the windy city
Chicago in a rear view mirror
Leah and I took a brief hiatus from southern California for a trip back to my home town Chicago. We started the trip over the labor day weekend surprising my family at 10 o'clock Friday night with luggage and gifts in tow. The entire time during our trip planning we plotted to surprise them by arriving earlier than we told them. Needless to say but they were shocked and happy to see us!
We planned to WORK this trip. We prepped and stocked an armory of cameras, film, memory cards and a handful of batteries to document every bit we could for the blog. When we arrived we found ourselves meeting with friends, arranging outings with family and shopping a lot more than we expected. It was different from what we planned, however in the end we may have not photographed as much as we wanted but we did get a shot at enjoying ourselves in the city. It's a city I no longer call home and a city Leah knows very little about. We kinda figured this time around we're gonna learn a lot.
Full disclosure: don't fly with Spirit.
We also learned when booking at all costs and even in promise of some savings please avoid Spirit Airlines. It's a travesty of an airline and our four hours of sitting on some seats that left phantom soars on our ass cheeks and pain up our spine is not worth saving the bit of cash. That bit of cash? Spent after realizing how much this airline nickle and dimes you for the carry on luggage you didn't expect to need or the hectic idea of bad seating arrangements. Just spend the extra dinero and worry less about whether or not your backpack exceeds 16 inches.
The city keeps growing, expanding and offering a ton more eclectic and diverse businesses and restaurants compared to what I recall when growing up. Fortunately enough the Chicago Transit Authority is leaps and bounds more efficient at getting you to these places rather than say San Diego's public transport. I use to debate and doubt the reliably of the CTA until I moved to San Diego. Chicagoans, be blessed and grateful with what the CTA offers. Trust me, it's worst out here.
In terms of eating when in Chicago you come with an empty stomach and sometimes a roll of Tums in your pocket. We stopped at Parlor on Division street in Wicker Park. It's a delicious wood fire pizzeria with a rotating craft beer list, solid cocktails and a do it yourself bloody mary bar. This place is probably everything I would want my business to be. Spanning wide open, inviting and a literal cornerstone of the community! We stopped by to have our fill of pork at Lillie's Q, and of course Leah had her first delicious and dripping bite of Italian beef from Chicago staple Portillos. A week in Chicago was not Chicago without a visit to Kuma's Corner! No plate was left with a crumb on this trip and frankly even more was craved by the time we left. We learned that places left unchecked on our To Do List was either the sum of our lack of time or a four hour wait list for a table in Lincoln Park. We both agree the pizza pot pie is on our bucket list!
We made a handful of trips to visit our what we like to call our “necessities.” I think the good folks at Quimby's Books saw us more often there in that single week than say their local regulars. I've seen Rotofugi transform from small niche on the corner brick and mortar in Lakeview to a renown gallery and shop with folks stopping in from all over the world. I was ecstatic to take Leah there for her first time to truly shop something genuinely unique in this here Mid-West. The weekend prior to coming home we made it a must to visit and shop Renegade Craft Fair.
Renegade Craft Fair is held in Wicker Park twice a year as a street market with vendors spread out from all over the country. Each with their own booths selling their handmade goods, art, prints, jewelry and accessories. Think of someone planting an Etsy market place in middle of your street. That's Renegade! We purchase a ton of art and met a number of artists who hail not far from where we live in California. We plan on reaching out to them and supporting them in anyway we can. Renegade Craft Fair is held in several different cities so if you happen to have one in your neck of the woods, do everything you can to support it!
One of the things I happily have to say is Chicago has improved in their craft beer game. For the longest time while living in Chicago I recall the only names in the pot were Goose, Two Brothers, Flossmoor, Metropolitan, and a few others. By the time I left Chicago I remember the EARLY EARLY days of Half Acre, Revolution, Finch, Pipeworks just to name of few. I'm proud to say that coming back and seeing a solid brewing community in my home town has been welcoming and that my time trying to get my friends to drink and buy locally crafted brews has earnestly paid off. Their fridge is consistently filled with growlers, bombers, beautifully canned and bottled four and six packs. Calling San Diego my home and being a craft beer lover fortunately go hand and hand. San Diego has more than enough to offer when it comes to craft beer but it would hurt if I didn't take a few things from Chicago back home. I packed up a check on filled with a ton cans and bottles from Marz Community Brewing, Temperance, Burnt City, Half Acre, 5 Rabbits, Finch, Pipeworks, a lovely bottle of Bourbon County and much more. All of these have little to no distribution out here. SO it meant quite a bit to have it back home.
Drinking while in Chicago? That's a no brainer. I took Leah to a few of my regular dives and water holes. Skylark, Simones, and Schubas. All Chicago classics with something different to offer. I offered Leah her first taste of midwest sparkling water, a.k.a. Old Style! We wound up bringing back a 24 pack to share with friends since distribution here is like a dry county. You just won't find it here.
Chicago is a beast. It takes a ton of time to soak up every mural wrapped corner and take in the sights, sounds and smells of each of it's diverse neighborhoods. Even though I grew up here I came to discover this time around it's rapidly changing in ways I never expected. It's grown in a way that no longer reminds me of it's blue collar charm. It's still a world class city with a lot of world residing in it's heart wanting to work and offer something truly uncommon. However the city, like any other city, is plagued with problems that become plastered on the front pages of the nation's eyes with no one in leadership substantial enough to take Chicago by reins and lead it into unknown but hopefully progressive territory. A Bridgeport shadow still lingers at City Hall today.
Those are just my thoughts and observations. Chicago, as much as my family attempts to debate me, is no longer my home. I do have an honest disconnect with it even thought the city flag is inked and etched into my left arm. It is a damn good city with a steel heart but sadly stuck in it's old ways. Something needs to change but little by little with every new effort to revitalize a broken neighborhood to framing new drywall in a once boarded up home, Chicago will change. If you have a chance to go any where, go to Chicago. Soak it all in and take your time. Eat some damn good food for heaven sakes. If you call Chicago your home now, venture into a neighborhood you thought was out of your reach. Chicagoans tend to stay in their own comfort zone and hardly try something else. Take a drive up or down Western, make a turn, and remember to feed the meter when you finally find parking. You might find something meaningfully new or perhaps something old that is given new life.
Enjoy the city by the lake.