5308 N. Clark St. (5300N, 1550W)
Chicago, IL 60640
After eight years as a popular fixture in the Andersonville neighborhood, Charlie's Ale House is no more. Gone is the comfort food and a beer-centric focus. In its place comes Acre, an ambitious attempt to latch on to the locally-sourced, gastropub craze that has been sweeping Chicago faster than Silly Bandz and parking meter thefts. Consisting of two distinct options, a Dining Room and Tap Room, each with their own menu, Acre attempts to refine their setting, beverage program and cuisine. Whether this concept will attract new clientele or make the old regulars forget some of the best mac & cheese in town, is a question that only time will tell.
For this review, we'll focus on the Tap Room side and let the capable local restaurant critics pass judgment on the Dining Room. Suffice it to say that both halves of Acre are the product of Charlie's original owners, with the new menus courtesy of the executive chef from their neighboring Northern Italian establishment, Anteprima.
For those that have been to Charlie's, the look of the new Acre will be largely familiar. A moderately sized sidewalk patio will still operate out front during al fresco season. The rich brown woods and classic gold lettering of the old façade are replaced with a monochrome blue-gray palette that probably shoots for soothing, but comes off closer to dreary. Inside, a hostess stand directs traffic between the two rooms, which retains the same dull color scheme, which makes the room seem darker than before and might make you wonder whether there was a sale on this color of paint. Gone are the old Chicago photos and artifacts. In are painted tractor seats and a lot of empty wall space, which makes me think the interior decoration is still incomplete. Thankfully, the classic tin ceiling, wood booths and elaborate curved bar and bar back remain, which allows the Tap Room side to retain a good portion of its neighborhood tavern feel. TVs are placed intermittently around the room, but the sound is rarely set at audible levels, so catch the score and carry on.
One area where Acre has made a substantial upgrade is its beer list. Though Charlie's beer list was impressive, Acre takes things to the next level. It starts with two-dozen taps, with a heavy focus on American craft beers, a number of which are rotated regularly. Standard 12 oz. and large format bottles add another 80-90 options, again with a deep selection of American micro brews and a healthy dose of Belgian beer love. Eight more varieties are available by the can and—to my surprise, shock and utter amazement— not one caters to the swill-drinking hipster set. For this alone, I raise my glass to Acre. A beer and/or wine is often featured on a chalkboard next to the bar, with prices starting at around $4.50 and rising according to the size and relative rarity of what of what you're drinking. Acre has a full wine list, but full bottles seem a tad pricey. Four new signature cocktails have been added to the menu, including something called a Kalamazoo Krush, which features a vanilla-infused whiskey that is 100% delectable even to non-whiskey drinkers.
Acre's Tap Room menu takes several pub fare staples upscale and adds a number of other dishes that are more likely to be found at American or French bistros. Selections of oysters on the half-shell change daily, while other items like oxtail soup, deviled eggs and duck leg confit seem to be permanent fixtures. In all, you'll find around a dozen snacks, apps and salads to go along with six sandwich selections and five entrée-sized offerings. Prices are fairly reasonable, with snacks starting at $4 and entrées topping out under $20. As is the case with new places, Acre's menu seems to be undergoing a bit of editing. The printed menu itself could use a few tweaks as well. On the copy I saw, the menu lists their between bread options as Samiches, when, according to the Urban Dictionary, sammiches is the preferred spelling. Then there was the "scrimp and crab BLT", which is either a typo or refers to a very frugal species of crustacean. And lastly, Acre informs its customers that "Sammies Served with a Side Fit for The Sammy... You Welcome." Well, Acre, for these no-charge proofreading corrections, you're welcome too.
Owing much to the eclectic mix of neighborhood residents, Acre's crowd is one of the most diverse you'll find in town, reflecting Andersonville's identity today. Almost equally gay and straight, young and old, this place defies one word descriptions of its clientele. Add friendly, attentive service and Acre is one place where you can feel comfortable whoever you are, whoever you're with. When busy, the cavernous ceiling makes for a noisy atmosphere, but I understand acoustic tiles are being installed to address the situation. Acre's kitchen closes at 10 weeknights and 11 on weekends, but the Tap Room keeps pouring until well into the night.
With a tremendous beer selection, welcoming atmosphere and a selection of epicurean edibles, Acre just may enjoy a measure of success. If you like Acre, you might want to go the extra mile and visit Longman & Eagle, Gilt Bar or Fountainhead. For a tiny bit more information, check out the Acre website. Cheers.