Nearly four years ago, along with my wife and some friends, we stumbled in to the Yard House in Glenview, IL. (Click here to see that entry on Road Tips.) Yard House is a national chain of upscale beer bar/restaurants that features over 100 different types of beer on tap at any one of their locations. We had a couple beers in there that night after an awesome Mexican feast across the street at El Jardin Norte and I always wanted to go back and have a meal at the Yard House. Earlier this summer, I had the chance to do so.
The Yard House in Glenview (pictured right) is located within the Glen Town Center shopping and entertainment complex on what was the former Glenview Naval Air Station. After the naval base was closed in the mid-90's, it was developed into a number of shops, restaurants, movie theaters, and residential complexes. The Yard House is located in the heart of the Glen along Tower Drive (see map).
While Yard House could be classified as a national chain (they have over 30 locations in nine states with locations in Virginia and New York opening later this year), nearly every Yard House is located within an upscale shopping/entertainment complex. Not only do they feature a large and eclectic mix of national, regional, local and imported beers (click here to see the beer menu for Glenview), but their food menu features a wide array of foods from appetizers, salads, sandwiches, pizza, and entrees with steaks, seafood, pasta, and barbecued ribs.
To understand how the Yard House gets it's name, you have to go back to 17th century Britain where carriage drivers would have beer poured in yard long glasses while they drove dignitaries around the villages. A British yard glass held 1.14 litres, which is the same as about three plus bottles of beer. The Yard House features a number of yard glasses, but you have to pay a deposit on the glass in case you break one when you drink it. I've drank out of yard glasses in the past and while I am a quick drinker, I find the beer to get warm too quickly and the glasses rather unwieldy.
The original Yard House began in 1996 when former Denver resident Steele Platt (pictured at left) and a couple partners opened the first location in Long Beach, CA. Platt had earlier run a number of restaurants and clubs around the Denver area. In 1987, Platt closed the Boiler Room - a Denver dance club that specialized in serving a number of different brands of beer - after a rent dispute with the landlord and with local officials who had cited the club for excessive noise from dance music in the past. Platt had run the clubs and restaurants for about 15 years before pulling up stakes and moving west.
Financial hassles followed Platt to his new home in California. He bummed around Southern California, working at a car dealership and as a bartender before he came up with an idea to have 200 different types of beer on tap which incubated from his days owning the Boiler Room. At that time, Platt was emerging from bankruptcy, primarily from debts still owed on a house in Denver and for bills that were still open to vendors after he closed the Boiler Room.
In the meantime, Northwestern Mutual Real Estate Investments had taken over the Shoreline Village shopping complex in Long Beach after the previous owner had defaulted on a loan they held. Looking for an exciting restaurant to go into the nearly empty shopping center, Platt, along with partners Carlito Jocson and Harald Herrmann walked into a meeting with Northwestern Mutual officials and pitched their idea of a place with 200 beers on tap. The group's concept was to offer good food, a great selection of beer and good music in the restaurants. The only problem was the group had no money and Platt had previously filed for bankruptcy.
Taking a large leap of faith, mainly because they believed in the concept and after they had thoroughly checked out Platt's history in Denver, Northwestern Mutual invested about $2 million dollars in the Yard House. The first Yard House had a two story keg room with five miles of beer lines going to the bar. At any given time, the Yard House could move 6,000 gallons of beer through its line system. That same delivery design is used in the other Yard House locations.
The first six months were the toughest - cash was tight and the group was under-capitalized. But they made it through the first bumpy months and the business took off. By 2003, Yard House was the 3rd largest privately owned restaurant group in Southern California. And today, Shoreline Village has full occupancy and is the premier shopping, eating and entertainment destination in Long Beach.
In August of 2007, the group sold a majority interest of Yard House to TSG Consumer Partners, an investment group from the San Francisco area. Platt and Herrmann are still is involved with the business as they continue to expand in the coming years. The company doesn't franchise any locations, keeping all of the Yard House locations under private control. Today, each of the over 30 locations average over $8 million dollars in sales annually. Yard House is doing pretty well.
It was a hot and very humid evening when I was lucky enough to find a parking spot just down Tower Drive from the Yard House in Glenview. A storm was brewing on the horizon, but a number of patrons were outside on the street side patio enjoying their dinner. The restaurant was packed, but the hostess told me that if I didn't mind eating at the bar, there were some seats open. I found one and parked my butt waiting for the bartender to greet me.
Being that they were very busy, I finally got a bartender's attention after a couple of minutes. I looked through the beer menu and saw that they had the Bell's Pale Ale on tap - one of my all-time favorites. I signed up for one of those and took a look through the menu.
I really didn't know what I wanted to eat that evening and the menu wasn't helping things. The Yard House has so much to choose from - jambalaya, garlic chicken and noodles, pan seared ahi tuna, lobster garlic noodles (I've heard those are just scrumptious), pepper-crusted beef filet, Cuban roast pork dip, pepperjack cheeseburger with roasted garlic aioli. I didn't know which way to turn. The Yard House is just not your typical chain like Applebee's or T.G.I. Friday's.
I had eaten pretty large the night before and I thought I would take a closer look at some of the salads they had on the menu. I looked very hard at the New York strip salad. They take a big bowl of lettuce greens, add roasted peppers, avocado, green beans, fried potatoes and a red onion, topped with a gorgonzola vinaigrette with beefsteak tomatoes and fried pickled egg. Then they put strips of steak with the salad. The bartender asked if I had any questions and I said, "Yeah, on the New York strip steak salad, how much steak do you get?"
He said, "It's a regular sized 12 to 14 ounce New York strip. Then they slice it into strips."
I said, "Can I get the steak rare?" He said I could. "Sold," I exclaimed.
The Yard House is not only a pretty good restaurant, but it's an upscale sports bar, as well. Dozens of flat screen televisions hang from the walls and around the bar area. A Chicago Cubs game was on and I was glancing at that from time to time while I looked through that day's edition of the Chicago Tribune.
My steak salad showed up in a little while and it looked outstanding. The steak was cut into deep red strips and the salad was a jumbled mass of veggies. And from the first bite it was outstanding. The steak was juicy and tender, the salad greens were fresh, including the veggies. The little bit of gorgonzola on top of the meat was a great taste sensation. It was simply wonderful. I was highly surprised and very happy with what I got.
As I was sitting there enjoying my meal, outside the storm front that had been brewing off to the west had finally hit. High winds and howling rain forced a number of the people who were outdoors eating their meals inside. Suddenly, the lights flickered and finally went out for a couple minutes. Emergency lighting came on for a moment, then the electricity came back on. As I left the restaurant later that evening, workers were picking up chairs, tables, umbrellas and other items that had been blown about by the storm. It turned out that gusts of over 75 miles an hour had hit the area knocking power out to hundreds of thousands of electrical customers around the Chicago area. The northern suburbs were especially hard hit with many people not getting their power back on for up to three days. It was a tough drive back to the hotel with all the tree limbs and power lines down along and in the major streets and roads. I was happy to find that my hotel in Skokie had power when I got there.
I really didn't know what to expect in terms of food quality at the Yard House. But I was pleasantly surprised with the quality and the taste of the food- as well as the seemingly endless eclectic selections on the menu - at the Yard House. I guess you'd have to call it "American Fusion" cuisine at the Yard House. They take a lot of basic favorites and add a little splash to bring out some wonderful taste sensations. I liked the Yard House a lot, not because they have a ton of beers to choose from, but more for the selection and quality of food. In fact, to me, the beer will almost be a secondary reason I go back to a Yard House in my travels.
But having close to 200 beers to choose from doesn't hurt...