Friday, December 9, 2011

Returning to the Scene of the Crime

Later next week we are heading to Chicago. We have spent a long weekend just before Christmas every year, for the past six or seven, in Chicago. The excuse is to go Christmas shopping, while it’s actually to taste winter, wine, and food in one of the best cities in the world. Most of our California friends believe we are mad.

There is a tangible taste and feel to Chicago, it’s like one of the Manhattan neighborhoods, but just one or two, not the whole island. It has the greatest waterfront of any American city and rivals Miami for beachfront. Its lineal parks and harbors along Lake Michigan can be compared to Vancouver BC. Its buildings are, well, just cool. Just stand at the stainless bean in Millennium Park and watch the reflections and you will know what I mean.

The City from the Bean
Michigan Avenue, State Street, the Chicago River, the John Hancock Building, the Sears Willis Tower are all woven into the fabric of this town. Da Bears, Hog butcher for the World, City of the Big Shoulders, the Second City, White City, Chi-town, the Queen of the West (stole that one from San Francisco maybe), and of course the Windy City. A new one thanks to the Simpsons “The Miami of Canada.” You might even see a man dance with his wife.

It has led the world in architecture and indicted politicians. Its museums rank with the greatest in the world, the Art Institute, Science and Industry, Field Museum, Contemporary Art, Adler Planetarium, Shedd Aquarium, and even the Polish Museum of America (this city had, at one time, the second largest Polish population behind Warsaw). How many of its aldermen and politicians have been indicted is open to debate, but at the state level five past governors have spent time in prison (or soon will). And then there is the president who makes Chicago his hometown.

Our biggest problem is where to eat. Too many places, not enough time. Even Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, lists numerous Chicago stops – dogs, burgers, go HERE, for some idea of what the locals really think. But there are great places, but Joe’s Seafood, Gibsons, Tavern On Rush, the Original Pancake House, Carmine’s (you could easily spend a week at this corner of Rush and Bellevue and never leave a restaurant or bar – I’ve done it). 

Ditka's Steak House - Just great!
For me, my affair with the Near North Side began back with the Old Town days on Wells Street, the Chicago era of the flower children. These four to five blocks back in the 1960s were lined with head shops, record stores and all sorts of other gigs. Good jazz to the south, good grass to the north. The best pizza ever was in Piper Alley and the best cigar store, Up Down Cigar, is still there today (the current owner grew up in the shop, her parents ran it, they made water pipes in the late 60s to meet the demand). Much of the street is unrecognizable today; there is a very large Jewish senior housing project smack in the middle of where we baby boomers grew up prior to the invention of the Walkman.

I will report more when we return from our fact finding trip. Remember dear readers, I am doing this research for you!

Stay tuned . . . .

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