05/18/07 – Trip to Chicago

Well folks, while I’ve been in the airports surrounding the city too many times to count, it wasn’t until the first week of May that I finally treated myself to the sites, sounds, and chow beyond O’Hare and Midway. Simply put, Chicago is a pretty cool city. Sure there’s loads of high rises and all, but what impressed most, other than the city beachfront which vastness was a complete surprise. was the neighborhoods. Call it a city of neighborhoods, many long-time ethnic strongholds, each with their own distinct character and identity. Ravenswood Gardens, Ukranian Village, Roscoe Village, Lincoln Square, Wrigleyville, etc, etc. It’s also a town that likes it sausage, not mention Italian beef sandwiches. Visited The Wiener Circle which is spittin’ distance from Wrigley. A little intimidating on the ordering front, but the charred Polish with hand-cut fries definitely cut the mustard. Checked out the Chicago History Museum which was a pretty good lesson in the lore of the city. They also had a pretty neat roots music exhibit that covered everything from the National Barndance to Bloodshot Records. Speaking of Bloodshot, visited the headquarters of the label over on Irving Park Road. A comfy little joint staffed by a hospitable bunch of folks. Check ’em out at www.bloodshotrecords.com. Back to the food, Chicago is known for its Italian beef sandwiches and the cream of the crop is Mr. Beef located downtown on N. Orleans. If you’ve never had a Chicago-style Italian beef sandwich, let’s just say that you better have plenty of napkins on hand. Thinly sliced beefed spiced to perfection, they stuff the juicy stuff onto a roll which what with all the juice ends up more like a sponge. Simply put, this sandwich at Mr. Beef was a sublime experience. Another good gastronomic experience was Hot Dougs (www.hotdougs.com). Doug calls the place “The Sausage Superstore and Encased Meat Emporium. This guy digs sausage with styles and flavors galore. The week I was there the special was a smoked rattlesnake sausage. I went for another charred polish and it was nearly off the scale of goodness.
On the music front, Chicago has some great clubs. A couple of recommended joints are the Empty Bottle and The Hideout. The draw at the Bottle for me was hometown honky tonkers The Hoyle Brothers who play happy hour every Friday. Whereas I was just warming up to the new lead singer in the band, the band plays the hardcore stuff just fine. Located in an industrial section of the city, The Hideout (www.hideoutchicago.com) is exactly that. It’s this lone house nestled amidst warehouses, factories, etc. You enter the place and the bar is staring you in the face. Head through the doorway to the right of the bar and you come upon the cozy music room with a stage at the end. The fish taxidermy on the walls is an interesting touch (and I like it). Whereas the band I saw that night was so-so, I felt comfortable as soon as I entered the joint.
A short and sweet visit, this scouting trip has me juiced for more visits to the Windy City.