Which Chicago ballpark really brings the suds? (Scott Strazzante )
Yes, some fans go to baseball games to watch the on-field action. But I'll attest that a solid 72 percent—a completely unscientific digit I've selected—are there for the sunshine, the nacho helmets and the chance to catch a slingshot tee. Especially when the teams' performances are lackluster, most fans are at a game because Wrigley and The Cell essentially are Chicago's two largest beer gardens. As the Cubs and Sox square off for the Crosstown Classic next week (May 27-30), only one question was on my mind: Which field has the better brews? I drank my way through the ballparks on two consecutive weeks to settle the true Cubs-Sox rivalry.
Wrigley: On the North Side, Old Style still rules. It hurt to fork over the $7.75 necessary for a draft of the not-so-bubbly swill, knowing this could buy more than one better beer at a bar outside the confines. But, I reasoned, maybe Old Style's nostalgia factor would make it cool again, like suspenders or vinyl records. No such luck—and don't even ask me about Old Style Light.
U.S. Cellular: MillerCoors products are ubiquitous here, with Miller Lite earning the title of top-selling beer. Drafts come in large (20 ounces) and regular sizes (12 ounces), which cost $7.75 and $6.50, respectively. On a hot evening after a bike ride down to The Cell, Miller Lite tasted hydrating to me, plus the draft was well-carbonated.
Winner: U.S. Cellular
The premium options
Wrigley: Domestic craft beer fans won't have much luck at this ballpark, where premium choices are mostly imports such as Heineken, Modelo and Red Stripe. Anheuser-Busch rules here, so some concessions areas carry gluten-free Redbridge and Bud Light Straw-Ber-Rita. I was pleasantly surprised to find tallboy cans of Angry Orchard cider, but the $8.75 price tag kept me from ordering any.
U.S. Cellular: Bell's! New Holland! Weinhard's! Craft beer fans can find something to enjoy at The Cell, though it may take some walking. I gladly paid the extra dollar for a draft of Bell's Oberon, a warm-weather staple that, like baseball, screams springtime.
Winner: U.S. Cellular
Wrigley: Buying a beer without ever leaving your seat really is the American dream, right? Wrigley's 75-100 walking food and beverage vendors were out in full force at the Monday night game I attended, and the vocal beer-slingers circled by at regular intervals. Finding specific beers on the concourse was tougher, since I couldn't always tell which vendors sold which beers without squinting at the refrigerators or menus.
U.S. Cellular: Clearly marked premium beer tents on the concourse display large-size menus, making it simple to identify which stands sell craft options. Attendance was more sparse at the Monday night Sox game I attended, which may have accounted for why few vendors walked through my section of the stands.
Wrigley: Though Breckenridge Brewery beers are not on the official list of Wrigley concessions, I saw two mysterious six-packs of them in a cooler at one of the concourse's stands. Were they for sale? Brought in by an employee for a post-work party? I didn't spy them anywhere else, so they were either a fluke or a craft beer mirage.
U.S. Cellular: Combining beer with some basic-level mixology, The Cell features a Leinenkugel's tent where various shandies and beers can be mixed together to create flavor combos. It's nothing a college freshman couldn't do in a Solo cup, but there was a line for these summery concoctions when I passed by.
Pre- and post-game bars
Wrigley: As a former Wrigleyville resident, I can attest that the 'hood is essentially one huge sports bar. A little extra searching, though, reveals more unique haunts such as Sheffield's, Goose Island Wrigleyville, Nisei Lounge and the new Replay arcade bar opening Friday in nearby Boystown. For sheer volume of TVs, beer and baseball fans, though, any bar along Clark Street will do.
U.S. Cellular: Bridgeport's tight-knit vibe is a major draw for me. Any time I'm at The Cell, I make sure to swing by Maria's Packaged Goods & Community Bar to check out the impressive beer list and to chat up the bartenders. Bernice's Tavern and Schaller's Pump are estuaries where old and young groups mingle peacefully, and you're way less likely to encounter major debauchery there than up north.