Saturday & Sunday In Chicago – Making the Most of It

This post may make you feel tired – no EXHAUSTED – by the time you’re done reading it.  Just be warned.

The next morning was another late start thanks to the late evening the night before.  John took a fair amount of primping time, but less today since he decided to wear a baseball hat. 

So for "breakfast" it was decided we should try Giordano’s stuffed pizza.  We headed to the one on Rush street and found out that the wait would be an hour and a half.  Since it was already noon time and we were starving, that simply wasn’t an option.  While I felt bad we never got a chance to do Giordano’s – a pizza I’ve had my share of on my trips to Chicago – it did give us a chance to go to Portillo’s for another Italian beef sandwich, sausage and for the guys to try a Chicago-style hot dog .  Our entertainment for lunch – besides our own crude senses of humor – was a large protest happening at the landmark "Rock n’ Roll" McDonalds across the street.  They were protesting for fair wages for tomato growers and pickers. Photo_040106_001

Yes, tomato pickers.  The best part were the signs: one being "McDonald’s Makes me Grimmace," painted on a large cut-out of the bulbous purple monster-mascot.  The winner however was the sign that said "you say tomato, we say oppression."  This lead to an entire day full of tomato and oppression jokes, showing just how cold-hearted we are.  It also got us thinking that McDonalds is a weird place to be protesting about tomato harvesters since there’s not that many of their popular sandwiches that actually HAVE tomato on them: none of their burgers do at least.

Anyway – we left the protesters behind to head to the Jazz Record Mart, a place that I had passed by several times before but never had the opportunity to explore.  I was in heaven there, even though even they didn’t have some of the obscure jazz artists that I was trying to locate.  I could have spent hours in there, but just as I felt bored in H&M and Filene’s, John was completely out of his element there, and even Erock was intimidated by the selection and the granularity of the sorting system: jazz, vocal jazz, pre-WWII jazz, R&B, R&B vocal, blues, motown, etc. etc.  That may be a place to go to the next time I’m in the city by myself; though I’ll probably need to bring an extra suitcase for what I could end up buying.

From there we walked down Michigan, finally crossing over into the downtown "Loop" area for the first time, heading towards the Art Institute.  The main goal of the Art Institute visit was to see three paintings: "Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte," "Nighthawks," and "American Gothic."  The first one was as impressive as I remembered it, a huge painting that is truly impressive and draws a huge crowd.  Nighthawks was great to see, as it has obviously been parodied and copied many times over in a variety of mediums.  Unfortunately "American Gothic" was out on loan to the Smithsonian (damn them!) so we didn’t get to see that.  We joked about asking for four of our $12 back since we only got to see two of the three paintings we went to see, but figured it might be in poor taste to do so. Photo_040106_003

We also had the opportunity to check out their contemporary art wing, which was… um… interesting.  I still can’t be convinced that a string of light bulbs sitting randomly on the floor is a piece of art simply because the artist says that the bulbs burning out makes it a symbol of our own temporary time here on earth or some B.S. like that.

Anyway – we left the art museum and walked around the loop for a few hours, checking out some of the public art displays and the towering architecture.  We wound up walking past the Hard Rock hotel and stopped in to check it out: definitely looks like the type of place I would love to stay in next time I’m in Chicago.  A quick stop in the gift store was entertaining as the two gay men in there helped with a recommendation for another mid-Copy_of_photo_040106_006_1 afternoon chocolate snack.  At the Moonstruck Chocolate Shop & Cafe we enjoyed another round of chocolates, shakes and floats.  This gave us enough time to figure out the plan of attack to get up to Wrigleyville, with a dual purpose: one being the ultra-manly goal of simply seeing Wrigley Field, and the other to visit the ultra-gay "Gaymart."  Yes, we are all good friends. Copy_of_photo_040106_008

Hopping on the El red line, we traveled out to Wrigleyville and got our pictures taken in front of the famous Wrigley field sign.  The area around the park reminds me a lot of the area around Fenway Park in Boston: kind of a residential area loaded with sports bars and restaurants. 

However, what Boston DOESN’T have is an entire gay "mecca" just a few blocks away on Halstead street.  We knew we were in John’s territory when we say the obelisk-shaped (how phallic can you get?) cut-outs with rainbow colors lining the street.  There were a few scary looking (well, for me and Erock) "lingerie" stores using male mannequins in the window and a hilarious poster for "Lube Wrestling" at one night club, hosted by a drag queen.  Just down the street from there was "Gay Mart" which wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it was or that John was hoping for!  It was really a store jam-packed with pop culture kitch, including the Simpsons, Family Guy, Betty Boop, I Love Lucy, and assorted other cartoons and movie/TV icons.  Every once in a while a rainbow-themed button or sticker would pop up, along with a selection of cards featuring men with freakishly large penises. Copy_of_photo_040106_011

Once we successfully pulled out of there (pun intended) we moved onto Broadway, as recommended by the store proprietor (who made a comment regarding swallowing something wrong that made John refuse to look at me for fear I would start laughing).  We came across what was basically a very gay-friendly version of Thayer Street here in Providence, with a lot of independent music, clothing, and book stores, along with independent restaurants.  Not a chain in site.  It wasn’t as overtly gay as Halstead street, with its rainbow colors, but there were plenty of gayness to be found: even the Episcopalian church had a little fish symbol on it with rainbow colors!

