Wednesday, August 19, 2009

City of Broad Shoulders (and Great Beer)

We recently disembarked from our summer excursion to Chicago, the 'city of broad shoulders' or 'the windy city', take your pick. It was indeed windy during our stay, but the neighborhood we chose to stay in, Wicker Park, was more hipster than blue collar. We crammed quite a bit into our short three day stay, here's some highlights...

We stayed in the Wicker Park Inn, a hip little colonial B&B on a quiet residential street. We had our own suite, complete with kitchen, though we took advantage of the restaurants around town and didn't have much use for anything other than the refrigerator. It backed up almost directly under the 'el', but through a fantastic insulation and soundproofing effort, what we heard was only a low hum. Full disclosure; though it bills itself as Bed & Breakfast, there's no breakfast to be had.

The neighborhood itself is gentrified, and recently so. It reminded us quite a bit of Tremont, if Tremont was a neighborhood in a thriving city. Lots of house remodels and rehabs of the predominant colonials, plenty of new construction (town homes and condos), and a cornucopia of restaurants and bars. Small Bar was a place I had been wanting to hit for a year or two, and it was magically right around the corner from our place. Even better, we found an almost identical replacement for our beloved Rodenbach Grand Cru (RIP; at least in the US): Bokker Cuvee des Jacobins Rouge. I think we drank it as fast as it took us to pronounce it. To go along with the opulent sour ale and Surly IPA (talk about hop-kick), we treated ourselves to fried cheese curd, though we somehow missed the poutine (dammit). Then I accidentally stole a cool poster that I thought was out of date, but wasn't (my bad, Small Bar).

Day two consisted of shopping, lots of shopping. Boutiques are as prevalent as patio dining in the neighborhood, and we hit what seemed to be the vast majority. Luckily, we happened upon a fantastic used book store where I scored a copy of Harvey Pekar's Our Cancer Year, which kept me entertained as Katie sought out must haves and unbeatable bargains.

The evening portended the main event, and the reason for our journey: Phish. We battled the unGodly frustrating rush hour traffic and arrived at Toyota Park two hours before showtime. The vibe in the lot was good, lots of smiles, beers, and hippies. The show itself was sort of bizarre. First off, the venue is mainly a soccer stadium, so the setup didn't lend itself the personality or closeness of Blossom, Star Lake, or Deer Creek (amongst many others), though somehow we managed seats pretty darn close to the stage. I've read the reviews from a number of attendees, but there doesn't seem to be much consensus other than it was what equated to an 'average' show. The highlight for me was the rarely heard "Carini", it's dark chords and Chris Kuroda's light show melding seamlessly into the chilly Chicago evening. One (slightly) weird thing was that the encore was "Loving Cup", a encore staple I know, but one that was the encore for the last show I went to as well. With no offense to Phish or The Rolling Stones, I hope this is a trend that doesn't continue.

Day three actually saw us back on the road for home, with a much anticipated stop at Three Floyd's Brewing Company in Munster, Indiana. We lunched in their Brewpub, somewhat oddly located in an entirely non-descript industrial park. The food was fresh and tasty, but the beer stole the show. The Dreadnaught IPA, with an incredible 100 IBU's, capped our trip with the perfect conclusion. With growler in hand, we began the long trip back to Ohio, sated, satisfied, and ready for more. Next up: back back to Cali Cali...

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