Photo by Rut Ortiz
Cider pubs in Chicago are very rare (The Northman is the only one, in fact). People that possess a lot of knowledge yet lack pretension are almost as rare. When you go to The Northman, you will find both.
My first impression of The Northman was that it was cozy and very welcoming. I walked in with my girlfriend and was seated within 10 seconds, shortly thereafter our server came by with two small complimentary pours of their house cider. We were seated at a two-top in between two parties of four, which I normally hate because it feels awkward, impersonal and it isn’t very intimate.
At The Northman, however, everyone was too busy engaging in conversation with each other to pay attention to anyone around, and soon I wasn’t even thinking of the people surrounding us. There is, however, a variety of seating options at The Northman, including a little nook to the left as you walk in, bar seating if you want to stay tight to the taps and a brand new patio if you want to enjoy your drinks and eats outdoors.
One reason everyone is so engaged in conversation, is that there are no TVs in The Northman. You don’t go to The Northman to watch a big game. You would go there to catch up with an old friend, or to get a taste of Northern France inside a venue that resembles an English country inn. You can definitely see, feel, and taste the influence of The Northman’s ownership team’s visits to France, England, Spain and even our neighboring state of Michigan.
According to The Northman’s website, those travels inspired them to create “a pub and bistro that would draw influence from all of the great cider producing regions of the world, not only in the beverage offerings, but in the cuisine, in the decor, in the music, and in the approach to serving cider, apple-based spirits, and cocktails combining the two, in an intimate and welcoming setting.”
The setting is very welcoming, and so are the servers. Our server Ursula was friendly and knowledgeable, and was happy to take her time walking me through both the drink list and the menu. The massive drink list is rotating, so not every drink is going to be available every time you come in, but there are more than enough high quality options that you won’t really be missing out if your favorite isn’t in stock, and it gives you that push to try something different and find a new favorite.
As anyone who likes Three Floyds will know, it can be annoying to order a drink on the list, only to hear the server say “sorry we’re out,” so The Northman prevents this annoyance with a stamp system. If a drink is no longer in stock, you will see a red “C’est La Vie” stamp over the name. Keeping in that format, there is a “Coming Soon” section of the drink menu that lets you know what you can look forward to, and when the drink arrives, there will be a green apple-shaped stamp above the name.
Ursula pointed me in the direction of the Spanish Long Pour to start out my night, which was a great recommendation. Not only did I enjoy the taste of the drink itself, but it was a fun and unique experience. I was told that with this unique drink I would have to drink it continuously because the flavor escapes so quickly that I would otherwise miss it.
The Spanish Long Pour comes out from a special foot-pump-operated tap three feet above the bar, then was handed to me (with a friendly “cheers” from the bartender) before taking my continuous drink. I highly recommend it. Even if you’re not crazy about cider, it’s a fun drinking experience unique to The Northman. The Spanish Long Pour is one of the drier choices, and it is recommended that if you are dining at The Northman, you go dry to sweet in order of consumption of your ciders.
Speaking of dining, I came for the drinks, but I ordered their Melt burger and it pleasantly surprised me to the extent that I’d consider it worthy of being featured at The Bad Apple across the street. The Northman have their very own Cider Director, Brian Rutzen. Brian was very affable and took the time to answer my questions about not just the ciders, but the The Northman itself, and was happy to help me—a cider novice—find my way through their vast list of offerings. In addition to the house cider and the Long Pour, I tried the Wild Blossom, and the Cidrerie Lois Raison. The Wild Blossom is a cran-apple cyser made in Chicago that carries a “semi-sweet” rating and a 10 percent ABV – giving it enough of a punch to function as a wine substitute.
One of my only frustrations with The Northman was that I couldn’t try everything on the menu, but lucky for all of you, they host Flight Nights on Tuesdays, making it easier to sample a wider array of offerings. If you’re an Anglophile, a Francophile, a Ciderphile (pretty sure that’s not a word), or looking for a cozy place to catch up with someone, then you absolutely must check out The Northman.
I give it five apples, and four green thumbs up. Go!