We came across a funky little artsy store (surprise surprise) that kind of freaked me and Erock out when we first walked in as they had a large male mannequin with a boa and white hat just as you entered, but it was proved to be another dumping ground for classic pop culture memorabilia.  I hustled John out of the used clothing section before I even got a chance to realize that there was that part of the store, including an operating coin-op version of Karate Champ.

By this point we were closer to the next stop further south on the El, and caught it there to head back to the hotel and relax and figure out where we wanted to go eat.  Energy was starting to wear low as we rode most of the way back in silence and we were all pretty ambivalent about where to go to dinner: we were sick of waiting and eating so late because of the waiting and had tried the gastronomic guilty pleasures that Chicago is known for: pizza, beef sandwiches, hot dogs and sausages.  By default, we ended up at the Hard Rock Cafe, affording me the opportunity to put my All Access card to use.  If you travel and/or eat a Hard Rock Cafe regularly, GET THIS CARD.  For $25, not only do you get $20 back for every $200 you spend on anything at Hard Rock Cafe, but you also get to jump to the head of any waiting line for seating at any Hard Rock Cafe.  That proved to be valuable Saturday night, since even though we were getting there at nearly 9:00 p.m., we could have been facing over an hour’s wait.  Instead, we sat down within 10 minutes of setting foot inside the restaurant.

The Hard Rock was a good choice for Saturday night, as it provided a familiar, yet vacation-appropriate setting, as well as good food (the wings are reviewed seperately here at Hot N’ Saucy wings) and attractive waitresses.  We had an adorable blonde number with fantastic legs and a nice personality who took good care of us.  It also led to one of the funniest moments of the trip, when the waitress leaned against the back of the booth Erock was sitting in, and upon her departure from said spot, he leaned over and gave the general area a deep, disturbing, Quagmire-inspired sniff.  Brilliant.

Leaving The Hard Rock Cafe, we caught a cab up to Subterranean on North Ave in Chicago to see Beatallica.  I had seen the show advertised in the local weekly entertainment rag and the name caught my eye.  I assumed that it must be some sort of Beatles/Metallica mash-up of sorts, but then we got into a discussion about how it could be that or Metallica done in house or dance music style, or even reggae (?!?!?!) style.  However, its true – its a Beatles/Metallica mix and was so good it deserves its own post.

Once that show ended about 12:30 a.m., we wanted to head off somewhere else to finish off our last night in Chicago with some drinking.  We attempted to go to Shenanigans on Division street, but the long line outside discouraged us.  We ended up walking down Clark street – where I FINALLY found a mailbox to drop my post cards in after looking for one all day – to the Clark Street Ale House, which had the laid back atmosphere we were looking for.  A nice selection of beers and scotches would keep us busy for a few hours.  About half-way through our second beer, we noticed a fine-looking blonde lass come walking in the door… that turned out to be our waitress from the Hard Rock!   When we spoke at the restaurant she said that she frequented a place up on Clark street, but through it was named "Clarks" or something.  Turns out it was the Clark Street Ale House.  We said hello to her and her entire HRC crew and went on with our drinking, including a shot of SoCo.

The place got more crowded the later it got, and when we finally left a little before 4:00 a.m., the place was more packed than when we got there around 1:00 a.m.  Since we were drunk in big city on what was a relatively nice night, we did what any reasonable adult males would do in that situation:

Copy_2_of_photo_040206_001 We went to McDonalds.  At 4:00 a.m.  I tried taking a photo of the digital sign outside of Copy_2_of_photo_040206_002 MickyD’s to prove that we were there at four in the morning, but the sign changed before I had a chance to capture it and wound up with an empty screen.  Yes, it was the sign’s fault and f**k you for thinking otherwise.

Anyway – after a well balanced meal of processed meat and potato starches, we stumbled our way back to the hotel and collapsed at 5:00 a.m., setting my alarm for 9:30 a.m., allowing for a nice 4 1/2 hour nap before having to get going to catch our 1:30 plane.  Yes, that was giving us a lot of lead time, but we did have a gay man who had to get himself ready, and we were ALL going to be moving slow.

Sunday (the rest of it at least) was uneventful.  The plane took off a little late, but the plane ride was quiet and smooth.

As you can tell, we had a great time and a total blast with each other, and I got to finally spend a few days in my favorite city, simply enjoying everything it has to offer.

Friday In Chicago

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."

About 11:00 a.m. we headed out to have "breakfast" or perhaps better described as "brunch."  Photo_033106_001

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.

Photo_033106_004 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. Photo_033106_006

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 Photo_033106_008 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!

