Chicago: Sort of My Kind of Town

I used to hate Chicago. This was back when I was a mildly depressed and homesick college freshman trying to find my niche at Northwestern. At the time, I felt like everybody else was genuinely jazzed to be spending four years in a Chicago suburb, even if they weren’t from there. I felt lonely and disconnected and all I wanted was to go back to New York, where people were wary of one another, you could get a real sandwich at a real deli and, most importantly, everything was familiar. Of course, those feelings didn’t last. (I’d like to say that those feelings didn’t last for long, but that isn’t really true. I wasn’t really “happy” until about midway through my sophomore year.) Evanston, Illinois became my second home. And I began to appreciate Chicago for what it had to offer as a city rather than see it as “not New York”.

This past weekend, I visited Chicago for the second time since I graduated from college and moved back to New York. I’d been anxious to go out and visit friends since the last time I went in 2010. I planned this trip with my roommates, Kim and Lee, for the purpose of seeing our good friend from high school, Ben, who I hadn’t seen in a very long time.

We flew out on Thursday morning. I guess I didn’t realize we live like three feet from the airport so it didn’t take us very long to get there and I had plenty of time to relax at the gate before boarding. I was particularly happy about this because I was very into reading The Lost City of Z by David Grann. I read the whole flight, which seemed very short, until we landed in very sunny Chicago.

Quesadilla la Reina del Sur's VERY interesting and unique juice menu

Quesadilla la Reina del Sur’s VERY interesting and unique juice menu

Kim, Lee and I hopped on the convenient Blue Line and took it down to Bucktown, where Ben lives. Before we were able to drop our things off at his apartment, we grabbed lunch at an extremely bizarre-in-a-good-way vegetarian Mexican restaurant called Quesadilla La Reina del Sur. (There weren’t a whole lot of options around the Western stop.) I had an avocado torta and the fantastically named “Previene el Cancer” juice (orange, strawberry and carrot). After that, we dropped our stuff off and headed downtown to go to the Art Institute of Chicago.

Bench advertising is a big thing in Chicago

Bench advertising is a big thing in Chicago

I went to the Art Institute approximately 800 times during college but this was my first time back there in a while and I had a great time just exploring by myself. We all started in the Impressionism section. I was disappointed to see that Gustave Caillebotte’s Paris Street, Rainy Day was not in its place at the center of the main gallery. (It’s part of the traveling exhibition “Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity”, currently at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.) I was pretty into Impressionism as a teen so, even though I find it kind of boring now, I felt pretty nostalgic while I was walking through the Art Institute. This was especially true in the Toulouse-Lautrec room. (I got super attached to Toulouse-Lautrec after doing a project on him in my high school French class.) My mood was shattered, however, when a teenage girl with a purple streak in her hair – she was also wearing skinny suspenders – decided to loudly expound on how At the Moulin Rouge directly in front of the painting. I hastily retreated to the European Decorative Arts galleries, which were much quieter and, on the whole, more enjoyable.

I took a photo of Toulouse-Lautrec's At the Moulin Rouge just like all of the other tourists

I took a photo of Toulouse-Lautrec’s At the Moulin Rouge just like all of the other tourists

 

After that, I checked out some Medieval and Renaissance stuff on my own and then headed over to the Contemporary section, where I met up with Kim and Lee and saw this Kara Walker exhibition. We also saw some Asian art which I wasn’t really interested in at all until I got to this room with 18th century Japanese prints. I spent a long time there. (The prints reminded me a lot of a very good book I read last year, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell.)

 

I found this painting to be unsettlingly jolly

I found this painting to be unsettlingly jolly

 

We were all pretty tired of looking at art and so we headed out into Millenium Park, as it’s conveniently located next to the Art Institute. I took some pictures at Cloud Gate (The Bean), just like I did back when I was 18. (Except, I used an actual camera, not an iPhone then.) We ended up going back to Bucktown pretty soon afterward where we met Ben back at his apartment.

Kim & Lee at Millenium Park

Kim & Lee at Millenium Park

 

photo (78)

Approaching Cloud Gate

That evening I met up with my good friend Emmet, who moved back to Chicago a few months ago after living in New York after college. It was the first of many great reunions with college friends. We had a few beers and some tater tots at Floyd’s Pub while we caught up on all of our gossip. Emmet walked me over to Jack & Ginger’s, Ben’s favorite neighborhood sports bar, where I was to meet up with my crew from home. I’ll just end this paragraph by saying that I don’t remember much else that happened that night other than drinking a shot of something called Malort and, hours later, ordering two pizzas that did not have the toppings we all agreed on either because the restaurant made a mistake or because I was drinking and Seamless-ing.

