Nick Lubovich

Argus Brewery

05/29/2015

Nick Lubovich is the brewery historian at Argus Brewery in Pullman.

Pretty much what that means is that I don’t know how to make the beer, but I can tell you all about the building, the neighborhood, and the street that the beer is made on. And I can drink the beer with you. So if that works out we’re gonna have a wonderful time. If this is anything like other brewery tours I’m doing it wrong. I want you to feel like you’re at home, or hanging out at a friend’s house in their basement bar--- but I guarantee we’re not gonna run out of Dad’s beer. [laughs]

Every Saturday for the last three years I’ve been here. Every Saturday except for two. When my son was born five months ago, my wife went into labor on Saturday and I finished the tours before heading to the hospital. [laughs] Because I see how important it is, to see a hundred people a Saturday from all over--- the majority of people here are from the suburbs, Naperville, the North Side, everywhere. To get them to come to Pullman, that’s huge.

Let me tell you a little about the neighborhood. In 1880, George Pullman started the Pullman Palace Car Company, where they made Pullman sleeper cars. It was the nation’s first planned industrial town, and what that meant was that the Pullman workers lived in the Pullman houses, they worked at the Pullman factory, their kids went to the Pullman school, they spent their Pullman dollars at the Pullman store, and when they died--- where did they go J.T.?

J.T., nearby: They went to Pullman hell.

They went to Pullman hell. [laughs] That’s an actual quote from one of the workers, it’s unknown exactly who said it, probably because the guy didn’t want to get fired. Whole families, they uprooted from all over the world and came to Pullman. Yeah, there was indoor plumbing, beautiful gardens, things that were unheard of for workers in the 1880s, but when they got here they realized they had to live under Pullman’s rules. And one of those rules that we find near and dear to our hearts was no alcohol for his workers. There was no place in the whole town of Pullman to get a beer if you were the working man. The people that needed the beer the most couldn’t get it. There was one bar in the Hotel Florence, but it was for visitors and high-ups, so the walls were never seen by Pullman workers.

You know Schlitz, right? The beer that made Milwaukee famous? They saw this as an opportunity, purchased these two square blocks from the Pullman factory in 1907 and built Schlitz Row. It was the original walk of shame. Pullman workers, they’d walk through the alleys because they didn’t want their neighbors knowing where they were going. Bars, brothels, gambling, everything that was good (or bad depending on what you like) happened on these two square blocks. Even now, I mean look at us, drinking beer on the street.

There’s an old law in Pullman: it’s illegal to drink beer out of a bucket while sitting on the sidewalk. That’s because all the Pullman workers, either they’d come themselves or they’d send their kids and literally get a bucket of beer--- a pail that was lined with lard to keep the head down and keep it a little cooler--- then they’d go back home to Pullman and drink it. It was an issue so they put that law into effect. What are you gonna do, right?

It’s amazing now that we’re a National Monument. I remember the night before, I got a text at one in the morning saying it happened. Someone in D.C. put out an article online, that was the first thing that we saw. We created a beer called Monumental Lager and for that day only we passed it out in the community. It was dedicated to the Pullman workers and the Pullman porters, who helped change the world during the strikes that led to American unions.

We’re getting a new street here in the next couple weeks and I am particularly excited because this is actually the first concrete road in the United States. There’s remnants of it here, poured and stamped, the best traction for the horses. This whole street is like that too, beneath the blacktop there’s two rails that went down the street, a horse team carried a cement truck that would lay it and stamp it. Once they pull this up we’re gonna see if the rails are still underneath or not. There’s cool little bits of history all over the place like that.

This building is the former Schlitz horse stable, marked by those big terracotta horse heads up there. Real terracotta, they were made in Crystal Lake, Illinois.

We have an old horse elevator, it was actually run by horses. Two horses would walk down the alley and they’d lift the elevator up. This is a photo of the original horse and carriage on Front Street, right down the street. They say that one of these guys could be the original Mr. Glunz--- this guy all dressed up. That could’ve been the only time those ever had their picture taken, they were just looking at the horses. One photo, you take very good care of it when there’s just one.

There are two buildings left on Schlitz Row. The other’s all the way down there, covered up by the trees but it has a big Schlitz globe, that’s a big globe with Schlitz’s belt on it, a tied house. Tied house, that meant you were tied to the brewery: Schlitz would pay for the bar, pay for everything to be built, but then you could only serve Schlitz beer. The Schlitz logo, with the globe and the belt, do you know how they got that? After the Great Chicago Fire in 1871 everyone was doubting Joseph E. Schlitz’s ability: what’s your plan? He was at a press conference in his office, he took off his belt, wrapped it around the globe in his office and said: we’re gonna circle the world. That’s how they got their logo, that’s Joseph’s belt.There are seven Schlitz tied houses and one Schlitz horse stable left in the city, obviously we’re the horse stable. Schuba’s is one of the last of the seven buildings. That’s one of the most famous ones, people in Chicago recognize that right away.

