Evanston is getting what could the city’s first brewery courtesy of Winnetka native and former commodities trader Michael Smylie.
Smylie is opening the Smylie Bros. Restaurant and Brewery in August or September, which will serve a variety of craft beers brewed in house, as well as barbecue and wood-fired pizza, among other offerings.
This is particularly noteworthy in Evanston — once a dry community and the national headquarters of the temperance movement.
“Considering that Evanston was dry … it’s really the first brewery in its history, which is pretty cool,” says Smylie, who graduated from New Trier High School in 1995.
The brewpub, slated to open at 1615 Oak Ave., is also the first restaurant venture for Smylie, who left a career as a commodities trader to become a chef.
“It’s been a dream of mine for a long time to do barbecue and brewing together,” says Smylie. “It’s kind of all been leading up to this.”
Smylie began attending culinary school at night while he was still working during the day on the trading floor. When his commodities firm was sold, he decided to leave the business altogether, and gained experience as a line cook at restaurants such as Café Lucci in Glenview and Aigre Doux in the Loop.
He also got into making his own beer—something Smylie has been doing at home now for the past several years. One of his favorite homemade brews might even make it onto the first menu, he says. It’s a honey wheat IPA he first brewed during the "Snowmageddon" blizzard of 2011 and jokingly called “Thundersnow.”
“It’s pretty popular among the people who have tried it,” Smylie says.
He plans to construct brewing and fermentation tanks on one side of the 8,400-square-foot space, set up behind glass so diners can see the operation at work. The brewery will make up to 300 gallons at a time, and customers will also be able to purchase growlers to take home.
“We’re going to take traditional styles and put our own spin on them,” he says. Offerings will likely include a pale ale, wheat ale, brown ale and porter or stout, as well as seasonal beers.
The food is inspired in part by Smylie’s family traditions. Growing up in Winnetka with four younger prothers, he recalls seeing his dad, a transplanted Texan, cook brisket outside even in the dead of winter.
“My mom’s family here is a huge Irish family, so we’ve been hosting parties since I was a kid,” he adds. “That’s the aspect we want to bring to this restaurant—an authentic, family-style place.”
Smylie plans to make Texas-style smoked brisket and smoked sausages in the restaurant, with other barbecue offerings drawing influences from the savory-sweet sauces of Kansas City.
Beyond barbecue, he plans to install a wood-fired oven in the restaurant to make pizzas and appetizers, and will offer a charcuterie menu of meats cured in house. Fresh fish, steaks and salads round out a menu he describes as “American regional pub food taken up a notch.”
The building at 1615 Oak Ave., formerly the Illinois Unemployment Office, dates back at least 100 years, according to Smylie's estimate. Construction crews are midway through gutting the property, which has 30-foot high ceilings held up by wooden trusses.
Smylie plans to build a second level that juts out over the first floor, giving patrons upstairs a view of the main floor. The exposed brick walls will remain, as will the wood columns and many of the wood trusses holding up the ceiling.
He’s also seeking approval from city council to transform a parking lot out front into an outdoor dining space. If construction goes as planned, Smylie is hoping for a late August or early September opening.
All told, he expects the new restaurant to seat 150 to 200 people indoors and up to 40 people outside. He expects to hire 25 to 30 staffers total, including an executive chef and brewmaster.
While the restaurant is named for his four brothers, all of whom are partners in the business, Smylie says he couldn’t help but think of his three sons, ages 4, 2 and 9 months.
“If Smylie is a success, it can be a legacy for them.”
Beyond Smylie Brothers, another brewery is also in the works for Evanston, called Temperance Beer. City officials amended the legal code in October to allow owner Josh Gilbert to brew and serve beer in a tap room on the premises. A location and open date have yet to be announced.