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We spend a hoppy afternoon touring with Joe Swanberg

  • "Drinking Buddies" director Joe Swanberg at the Davis Theater in Lincoln Square. ( Lenny Gilmore / RedEye )
"Drinking Buddies" director Joe Swanberg at the Davis Theater… (Redeye )
December 19, 2013|By Dana Moran | RedEye

There’s nothing like settling in at one of your favorite neighborhood spots after a busy week. Multiply that by 52, and you’ve got Joe Swanberg’s year. The Chicago filmmaker traveled to the Sundance Film Festival and beyond to find indie success with “Drinking Buddies,” his ode to Chicago beers and love quadrangles starring Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick and Ron Livingston. 

In fact, Swanberg, 32, found himself so busy promoting “Drinking Buddies,” which he wrote and directed, that he ran out of time for two of his favorite things: brewing his own beer and watching other people’s movies. “Making ‘Drinking Buddies,’ I was so busy with the movie that I hardly got to brew this year,” he said. “It’s the same thing with movies—I’ve been so busy traveling around and promoting ‘Drinking Buddies’ that I don’t see nearly as many movies as I used to.”

Fortunately, Swanberg’s got a plan to fix all that. He took us on a tour of four of his favorite neighborhood spots to talk inspiration, sneaking booze into the theater and whether he’d ever trade movies for a career in beer.

First stop: Hoppleaf 
5148 N. Clark St.

How did you discover Hopleaf?

I met somebody who was a waiter here. My wife’s more of a foodie than I am, she’s the reason I venture out and discover places, but we met somebody who was working here and that was the impetus to finally come for the first time. That was like seven years ago or something like that, and then when we moved up here, I have to say, it probably was a factor in choosing to move to this neighborhood. I used to ride my bike here and it was like a 45-minute ride, so it’s a lot nicer to walk 15 minutes.

That’s gotta be a fun trip back home too, on the bike.

Yeah, it’s always a lot more fun to get here than to have to go [home] from here. But now I’m in stumbling distance, so it makes it easier.

Do they have things reserved on the inside track for you when you come in sometimes?

They have no idea who I am.

That could change after today.

I’m hoping it doesn’t. It’s nice. The anonymity is nice. Also, the vibe here is always great, because there’s always so many people here, it’s always very alive here, in a good way. Before they opened this half of the space, it was so packed, it was just really, I just wouldn’t even dare come here on a Friday or Saturday night, because I was in the neighborhood, it was fine, I would just come in on a Tuesday or Wednesday. But now I can come in any night of the week, which is really great, I don’t have to think twice about it. I used to always go, “oh, let’s go to Hopleaf. Oh, never mind, it’s a Friday night, we’ll never get to eat.”

Did anything about Hopleaf inspire “Drinking Buddies”?

Definitely. it was just a big part of my education in the craft beer scene. I just feel like it’s the Chicago beer mecca in terms of, every night of the week, you’re gonna find the best stuff on tap here. When I first started getting into beer, this was the place that I was coming just to even just, like, learn the names of different breweries and different styles of beer. I didn’t shoot any scenes for “Drinking Buddies” here, partially because I didn’t want the responsibility of having to portray the space accurately. I love this place so much that I was afraid I would [bleep] it up or somebody on the crew would break something or whatever. ... It’s just like, that’s how sacred it is to me, that it was off-limits. ... We shot at some other places that also really I love, but those places were less holy to me and I felt like I could risk alienating those people. If I couldn’t come to the Hopleaf for one reason or another, I might just have to move out of Chicago.

Brew Camp 

4639 N. Damen Ave.

Tell us what you’d normally buy here.

This is where I buy all my home brewing supplies now. I used to go to Brew and Grow, and when I moved into this neighborhood, Brew Camp is now walking distance from my house. I have a 3-year-old son; I’ll push him in a stroller here and then it’s got a little carrying thing under the stroller. I’ll load it up with my supplies and then push it back home. 

So does he help you pick out the stuff?

Uh, no. Last time we were in here, it was Halloween and there was a bucket of candy, so he just ate candy while I did my beer supply shopping. 

What are your top things on your shopping list when you’re here?

