Friday, April 30, 2010

365-Day Pub Crawl

We told you he was coming, and we weren't kidding. Marty Wombacher, the New Yorker questing to drink in a different bar every day for one year, has arrived in Chicago.

First stop: Simon's in Andersonville. Who doesn't enjoy a bar marked by a martini-drinking neon fish? See it, as well as all that transpired throughout the evening, at Marty's blog, A Guy Walks into 365 Bars.

Tonight's drinkery: Club Foot in Ukie Village. If you're in the 'hood stop by around 8pm and join the party.

And that picture? That's Marty taking a photo of me taking a photo of him taking a photo. Yes, the bar crawl does very confusing as the night wears on. Just ask Marty about his late-night notes...

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Greedy Yellow Fingers

It's that time of year in Chicago, when  tourists descend. The sure place to find them all? Nope, not the Art Institute or Millennium Park. It's Garrett Popcorn (625 N Michigan Ave).

People have passed out, peed in their pants and punched each other while waiting in line here. That's the power of their caramel corn. And cheese corn. Really – that's all they sell. Millions of dollars worth every year. For caramel corn. And cheese corn. And the two mixed. OK, and maybe some plain and buttered flavors too. There’s always a line down the block. You know why? Because it's freakin' addictive. One estimate says Chicagoans down a collective half-million pounds per year. You can tell who's been indulging by the orange-yellow stain on their fingers.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Crown Fountain's Faces

The city has flipped the switch and turned on the water at Crown Fountain, as it does every year around this time. Gotta hand it to the Crown family, who funded Jaume Plensa's Millennium Park waterwork. They didn't even giggle when he mentioned gothic architecture, sports stadiums and dental equipment in the same breath.

The fountain's two screens are sporty Jumbotrons, and they flash a thousand different faces. The people shown are all native Chicagoans, and they agreed to strap into Plensa's special dental chair, where he immobilized their heads for filming. Each mug puckers up and spurts water, just like the gargoyles atop Notre Dame Cathedral. A fresh set of non-puckering faces appears in winter, when the fountain is dry.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Hasta La Vista, Dark Lord

The Dark Lord has come and gone, and the only way to get your hands on his 15% chocolatey stout is second-hand. Bottles are selling on Craigslist for $50 to $100 per bottle.

Dark Lord, of course, is Three Floyds Brewery's Russian Imperial Stout - considered one of the best beers on earth - available only one day per year at the northwest Indiana brew house. The festival surrounding the day is mythic, complete with Golden Tickets and metal bands. That event happened April 24.

A bit of good news for those still moping over missed opportunities: starting July 1, Indiana lifts its ban on Sunday microbrew sales. So you can get Three Floyds' wheat ale Gumball Head, mango-hopped Dreadnaught and seasonals like toasty Blackheart (May) on the day of the lord. Though for the Dark Lord, the wait remains a tantalizing 362 days.

Friday, April 16, 2010

A Bar a Day (Keeps Sobriety Away)

Marty Wombacher has a liver of steel. Or maybe a liver of sponge. It's sturdy, whatever it is, because Marty floods it with beer and shots daily as he quests to drink at a different New York City bar every night in 2010. That's right - 365 bars in 365 days. So far, so good.

He's at bar number 96 currently. He blogs about each place and gives a review with pix at A Guy Walks into 365 Bars.

He's big in Australia, where The Morning Show aired a piece on him. He's relentless enough to drag his 80-year-old parents out when they came to NYC. And we'll host him here in Chicago when he takes the pub crawl on the road Apr. 29 and 30. We have some special watering holes in mind (to be revealed later), but in the meantime, we're open to suggestions.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Peek into Wrigley Field

I'm over the Game 1 lament - well, not really, but I'm over it enough to attend opening day at Wrigley Field. Say what you want about the team stinking up the place, but the ballpark is a beauty. You've probably heard it ad nauseam: the ivy walls, the hand-operated scoreboard, the neon entrance sign, the retro vibe dating to 1914 (Wrigley is the second-oldest park after Boston's Fenway).

Have a look. The view is from the rooftop across the street. I think Jeff Baker hit the two-run homer.

And FYI: Samardzija's ERA is now 27. Zambrano's is 11.88.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Tornado Tutorial

April marks the beginning of tornado season. Forecasters say the nation's mega-wet winter and active jet stream could lead to more twisters than usual this spring.

Last year, 1156 tornadoes ripped across the country, killing 21 people, according to the Storm Prediction Center. In 2008, more than 1690 tornadoes spun through, causing 126 deaths.

The state with the most twisters isn't Kansas, as you might expect given the hoopla surround Dorothy and her Oz-blown farmhouse. It's not the other "Tornado Alley" states either, so cross Oklahoma and Texas off your list. Florida wins the funnel-cloud prize. And nowhere is immune: tornadoes have whipped all 50 states.

Learn more when America's Weatherman, Tom Skilling, hosts his annual free Tornado Seminar on Saturday, April 10.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A Cubs Fan's Lament

Baseball begins, at long last. The Cubs are back in blue. The sun shines, the beer flows. The Cubs bat first in Atlanta, and holy cow! Newcomer Marlon Byrd hits a 3-run homer! It's going to be an awesome season, we're going all the way in 2010!

An inning later, it's all over. Ace pitcher Carlos Zambrano gives up 8 runs. He walks batters, hits batters, serves up a couple meatball home runs, and makes a throwing error.

The season's finished. The Cubs go on to lose 16 to 5.

"Now, now," you're saying. "It's just one game. Cubs fans are such hyperactive, superstitious naysayers."

Please. We know how to read the signs of disaster, including:
  • Our number-one pitcher ($18 mil/yr) now has an ERA of 54.
  • Not so bad, really, considering relief pitcher Jeff Samardzija has an ERA of 108. I thought it was infinity (6 runs divided by 0, as in no outs obtained), but apparently he did strike out one batter.
  • It was the worst Cubs opening game in 126 years. The prior record was set May 1, 1884, when New York clubbed Chicago 15 to 3.
  • With this game, the Cubs enter their 102nd year of World Series futility. It's the longest losing streak in pro sports history.
"Let's just go back to the hotel and cry," Cubs radio announcer Ron Santo said post-game.

Our sentiments exactly.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Burning Similarities

What do March Madness watchers in Chicago and the army of India have in common? Read on for the hot answer.

At Jake Melnick's sports bar, where hoops fans gather in the Windy City, the food of choice is a basket of spicy buffalo wings. At Melnick's, they're sauced with the bhut jolokia (aka ghost chili), which the Guinness Book of Records certified as the hottest pepper on earth. You have to sign a waiver before Melnick's will serve you the nuclear wings. And they arrive alongside a bell - you ring it for a shot of cooling milk, in case the pepper incapacitates your vocal chords.

In northeastern India, where the chili grows, locals have long used it to repel elephants. The Indian army recently announced it would put the pepper in hand grenades to fight terrorists. And, of course, folks use it to spice up their curries.

For reference, the bhut jolokia is 200 times hotter than a jalapeno. Medicinal bonus: some studies say eating super-hot chilis reduces hemorrhoids.