Wednesday, February 17, 2010

John's Pizzeria Ristorante and Lounge

Though Chicago is only famous for its deep dish pizza, if you're from here you know that there are really two types of Chicago style pizza. Deep dish's not so famous counterpart is the greasy, thin crust, sauce and cheese heavy, delicious pizza which must be cut into squares and not slices to be considered authentic. This pizza is so good that it comes in "football" size (really 2 large pizzas baked together), and the entire cumbersome, somewhat precarious beast can easily be consumed by 3 mouthwatering Chicagoans.

If you have never delighted in this treat, I suggest you go immediately to John's Pizzeria Ristorante and Lounge. I will allow you to order only under the following conditions; you are handicapped, there is an intense rain/snow storm, or if you've already eaten at this wonderful establishment. Really, they are not just an excellent Pizzeria Ristorante, they are an excellent lounge as well.

This establishment is refreshing blast from the past. There is an overwhelming brown and orange color theme with the occasion splash of pastel floral prints much like your grandmother's basement complete with fake hanging ferns. The juke box boasts only the greatest artists of all time like Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Peggy Lee, The Beach Boys, and The Doobie Brothers. I suggest you grab a pitcher and a football size cheese with extra sauce (yea, that's a topping) and sit in the adjoining more private room. There, you can plant yourself in front of the fireplace beneath the big screen television turned to the appropriate Chicago-relevant sports event. Want to listen to the jukebox instead? There's a great seat by the window where you can feel the neon glow of the jukebox on your cheeks as you complete your mafia murder themed logic puzzle on your placemat.

This place is a Chicago Landmark. Come here with friends or even alone if want to make some and I guarantee you will have a great and delicious time. John's is at 2104 W. Western, and their number is 773.384.1755. You don't need to see a menu. You're ordering a football size cheese with extra sauce, and don't forget to ask for your free RC Cola.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Field Museum

I must have been like four years old, and this is probably one of my earliest worthy memories.* My mother was working for the City of Chicago as a young architect. Her office was located a stone's throw away from the Field Museum, and my mother would often go there on lunch using her sweet city hook-up. This was not exactly a time of great wealth for our family, so when us kids were sick my mother would bring us to work and hide us under her drafting table. I have fond memories of playing with her Prismacolors in the two tiered box set or finding change in the bottom of my mother's purse to sneak off to the vending machines. The best, however, were when my mother would take me to the Field Museum.

Beyond the iconic Sue (the famous, very intact T-Rex), the Field Museum was full of mystery and excitement for me as a child. In fact, I think I've always known that's it's actually just really weird. Standing so diminutive under the 300 odd feet high ceiling, you could easily walk right by Sue whom stands at an unimpressive 13 feet. That's not a bad thing. Though Sue is really awesome for being the largest, most complete fossil yet discovered, what I really like are the permanent culture exhibits. What does that mean? Well, ever wonder what an Eskimo might look like? Well, they have super dated, semi-offensive renditions of peoples and their habitats. It's pretty great. I like to take my shoes off in the Maori Meeting House and run around aimlessly like I'm a little kid again or I get lost in an Egyptian tomb. You could never leave Chicago, go to the Field Museum, and have a totally narrow perception of life and culture in far away lands in place like Africa and Asia or lands that do not exist any more like America when the Natives thrived.

I am not the only one to think the exhibits are a little weird. In 1992-94 performance artists Guillermo Gómez-Peña and Coco Fusco tackled this very topic. The Year of the White Bear and Two Undiscovered Amerindians Visit the West was a piece where the two artists posed as Guatinaui natives adorning grass skirts, wrestling masks, leopard skin bras, etc. They were presented in a cage where Field Museum (and others --it was a traveling exhibit) visitors could pay to see their "native dances" and museum staff fed them bananas. Their take on the the issue was quite a bit more fraught with cynicism and walked the line between the ridiculously offensive and meaningful satire. It was interesting, however, because many of the visitor truly believed this was a real exhibit and not a performance art piece. Ha, the performance was about as silly as some of the replicas on display.

OK, let's bring it back. I do not intend to make the Field Museum appear absurd. It's actually a great place with credible exhibits and even a fossil lab where you can see live professionals clean fossils. They also have interesting temporary exhibits that highlight anything from ancient Rome, to Pirates, or most recently diamonds. The permanent nature exhibits are a lot of fun too. I especially like the bird habitats.

Go, but be prepared to spend hours, and try to not let the kids hear you make your catty, immature, or cynical comments.

*I must note here that I have a terrible timeline, so I've got to make some stuff up.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Why I Star Chicago

I was maybe 10 years old walking down Michigan Avenue with my mother (whom probably had some appointment somewhere) told me, "Walk faster. You need to walk like you're from the city." She moved to Chicago to get her Masters in Architecture despite the fact that the nuns at her small town Massachusetts Catholic school told her that her options were limited to nurse, teacher, or homemaker. My mother has always been my greatest role model, but these words have always resonated more than any others. They gave me a kind of home town pride that has a tendency to get lost on people from Chicago --knowing that they're from the "second city." I felt as if I knew something others didn't. I've seen these buildings, know what they offer, and can find the best route to get there. However, the reason my mother quipped those words at me was because I was skyscraper gazing. That's right, I was doing what all the typical tourists do; walk slowly, mouth agape, at the tall pretty buildings.

My mother's appreciation for architecture has long been ingrained in me. I still remember a time when my mother picked me up from school because I was sick and had to drag me to a site she was going to rehab. It was an old Catholic school that had long been out of use. I remember walking through long halls of dark brick and tile, looking out of windows onto gardens overgrown with unkept weeds or being shown into rooms with a skeleton key. Many rooms were empty or contained old desks with attached seats but the one that sticks out in my memory is one that had been used to to house the dogs. There was shit everywhere. There was even shit on the ceiling. The fact that this room was utterly disgusting took a backseat to this overwhelmingly toxic feeling of history. My heart beat faster with the feeling that people have been there and with their actions left their mark on the walls. This may have very well been my first phenomenological experience.

This city is full of cool shit just like that dog room in the abandoned Catholic school. I know just where to find it too. This blog is meant both for people new to Chicago that want to get away from the tourist traps (or at least see them in a new light) and for those that have lived here forever and maybe have never taken their time to stop and smell the scrapers. I have a profound appreciation for art, architecture, food, and experiencing things the way they should be --that is, the must fun way possible. I will take you to landmarks and shit holes and show you my personal highlights or perhaps just how to do them differently. Essentially, this is my guide to loving the hell out of Chicago. I star Chicago.