February 9, 2017

Argus Brewery: Serving Up Stories Of Chicago Vice

Argus Brewery Exterior

photo by: Argus Brewery

Argus Brewery operates from a 1907 building built by the Joseph Schlitz Brewing Company.

When the Joseph Schlitz Brewing Company built tied-houses just across from George Pullman’s industrial town in the early 1900s, it offered more than just beer. About 15 miles from downtown Chicago, what came to be known as “Schlitz Row” was giving Pullman’s hardworking laborers exactly what the boss man didn’t want them to have: fun. It was a vice district with drinking, gambling, and other unsavory transactions.

"It was everything that’s good or bad depending on what you like," says Nick Lubovich, Brewery Historian at Argus Brewery. "And it’s still pretty much the same way. We have a fun time over here."

Well, some things have certainly changed, but the beer is flowing again on Schlitz Row.

Argus has been pumping out the good stuff since 2009 in the Schlitz horse building—originally constructed in 1907—where beer-transporting horses were housed.

When the father-son brewing team of Bob and Patrick Jensen moved in, they didn’t know much about the property. According to Lubovich, wild dogs had the run of the place and it looked ready to be demolished. But there were structural advantages. Because the second level was built to hold horses, the Jensens could set up their heavy brewing equipment upstairs.

Argus Brewery Keg

photo by: Argus Brewery

Argus produces around 4,000 barrels per year and ships as far as Europe.

Soon they discovered that there was even more to the building’s history than just Schlitz. One of Frank Lloyd Wright’s woodworkers, Walter Norman, had used it as a workshop.

Today, Argus produces about 4,000 barrels of beer per year, shipping it as far away as Europe. And Lubovich gives the brewery tours, which he describes as a mix of beer and history.

“We always start with the history, because that way you can figure out where you’re at,” Lubovich says. “People can drink beer and check out the architecture.”

Now a National Monument (and a National Treasure), the Pullman industrial town was founded in 1880 and was the first of its kind in the United States. Around 10,000 laborers—many of them European immigrants—lived and worked in Pullman, manufacturing railroad cars. But George Pullman enforced some draconian rules in his town. Foremost among them: no alcohol.

So workers would head to nearby Schlitz Row to blow off steam.

“It was the original walk of shame,” Lubovich says.

The two-block long complex included housing for Schlitz employees, three tied-houses (bars affiliated with the brewer), and the horse stable. Only three of the original Schlitz Row Buildings remain.

So drop in, drink up, and learn about some working-class Chicago history.

“We want people to feel like they’re at home or hanging out at a friend’s house,” says Lubovich. “But you’ll never run out of dad’s beer here.”

Location: 11314 S. Front Avenue, Chicago, IL 60628

Hours: Tours offered at 12:30, 2:00, and 3:30 p.m. on Saturdays

You’re having: The Pullman Pilsner, an ode to Chicago’s German community.

Best Yelp Review: “This tour is the real deal. They don’t just walk you around and say, ‘hey look at our shiny equipment.’ They also tell a story, they tell a story about the neighborhood, about the brewery, and about their beer, and speaking of their beer…”

Jared Foretek enjoys historic train stations, old bars, and interesting public spaces, he was an editorial intern at the National Trust.

Now accepting nominations for the 2024 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places! Letters of Intent are due September 29, 2023.

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