The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Milk Money Brewing, La Grange

Welcome to stop #45 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Milk Money Brewing., 75 S. La Grange Rd., La Grange
Train line: BNSF, La Grange Rd
Time from Chicago: 26 minutes (Zone C)
Distance from station: 500 m

La Grange Road has a lot of competition, being essentially the restaurant district of La Grange. So for a suburban brewery, Milk Money does a good job. I stopped by on the Friday before July 4th, when the weather felt more like September and the vibe felt more like 2019.

They don't do flights per se, but they do have 5-ounce pours. I had five:

I started with the Queen Takes Pawn English-style ale (4.9%), which tasted like a solid real ale from the old country, albeit too cold to complete the illusion. It had a good bitter/malt balance and a sharp finish. The Pause Button APA (5.2%) had a bit more malt than I expected, but a good balance overall. The Vibrant hazy IPA (6.5%) had a citrus nose, a citrus-grapefruit flavor, and a lower-alcohol feel than the first two. The Milk Money milk stout (7.2%) started with a lovely nose and opened up into a smooth chocolate and caramel combination with a long finish. Finally, the Colorful Noise West Coast IPA (7%) had Citra on the nose and Cascade in the back. All five were solid representations of the styles.

And on the walk from the Metra station, I discovered that La Grange has gone to the dogs:

Beer garden? Sidewalk
Dogs OK? No
Televisions? Two, avoidable
Serves food? Full menu
Would hang out with a book? Maybe
Would hang out with friends? Maybe
Would go back? Maybe

Hotels on Rails from Paris in 2024

French start-up Midnight Trains plans a set of overnight train routes of 800-1,500 km in length, from Paris to Edinburgh, Madrid, Copenhagen, and Rome:

The founders say the aim is not to match the famous – and expensive – luxury of the Orient Express but offer an alternative to the basic, state-run SNCF sleepers and short-haul flights.

Key to the service will be “hotel-style” rooms offering privacy and security, and an onboard restaurant and bar.

Midnight Trains is the latest arrival in what is becoming a crowded market. Across Europe, state-run railways are facing new competition from private operators looking to introduce night trains. Fans of rail travel have waited some time for new night train routes to come along … only to find, a bit like buses, several turning up at the same time.

Since 2016, Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB) has introduced six new overnight routes under the Nightjet brand that was already operating nine night routes. Private operators in the Czech Republic, the Netherlands and Belgium have announced new overnight services.

In December last year, ÖBB, the German rail company Deutsche Bahn, SNCF and Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) announced the signing of an agreement to launch new night train services in Europe. This is the first step in developing the Trans-Europe Express (TEE) 2.0 network, proposed by the German presidency of the Council of the European Union. This partnership plans to launch four new services to 13 of Europe’s largest cities in the coming years.

Sign me up!

All work and dog play

Oh, to be a dog. Cassie is sleeping comfortably on her bed in my office after having over an hour of walks (including 20 minutes at the dog park) so far today. Meanwhile, at work we resumed using a bit of code that we put on ice for a while, and I promptly discovered four bugs. I've spent the afternoon listening to Cassie snore and swatting the first one.

Meanwhile, in the outside world, life continues:

And right by my house, TimeLine Theater plans to renovate a dilapidated warehouse to create a new theater space and cultural center, while a 98-year-old hardware store by Wrigley Field will soon become apartments.

Metra highballs towards the 21st Century

Work continues on the Ravenswood Metra station, letting us commuters believe that finally! we might not have to stand in the rain waiting for an inbound train sometime this autumn. Until then, we still have to wait on a rickety wooden platform that now extends four meters from the original rickety wooden platform, meaning we have a worse station experience than our great-grandparents would have when the station opened in the 1890s. Of course, once we board the trains, our overall travel experience on Metra more resembles our grandparents': some of the rail cars (carriages) that Metra operates date back to the 1950s, though the Union Pacific routes mostly seem to have cars built in the 1980s and early 2000s.

So imagine my glee when I read this press release from French manufacturer Alstom:

Alstom has received an initial order from Metra, the commuter rail system in the Chicago metropolitan area serving the city of Chicago and surrounding suburbs, to supply 200 push-pull commuter rail cars. This follows Metra Board of Directors’ approval in January 2021 to award Alstom a vehicle procurement contract for up to 500 rail cars. This initial order of 200 rail cars is worth approximately €650 million.

The multilevel cars incorporate new design features to improve passenger experience, including: a streamlined, modern and welcoming interior, equipped with USB plugs and boasting large windows and a layout to improve passenger flow and traveller comfort; seating and spacing to allow for additional ridership and physical distancing; touchless doors; improved bogie design for improved ride quality; and multiple wide doors on each side of the cars to reduce passenger boarding times and improve access to passenger areas.

