Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Holiday Train Rocks Public Transport

Yesterday I was waiting for the Red Line at Chicago Avenue, when the CTA Holiday Train pulled up. Covered in twinkly lights, with elves on board passing out candy canes, and all the ads replaced by holiday riddles (ie, Where do elves keep their money? A snow bank), it's impossible not to smile when you climb aboard. Santa even has his own open-air flatcar carrying his sleigh and reindeer.

The Holiday Train has been rolling for 20 years. It runs on a different line each day, Wednesday through Saturday between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Check here for the schedule.

And one for the road: What is an elf's favorite meal at the North Pole? A brrr grr.

Tales of Butter

Butter man Abel Gonzales
Perhaps by now you've heard about the butter crisis in Norway. Due to factors such as weak milk production by the nation's cows, butter is missing from supermarket shelves at the time of year it's most needed - for Christmas bun baking. To cope, Norwegians are making butter runs to neighboring countries such as Germany and Sweden. A few days ago, cops busted butter smugglers trying to sell 550 pounds of yellowy goodness brought in from Sweden.

Let's hope a similar crisis never hits Texas in October. Because that's when the State Fair serves up its audacious deep-fried butter. Abel Gonzales Jr (pictured) is the genius who concocted the recipe. I was lucky enough to visit him a few months ago and taste test the following:

Fried butter
Deep-fried butter (Grade: A) - much more awesome than I expected, kind of like the southwest's sopapilla

Deep-fried s'more (Grade: A-) - nice balance of gooey interior and crisp exterior

Deep-fried cookie dough (Grade: B-) - can't believe I'm saying this, but it was almost too sweet

Deep-fried Frito pie (Grade: C) - you better be a meat and sour cream fan for this one

Deep-fried Ding Dong (Grade: C+) - the cake-iness gets totally mushed in the fryer
Fried s'more

So there you go: a belated Texas State Fair round-up, brought on by Norway's imperiled butter supply.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

RIP Cesaria Evora

Cesaria Evora died today at age 70. Below is the story of when we met her on the island of Sao Vicente, off West Africa's coast (from an old blog post):

Cape Verde's most famous resident is the singer Cesaria Evora, who has made her living crooning about her country and its beauty. Her deep, smooth voice and romantic songs - called mornas - vaulted her to international stardom, and she tours throughout the world.

So imagine our surprise when we walk down the street in Mindelo (Sao Vicente's capital) and see Cesaria Evora sitting on her front porch. Imagine our greater surprise when she invites us in and offers us a beer (served by a pierced houseboy in an apron).

We couldn't say much to each other directly, since we don't speak Criolo or French and Cesaria doesn't speak English. Everything had to be translated by Peter, Cesaria's 87-year-old uncle, a dapper gentleman in white linen trousers, as sharp-dressed as they come, except for his unzipped fly.

Cesaria asked why we had come to Cape Verde, and where else we had visited in the country. As Peter relayed our answers, she listened graciously puffing on Marlboro Reds held between fingers heavy with gold rings.

At the end of our visit, Cesaria let us take photos (after telling Peter to zip up first), and then she invited us back.

She was a class act. You can see the Barefoot Diva (she only performed shoeless) singing here.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Hello, Cleveland!

Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced its 2012 inductees today: Guns N' Roses, the Beastie Boys, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Laura Nyro, Donovan and The Small Faces. The ceremony will be April 14 in C-Town, where it's held every third year. (Apparently, it's too much to ask industry types to travel to the woebegon city annually; the other years it takes place in NYC).

Performers on the ballot who did not make it in included The Cure, Heart, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts and War.

Then there's Rush, who wasn't even nominated - despite the fact they've sold more than 40 million records and have "more consecutive gold and platinum records than everyone except the Beatles and the Rolling Stones" (both in the Hall, btw), according to Wired's GeekDad blog.

Rush doesn't hold it against Cleveland, though. Their newest album is titled Time Machine 2011: Live in Cleveland.

NPR is conducting a poll of whether Rush should be in the Hall. Submit your vote here. At press time, almost 16,000 voters (97.3%) want them in the limelight.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Christmas Story Story

Now that it's cold enough outside to stick a tongue to a flagpole, I always think of Cleveland, Ohio. You probably do, too, without realizing it. Because the city holds the house from A Christmas Story, the 1983 film in which Ralphie yearns for a Red Ryder BB gun.

