Tuesday, November 6, 2007 - Chicago in Autumn
Everyone has heard of Chicago for one or all of many reasons, Al Capone, John Dillinger, The Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre, The Chicago fire, The Blues Brothers or ‘Da’ Bears and ‘Da’ Bulls, as was parodied some years ago on one of the few vaguely humorous sketches on Saturday Night Live.
I visited ‘The Windy City’ last weekend for four days and found a city full of great architecture. Art Deco and neo-gothic abound, as do numerous goliath glass structures and Irish style bars. Downtown Chicago's magnificent skyline is dominated by overwhelming skyscrapers such as The Hancock Bldg, The Wrigley Bldg and The Sears Tower, not to forget the oldest surviving structure of the Great Chicago fire, The Water Tower..
I found the city not as phony and pretentious as Los Angeles, but not quite as grand as New York. A city proud of it’s blue collar grass roots but not without a great deal of old money sophistication.
During my stay I enjoyed some fine restaurants. Steakhouses such as Morton’s or Hugo’s Frog Bar and Fish Bar, which despite the name contained swanky décor and ceiling fans operated by a series of belts and pulleys, which almost brought you back to a 1930’s speakeasy. Tree lined streets in the historical district, the smart bars and restaurants of Rush Street were amongst my favorites.
I spent half a day on a visit to the Art Institute of Chicago. The Art Institute was not as impressive as the Metropolitan in NYC, the layout was a little clustered and irritating, many galleries contained a mixture of furniture on small plinths or stages behind which were displayed the paintings. The layout meant that close inspection of some works was impossible, without tripping an alarm if you got within 3 feet.
A current exhibition of Jasper John’s (which I thought was awful) meant that Hopper’s Nighthawks was temporarily unavailable, which was also a little annoying.
People in Chicago love their booze, ciggies and cigars, steaks and pizzas which adds to the atmosphere of warmth, especially when the windy city lives up to it’s nose biting weather reputation. Visiting from L.A I found it a refreshing change that people proudly order a large slab of meat, washed down with copious amounts of booze, then perhaps a nice smoke afterwards, few order salads in this town, unlike my West Coast home.
It got quite chilly on my last day but it was a wonderfully familiar feeling to see the autumnal changing of the season through the many deciduous trees throughout Chicago’s many parks. Walking through the crunching multi-colored leaves adorning the sidewalk brought back English childhood memories, unlike the beaches of Los Angeles with their omnipresent palm tree foliage.
Chicago's notorious criminal 1920's and 30's American gangster past can be viewed if you know what you are looking for. The site of the infamous Saint Valentine's Day Massacre is a parking lot now however The Biograph Theatre where John Dillinger was ambushed by Federal G-men after being betrayed by the 'Lady in Red' can still be seen. The English style Red Lion pub just opposite the site serves Old Speckled Hen on draught.
I passed Soldier Field over by the lakefront and observatory, Soldier Field is home to The Chicago Bears football team, some of my favorite NFL footage is of old Bears games played in the bitter cold where steam escaped the human Titans mouths like ghostly phantoms. I had hoped to maybe see a Bears game on the Sunday, but it was an off week and I had a considerable hangover after 3 days of binge drinking English/Chicago stylee…..
The phrase that best describes the town for me is probably one that ironically I saw in a cheesy T-shirt and souvenir store;
“A drinking town with a sports problem”