Self-pour taps at Elmhurst's Red Arrow take aim at beer lovers
Elmhurst's Red Arrow Tap Room is all about the experience.
This new spot in downtown Elmhurst combines pour-your-own taps, a wide selection of local brews and a big dash of table-ordering technology to impress both first-timers and regulars alike.
Red Arrow Tap Room111 E. First St., Elmhurst, (630) 501-1322, redarrowtaproom.com
Hours: 11 a.m. to midnight daily; kitchen closes at 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and at 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Motif: With a determined focus on independent craft breweries and a lengthy wall filled with 48 self-service taps, Red Arrow offers an eclectic brew pub environment. Tables stretch across a long, narrow and industrial-themed space. On the Saturday night we visited, the room was packed with visitors young and postmillennial. Conversational buzz filled this high-ceiling, blonde brick and barrel-paneled room. The tap wall area was also filled with patrons standing around high tables.
Service: Here's how the place works: When you check in at the front, you'll be asked for ID and a credit or debit card. When you get your ID back, you'll receive a Red Arrow card that you'll need for ordering food from your tables and when bellying-up to the beer taps. They'll keep your credit or debit card up front until you check out -- that's part of the routine.
All ordering is done from touch-screen monitors. After placing your Red Arrow card on the table scanner, you then call up menu items on screen and submit orders to the kitchen as if you're shopping online. As a test when we first sat down, we ordered a nonalcoholic drink to see how long we'd have to wait. The Sprecher ginger ale took all of about 60 seconds to be delivered by a server -- no kidding.
The self-pour beer taps also only work after inserting Red Arrow cards. Beer gets charged by the ounce, so if you want to try a little bit of a lot of craft beers, you won't get charged for a whole glass each time you lift the tap. As a safeguard, an on-screen running total of your bill appears to make sure you know how much you're spending.
Liquid consumption: For my first beer, I went with the Alterior Motive IPA brewed by Alter Brewing Company of Downers Grove. A full glass was a bit pricey at $9.15, but I'm always glad to support local craft brewers and you can support a lot of them at Red Arrow.
For my second trip to the taps, I chose a sample pour of South Side Pride Lager from Helles Brewery in Chicago. Both beers were excellent. And with 48 options on tap, there is a wide variety on the light-to-heavy beer spectrum.
Food: Among the appetizers on the menu, the jalapeño cornbread with maple butter stood out. When it arrived a few minutes after we tapped in our on-screen order, we realized how well maple butter and jalapeño go together -- go figure. Other shareables include the nachos, sliders and smoked Buffalo wings.
Barbecue and comfort foods are menu fixtures at Red Arrow. While I checked out the beef brisket sandwich with spicy sauce and Sidewinder Fries (flat, thick potato curls), my friend tapped in his order for the grass-fed burger. The menu also features beer pairing suggestions with food items.
While waiting for our food, we discovered our table screen also offered Wi-Fi. We passed the time watching epic bowling fails videos on YouTube -- highly recommended whenever you need a laugh. Our server warned us that the food might take a while, but it didn't take long at all. And each of our orders inspired us to clean our platters. The burger was cooked exactly the way indicated in our e-order. No details were lost in digital translation.
There are also plenty of other burgers, wraps, salads and a kid meals on the menu. Some items appear on the pricey side, including our $16 burger, but the reason becomes apparent when paying the bill up front. There is no tipping; the final price you see on screen is what you pay when checking out.
Crowd: About 80 to 100 people were already at Red Arrow when we arrived around 6:30 p.m., and it stayed that way throughout our visit. Most of the patrons were couples or groups of friends in both the dining area and huddling by the beer taps with glasses in hand. Families with young children also filled the room.
Music: In addition to featuring live music performances on selected nights, Red Arrow also has Bring Your Own Vinyl nights, where you can bring records (if you can figure out where you stored them in the '90s) and have the DJ play them. On the night we visited, retro rock hits played overhead at a volume level perfect for conversation.
Parking: Well-lit street parking is available just beyond the front door on First Street and around the Elmhurst business district. A public parking garage is also nearby. If taking a train is an option, Red Arrow is a few steps away from the Elmhurst Metra station.
Overall: Our dinner did not disappoint, but the "wow factor" better describes the service and use of new dining technology.