Route 12 Bar & Grill reopened two years ago in Fox Lake, taken over by husband-and-wife team Shawn and Virginia Alverson, who had a longtime dream of running their own bar. They entirely gutted the dive bar, converting it into a neighborhood hangout anchored by good food and craft beer and named for the route it sits on.
Motif: The long bar is the center of the space, which also offers small circular tables with tall stools. The three TVs are tuned to sports, and a dart board provides additional entertainment. Look out for a beer garden to open this summer.
Route 12 Bar & Grill37540 N. Route 12, Fox Lake, (847) 629-5075, route12barandgrill.com
Hours: 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday, 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday, 9 a.m. to 1 a.m. Sunday
Crowd: The bar draws in diners and drinkers in their late 20s through 60s, appealing to plenty of local boaters and bikers. Crowds can get large, and the owners recently added extra tables to provide more seating.
Food: Burgers and wings are the most popular dishes on the menu and both are highly customizable. If you're craving beef, you can go for one of the set options like the Supreme "Fire" Burger, topped with giardinera, sautéed onions, cheese, applewood-smoked bacon and barbecue mayo, or design your own by choosing from an eclectic mix of toppings and sauces like black and tan onion rings, grilled mushrooms, tropical rum glaze and horseradish peppercorn sauce.
The jumbo wings aren't breaded; instead they're lightly charred and covered in your choice of sauce, like the sweet and spicy honey chipotle or the smoky Caribbean jerk, and served with house-made dressing and giant sticks of celery. If you want an appetizer, the breaded duck strips are so popular the bar was out of them when we visited, but the jack and blue cheese sticks made a fine substitute with their blend of the two cheeses lightly fried and served with ranch dressing in a beer bottle-shaped basket. For a great deal, stop in for $1 burgers on Thursdays. The owners plan to overhaul the menu soon, replacing some of the less popular items to keep things fresh -- a tactic they plan to repeat a few times a year.
Liquid consumption: Route 12 offers a regularly rotating selection of 14 beers on draft with an emphasis on local craft brews like Lakefront Brewery's Wheat Monkey, Small Town Brewery's Root Beer and New Holland's Dragon Milk. They also offer some wild cocktails if you want to get an early start on drinking such as mimosas mixed with Angry Orchard cider and packed with a mix of fresh fruit including cantaloupe, kiwi and strawberries. The bloody marys are served with a mini-slider, a beer brat, Jack cheese, a summer sausage straw and hot and spicy pickles made by a customer. They're so popular the bar sometimes runs out by 1:30 p.m.
Service: We were quickly greeted by one of the owners when we came in. You'll often find both of them there on the weekends chatting with customers and taking orders. They've got a great rapport with regulars, but are also excited to make newcomers feel at home and talk about their bar, the food and the drinks.
Music: Route 12 hosted live music every Friday and Saturday during the winter, but in the summer look for bands to play from 3 to 7 p.m. Sundays as the spot caters to families with earlier bedtimes.
Parking: There are plenty of spots in the bar's free lot.
Overall: Route 12 is a place where you'll feel right at home on your first visit, making it easy to become a regular.