Friday, March 31st
We woke up to the the usual hilarity of morning bodily functions that happen when three guys share a hotel room and the extended prep time that is necessary when one of them happens to be gay. Erock’s review of the roll-away bed was succinct: "prisons must have more comfortable beds."
Ok fine – we had lunch for breakfast. At Mr. Beef Italian Beef sandwiches, on which a commentary will also follow in a separate Chicago food post. Now well-fueled with Italian beef, we moved onto Michigan Avenue and the top of the John Hancock tower, my favorite view in Chicago – and it didn’t disappoint, as it was a beautiful clear day.
Leaving the tower and after hitting the souvenir shop, we went over to H&M so that John could explore the men’s clothing department. I use the term "Men’s" loosely, as most of the clothes were clearly not meant for straight men. Erock and I did find something each though – but NOT the disturbingly tight underwear with freaky patterns that John picked out. I haven’t had nightmares about it yet, and I’m hoping not to. Really really hoping not to.
Unfortunately, the stupid clerk forgot to take the security tag off the tie I bought, so now I have to deal with that… After H&M we took a brief excursion into Filene’s Basement since John wanted to check that out. The time spent in clothing stores was testing my patience, as clothes shopping is a purely functional effort that can be done any time, not while you’re on vacation. One good thing was that the view out of the corner window of Filene’s Basement (located on the third through fifth floors of a building, which is so absurd it makes my head hurt) offers a great view of the Water Tower and down Michigan Avenue.
The other highlight of the clothes shopping excusion was on the way to cash out at H&M and I noticed another cash register station on the floor we were on just as Erock was getting on the escalator to go down a floor. He attempted to turn around on the escalator and was successful, but not after a Tom & Jerry-like spinning of his feet on the escalator stairs going in the opposite direction that he wanted to be going in.
We moved on relatively quickly, heading over to Ghiradeli Chocolate Shop where we had a mid-afternoon snack of milkshakes and ice cream floats at their old-fashioned soda fountain counter. That gave us the energy necessary to continue tackling the rest of Michigan Avenue, including the Apple store where yours truly did some guerrilla-style marketing by putting this blog and Hot n’ Saucy wings on the screens of all the open computers. We also visited the Hershey’s store, where a overheard off-color joke about "do you like nuts in your cup?" made a group of middle-aged female tourists laugh out loud.
We continued to the end of the Magnificent Mile, where we decided that because of the rain we would go to Navy Pier, as that would afford us some inside entertainment. On the way there we stopped at Virgin Megastore – be expecting some new album reviews shortly.
The walk to the Navy Pier was wet, but entertaining – a sidebar involving molesting several statues of children made for some great photos (and a bad pun from me: "STATUE-tory rape"). The Navy Pier was packed with families and teeny boppers, but I got a great panoramic photo of the Chicago skyline that I am looking forward to having framed.
Back to the hotel for a break (and an episode of the Simpsons, conveniently enough) before heading out to the Weber Grill Restaurant for dinner. Another long wait there, resulting in us eating dinner at about 10:00 p.m. And the place was STILL packed when we left! The wait for the table was was made more entertaining by observing a couple out on either their first or second date, where the guy had lost any hopes of controlling the flow of the date and the girl just talking on and on and on, allowing barely enough time for the guy to go "uh-huh."
The food at the Weber restaurant was very good, though the ribs in the sampler appetizer were much better than the ribs that came with my meal. The former were tender and flavorful, the latter tough and bland. However, the pulled pork, grilled sausage and the side of garlic mashed potatoes with a beer cheese sauce made it all worthwhile. That and the Claudia Schiffer look-alike with bigger breasts who entertained me and Erock while John dealt with the flirtatious gay Hispanic bus boy.
We hailed a cab for the ride to Buddy Guy’s – a very popular attraction in Chicago, even though I had to tell the cab driver where it was. Buddy Guy’s Legends was just as I remembered it: kind of an "upscale seediness" to it that gives it a fantastically authentic feel. We arrived shortly before the headliner, Andrew Jr. Boy Jones hit the stage. It was exactly what we wanted to hear on Friday night in Chicago – strong guitar-driven blues that sometimes bordered on rock but also handily slowed down to a quiet burn. Yes, I know that Andrew Jones is from Texas, so technically that makes him "Texas style" blues, but the blues is ‘da blues and he sounded great in that club.
We were standing for most of the first set, as the place was mobbed when we first walked in, but as the night wore on, the conventioneers and older tourists began to filter out, eventually leaving the place only about half full for the second set. Between sets, Erock and I went to fetch another round of drinks and found ourselves next to the keyboardist/organist from the band. He was trying to get a drink, but the bartender insisted that even band members had to pay for drinks and his wallet was upstairs in the dressing room. I gladly offered to buy him a drink, and got us talking a little bit. Good karma pays off, as I was able to buy a CD and get it signed by Andrew Jr. Boy Jones before he hit the stage for the second set.
After a very satisfying second set of electric blues, it was only 1:30 a.m. which meant a few more hours to go until last call in Chicago! So back in another cab, and off to the "World Famous" Underground Wonderbar. A world famous bar that no one has heard of. Or more likely, no one remembers going to.
The Underground Wonderbar and I have a history – a few years ago while in Chicago for an AMA leadership summit, a bunch of us went out to the Back Room jazz lounge. After that closed at 2:00 a.m., we asked the doorman where to go for more fun and he recommended the Underground Wonderbar. We stumbled there and found this tiny little subterranean hole of a place with a great R&B/jazz/blues band wailing away, complete with a large black woman making her formidable presence known. We stayed there until about 4:00 a.m., getting back to our hotel just before the sun rose.
Since that escapade nearly five years ago, I have been hoping to make it back there – for a while I thought it was all a figment of my imagination or that the venue had closed, since I couldn’t find it in any guidebooks. I was pleased to find it in Vindigo and even more pleased to find that my alcohol-infused five-year-old memory wasn’t that far off. Here is a great tiny venue, barely wide enough for three people to stand next to each other at the bar and with the band at the far end. Once again, the band (Lonie and her Big Bad Ass Company Band) cranked out some great jazzy blues stylings with a powerful sax singer sitting in. Lonie Walker’s son sat in for a rap piece that bordered on spoken word, and then the bassist took over for a long – very long – reggae-influenced jam that I thought we would leave at the conclusion of. However, it became apparent that it wasn’t GOING to end, so we just left. At 3:00 a.m.
And thus ended another long and fun-filled day in Chicago. So far: deep dish pizza, two blues acts, two night clubs, the Hancock tower, Navy Pier, the Weber Grill restaurant, Michigan Ave and Italian Beef sandwiches. Not bad for one day and one night!