Chicago
September 2008

Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
I visited Chicago some 15 years ago on a business trip. It turned into a nightmare of missed connections, crashed computers, awkward conversations with the company president, etc. - one of the worst 24 hours of my life. I only left the hotel to fetch my luggage from the hotel I'd checked into originally, which had been the wrong hotel, so I didn't really have any feel for the city. I've had friends who visited and raved, and several of EM's friends have moved there, so it's been on the Maybe To Do list for a while. So when Nick Cave went on tour and wasn't playing Atlanta, it seemed like as good an excuse as any. One round of TicketBastard and Expedia later, our trip was booked.

Speaking of books, we poked around in search of a good travel guide. Since we were only going for a long weekend, we wouldn't have time to discover everything the old fashioned way, so I wanted as much info in advance as possible. I couldn't find a Chicago version of my preferred brand, Let's Go, but Lonely Planet looked decent so I bought it and read it over the weeks leading up to the trip. Rather than organized by neighborhood, everything is organized by topic - food, nightlife, shopping, lodging, etc. This means when you end up in a neighborhood you have to do a lot of cross-referencing to find dinner, a bar, etc. I also spotted numerous mistakes - incorrect phone numbers, for example, and Superman listed as a Marvel Comics hero when mentioned in describing a comic book store. The pull-out map had been pulled out before I bought it, which I hadn't noticed in advance, so I had to rely on their smaller, neighborhood maps, which aren't color-coded - especially annoying when all of Chicago's transit lines are described by color. The shopping recommendations frequently mention chain stores and never mention thrift stores and some entire neighborhoods are barely covered at all. By the end of the weekend in Chicago I was cursing the book almost every time I had to use it. The less time you have at a destination the more important a good guide book, or guide, becomes. I'll never use Lonely Planet again.

But I'm getting ahead of myself here.

We hopped on the train, made our transfer, dragged our heavy suitcase out of the station and were pretty much immediately lost. It wouldn't have been a problem had we not been hauling our luggage, at night, in a strange city, surrounded by homeless people, and ready for dinner. So we hailed a cab, only to find we were 2 blocks from the hotel, the lovely Ambassador East, a refurbished old hotel with some amazing chandeliers. It's restaurant, The Pump Room, has seen dozens of famous faces, according to the 8x10's adorning the walls. Alas, their menu proved too pricey for us, not to mention the dress code, so we consulted our guide book and headed out in search of food.

I wanted to sample all the Chicago archetypal fare - pizza, hotdogs, barbecue, etc.  We were a little concerned when we passed several restaurants that were already closed around 10PM on a Thursday night but soon we found Fireside Inn, famous for ribs, with a bustling patio of over-dressed people. Inside was an incredibly loud sports-bar style room that might have chased us away, had the hostess not led us to the quieter dining room next door where we could gawk at the meat market outside while consuming meat of another flavor inside.
I went with a rack of babyback ribs and a side of mashed taters. I found the sauce to be too sweet, yet somehow simultaneously bland - kind of ketchupy. The meat was not fall-off-the-bone tender as I've had in other places and combined with the price and atmosphere I wouldn't recommend the place to anyone.
Breaking in a new camera, I had a tough time getting photos right this trip. EM's delicious crab cakes look terrible here, but they were the highlight of the meal. A little crispy, a little chewy, with 2 flavors of sauce that were hardly touched because the cakes themselves were so good.

She also ordered a spinach salad which would've been a meal in itself.

After a long day of planes, trains and automobiles we were too pooped to party on, though a block from our hotel offered several options. Sadly, none of them seemed our style - lots of sports bars and places with lines of overdressed singles in search of vapid distraction. We called it a night.

Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday

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