everywhere, unavoidable
Serves food? Full menu (it's fiiiiine)
Would hang out with a book? No
Would hang out with friends? No
Would go back? No

Welcome to August

While I look out my hermetically-sealed office window at some beautiful September weather in Chicago (another argument for working from home), I have a lot of news to digest:

And finally, Jakob Nielsen explains to web designers as patiently as possible why pop-ups piss off users.

Elder Brewing Company, Joliet

Welcome to stop #48 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Elder Brewing Co.., 218 E. Cass Ave., Joliet
Train line: Heritage Corridor or Rock Island, Joliet
Time from Chicago: 70 minutes (Zone H)
Distance from station: 500 m

Joliet: the end of two train lines. Home of the Big House, the Sting, and a weird little brewery that I will make a point of visiting again.

When Andrew Polykandriotis opened Elder Brewing in 2017, he saw the brewery as a part of the push to revitalize downtown Joliet. You can see from the photo above that Joliet still has a way to go, though. No matter: he's created an inviting space with friendly people.

I only planned to have one beer so that I could get food at the other Joliet brewery, so I chose the Poly's Revenge APA (5.5%), one of the first beers Polykandriotis brewed. (The "revenge" is on all the people who predicted the brewery would fail.) It was great: nicely balanced, not too hoppy, clean, and flavorful.

The dog-friendly taproom has free popcorn and a library of old VHS tapes that they will happily play on the TV over the bar. A couple of patrons had just started The Little Mermaid when I came in. They also have a rack of menus if you want to order in from the local restaurants (a rib joint nearby looked like a good bet), and board games for all ages.

With a minor-league ball park a block away and easy access on Metra, I might make a day of it in Joliet at some point. Elder Brewing will be on the agenda.

Beer garden? Yes
Dogs OK? Yes
Televisions? One, avoidable
Serves food? Only popcorn (free!)
Would hang out with a book? Yes
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Yes

Imperial Oak Brewing, Willow Springs

Welcome to stop #47 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Imperial Oak Brewing., 501 Willow Rd., Willow Springs
Train line: Heritage Corridor, Willow Springs
Time from Chicago: 32 minutes (Zone D)
Distance from station: 100 m

It is very important to remember, if you plan to visit either of the breweries along Metra's Heritage Corridor line, that they run only three trains only from Chicago on weekday afternoons, and none to Chicago. So when I visited Imperial Oak Brewing yesterday, I took the first train towards Willow Springs, ensuring that I could get from Willow Springs to Joliet on either the second or third trains, and not have to figure out how to get home some other way. I didn't price a Lyft from Willow Springs to the next-nearest Metra station, but I imagine it would have cost quite a lot.

Once you get to Willow Springs, the first thing you see getting off the train will be the brewery, and its large and quiet patio. It felt a little like a country pub in England, surrounded by trees with almost no car traffic except for the few on the Willow Springs Road bridge overhead.

I tried four 5-ounce pours while sitting at one of those picnic tables with a book.

The 'Merica American Stout (center, 6.2%, 50 IBU) gave me some unexpected hoppiness, with good chocolate and caramel notes. I found it pretty bold for a stout, with a nice long finish. The Crank It Hop Citra-Mosaic IPA (right, 6%, 50 IBU) tasted excessively hoppy for my taste, but crisp and clean (and no caffeine!), and a good example of the style. The just-released Roundabout Hybrid Pale (left, 5.4%) was my favorite, with a good balance, some grapefruit notes from the Citra hops, and a crisp finish. I also tried the Udderly Black Milk Stout (not pictured; 5.3%, 20 IBU), which I found kind of bland after the hoppier guys I tried earlier. I did cleanse with potato chips and water, but the milk stout just didn't do it for me.