 

Me & Emmet, early in the evening

Me & Emmet, early in the evening

 

I woke up the next morning with a less nasty hangover than I’d expected and took the L up to Evanston. I had planned on meeting Brady – who I babysat during my senior year and college – and his mom, Jeanine, for lunch at my favorite place in all of Evanston and my favorite sandwich place in the world, Al’s Deli. When I arrived at the Noyes Street stop, I discovered that Al’s was “closed for vacation”.

Al's Deli

Al’s Deli

I almost committed suicide on the spot – I’d been thinking about and talking about eating an Al’s sandwich for months and months – but luckily, Jeanine and Brady arrived and we drove down to another part of town and had lunch at another favorite place, Bat 17.

 

Brady & Me

Brady & Me

 

It was amazing to see how much Brady has grown. When I babysat him, he was just starting to walk and talk. Now, he’s five and a real little person! Of course, he didn’t remember me but his mom had told him stories about when I took care of him and he was very curious about what he was like as a baby. (Specifically, he asked me about the time when he fell asleep while I was feeding him, which made me crack up.) We had a great lunch and I was sad to say goodbye, but hopefully I’ll see them again when I’m back in Chicago this summer.

The Arch

The Arch

 

I ended up walking through Evanston and over to campus. I passed by the apartment building I lived in during my senior year and then walked up Sheridan Road (the main street that runs through Northwestern’s campus) until I got to The Arch. I stood across the street for about ten minutes like a creep, waiting for a time when there were no cars and no campus tour passing by so that I could take a picture.

 

University Hall

University Hall

 

I proceeded to walk through campus, past two of my favorite buildings, University Hall and Harris Hall. (Harris was under construction for my last two years of college and I was happy to see it returned to its former glory. It was the site of many of my best history classes.) I got kind of emotional remembering saying goodbye to my parents my freshman year outside of Harris. Then, I waited awkwardly for a family to stop climbing all over the Rock to snap a few pictures.

Back in front of The Arch

Back in front of The Arch

I went all the way up to my freshman year dorm, Bobb Hall. What a mistake. Living in Bobb was one of the worst decisions I’ve ever made in my life and seeing it made me remember how awful my first year of college was. ANYWAY, I walked back down sunny and empty – it was Spring Break – Sheridan Road and over to the sorority quad, where I lived my sophomore and junior years. (Um, I don’t admit this to many people anymore.) I took a picture of myself in front of our house and went on my merry way, back through Evanston to the L.

 

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Photo Credit: Annie Fairchild, Stephanie Gross, The Rock, Beta Theta Pi Fraternity

 

The entire time I was walking through campus, I was sending pictures to my former roommates, which ended up being a great little tour/catch-up session via group text and resulted in the above photograph.

 

Davis Street L Stop

The good ol’ Davis Street L stop

 

I took the L from Davis Street downtown to meet a few friends from college at Hub 51 in…River North, I think. It was fantastic to catch up with Jess, Lamis and Elena over a bizarre and lengthy feast of chicken nachos, sushi, guacamole, carrot cake and a mixed drink called Five Alive that I think had grapefruit vodka and Belvedere in it but, really, it could have been anything. (I only took part in the drink and guacamole as I was saving my feasting energy for dinner later.)

 

Jess, Lamis, Me & Elena

Jess, Lamis, Me & Elena

 

Elena walked me back to the Blue Line so I could head back to Bucktown where I caught up with Ben, Kim and Lee before our 10 PM reservation at Girl and the Goat.

 

Girl and the Goat

Girl and the Goat

 

The experience was pretty incredible. We sat right in front of the open kitchen and I could kick myself for not taking a picture of it. Before dinner, we ordered fancy cocktails. I could barely drink mine as it was pure alcohol and tasted like a patent medicine, but everyone else’s looked and tasted great!

Ben and his fancy drink

Ben and his fancy drink

 

We started off dinner with broccoli-cheese bread that came with tomato oil and mushroom butter. I could have eaten the entire loaf, but I restrained myself.