It's a big tourist attraction. In 2004, a fan named Brian Jones bought the private residence on eBay for $150,000 and replicated the interior to match the movie set (only the home's exterior had been used for filming). Jones' job, by the way: manufacturing leg lamps.

When I visited, there was a line to get in. Fans swarmed the place, snapping pix by the Christmas tree, at the mailbox (where Ralphie waited for his decoder pin) and - most popularly - huddled around the leg lamp. This was April, mind you. In December there's the added bonus of having Randy (aka the now-36-year-old actor who played the little bro) on site to show you around. Afterward everyone crosses the street to the gift shop to buy - that's right - a leg lamp! (We prefer the key chain version, as well as a bar of Lifebuoy Soap to wash out dirty mouths).

Monday, November 21, 2011

Random Billy Pilgrim Sidebar

An addendum to the post about visiting the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library:

In the early 1990s, my husband had a rock band in Chicago called Billy Pilgrim. One day, he got a letter from Atlantic Records: relinquish the name, and the label would pay him $7000. It seems Atlantic had just signed another Billy Pilgrim - a folk rock duo from Georgia (one of the dudes is now the guitarist in Sugarland) - and needed to trademark the name.

We think Vonnegut would smile at the situation: poor Chicago rockers get lots of beer money for a character name Vonnegut invented. Meanwhile, vintage Pilgrim tuques remain on the Windy City's streets.

Friday, November 18, 2011

So It Goes at the Vonnegut Library

The Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library in Indianapolis is small but mighty. Offbeat tidbits from his life stock the displays, such as his Pall Mall cigarettes, Purple Heart medal, and the box where he kept his rejection letters. Each month the library frames a different letter and hangs it on the wall, ie:

"I was glad to read your story To Dust Return. I am sorry that I cannot write to you about it with enthusiasm.... I'm afraid you have tried to substitute novelty for real dramatic narrative. This sometimes works but very seldom. I'm afraid that I must, therefore, tell you that you should look elsewhere for an agent.... Yours, Larabie Cunningham, McIntosh & Otis Inc., NY, NY"

The library also replicates Vonnegut's office, complete with checkerboard carpet, red rooster lamp and blue Coronamatic typewriter. Visitors can sit at the desk and type Kurt a note, which the library then publishes via Twitter from the name @kurtstypewriter.

A few months ago, the library formed a Banned Book Response Team to give away free copies of Slaughterhouse-Five to students in Republic, MO, where the book is restricted. Yes, Billy Pilgrim and friends continue to cause controversy by swearing and having sex, even 42 years after publication.

Click here for a random, rock-n-roll Billy Pilgrim sidebar.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Pie-Five for Route 66's Birthday

What better way to honor of Route 66's birthday tomorrow - officials christened the Mother Road on November 11, 1926 - than a pie-filled road trip? You can practically follow the trail of crumbs from one diner to the next.

Launch from Lou Mitchell's in downtown Chicago. Yes, it's renowned as a breakfast place, but since more than 35% of Americans admit they've forked into pie for breakfast, according to the American Pie Council, there's no need to be shy about ordering the fruity, a la mode slice-of-the-day (weekends only) to chase your double-yoked eggs and complimentary donut holes.

Motor on to Dell Rhea's Chicken Basket in Willowbrook. As comfort food connoisseurs, the Rhea family knows deep-fried bird and mac-and-cheese can only be capped by warm, buttery, blueberry pie. At least that's what filled plates recently; the selection rotates.

Next up: the Old Log Cabin in Pontiac. Coffee, conversation and Crisco-based crust are its recipe for success, along with loads of classics to choose from. Banana cream? Butterscotch? Cherry? Rhubarb? All here and accounted for (until lunchtime).

When you hear a collective "mmm" rising from the cornfields, you've reached Atlanta and the time-warped Palms Grill Cafe. Thick slabs of gooseberry, peach, sour cream raisin and other retro pies tempt from a glass case. Bonus: Tall Paul, a giant statue of Paul Bunyan clutching a hot dog, watches from across the street.