Beer garden? Yes
Dogs OK? Outside only
Televisions? Two at the bar, avoidable
Serves food? No, but food trucks stop by
Would hang out with a book? Yes
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Yes

Flapjack Brewery, Berwyn

Welcome to stop #46 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Flapjack Brewery., 6833 Stanley Ave., Berwyn
Train line: BNSF, Berwyn
Time from Chicago: 15 minutes (Zone B)
Distance from station: 100 m

Some parts of the Chicago area deal with heavy infrastructure differently than other parts. Take the North Shore: the heavy-rail commuter line serving Clybourn Junction on up to Kenosha blends into the area elevated on a tree-covered embankment on up to Wilmette, then at or below grade level surrounded by more trees and flanked by a 50-kilometer bike trail. The former Chicago & North Western line, now the Union Pacific North, even features beautiful 1890s-era station houses that other lines have shamelessly copied.

Not so the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe. From Union Station through Naperville, the triple-track main line handles so much freight and passenger traffic that the towns and villages along the way haven't done much to shield themselves from it. (In the city, the BNSF runs through so many classification yards that no one lives near it anyway.) In Berwyn they don't even pretend to try.

Also, while the UP-N has a couple of stations a quick walk from each other (the three in Evanston, for example), the BNSF line's station placements baffle me. Harlem and Berwyn are so close their parking lots run together. And the 2-kilometer stretch between La Grange Road and Brookfield has three stations, again with unclear boundaries between parking lots and some head-scratching moments onboard trains that get up to a brisk walking speed before stopping again.

And yet, with Flapjack, this line has a delightful little brewery mere meters from the Berwyn station. So close, in fact, that the discerning railfan can get a continuous show with dinner:

In the 90 minutes I sat there, I watched 10 trains go by (6 commuters, 3 freight, and the Amtrak heading to St Louis). I also drank some beer and ate three quarters of an epic pizza. The beer, their Four Years Too Long double-dry-hopped IPA (5.25%), brewed especially for their fourth anniversary, had blazing Centennial hops on the nose with delightful Citra on the finish, and a fresh, clean balance that I enjoyed so much I had a second one.

But just look at this pizza:

So good. Just so good. And the remaining quarter reheated nicely the next day.

Beer garden? Sidewalk
Dogs OK? Outside only
Televisions? Three at the bar, avoidable
Serves food? Full menu
Would hang out with a book? Yes
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Yes

Milk Money Brewing, La Grange

Welcome to stop #45 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Milk Money Brewing., 75 S. La Grange Rd., La Grange
Train line: BNSF, La Grange Rd
Time from Chicago: 26 minutes (Zone C)
Distance from station: 500 m

La Grange Road has a lot of competition, being essentially the restaurant district of La Grange. So for a suburban brewery, Milk Money does a good job. I stopped by on the Friday before July 4th, when the weather felt more like September and the vibe felt more like 2019.

They don't do flights per se, but they do have 5-ounce pours. I had five:

I started with the Queen Takes Pawn English-style ale (4.9%), which tasted like a solid real ale from the old country, albeit too cold to complete the illusion. It had a good bitter/malt balance and a sharp finish. The Pause Button APA (5.2%) had a bit more malt than I expected, but a good balance overall. The Vibrant hazy IPA (6.5%) had a citrus nose, a citrus-grapefruit flavor, and a lower-alcohol feel than the first two. The Milk Money milk stout (7.2%) started with a lovely nose and opened up into a smooth chocolate and caramel combination with a long finish. Finally, the Colorful Noise West Coast IPA (7%) had Citra on the nose and Cascade in the back. All five were solid representations of the styles.

And on the walk from the Metra station, I discovered that La Grange has gone to the dogs:

Beer garden? Sidewalk
Dogs OK? No
Televisions? Two, avoidable
Serves food? Full menu
Would hang out with a book? Maybe
Would hang out with friends? Maybe
Would go back? Maybe

Hotels on Rails from Paris in 2024

French start-up Midnight Trains plans a set of overnight train routes of 800-1,500 km in length, from Paris to Edinburgh, Madrid, Copenhagen, and Rome:

The founders say the aim is not to match the famous – and expensive – luxury of the Orient Express but offer an alternative to the basic, state-run SNCF sleepers and short-haul flights.

Key to the service will be “hotel-style” rooms offering privacy and security, and an onboard restaurant and bar.

Midnight Trains is the latest arrival in what is becoming a crowded market. Across Europe, state-run railways are facing new competition from private operators looking to introduce night trains. Fans of rail travel have waited some time for new night train routes to come along … only to find, a bit like buses, several turning up at the same time.

