Ken Belisle is giddy showing off the Area 51 Taphouse, the dramatic reimagining of the old lounge at The Onion's Northside location.
He runs his hand along the new bar, where one portion is cooled to 42 degrees to keep a sitting beer cold, just a few inches from where another invisible strip stays heated so customers can lean their elbows in comfort. He points out the steel ornamentation throughout, created by an ad hoc welding shop that was on site for nearly two months.
The most dramatic new decoration, though, is a massive chalkboard overhead listing the 101 beverages available — via 51 taps and 50 bottles and cans — plus some Happy Hour food options.
"It's a state-of-the-art tap system," says Belisle, co-owner of the two Onion locations for 14 years. "It took three months to build it. The beer room downstairs is insane. We have a forklift to move the beers. There's never any oxygen in the lines; when you blow a keg, there's a valve that shuts it off. It's just so cool, I feel like Scotty in the engine room!"
Forty-five of the taps will rotate beers drawn heavily from the Northwest (plus a few domestics like Bud), while the others will flow with wine and cider. And one will be dedicated to A-51 Root Bourbon, a nitro-pushed elixir from Belisle's own home recipe that he concocted from an 1880s-era drink once thought to cure malaria.
"It's Maker's Mark bourbon, but it's got root, some Cocchi Americano, a booze that's hard to find," Belisle says of the 80-proof spirit, adding that he plans to make an absinthe mint julep for the nitro tap as well.
Fun seems to be a major motivating factor for Belisle, who notes the addition of Area 51 "fires up the staff, and it fires me up, too. We're just having a ball."
He anticipates redesigning the downtown Onion in the next few years as well. ♦
Area 51 Taphouse at The Onion • 7522 N. Division • Open Sun-Thu, 11 am-11 pm; Fri-Sat, 11 am-midnight • theonion.biz/area-51 • 482-6100