They even have a slick video, which I would expect as part of a $800m contract.

The combination of the new Ravenswood inbound platform and the slick new French cars will make parts of Metra's network almost as good as London's was in 1990. All Metra needs to do to get us into the 2000s is to get rid of their mobile soot factories diesel locomotives, but I fear that kind of infrastructure modernization would require the replacement of one of the country's main political parties with an real one.

Thanks, Bruce!

After languishing for four years while former Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner (R-of course) refused to govern, Metra's Peterson/Ridge station project...has stalled again:

Crews for Metra were slated to break ground in May on the train station at Peterson and Ravenswood avenues. Due to a permitting issue with the city, work will be delayed by roughly three to five months, said Joe Ott, director of Metra’s construction department.

If the permits take any longer to secure, major construction on the new station could be pushed to spring 2022, he said.

The problem is that the ground beneath the station holds city water mains, and the city’s Department of Water Management was worried about groundwater from the station leaking into the water mains, he said. The city agency said the project’s groundwater system needs revision before a permit will be granted.

It is just the latest setback for a project first announced in 2012.

The project fell by the wayside during the state’s years-long budget impasse. Local officials said in 2017 funding for the project was nearly secured, but a $1 billion fund earmarked for Metra was slashed in half that year.

At least they've cleared the vacant lot connecting where the station will go. Apparently they've also put up a sign. It's a start, I suppose.

In tangential news, Amtrak announced that it will offer tickets up to 50% off to celebrate its 50th anniversary this year. I wish my travel plans would allow me to take a long train trip somewhere.

Meanwhile, in my neighborhood

The Chicago Transit Authority will demolish my local El station starting May 16th, kicking off a 4-year, $2.1 bn project to rebuild the Red and Purple Lines from Lawrence to Bryn Mawr. Good thing we have an alternative only 400 meters away:

Crews will begin the demolition work on the project’s northern end at Ardmore Avenue and work south, CTA spokeswoman Tammy Chase said. The construction zone spans from Ardmore Avenue to Leland Avenue.

The Lawrence, Argyle, Berwyn and Bryn Mawr stations will close May 16. Temporary stations at Argyle and Bryn Mawr will open that day, according to the CTA.

Crews will also demolish the northbound Red and Purple line tracks between Lawrence and Bryn Mawr. That will include the demolition of 1.5 miles of embankment wall and 11 bridges that span east-west streets in Uptown and Edgewater.

Demolition and the rebuilding of the eastern portion of the tracks is scheduled to wrap up in late 2022, according to the CTA.

From there, work on the western portion of the tracks will commence. This second stage of work will include the construction of the four new stations, which are slated to be opened in 2024.

It's so nice, now that Bruce Rauner has left Springfield, that public works projects can resume. It even looks like we'll have a new Chicago-bound train station at Ravenswood before too long.

Improved national rail service?

Amtrak has big plans—especially for Chicago—if it gets a piece of President Biden's $2-trillon infrastructure bill:

Chicago passenger-rail riders ought to thrilled. A proposed map released by Amtrak shows rail service out of the Windy City absolutely exploding, with enhanced service to Detroit, Milwaukee, Indianapolis, St. Louis, and other locales, plus new service to cities including Minneapolis/St. Paul, Green Bay, Iowa City, Rockford, Cleveland and Louisville.

According to spokesman Marc Magliari, the “vision statement” fact sheet is an idea of what the long financially challenged passenger rail agency could do if Washington fully climbs aboard.

“It’s our vision of what can be ahead, given that the president has set the table,” Magliari said. “We hope to have more details soon.”

Key details about Amtrak's expansion proposal are not yet available. Such as timing – Magliari says the “vision plan” runs 15 years into the future – or whether states would have to at all match capital or operating subsidies.

Amtrak has already made some improvements. After upgrading rights of way in Illinois, the carrier has begun testing 175 km/h service between Chicago and St Louis—a big improvement over today's 145 km/h speeds.

Emmett's Brewing Co., Palatine

Welcome to stop #44 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Emmett's Brewing Co., 110 N. Broadway St.
Train line: Union Pacific Northwest, Palatine
Time from Chicago: 56 minutes (Zone F)
Distance from station: 100 m

Another note about Metra, this one more positive than my rant about freight-train interference in Barrington. Metra formed out of the decaying husks of the region's passenger railroads over the course of two decades. In the past few months, as they've taken possession of new locomotives, they've painted one each in the historic livery of the old railroads. When I went from Tinley Park to Blue Island last weekend, the locomotive pushing my train had the old Rock Island Line colors. The next day, the train that took me from my stop to Clybourn, and the one from Barrington to Palatine, had this guy powering them:

I find that immensely cool.

