R.I.P. Ric Hess – Thank You For Bettering The Chicago Beer Community

January 18 2011 - 3:54 PM

I learned via Twitter this morning that Ric Hess, the owner of Sheffield’s Bar in Lakeview, died at the bar of a heart attack last night.  A haunting photo of Ric now graces the portal to his Facebook page; he’s wearing black and situated against a grayish background.  I had never been to the page before so maybe the photo was there all along; or perhaps someone with access posted it because it seems appropriately dark for a posthumous Facebook page.  I might never know the answer to that.  All I can tell you is that the man certainly impacted a lot of lives, including my own, especially, my appreciation of beer.

I am not going to pretend to have known Rick. I only met Ric on one occasion which Brian Ziegler.  I arrived after most of the events Brian describes but I got to meet Ric and he gave me a tour of Sheffield’s barbeque operations, including the kitchen and smoker, and he got us complimentary ribs, apple cobbler, and beers.  Ric was outgoing, gregarious, and quite humorous that night, and seemed just as eager to show us a good time as he seemed proud of his bar and restaurant.  And it’s that bar, Sheffield’s, that has had the lasting impact on me and many other beer drinkers.

I don’t remember when I first went to Sheffield’s – it was sometime in 2001 after I moved here – but it quickly became one of my favorite bars, where it remained.  I always loved the cozy, corner tavern interior of the front bar, the celebrated courtyard with the tree, and the back room when it had a pool table.  Even after the remodeling, the place inflatable water slide never even remotely lost its character. It was a staple for me after games at Wrigley as it catered to crowd that was more about drinking a great beer than doing a keg stand.

The beer always set Sheffield’s apart from its Wrigleyville neighbors.  I discovered so many beers there and the bar played a large role in my gradual shift to craft brews.  At Sheffield’s I did not have to drink whatever macro lagers were rotting on tap, as was the case at other spots.  They had titles like Anchor Steam, Bell’s Oberon, Red Hook ESB, and the Goose Island beers that were eye–opening to someone, like me, who had moved up from Ohio, a state that craft beer would ingore for many years after my first Sheffield’s visit.

As the years went on, Sheffield’s tap only improved as they featured more and better brews from some of the best craft brewers around.  Heck, how many bars have a Beer School?  It seemed as if I could always find something new and different to try there that helped expand my palate for, as Ben Franklin would agree, God’s gift to us, beer.  I appreciated Sheffield’s for being ahead of the game with respect to most of its tavern peers in this regard.

I can’t say with certainty the role that Ric played in pushing for craft brews on tap at Sheffield’s, a tall order at any bar in Chicago, a city dominated by large distributors that choke off tap access.  My assumption is that, as owner, he spearheaded this effort.  Given that Sheffield’s has had as big of an impact as any bar on my beer appreciation, I can’t thank him enough.

Adios, Ric.  You will not be forgotten.

–Mark Sheppard