Since 2016, Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB) has introduced six new overnight routes under the Nightjet brand that was already operating nine night routes. Private operators in the Czech Republic, the Netherlands and Belgium have announced new overnight services.

In December last year, ÖBB, the German rail company Deutsche Bahn, SNCF and Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) announced the signing of an agreement to launch new night train services in Europe. This is the first step in developing the Trans-Europe Express (TEE) 2.0 network, proposed by the German presidency of the Council of the European Union. This partnership plans to launch four new services to 13 of Europe’s largest cities in the coming years.

Sign me up!

All work and dog play

Oh, to be a dog. Cassie is sleeping comfortably on her bed in my office after having over an hour of walks (including 20 minutes at the dog park) so far today. Meanwhile, at work we resumed using a bit of code that we put on ice for a while, and I promptly discovered four bugs. I've spent the afternoon listening to Cassie snore and swatting the first one.

Meanwhile, in the outside world, life continues:

And right by my house, TimeLine Theater plans to renovate a dilapidated warehouse to create a new theater space and cultural center, while a 98-year-old hardware store by Wrigley Field will soon become apartments.

Metra highballs towards the 21st Century

Work continues on the Ravenswood Metra station, letting us commuters believe that finally! we might not have to stand in the rain waiting for an inbound train sometime this autumn. Until then, we still have to wait on a rickety wooden platform that now extends four meters from the original rickety wooden platform, meaning we have a worse station experience than our great-grandparents would have when the station opened in the 1890s. Of course, once we board the trains, our overall travel experience on Metra more resembles our grandparents': some of the rail cars (carriages) that Metra operates date back to the 1950s, though the Union Pacific routes mostly seem to have cars built in the 1980s and early 2000s.

So imagine my glee when I read this press release from French manufacturer Alstom:

Alstom has received an initial order from Metra, the commuter rail system in the Chicago metropolitan area serving the city of Chicago and surrounding suburbs, to supply 200 push-pull commuter rail cars. This follows Metra Board of Directors’ approval in January 2021 to award Alstom a vehicle procurement contract for up to 500 rail cars. This initial order of 200 rail cars is worth approximately €650 million.

The multilevel cars incorporate new design features to improve passenger experience, including: a streamlined, modern and welcoming interior, equipped with USB plugs and boasting large windows and a layout to improve passenger flow and traveller comfort; seating and spacing to allow for additional ridership and physical distancing; touchless doors; improved bogie design for improved ride quality; and multiple wide doors on each side of the cars to reduce passenger boarding times and improve access to passenger areas.

They even have a slick video, which I would expect as part of a $800m contract.

The combination of the new Ravenswood inbound platform and the slick new French cars will make parts of Metra's network almost as good as London's was in 1990. All Metra needs to do to get us into the 2000s is to get rid of their mobile soot factories diesel locomotives, but I fear that kind of infrastructure modernization would require the replacement of one of the country's main political parties with an real one.

Thanks, Bruce!

After languishing for four years while former Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner (R-of course) refused to govern, Metra's Peterson/Ridge station project...has stalled again:

Crews for Metra were slated to break ground in May on the train station at Peterson and Ravenswood avenues. Due to a permitting issue with the city, work will be delayed by roughly three to five months, said Joe Ott, director of Metra’s construction department.

If the permits take any longer to secure, major construction on the new station could be pushed to spring 2022, he said.

The problem is that the ground beneath the station holds city water mains, and the city’s Department of Water Management was worried about groundwater from the station leaking into the water mains, he said. The city agency said the project’s groundwater system needs revision before a permit will be granted.

It is just the latest setback for a project first announced in 2012.

The project fell by the wayside during the state’s years-long budget impasse. Local officials said in 2017 funding for the project was nearly secured, but a $1 billion fund earmarked for Metra was slashed in half that year.

At least they've cleared the vacant lot connecting where the station will go. Apparently they've also put up a sign. It's a start, I suppose.

In tangential news, Amtrak announced that it will offer tickets up to 50% off to celebrate its 50th anniversary this year. I wish my travel plans would allow me to take a long train trip somewhere.