Thursday, January 20, 2011
A Slice of...Chicago!
I am a twenty-something writer and photographer, with a 9-5 day job. I am a believer in books, red wine and raising one’s own children. I entered the blogosphere just this year and, though I’m no Dani Hampton, I try and keep up: http://allthisgraceandcharm.blogspot.com. (editor's note: definitely check out Carly's blog- it's really wonderful). Currently, I’m preparing to be a wife to a man that’s hardworking, selfless and handsome as all get out. We will be married on March 26th, in a vintage, cocktail party themed wedding, set to take place in the city I have an unwavering allegiance to: Chicago, Illinois.
I am in love with Chicago because of its vast history, its myriad cultural activities and its simultaneous class and grittiness. I am in love with Chicago because I have scoured the nation over for a city more diverse, more interesting, more real, and I have found none. Alex Kotlowitz, one of my most favored nonfiction writers, wrote a beautiful book about Chicago entitled, “Never a City so Real.” (All you need to know is that, the title.)
1) The Green Mill
If you’ve ever visited Chicago, you’ve likely received advice to see some Chicago jazz. The Green Mill, originally built in 1910 as a spot for mourners to stop in for a drink on their way from a nearby cemetery, sits among Chicago’s finest jazz clubs; it’s a sort of secret to tourists, but most locals know it well. I once wrote an essay about the club, in which I summed up it’s aesthetic like this: The Green Mill has the noir kind of feel that makes you want to wear red lipstick, smoke too many cigarettes and drink gin. Truly, the inside hasn’t changed a bit since its prohibition era, speakeasy days: It boasts a dramatic oak bar, velvet-lined booths and votive candles flickering inside green, mosaic glasses.
In the fifties, The Green Mill’s beatnik patrons birthed the “Poetry Slam,” a concept that spread nationally over the next decade. The club still hosts a slam every Sunday night. I try to attend whenever I can; it’s a one-of-a-kind experience.
There are dozens of fabulous bookstores in Chicago, however, my allegiance is to Quimby’s for the important niche it serves: Quimby's is an independently owned bookstore that sells independently-published and small press books, comics and zines. Its zine selection is the most impressive I’ve seen—and this is coming from a gal that lived in Portland for some time (a city that takes its indie-lit VERY seriously). You’ll find everything from glossy, professional looking zines to zines zeroxed from stained bar napkins. Writers are able to sell zines at Quimby’s on consignment, allowing them exposure and an audience, two things that can be hard to obtain.
In an age when small presses are closing up shop daily, I am always happy to give Quimby’s my business.
3) The Metro
My beloved Smashing Pumpkins started their career at this concert venue, among dozens of other local Chicago bands that went on to experience national success. The Metro was the first place I saw a show in the city, and I guess it made an impression on me because it’s still my favorite venue. Built in the early 1900s, the interior is charming in an antiquated and broken-down kind of way. The owner, Joe Shanahan, is devoted to the arts and often hosts book signings and readings featuring local authors. The Metro will always be a feel good kind of place for me, loaded with fond personal memories.
4) Graceland Cemetary
Yes, I’m one of those odd folks who find cemeteries peaceful. I used to live in a flat with a giant picture window that overlooked Graceland, a cemetery known nationally for its Victorian design and famous—ahem—residents, including 1893 World’s Fair architect Daniel Burnham. During the time that I lived in the flat, it was winter and I was in- between jobs. I used to get up in the morning, make coffee and settle in by that window to watch snow dance over the headstones. It was beautiful.
I’ve been thinking about that period in my life a lot lately… What should have been a chaotic time spent worrying about finding a job was rendered a period for calmness and reflection. I like to think Graceland had something to do with that.
5) The California Clipper
Chicago is a big city. Really big. And, it’s home to hundreds of unique bars. Time and time again, however, I choose the Clipper as my go-to spot. Built in 1937, the Clipper is a true rockabilly bar, complete with stellar bluegrass acts on the weekends and bartenders that call you “sweetheart” and “doll face” without it sounding the least bit contrived.
I have never once left the Clipper feeling less than wonderful. It’s a sort on unexplainable phenomenon; I’ve brought all kinds of people there, mixed work and personal friends, etc.. and we’ve always gone home just flying. It’s a seemingly supernatural effect. Sometimes I kid that the Clipper’s ghost—said to be a forties pinup type who lounges in particular booths and whose perfume occasionally clouds near the ladies room—is responsible for the ultra feel-good atmosphere.