Then it's on to the Ariston Cafe in Litchfield, one of Route 66's oldest restaurants. Post meatloaf dinner, the waitress hauls out a big ol' dessert tray stacked with Reese's, Snickers, apple and other pies. Consider it fuel for the long drive onward, because friend, you're still in Illinois. You've got 7 states and 2000 miles to go to reach the end of the road.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Bhut-y Call

I've written before about Jake Melnick's Corner Tap, where the spicy buffalo wings are sauced with the bhut jolokia, the hottest pepper on earth. For reference, it's about 200 times hotter than a jalapeno.

On Sunday, November 6, Melnick's hosts the "Battle of the Bhut" wing-eating contest - an official event on the International Federation of Competitive Eating circuit. Last year's winner, Erik "The Red" Denmark, chowed 35 nuclear wings. They're typically served alongside a bell - you ring it for a shot of cooling milk, in case the pepper incapacitates your vocal chords.

Oddly, while chilies inflame the mouth, they're thought to have the opposite effect on the reverse end of the body. This goes back to French Army officer L Stevenel, who wrote in the 1956 Bulletin of the Society of Exotic Pathology that West African locals' lack of hemorrhoids was does to their red-chili-rich diet.

For more on dishes hot enough to repel elephants, check out the World's 10 Fieriest Foods.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Museums for National Sandwich Day

Sure, you can celebrate November 3 with a couple slices of meat-filled bread. You can even add a piece of cake to honor John Montagu's 293rd birthday (Montagu is the 4th Earl of Sandwich, the 18th century Englishman who invented the dish as a way to eat with one hand while playing cards with the other.) But if you're serious about sandwiches, visit these Midwestern museums to pay proper homage to the holiday:

National Mustard Museum, Middleton, Wisconsin - Born of one man's ridiculously intense passion, the building houses 5300 mustards, kooky condiment memorabilia and a mustard bar to sample the spreads. CMO (chief mustard officer) Barry Levenson is usually on hand to introduce you to Mustardpiece Theatre, Shakespearean mustard references and the rest of his condiment shtick.

Spam Museum, Austin, Minnesota - Learn how the peculiar, blue-tinned meat has fed armies, become a Hawaiian food staple and inspired legions of haiku writers. What's more, you can chat up the staff (aka 'spambassadors'), indulge in free samples, and try your hand at canning the sweet pork magic.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Leather Museum: Home of the Red Spanking Bench

Add the Leather Archives & Museum to the list of great overlooked institutions in Chicago. Its scholarly displays about leather, fetish and S&M subcultures fill an old synagogue in Rogers Park. Top exhibits:

•    The Red Spanking Bench - An artifact from BDSM club Galleria Domain, designed to be "all things to all bottoms."

•    Short films offering information such as, "Crisco as a lubricant is fabulous. You could put anything up his butt."

•    Last Supper in a Leather Bar with Judas Giving Christ the Finger - A painting by Steven Brown.

•    Kinky historical nuggets, like naughty advice from Ben Franklin (available via the online exhibits).

Bring your mobile device, as many of the displays have barcodes to scan for further information. The website also provides a coupon for half off the $10 admission fee.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Marilyn's Skirt Blowin' in the Windy City

On this date in 1954, Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio divorced. They were married less than a year, and her skirt-blowing pose in The Seven Year Itch supposedly fueled their last fight.

"What would Joe DiMaggio think now?" a grey-haired woman clucks to her two friends before snapping their photo beneath the 26-foot-tall statue of Marilyn on Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago. 

"This is sexist, man. I don't like the way they're objectifying her," says the guy in the Greenpeace T-shirt, laying on his back and aiming his camera up Monroe's skirt.

"Underpants!" A five-year-old boy sums up the issue in a single squeal. He jumps up and down, pointing to the sculpture's lace-trimmed panties.

A local company unveiled Forever Marilyn, which shows the icon in her skirt-billowing-over-a-subway-grate stance, in July. Citizens have been at odds ever since. Detractors say it incites tacky, leering behavior. Supporters say it's fun and rallies the public.

The day I visit, Girl Scouts stand next to gay men admiring the sculpture's slingback high heels. A busload of Chinese tourists swarms Marilyn beside a young wedding party posing in their finery. Of course, a man in plaid shorts is licking Marilyn's leg while his friends ready their iPhones.

