At first glance, Jaks Tap, tucked away in the booming West Loop, appears to be just another neighborhood pub: a bit oversized, with a potential for crowding and noise. Take another look around. Low lights, dark wood furniture and a beamed ceiling upgrade Jaks to an urban-dwelling-meets-lodge look. It works, as do the conversation-friendly acoustics. But what works best is its beer menu.
A real draw, the list includes 40 on-tap selections like Rogue Dead Guy, New Holland Mad Hatter IPA, Flying Dog Doggie Style, Young's Double Chocolate Stout and Fullers ESB. Things get really serious at the twice-yearly Humulus Lupulus (Latin for "hops") tasting event, where a ridiculously cheap $15 gets you access to beer experts, a complimentary buffet, an assortment of seasonal and specialty beers and prize giveaways. Or wet your whistle on your own terms with a private beer-tasting event, which Jak's happily sets up (or get access to all the drafts at a private party, at $25 a head for three hours).
If Jaks convo-friendly atmosphere and beer dominance doesn't sell you, the menu will. For starters there's the calamari. Battered and fried and not too hard, served with right-amount-of-kick cocktail sauce: It's a must-have. The hearty, chicken-optional nachos are divine, and the just as filling vegetarian six-gun chili is swimming with three types of beans and an assortment of vegetables.
The catfish po' boy and crab cake sandwiches elicited several moans and groans of pleasure from this writer. The N.Y. Steak, the Gobbler (smoked turkey, Swiss, lettuce, tomato, green onion and cranberry mayo, $7.50) and the Mt. Smokey (ham, Swiss and herbed mayo, $7.50) sandwiches were too big for one man to eat (he did manage, though). Not in the mood for beer? Try the frozen margarita of the day, with fruity flavors like mango, raspberry peach and strawberry.
Average cost: <$10
Centerstage Reviewer: Venita Griffin