"Not Campbell's" Bread

“Not Campbell’s” Bread

Then the dishes we ordered, which we shared for the most part, came out one-by-one. We had the kohlrabi salad, diver scallops, chickpea fritters, goat empanadas, braised beef tongue, pork belly, braised pork shank, roasted cauliflower and grilled broccoli. By the time the last dish came out, we could barely touch it, so we ended up taking the pork shank and broccoli home with us. For the most part, I really enjoyed the dishes, though I wish we had ordered less. (My favorites were the kohlrabi salad, goat empanadas and the pork belly.)

 

Goat Empanadas

Goat Empanadas

 

By the end of dinner, we were all exhausted, so we called it a night.

 

The next morning, I got up and for the second day in a row, went to a cafe in Ben’s neighborhood called Ipsento. The coffee was pretty good and I really liked the atmosphere of the place. (I was also very tempted by some good-looking sandwiches with literary names. Not to mention the pastries.)

 

The scene outside Hot Doug's

The scene outside Hot Doug’s

 

Once everyone was ready, the four of us went to one of my other favorite places in the world, Hot Doug’s. I’m fairly obsessed with hot dogs – they’re one of the only reasons I’ve never been able to go full-vegetarian – so I was fully prepared to wait for 75 minutes on a street corner for these, the best hot dogs and sausages I’ve ever had.

 

Dogs

Dogs

 

I ordered a regular old Dog (Chicago-style, with everything) and a pork sausage stuffed with sharp cheddar cheese and topped with a garlic-cheese sauce and spicy mustard. And duck fat fries. Everything was amazing.

After that, we went back to Ben’s, where my brother Dayton met up with us. He had taken the train from Notre Dame, where he’s a freshman in college. It was his first time in Chicago. Dayton, Lee and I walked from Ben’s apartment to Wicker Park, where we stopped in Filter Cafe. We wandered around for a while, until eventually heading over to Logan Square and going to Revolution Brewing Co. for drinks and dinner with Ben and Kim. Dayton’s um, not-yet-21, so I was actually terrified that they wouldn’t let us eat there? But it was fine. We had a pretty nice time there, though I was sad that Dayton had to leave right after that to catch a train. (Also, I’m really sad that we didn’t get a picture together even though I’d been reminding myself to take one the entire afternoon.)

That night, we all ended up hanging out in Ben’s apartment with his roommates and friends and eventually, went back to Jack & Ginger’s for our last hurrah. It was pretty late and empty, so we definitely enjoyed VIP status. (I guess Ben is famous there.) They may or may not have been playing Slapshot on the television at the bar. And Lee may or may not have bitten a chunk out of a foam hand. And I may or may not have eaten about twenty lbs of food once we got back to the apartment.

A frightened barback, Ben & Lee

A frightened barback, Ben & Lee

ANYWAY, I woke up in the morning shocked that I wasn’t projectile vomiting everywhere. (Actually, I felt totally fine? It was like I was 18 again, just for the weekend.) Kim, Lee and I packed up our stuff and we went for our final meal with Ben at Silver Cloud. I had a pretty gross (delicious-but-gross) eggs benedict thing with sausage gravy.

"Country Benny" at Silver Cloud

“Country Benny” at Silver Cloud

We stopped by a pretty weird Walgreens inside of a bank in Wicker Park. It had a “Vitamin Vault”. Also, fairly certain I saw someone from my study abroad program inside the Vitamin Vault but I didn’t want to say anything because…ugh, I dunno.

Inside the Vitamin Vault

Inside the Vitamin Vault

Then it was back to O’Hare for me, Lee and Kim so we said farewell to Ben, who very appropriately dropped us off in a side alley by the Western stop. (He drove us through a lot of alleys last weekend.) Once at O’Hare, I was able to get myself some Garrett Popcorn, which was conveniently located across from our gate. I also finished my book and got started on some old New Yorkers so I was pretty happy.

We landed safely at New York and made it back to our apartment just in time for the season premiere of Game of Thrones. And that was a pretty good and end to a pretty good weekend.

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7 thoughts on “Chicago: Sort of My Kind of Town

  1. Love this! I remember our first trip to Northwestern way back when, when Evanston, Northwestern and everything else was a great big question mark, just as it should have been. So happy that you feel such great emotions for those places now.

    • Aw, thanks! I look back on that first trip to Northwestern fondly, even though the entire time I was pretty much terrified of what my future there might bring. 🙂

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