Chicago is filled with historic watering holes that have been serving up beer and shots for several decades, but it's still a momentous occasion when a bar marks its 20th year in business. Fischman Liquors and Tavern, located in the heart of Jefferson Park, is celebrating that very anniversary on Sunday with a day-long event, featuring live music, food trucks, a complimentary waffle station and plenty of beer.
Gus Karamaniolas has been working at Fischman Liquors ever since his father bought the business in 1996, and he's co-owned the bar and liquor store with his wife Shanna for the past seven years. He says the bar takes its name from Jonas Fischman, a German immigrant who started a chain of grocery and liquor stores on Chicago's Northwest Side in 1915. At one point, the Fischman empire encompassed at least five stores, including Fischman Liquors, as well as what is now Crown Liquors in Avondale and Danny's Liquors in Logan Square.
"When I walked into Fischman's [in 1996] there were nine tap handles and they only carried one beer—Goebel," Karamaniolas said. When Karamaniolas's father bought the business in 1996, the family focused its attention on the adjacent liquor store, leaving the bar intact. In those days, the room that housed the iconic oval bar boasted a jukebox stocked with Glenn Miller Band and Elvis Presley records and an older clientele who came for cheap beer and shots.
While Fischman's carried beer from craft breweries such as Goose Island and Three Floyds for years, Karamaniolas didn't introduce craft beer to the bar until about six years ago. He credits beers like Firestone Walker Double Jack, Great Lakes Lake Erie Monster and Goose Island Matilda with inspiring him to create a destination for craft beer lovers. "My customer base at the time was all Miller Lite drinkers asking, 'Who the hell is gonna drink that garbage?'" Karamaniolas said, "Not any of you guys, but other people will."
Karamaniolas's bet on craft beer has paid off, attracting drinkers from across the city with an ever-changing list of beers served in a traditional neighborhood bar setting. Longstanding relationships with breweries have allowed Fischman Liquors to host regular tap takeovers (called Tap This!) that fill the bar with beer nerds and casual drinkers who queue up to taste beers that are notoriously difficult to find on tap.
During Sunday's 20th anniversary celebration, the bar will tap 20 craft beers, most of them limited releases. Fischman has been cellaring kegs since 2009 and Karamaniolas began collecting beer for the event nearly two years ago, reaching out to breweries across the nation to secure rare selections for the occasion, including beers like Goose Island Bourbon County Vanilla Rye and Half Acre Vanilla Big Hugs. He's particularly excited that the bar will be offering Brasserie Cantillon Classic Gueuze, a lambic brewed in Belgium that hasn't been on tap in Chicago in nearly six years.
Sunday's event will not only mark Karamaniolas's second decade at the bar, but it will also serve as a kick-off for continuing improvements to the Jefferson Park institution. Work is currently underway on an overhaul of the bar, including the installation of a new tap system that will allow the bar to offer 24 beers at all times. In the coming years, he hopes to establish a sidewalk patio, a beer garden and a kitchen. Of course, plenty of events will also happen along the way, including the annual Kegs for Kidneys benefit on June 3. Karamaniolas said, "I could have a party every Sunday for a year and not run out of beer for it."
Fischman's 20th Anniversary will take place on Sunday, April 17 from 11am–9pm.