Imagine this, beer lovers: A bar that serves more than 500 different brews. No food, but you're welcome to bring your own -- or order it from a handful of nearby places that will deliver dinner to your bar stool.
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Welcome to the Beer Market, a new Vernon Hills spot that owners hope is the first of many across the country.
Motif: Terra-cotta-colored walls create a warm feel for the large open space. A central T-shaped counter-type bar encourages mingling. There are also high-topped tables perfect for small groups. Patio seating is available, as well. And if all else fails, you can lean against the narrow counter along the wall. There are plenty of TVs, but you get the feeling people are here more to hang out with friends than get lost in a ballgame. Above the bar is an area where bands can play overlooking the crowds.
The Vernon Hills location is Beer Market's first, and more are in the works. And for soap opera fans, owners include two "General Hospital" stars -- Steve Burton and Bradford Anderson, whose Port Chuck band recently played a charity event at the bar.
Crowd: On the Thursday night we visited, the bar was packed with groups of all ages. Clustered along the center seating were guys in their 40s and 50s who looked to be enjoying an after-work drink with friends. Twentysomethings had claimed a number of the tables, enjoying beer with pizza and bags of pretzels they'd brought with them.
Service: Our waitress was prompt and attentive, impressive in light of the crowd. She made suggestions based on well-known brands I liked, and checked back to make sure I was enjoying the picks.
Liquid consumption: Forty beers are on tap at any time, with 30 of those rotating. An additional 500 brews are sold by the bottle, with prices ranging from $4.50 to a $30 25-ounce Belgian beer.
Can't make up your mind? Try a flight, as I did. I enjoyed the contrast between the popular fruity Lost Coast Tangerine Wheat, the locally made Two Brothers Domaine DuPage and the popular Wittekerke from Belgium.
Seven wines are available by the glass, but there are no cocktails.
Food: Beer Market serves no food of its own, but patrons are encouraged to bring whatever they want in -- and the location (with menus on hand) makes that easy. Surrounding the bar are a Mediterranean grill, Italian restaurant, pizza spot, sushi takeout and burger joint, with a deli and barbecue place soon to open. We ordered ahi burgers from neighboring Tom & Eddies and dinner was delivered to our seat -- at no charge. A quick glance around and we saw everything from open pizza boxes to bags of snacks brought from home.
Music: Expect live music Wednesday through Saturday. Jamie Lono of Vernon Hills, past contestant on NBC's "The Voice," was playing on the night we went.
Parking: There is a lot shared with adjacent businesses.
Overall: The Beer Market is a bustling yet relaxing kind of place to get together with friends or unwind after work. The massive beer menu offers something for everyone, and the ability to bring your own food means you can satisfy your friend's sushi cravings while you enjoy chicken kebabs or a burger. A great concept and a great gathering place.