Sadly, the blonde bombshell lacks a key attribute of Chicago's other famed public artworks: Anish Kapoor's Cloud Gate and Picasso's untitled piece both generated controversy when they debuted in 2004 and 1967 respectively, but had years to win over their critics. Marilyn dismantles next spring.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Cubs October: Goat, Curse, Theo, Reverse

October is ever the momentous month for the Cubs. Take October 6, 1945, when The Curse fell upon the team. As the story goes: Billy Sianis, owner of the Billy Goat Tavern, brought his pet goat to the Cubs-versus-Tigers World Series game. When he tried to enter Wrigley Field with his four-legged friend, ballpark staff refused, saying the goat stunk. Sianis threw up his arms, and called down a mighty hex: "The Cubs will never win a World Series!" They didn't then, and haven't since.

Flash forward to October 25, 2011, when Theo Epstein takes over as Cubs' General Manager.  Theo broke The Curse of the Bambino in Boston and brought the Red Sox a World Series championship after 86 futile years. Can he do the same here, after 103 sad, woeful losing years?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Chicago's Mayor Checks into Social Media

Mayor Emanuel just joined Foursquare, checking in at the hippie haven Heartland Cafe to promote the new Windy City Badge. This sets up the inimitable potential for the mayor to become the mayor of venues around town. (For the uninitiated, one becomes the "mayor" of a place by visiting it and "checking in" using the location-based Foursquare app, and doing so more than anyone else.) Follow the mind-bending possibilities via ChicagosMayor.

In another reality twist, the fake Mayor Emanuel on Twitter has a new book out: The F***ing Epic Twitter Quest of @MayorEmanuel, by Dan Sinker. It recaps Sinker's classic faux tweets in the guise of Emanuel during the mayoral election. To wit:

•    OK, Carl the Intern makes a good point: Appellate courts are for pussies. We're going to motherf***ing Supreme this bullshit.

•    If you have a giant f***ing pile of money and a bunch of dumb f***s running against you, DREAMS DO COME TRUE.

Monday, September 5, 2011

International Museum of Surgical Science

The Museum of Surgical Science is one of Chicago's oddest sights. Housed in a four-story Gold Coast mansion, it displays a wild collection of surgical gear and exhibits. A collection of "stones" (as in "kidney" and "gall-") and the ancient Roman vaginal speculum leave lasting impressions. Ever wanted to see an iron lung? Here's your chance.

Perhaps most striking is the hemorrhoid surgery toolkit (pictured). It serves as a reminder to eat lots of fiber.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Eli's Cheesecake Factory

Champagne cheesecake, cookie-crazy cheesecake, the Neapolitan Cheesecake Tower - these genius ideas happen at Eli's Cheesecake Factory in Chicago, thanks to lab-coated women with mixers and big bowls of butter. Take the factory tour (1pm Monday through Friday; $3 per person), and you'll get backstage access to their methods, plus see Willy Wonka-esque vats of chocolate and caramel squirt onto the swift-moving production line.

Eli's uses 10,000 lbs of cream cheese, 3000 lbs of sour cream and 2000 eggs each day to make the goods. The tour includes a free slice, and one lucky winner (chosen by random drawing) gets to take home a whole cake. Even if you don't triumph, the attached shop sells "imperfect" wares for big discounts - think $8 for 9-inch cheesecakes.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Rockin' at Chess Records

Like Muddy Waters' house, the unobtrusive building at 2120 S Michigan Ave is another hot spot for blues fans. Keith Richards called it "Mecca" and dragged the Rolling Stones here in 1964. The band had to haul its own equipment up the stairs. And during two heady days in June, they recorded parts of 12 x 5, their first American album.

The building was once Chess Records, the seminal electric blues label that paved the way for rock 'n' roll. It is now the Willie Dixon Blues Heaven Foundation, named for the bassist who wrote most of Chess's hits. Staff give tours Monday through Saturday that take in the reception area (Minnie Ripperton worked the desk) and main studio (designed by a 21-year-old newbie who inadvertently created the room's remarkable sound). Bands play free concerts in the side courtyard on Thursday evenings.

Listen in, and you can't help thinking Dixon summed it all up when he said, "The blues is the roots, and everything else is the fruits."

Monday, June 6, 2011

Jammin' at Muddy Waters' Place

Chicago rocks its annual Blues Fest June 10-12 - a fine time to make the pilgrimage to Muddy Waters' house (4339 S Lake Park Ave) on the South Side. This is where guitars screamed and bass lines rolled at new decibel levels, because Waters and friends had plugged in their amps. So began the electric blues.