When Bob and Patrick Jensen started Argus Brewery in 2009 they were under the impression that it was a firehouse. It does look like an old fire house. They didn’t realize until after they started brewing beer that this building was a Schlitz building, and with the history of Schlitz Row that’s as cool as it gets. That’s also how I secured by job as brewery historian. [laughs]

Bob and Patrick are a father and son team. They were homebrewing in their basement together and they enjoyed that. Patrick describes it as a bet or a dare: I bet we won’t start a brewery. Next thing you know they started a brewery. They owned this building, it was being used as a warehouse with a car mechanic shop on the first floor, it was a real estate property. Bob and Patrick were in the real estate business and we all know what happened in 2008, that downturn. They’re from the Southwest Side, and they’re here every day.

Bob’s office is right there. To get anywhere in the brewery, you walk through the office. This brewery is as close to a genuine family as you can possibly get. I’ve never been in a situation more rewarding, more positive for the community. We’re doing some cool stuff over here, especially with our new barrel-aging program coming out. We just got a new brewmaster, her name’s Mary Pellettieri. She was at Goose Island, she was the person that created Sofie, and we have her over here now, which is awesome. We’re as real as you get down here. We’re guys from the neighborhood that want you to feel that way.

It’s nice for the guys like us that live right across the street, you can walk home or crawl home if need be. I’m technically employee number five, I’ve been here since 2010. When I found out there was a brewery in Pullman, me and my buddy got on our bicycles, rode over here and knocked. We started talking and that’s when we had the realization about connecting all the history of the building, the neighborhood.

(Nick, left, with local historian Paul Petraitis. Paul runs the Pullman History and Roseland History pages on Facebook.)

I’ve lived in Pullman for about nine years, since my wife and I graduated from college. We have a big dog, his name is Leon, he’s a 110-lb giant schnauzer lab mix. So we couldn’t do the normal Lincoln Park or Lake View thing because no one would rent to us, and we couldn’t afford a house in those neighborhoods at the time. My mom and dad told me to come check out Pullman. My dad was a teacher down the street. We did, and we fell in love with the little row houses. So much history, and it’s an original--- like the last Mayberry, if you will. The old joke in Pullman is you walk down a block and it takes you an hour because everybody’s talking to you on the way. Argus is a really big part of Pullman now as well.

We’ve got our hop farm, our little community garden, if anybody in the neighborhood wants they can come over and grow some vegetables. We just started it, last Saturday we were spreading mulch. These hops are four years old, so they’re at the right year. After three that’s when they’re mature enough to produce something. The amount of hops here aren’t gonna even do really one batch of beer for us, but it’s cool to pick them, see them grow.

Did you see that, on the boat out there? It says “Rise of the South Side”. The name of that boat is the Flying Pot Roast, it’s hilarious. That was my first sailboat, I lived on that boat in college. I just got it back and my buddy painted it for this art show, now we don’t know what the hell to do with it. It’s not sailable anymore. There’s a big area back there that’s all sand, so we’re gonna dig out some of the sand and lay the boat in there, and then we’ll have the Pullman Yacht Club. [laughs]

I run a non-for-profit called Friends of Pullman, and the Pullman Yacht Club is one of our things. Kids that sail don’t go to jail. It’s a betterment program for the community. One day we came over and created a beer called Pullman Palace Car, and the proceeds from that beer help fund our community events. When we have events in Pullman, that’s our beer. So instead of rebuilding Pullman brick by brick we’re doing it beer by beer. The Jensen family and Argus Brewery are our main supporters and backers.

Finally, a couple beers: Easy Rider is a pale ale, one of our newest beers out. It’s a beer we designed to have on a nice hot summer day, an easy drinking beer. All of our beers are on the sessionable side, they’re meant to be drank in multiples, not just a one and done thing. In a world where extreme beers dominate the market, we like to say that happy beer comes from Argus. There’s no such thing as an ex-craft beer drinker, right? I don’t know if you’ve ever heard that, as far as I’m concerned I’m the one that made it up. [laughs] I’m gonna put it on a t-shirt.

All-American Wheat Ale, that beer was created for Walter Payton’s son Jarrett. A lot of people don’t know this but Walter had a pretty big beer history. If you don’t know who Walter Payton is this isn’t the time to ask. [laughs] You’ll see the whole room turn against you, it’s really bad. Walter had a brewery at the Roundhouse, he made a gold-medal beer in the 90s, and when Jarrett found out about Argus being a father-and-son brewery, we created a beer for him and proceeds help fund his foundation. It was something he could’ve been doing with his dad. Connie Payton sat right there and had all these different styles of beer, they picked out which one they liked the most.

We want you to find something you like. If you have an empty glass it’s your own fault.  So cheers, welcome to Argus.

Argus Brewery