Which, in a literal sense, brings me to Emmett's in Palatine.

Remember More Brewing in Villa Park, almost exactly a year ago, which I called a "bustling, family-friendly brewpub 'concept'?" Or Smylie Bros. in Evanston, about which I said "This is what some corporate dude thinks a taproom should be like"? Yeah. Welcome to Emmett's, which has four locations that I will review with just my experience in Palatine.

I met a friend, and we had adequate pub food, with service that lagged so much (despite the restaurant having only two occupied tables) that my friend's hamburger and my Caesar salad arrived at around the same temperature.

But I'm not a food reviewer, or a restaurant reviewer. I review beer. I had three:

On the left we have the Auto Pilot session IPA (5.2%, 65 IBU), a very hoppy but otherwise meh example of the style. Continuing to the right, we see the Shadow Boxer English brown ale (5.0%, 20 IBU), an undistinguished and very sweet ale that I would probably not find anywhere in England. Finally we come to the World's End "new world" IPA (6.8%, 80 IBU), an inoffensive beer that I would drink if the alternatives were from Inbev or MolsonCoors.

At least I can cross two other Emmett's restaurants off my list now.

Beer garden? Yes
Dogs OK? No
Televisions? Unavoidable in bar area, none in restaurant area
Serves food? Full menu
Would hang out with a book? No
Would hang out with friends? No
Would go back? No

Flesk Brewing, Barrington

Welcome to stop #43 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Flesk Brewing Co., 200 Applebee St., Barrington
Train line: Union Pacific Northwest, Barrington
Time from Chicago: 65 minutes (Zone G)
Distance from station: 700 m

Before talking about the brewery, let me talk for a moment about freight-train interference. This satellite photo shows Flesk Brewing adjacent to the Union Pacific Northwest line:

The yellow line shows the direction from which my train from Crystal Lake approached the Barrington train station, which is just southeast of this photo. The white arrow shows the location and potential direction of travel of the freight train that parked right there Sunday afternoon. Instead of taking 18 minutes to travel between those two stations, it took 40, including a 22-minute stop in the lovely town of Fox River Grove. When I finally got to the brewery the first person I met complained about the same freight train tying up traffic throughout downtown Barrington for half an hour.

So, just keep in mind that traveling by rail on the weekend has no guarantees of getting you anywhere on time.

Now let's talk about the beer, which I enjoyed a great deal more than Metra.

They had only just re-opened the taproom, so I only saw three beers on their menu I wanted to try. From left to right: the Midnight Express vanilla coffee stout (8%) was delicious, with a velvety texture and just the right coffee and vanilla notes. The Thousand-Yard Stare pale ale (6%) had tons of Citra flavors, with a lingering finish. The XYZ double IPA (7%) had so much hop flavors I had to taste it twice to get any other notes. It wasn't bad, but it was maybe a bit too hoppy for me. Your mileage may vary.

Inside, I met two big old dogs, which I always like in a taproom.

Beer garden? Yes
Dogs OK? Yes
Televisions? 2, unavoidable
Serves food? No; BYOF
Would hang out with a book? Yes
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Yes

Those were the days...

This photo came up in my Facebook memories this morning:

This struck me for a few reasons. First, as I noted when I posted it on Facebook the morning of 13 March 2017, we hadn't gotten any snow for almost three months that winter. No snow in January; no snow in February; no snow the first 12 days of March; then this crap.

Second, four years later, Metra still hasn't finished constructing the new inbound platform at the Ravenswood station. Construction began in 2014. Then it stopped, partially because they needed to build a new inbound track between the new outbound track and the old inbound track, which meant they had to replace all the inbound bridges from Grace to Winnemac. But all of that construction halted in early 2015 when then-governor Bruce Rauner (R-of course) stopped spending state money. So we've had to endure five winters from the inbound platform's projected completion in fall 2015 until now out of an ideological tantrum by one of the best examples of how business CEOs make terrible politicians. Construction finally resumed, uncoincidentally just after governor JB Pritzker (D) took office, and we should have a new platform this summer.

Finally, look at all those people! A year ago this week, those crowds thinned out to nothing. When I went into the office yesterday, four people got on the train with me. A year ago, plus or minus a few days, Ravenswood had the third-largest passenger numbers of any station on Metra.