Despite my love of big cities, I somehow didn’t make it to Chicago until I was 35 and then never made it back. So when Solar had a week long conference there—giving me a free place to stay right on the river—I decided to join. Why not? And when he suggested we extend the stay through the weekend since he has friends there we could stay with, again, why not? And so my United rewards ticket carried me off. With the exceptions of the view of Trump tower from my hotel and the weird sewage smells that hit my nostrils from time to time as I roamed the city, the trip was fantastic. Every day brought fun experiences, and here are the three best days.
Am I Too Old For This?
Host: My cousin Alex
I met my rad cousin Alex only a year ago when she swung through Boulder on her #vanlife journeys. Okay, technically she’s my second cousin and technically I met her when I was around 14 and she was an infant, but details schmetails. In a delightful coincidence, my second night in Chicago was her birthday. We met up with her and her friends at The Smith for dinner. The food was incredible and absolutely worth going there for, but holy cow it was LOUD in that restaurant. We had to shout to hear each other, as we could tell everyone at other tables was doing. And no, that’s not just 40 year old me complaining. Our mid-20 something companions said the same thing. Too loud. The owners might need to rethink their total tile floor and tile wall design.
After dinner, we went to a tiki bar. Apparently tiki bars are a big thing in Chicago? Makes some sense, pretending to be in the tropics to escape the cold and wind. So we stood in a line in an alley in the drizzle on a Wednesday night to get in to the trendy Three Dots and a Dash. I felt like I was back in my twenties. Once inside, we ordered large, sugary, and elaborately garnished tropic drinks that were delicious, though my cousin texted the next morning to say she felt a bit hungover. I think I had the altitude advantage on that one because I was fine. We debated what the name of the bar meant and decided it was S T in Morse code and that maybe it was supposed to S O S but even the owners were too drunk to get it right.
Chicago Does Make Me Young…and Drunk
Host: Solar’s friend from college, Amanda
The following evening was also spent with people who were quite a bit younger than me—mostly grad students from Solar’s organization— and boy did it get rowdy. After some drinks in the hotel bar, we drank a bottle of wine on the L to Logan Square and the Young American bar, a hipster place in which square, old me did not feel out-of-place or unwelcome at all. I was slightly disappointed to not hear any David Bowie played while we were there, but it wasn’t crowded, the appetizers were delicious, and I had a fascinating discussion with Amanda about the dangerous world of metal finishing. No, I’m not being sarcastic! It’s a world of deadly chemicals, extreme regulation, and ICE raids. One warning, if you go to the Young American, beware the fishbowl mirrors in the bathroom. You might fall down if you look into them while drunk.
After that, the crew split in the half with the real young-uns going for a late dinner and an early bedtime, while four of us ratcheted up the drinking at the Rocking Horse with Spicy Boy karaoke. And Amanda introduced us to Malört. Malört is a “must” for a newbie to the Chicago bar scene, but don’t say you haven’t been warned. Amanda said to “think grapefruit” before we downed the shots, but in reality it takes like gasoline and burnt rubber. And then there were multiple beers and, inexplicably, another round of Malört and then a very, very rough Friday morning.
Back to Adulting
Host: Solar’s friends Matthew and Masha
West of the city lies the beautiful town of Oak Park, home to Matthew, who grew up in the same town as Solar, and his wife Masha, who grew up just outside of Moscow. Stepping into their home brought me a little nostalgia as we were immediately offered “tapachki” (house slippers) to wear. Later we sat on their spacious front porch—surrounded by trees and chirping birds—and drank kvass and ate sirok. It was quite pleasant. If you aren’t lucky enough to have this Russian hospitality, I can heartily recommend Courageous Bakery for breakfast.
Oak Park is also home to dozens of Frank Lloyd Wright designed homes, which you can take a self-guided walking tour of. My favorite were the Arthur Heurtley and the Frank W. Thomas houses. You can’t go inside because these homes are occupied, and it shocked me how inexpensively they sold for, compared to the price of housing in Boulder. As in, you can buy one of these stately, custom, gorgeous homes for the same price as a one-bedroom condo in parts of Boulder. Of course, then you’d have to live in Illinois and pay ten times the property tax, but still. Oak Park also boasts Ernest Hemingway’s birth home, which we stopped at but did not tour because, well, I don’t have to like Hemingway simply because he’s an American literary icon.
Then we were off to an entirely different part of the city because I had to take advantage of being in an international city to have some Georgian food. Ah, kharcho! And from there, we continued our trek to a suburb in the north to see Yo La Tengo, a band that has been around for almost three decades and had an appropriately adult and decidedly un-Colorado-like crowd gathered in the rain. Good company, good music, and a looming six am flight which kept me sober made for a great end to the trip.