Impromptu jam sessions with pals like Howlin' Wolf and Chuck Berry erupted in the front yard of the red-brick abode. Waters lived here for 20 years, until 1974, but today the building stands vacant in a lonely, tumbledown lot. It's private property, so you can't go inside. A sign commemorates the spot.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Mythic Homerun in Minnesota

Exactly 44 years ago, on June 3, 1967, Minnesota Twins player Harmon Killebrew smacked a home run that rocketed 520 feet into the left field stands and shattered two seats. The Twins never sold tickets for those mythic chairs again.

The Mall of America now stands where the old ballpark used to be, and a chair beyond the mall's log flume (yes, the Mall of America has an indoor log flume, as well as roller coasters, minigolf course, shark aquarium and wedding chapel) marks the spot.

Killebrew died on May 17. I happened to be there May 18, and many people dropped by to pay their respects and offer flowers. A chubby 10-year-old boy stood beside me.

'Did you come to see Harmon?" he asked. 'We're gonna miss him.'

RIP, Killer.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Dylan's Duluth

Folks in Duluth are low-key about native son Bob Dylan. The Electric Fetus record shop, which was advertising a deal on Highway 61 Revisited in honor of Bob's birthday last week, sits a few blocks down the road from his birthplace. When asked if many visitors stop by to get directions, the clerk looked blankly and said, 'Dylan's from Hibbing.'

Perhaps it should be noted the Electric Fetus also sells bongs.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Cabrini's Illuminated Fall

On March 30, the wrecking ball swings into the building at 1230 N. Burling St., the last of Cabrini-Green's high rises.

Built between 1942 and 1962, Cabrini became the poster child for failed public housing. It was an anti-oasis, a 70-acre patch of 15,000 poor, black residents bordering but segregated from Chicago's richest neighborhoods in the Gold Coast and Lincoln Park. Cabrini's collapse into drugs, gangs and violence made it infamous - as did the 1970s TV show Good Times, in which the opening credits play over the blighted landscape.

Developers have been demolishing Cabrini bit by bit since the late 1990s, moving residents to mixed-income housing across the city and suburbs. The building on Burling is the last to go. You can watch the event in real time at Project Cabrini Green. The Museum of Contemporary Art and several youth-oriented Cabrini nonprofit groups have turned the demolition site into a lighted artwork that will have a beautiful demise.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Illinois Celebrates Reagan's 100th Birthday

Illinois may be the Land of Lincoln, but northwestern Illinois is all about another presidential son: Ronald Reagan. Dutch spent his childhood here - born in Tampico, high school in Dixon - and the region works hard to promote its Reagan shrines. That's why Newt Gingrich, Dennis Hastert and a host of other Republican dignitaries are coming on Feb. 4 to kick off Reagan's 100th birthday year. The Centennial Commission has the slate of events. 

Dixon holds the top sights. A Reagan portrait made from 14,000 red, white and blue jellybeans hangs in the Dixon Historic Center. Reagan's Boyhood Home has a bizarre statue of Reagan admiring corn kernels in his hand and a one-of-a-kind gift shop run by chatty locals.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

North America's Last Guillotine

A guillotine sliced just once in North America, in 1889 on the island of St-Pierre, a stone's throw from eastern Canada. You can see it at the L'Arche Museum there.

Monsieur Neel had killed another man in a booze-fueled fight and was sentenced to die by the blade. Only one problem: St-Pierre didn't have a guillotine, so the islanders had to import one from Martinique. There was no executioner either. So the islanders convinced another prisoner - Monsieur Legent - to pull the lever in return for a reduced sentence.

As promised, Legent dropped the timbers of justice. The locals then shunned him. He was unable to get food or shelter and eventually had to be evacuated to France. The Juliette Binoche movie version bypasses that part of the storyline.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Al Capone and St-Pierre

In Chicago we have Capone sites such as the St Valentine's Day Massacre lot and Holy Name Cathedral. But I ran into more Capone recently while working on the island of St-Pierre.

St-Pierre floats 15 miles from eastern Canada, near the province of Newfoundland (which I cover for Lonely Planet's Canada book). The fog-mantled little land mass is a territory of France, complete with berets, baguettes and Bordeaux. Back in the day it was forsaken and lawless.

