Maplewood Lounge | A Taproom Example Worth Emulating
Maplewood Brewery & Distillery didn’t merely open a taproom and tasting space, it opened a thoughtful representation of the entire Maplewood experience — and that’s how all breweries should approach taproom designs.
Chefs who open restaurants have long understood the importance of atmosphere; they design the eating space, lighting and decor that will best represent the menu. For instance, when one strolls into a candlelit restaurant adorned with wall-to-wall wine bottles, accompanied by live piano music, it’s unlikely one will find buffalo wings and jalapeno poppers on the menu…and that’s what would be expected.
All too often, though, one walks into taprooms that are more function than design, which is arguably a significant mistake. Even if a brewery possesses a limited budget, there must be an understanding that the environment resembles the entire operation much in the way that label artwork conveys an image about the beer found on store shelves.
As Hall of Fame tennis player Andre Agassi once famously exclaimed in an ad, “Image is Everything.”
At Maplewood’s new lounge, the eyes are first drawn to the sign overhanging the front door that plays on Old Style signs (Zimne Piwo, anyone?) that hang from the thousands upon thousands of taverns lining Chicago’s streets. It ostensibly says to customers, “We’re a Chicago craft bar and distillery, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously. We’re friendly. Come on in!”
The brick walls and engraved Maplewood logo surround a space that’s comforting and cozy, yet hip and fun. A large picture window behind the bar, as well as a smaller one located in the hall leading to the bathroom, allows patrons to peer into the production space, which is symbolic of a brewery that’s always been inviting.
Meanwhile, one discovers four music zones at the Maplewood Lounge: The lounge itself, the two restrooms, and the brewhouse. From ’80s jams to French Jazz, the Maplewood Lounge music speaks volumes about the crew’s willingness to cater to many tastes while also having some fun along the way.
For instance, Maplewood Brewery Dark Saison and Great/Wood, a brewing collaboration with Colorado’s Great Divide Brewing comprised of three Southern-Hemisphere hops, are both elevated and creative beers. Yet, they both refrain from being so overtly strange that one could never appreciate it for anything other than its uniqueness.
On a deeper level, more on the analytic side of the coin, The Maplewood Lounge also exemplifies its deft skills in negotiating the delicate balance between craft-business and craft-community. As it slowly planned, designed and built its lounge, Maplewood added distillation to its portfolio and expanded its production to 4,500+ bbl annually — and growing. Part of that involved its partnership with nearby Chicago contract brewer, Great Central Brewing, who handles many of Maplewood’s core beers while the brewery and distillery concentrates on creative brewing.
So, while the brewery/distillery grew, a lounge materialized. Now, the pieces are in place and they all seem to fit the brewing and distilling puzzle perfectly.