Hops and grains. And yeast. I’m still extract brewing. I’m probably, hopefully, in 2014 moving into all-grain brewing, but at this point it’s still been extract brewing for me. But I’m not working from kits anymore; typically I’m working from recipes and modifying kits, so I’m just in here grabbing all kinds of things. 

What’s your favorite thing you’ve brewed so far?

The stuff that turns out the best tends to be the Belgian stuff; Belgian tripels are usually the ones I’ve been happiest with. I did one that I brewed with cinnamon and vanilla that turned out really good a couple years ago. That’s still the one that I think ended up being the best. 

The Davis Theater

4614 N. Lincoln Ave.

Is this one of your favorite places to watch a movie?

Definitely. I love this movie theater because it reminds me of going to see movies as a kid. There’s not stadium seating, all the screens are a little wonky, it’s just so charming to me and it’s still really cheap. One of my favorite things to do, if I have a night free, I’ll just check at the last minute and see what’s showing and then I’ll just walk over here and catch a movie.

What were some of the movies that inspired you when you were making Drinking Buddies?

The big one was “Bob and Ted and Carol and Alice,” Paul Mazursky’s movie, that was a big jumping-off point for me. It’s a really funny comedy but it’s also a really complex, interesting adult character study. Also, Elaine May’s “The Heartbreak Kid,” the original “Heartbreak Kid.” They remade it with Ben Stiller, but the Elaine May-Charles Grodin “Heartbreak Kid” is like nearly perfect, I think; it’s really an amazing movie. 

Are you known to sneak beer into the movie theater with you?

Never. I actually am very distracted when I’m hearing beer bottles fall during movies. I’m actually pretty much a purist about going and seeing movies. I like to go to the Logan Theater because I don’t have to sneak beer in, I can actually bring a plastic cup of beer ... but in general I actually prefer to just sit there quietly and watch the movie. You know, the movie theater is really like the closest thing I have to church now, where I’m not checking my phone, I’m not distracted—even airplanes have Wi-Fi on them now. It’s one of the few places left where I can actually just sit there and focus on one thing for 90 minutes; it’s a rare pleasure these days. 

Half Acre Tap Room

4257 N. Lincoln Ave.

We’re here for our last stop of the day.

Yeah, right down the street from the Davis Theater. It’s a classic move for me to see a movie at the Davis and then walk over here and grab a couple beers afterward. It’s a great one-two punch. 

So obviously “Drinking Buddies” was filmed at Revolution and based partially at Revolution. Did you draw inspiration from Half Acre as well?

Yeah, Olivia Wilde’s character in the movie, Kate, her job was based on my friend Kate who works at Half Acre. Their brewery is really beautiful and certainly something that we looked at and would liked to have filmed in, but they’re just super busy and their space isn’t nearly as big as the space at Rev. Half Acre has continued to be super supportive of the movie, they gave us a lot of beer to drink in the movie.

The Chicago beer community in general is a really amazing, open, accessible community. I feel like the making of “Drinking Buddies” was possible because all of the small breweries in Chicago. If Rev hadn’t been generous enough to let us use their space we would have been in big trouble. [Or] if Half Acre, Three Floyds, even some of the Michigan breweries like Founders and Bell’s hadn’t been so cool and sent us a bunch of beer. Everybody just chipped in and was really cool about it, and the movie’s a lot better because of that.

It kind of sounds like the perfect combination of factors for you.

Jim Cibak, who’s the brewer at Revolution, not only was really helpful with Jake [Johnson] and the actors while we were shooting in terms of like teaching them how that stuff goes. [He’s] been, even since we finished the movie, really generous with his time in teaching me more about brewing. Whenever I’m over there and he’s working, sort of like a puppy dog, I’ll just, like, follow him around like, “ooh, what are you doing here? Tell me about this.” 

That’s awesome, that sounds like steps toward a potential new career for you.

Hopefully not. I’m actually very happy to have beer never be a career. It’s the quickest way to kill something that you love. I learned with movies. You know, I still love movies, but you want to be a filmmaker because you love watching movies, and when you start making them, it sort of ruins the experience of being able to watch them, or you inherently watch them in a different way. With beer, I would love to retain as much of the magic as possible. I mean, I would love to be a better home brewer in general, but I hope to never work in the beer industry. I just would like to be a fan, a cheerleader from the sidelines.

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