Enter Capone. When Prohibition dried out the U.S.'s kegs in the 1920s, he set up shop in St-Pierre. He transformed the sleepy fishing harbor into a booming port that hauled in 300,000 cases of alcohol each month. Bottles were removed from their crates, placed in smaller carrying sacks and taken secretly to the U.S. coast by rum runners. Cutty Sark whiskey crates piled so high on St-Pierre's docks that locals started using the wood to build houses. Some homes are still around - as is the bootlegging supposedly.

So they may be toasting Capone on St-Pierre today, as Jan. 17 is his birthday. In Chicago, groupies typically mark the day at Capone's gravesite at Mt Carmel Cemetery in suburban Hillside, leaving offerings of whiskey or a Cuban cigar.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Flo's Algiers Lounge

If your gramma decked out her basement like a tiki bar, the result would be Flo's. Faux palm trees sway, lights twinkle, and plastic baskets of pretzel sticks tempt on the formica tables. The bar is in a converted drycleaner's building. Flo and her husband bought it 30+ years ago. He died, Flo got a gun, whipped up some pierogies to serve with her Budweiser, and kept the place going. The rest is history as only a Chicagoan like Flo can tell it.

The sassy octogenarian will give you an "Impeach Mayor Daley" bumper sticker. She'll tell you dirty jokes. She'll bring ice for your whiskey via a shopping cart from the back room (because those damn ice bags are heavy).

Once a month Flo hosts the Revolutionary Swing Orchestra. The 15-piece brass band plays oldies and polka tunes for a rockin' crowd of mostly senior citizens. Catch the next gig on Jan. 22 starting at 9pm.

Flo's is at 5436 W Montrose Ave in Portage Park.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Vonnegut Library/Museum Opens

The new Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library has opened in downtown Indianapolis. Why Indy? Because Vonnegut was born and raised there, of course.

“All my jokes are Indianapolis. All my attitudes are Indianapolis. My adenoids are Indianapolis. If I ever severed myself from Indianapolis, I'd be out of business," Vonnegut once said.

The library/museum is currently open Fridays and Saturdays. After the official kickoff party on January 29, it'll extend hours to weekdays. Other quotes to tide you over until then:

•    Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God. Cat's Cradle
•    All persons, living and dead, are purely coincidental. Timequake
•    Why don't you take a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut? Slapstick
•    So it goes. Slaughterhouse Five

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Chicago Food Trucks

You probably know Chicago lags behind its big-city counterparts in the food truck department. While technically we have trucks that sell food - like 'naan-wich' seller Gaztro-Wagon, sammie man Meatyballs Mobile, and thick-icing'ed Flirty Cupcakes - the chefs must prepare all their chow in a licensed kitchen offsite, according to current city law.

Food trucksters are hoping to change the regulations so food can be cooked fresh to order onboard. Check their website - - for updates. In the meantime, new trucks continue to hit the road. The newest, rolling as of last week, is Sweet Miss Givings, a brownie/cookie/muffin purveyor who gives 51% of proceeds to charity.

Check the Tribune's food truck Twitter feed for locations of all the local trucks.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Snowman vs Sandman

It doesn't suck when your job requires travel to the Caribbean during winter - especially when you live in Chicago. For comparison purposes:
  • Average temperature Chicago vs Virgin Islands: 29 degrees/84 degrees
  • Average water temp: 42 degrees/79 degrees
  • Average rum shot price: $3/1
But when it comes to Chicago snowman vs VI sandman in an alley fight, I'll take  Chicago.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Buh Bye BoA Cinema & Wonder Bar

As the new year rolls in, we bid adieu to a couple of long-standing if under-the-radar Chicago entertainment venues.

1. Bye, Bank of America Cinema - For 38 years this oddball movie house - hidden in an obscure northwest side bank building - screened Hollywood classics like Laurel and Hardy along with themed series such as "Mustache Cinema" (where one might watch Mutiny on the Bounty, the only Clark Gable movie where he's sans 'stache).

2. Underground Wonder Bar - Lonie Walker's teeny jazz and blues club has been open every night for 21 years in the Gold Coast and given many newbie musicians the chance to cut their chops. Established musicians, too - Liza Minnelli and Tiny Tim rank among the eclectic crooners who've grabbed the mic.

In both cases, the venues fell victim to new landlords who kicked them out. The cinema is hoping to start up again as a Wednesday night series at the Portage Theater. The Wonder Bar is trying to move to a new site at 736 N Clark St.