The First Night In Chicago

On my way from work to John’s apartment to pick him up, it occurred to me that this weekend was going to be a kind of a dream come true for me, as I’ve been wanting to go to Chicago for a weekend of fun with friends for 10 years now.  My first time to the city was in 1996 as an intern at the Democratic National Convention, and I fell in love with it during that two-week stay there.  I got to know the city well through that trip and the subsequent 6 trips to the Windy City.  At the conclusion of this long weekend trip, I have spent over a month of my life in Chicago, and have enjoyed just about even minute of it, even when I was stuck there after 9/11 left me stranded there while traveling for business.

However, all of my prior trips to Chicago were for reasons other than for pure pleasure, and even though I have had a lot of fun, this was the first time I was going to be able to enjoy the city without taking time out for seminars or meetings at ungodly early morning hours!

We flew from Providence to O’Hare on United airlines.  I don’t think I have ever flown United before: very comfortable seats, with enough leg room even for me.  Things got off to an adventurous start with Erock getting stopped at security for having a pocket knife and a Swiss Army Knife in his luggage, both of which he had forgotten he had.  Of course, that would have been bad enough, but he had also decided to bring a small bottle of Jack Daniel’s with him to have in the room for any "pre-game" warming up, and that was the first thing the security guard saw when she opened his luggage.  Of course.

Erock was then subjected to further indignity on the plane, as his overhead reading light was constantly flickering on and off.  We were already cracking up before we even got to Chicago, to the point where we woke up John from what he described as a "very nice dream."  That’s how he described it and that’s all we want to know about it!

Once in a Chicago, we got the fine opportunity to experience Chicago traffic, battling to get downtown requiring a long, painful ride in a crowded cab’s backseat.  Once to the hotel, I was greeted by a front desk workers told me she thought I was handsome – and she wasn’t even working for tips.  Also, membership has its privileges: we got the roll-away bed for free thanks to my Priority Club gold status, saving us $30. 

The compliments at the front desk must have flustered me, since as I was leading the way to our room, I told the guys that we were in room 2117.  So we got off at floor 21 and as we joked about our room key "issues" in Philadelphia, with our keys needing to be reprogrammed nearly every time we went to use them.  So in goes the first key card… and it doesn’t work…. then in went the second one… that one also didn’t work… and then the third…. another failure.  We were both cracking up AND appalled.  Then I looked at the card containing the key cards and realized we were on the wrong floor.  I called it a practice run. 

We dropped out stuff off in the room (the right one) and went out for some real Chicago-style deep dish pizza.  We attempted to go to the original Pizzeria Uno’s, but they said it was a 2-hour wait and it was already 9:00 p.m. Chicago time (which meant 10 p.m. East Cost time… we were REALLY hungry).  We tried Pizzeria Due, which is practically across the street and had only a 30 minute wait, and we ordered our pizza when we put our name in. The pizza was delicious and will be reviewed separately.

From there we went to Blue Chicago, a touristy yet authentic seedy little blues club where we caught some great live music.  After catching a full set, we decided to move on. Just as we left the club we were confronted by a large black man with shoe polish and a milk crate.  He was trying to hustle a shoe shine out of me and next thing I knew I had white shoe shine goop on my left shoe and had him shining my shoes.  He then asked for "ten dollars a shoe and a nice tip" which is obviously a ludicrous amount.  I gave him a few bucks and moved on.  Have to say that the shoes did look good though….

As we were trying to figure out where to go next, the rain was starting to get heavier and we wandered by a place called "Rockit."  Entranced by a large group of people singing along to "Sweet Child O’ Mine" by Guns N’ Roses, we went in to check it out. We decided to hang out in the less-crowded and darkly decorated (had kind of a industrial house of horrors feel to it) bar/lounge area instead of the crowded and too-loud upstairs bar/dance area.  After a few great songs including "Girls, Girls, Girls" by Motley Crue,  "AC/DC’s "Back in Black," and another GnR classic, "Paradise City," the music took a turn for the worse, as they devolved into a series of retro 80’s pop songs that weren’t doing it for us any more.   That wasn’t before a classic music-geek moment where we were in an argument over whether or not "Let’s Get Rocked" by Def Leppard was on Hysteria or not.  Erock and I knew it wasn’t, though John insisted it was.  A quick Google search on my Treo resolved the issue.  I should have bet a drink on it.

By about 2:o0 a.m. we were pretty much done with our first night in Chicago – it had been a long day and was technically 3:00 a.m. for us.

We went to bed with a very funny conversation spurred by John’s long and wet-sounding belch leading to Erock’s question of "what are you doing over there, eating p*ssy?"  John, being the token gay in the room, responded with "Ewwww… that’s what it sounds like?" and I answered him with "Only if you’re doing it right!!!"  There was then a comparison to that activity to eating Italian beef sandwiches in terms of physical similarities.  I don’t know how else to say that without getting this blog banned by corporate firewalls…

Context For Chicago Posts

I returned from my weekend in Chicago with friends yesterday and will have a bunch of new stuff to write about in my blogs.  I’ll start off with a few quick recaps of what we did while out there.  If you are sensitive to jokes about bodily functions and sexuality, you may want to turn away now!

I’ll be using some of the experiences from the trip to write various blog entries.