Would Chicago be the city it is today without beer?

A new exhibit at the Harold Washington Library argues that beer has played a critical role in Chicago’s history.

Take a walk into the 9th floor special collections room at the Harold Washington Library and you might think you've stepped into a bar.
"I teach history through the lense of alcohol,” said historian Liz Garibay.

Garibay has spent several years studying Chicago’s beer history. She argues that without beer, Chicago would never have become a world class city.

"People talk about skyscrapers and railroads and architecture. And I always say you have to throw beer and the beer industry into that. Because it touched so many other industries and really created this unbelievable economic development for the city,” Garibay said.

Garibay helped put together the exhibition on Chicago’s beer history that starts literally with the city's founding in 1833.

"We actually were established by a vote at a bar. Sauganash Tavern. So our history is actually in a saloon,” Garibay said.

Chicago’s first brewery opened that very same year, and within a few decades, more than 80 large breweries flourished within the city limits; names like Hoerber, Monarch, Magnet, All American and Prager.

The Chicago Fire, and prohibition, did little to quench Chicago’s thirst for beer and the taverns that served it.

"I often say that taverns were like the original Facebook. You go there and you learn about everyone else's news,” Garibay said.

The exhibition also features an interactive bartender that's triggered by a motion sensor whose beer lessons change depending on which tap handle you pull.

"We wanted to tell the story of saloon and tavern history in Chicago. Who better to tell it than the all-knowing bartender?" said curator Lance Tawzer.

Tawzer originally curated this exhibition for the Elmhurst History Museum.

"I hadn't seen anybody ever do an exhibit on the history of Chicago beer and I looked for stories that I think will be engaging,” Tawzer said.
Like the 1855 Lager beer riots, when Chicagoans stormed City Hall after the mayor banned beer sales on Sundays

The History of Chicago Beer exhibit will continue at the Harold Washington Library until January.