800 S. Oak Park Ave.
Oak Park, IL 60304
Sometimes, we at the Chicago Bar Project have to venture outside city limits in our never-ending quest to leave no bev-nap unturned. So, it was with high expectations that I traveled to The OP—a dry city until the mid 70s—to check out the recently opened Kinderhook Tap. What I found was a classic corner tavern with the ambition to provide above-and-beyond service, fare and atmosphere. For residents of the near western suburbs, Kinderhook Tap is a worthy addition to the local scene. For those in the 606 zip codes, is it worth a special trip? Good question.
If you do visit from the city, Kinderhook Tap is just a few blocks north of the CTA Blue Line Oak Park stop and just a cat-call away from the over-sized Avenue Ale House. By comparison, Kinderhook could be described as intimate, quaint, or just plain small. A simple black awning replaces that of the site's former resident, Nola's Cup, with storefront windows wrapping around the façade and a modest sidewalk café situated around the corner. A dozen or so stylish copper-topped tables provide the bulk of the dining space, several of which are of the cocktail variety just inside the entrance, with the remainder running along the north wall. An equally hip three-sided copper-topped bar occupies the rest of the space, which adds a decorative ceiling and track lighting to the exposed ducts and brick walls which are now requisite in every new bar. Two muted TVs sit at opposite ends of the room, good for catching the score, but not much more. Otherwise, you'll have to look to the food, drink and conversation for your entertainment. (You'll be fine.)
Kinderhook's beer list is decent—no more, no less. The eight taps on offer avoid the mass-market lagers in favor of several local brewers. Among the 20 cans and bottles, however, you'll find the likes of PBR tallboys to go along a number of more grown-up craft beers. A nice selection of 11 wines by the glass is available and Kinderhook does offer up eight specialty cocktails like the Frank Lloyd Wright and the Old K Fashioned. But here's the problem: in both cases when these drinks were ordered, Kinderhook was missing a key ingredient. Running out of one ingredient is commonplace. Two is a trend. And the prices, while not out-of-bounds, are nothing to laud either. During our visit, no drink specials were advertised and none were offered.
Among my guilty-pleasures, which include milkshakes and late night infomercials, I am a fan of reality cooking shows, with Hell's Kitchen in particular. When word came through a friend that Kinderhook's had hired an alum of the show to consult on the menu, I knew I had to give it a try. The compact menu contains around eight apps, ten sandwiches, which come with tots or tasty house-cut fries, and a handful of salads. Note that I'm not mentioning entrées or any type of daily dinner specials, because there are none. That said, the basic cheeseburger topped with a perfectly fried egg was excellent as was the breaded pork tenderloin sandwich, which one of the owners told us was a main reason behind opening the bar. And overall, the food is very good, if you're looking for elevated bar fare. Friendliness is in short supply at some of the area's trendier spots, but Kinderhook has it in abundance. A family-owned business started by two sisters from downstate Ottawa, the service at Kinderhook was both warn and attentive in that uniquely Midwestern way.
By law, I believe no one between 21-25 is permitted to live in Oak Park. That holds true for Kinderhook's clientele, which ranges from young families carefully navigating their strollers to the 30-somethings and up, who populate this historic suburb. Popular with locals, seating can be in short supply during the dinner/weekend rush, so plan accordingly or call ahead for a reservation. Kinderhook Tap is open 11am-midnight Monday-Thursday, until 2am on Friday/Saturday and until 10pm on Sundays.
If you live nearby, or have just finished taking the Prairie School architectural tour, you should definitely give Kinderhook Tap a shot for lunch, dinner and/or drinks. If you like Kinderhook Tap, make plans to visit Hala Kahiki (as long as you're in the area) or maybe the original Stanley's. For more information or to find out about upcoming events, you can become a fan on Facebook, give Kinderhook Tap a call or just stop in for a daiquiri. Papa Hemingway would want it that way.