Street Smart Chicago

Worldwide Pants-less: Skybar hosts a trouser-banned party

Events, Lincoln Park, Love & Sex, Pride No Comments »

GoddesShe-01-bigThe time-honored tradition of The Fourth Annual “No Pants Party” makes Lincoln Park’s Skybar transform into a girls-for-girls paradise. From the sidewalk looking up to the second-floor window, two very scantily clad young ladies—with no more than pink lingerie and white fluffy boots—shake what their mammas gave them and hope their fathers aren’t aware of it.

A skinny, mustachioed hipster in maroon boxer shorts and suspenders dances to the muffled beats from inside the bar next to the uncomfortable valet attendants. Sunday at Skybar is designated Gay Night, and tonight is no different. Chicago’s strong and vibrant lesbian community is out in full force making the best of their last few hours of the weekend before returning to the Monday morning grind. The place looks like a normal party with loud house music and strobe lights until the adorable—and unfortunately unattainable—waitress, wearing American Apparel briefs, strolls over. She’s holding trays of fluorescent shooters, claiming they have the elixir for a time you’re sure to forget in the morning, only to remember as your head falls below the rim of the toilet upon crawling out of bed. Of course she didn’t actually say that, but we all know the result of glow-in-the-dark booze.           Read the rest of this entry »

Secret’s Out: Frank Warren visits the Windy City

Events, Lincoln Park, News etc. No Comments »

Imagine your deepest, darkest secret. Maybe its emotional, maybe it’s embarrassing. Now, imagine that secret being on display on the Internet anonymously, scribbled on a postcard, or anything else, for that matter. Welcome to the world of Postsecret. As Frank Warren, the creator of the blog juggernaut Postsecret.com, visits DePaul University, a mix of diehard fans and people lured in by curiosity attend. “I’m not sure who Frank Warren is or what his Postsecret project is about, but my friends told me I would find it interesting,” says Alyssa Wieting, a freshman at DePaul. Read the rest of this entry »

Crawling to the South Side: The calm before the St. Paddy’s Day storm

Beverly, Events, Food & Drink, Lincoln Park No Comments »
Photo: Elise Jesnig

Photo: Elise Jesnig

Keegan’s Pub on 106th and Western is surprisingly calm the day before the 31st Annual South Side Irish Parade. Four regulars are interspersed around the U-shaped bar, drinking a pint and talking amongst themselves while the bartender wipes down the counter and flips through the channels to see if there is anything good on TV. It’s almost a little too relaxed considering that in less than twenty-four hours, more than 300,000 will come into Beverly by the busload and the bar will swell up to its 133-person capacity.

“We just wait for the storm to come,” says the bar’s manager Mary McDermott. “The whole week before, it’s the calm before the storm.” Read the rest of this entry »

Love & Sex: That Thursday Night at McGees

Lincoln Park, Love & Sex No Comments »
Photo by Evan Sears

Photo by Evan Sears

By Nicole Briese

With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, I am doing what any normal single girl does—wondering why I, of all people, am dateless—unable to celebrate a holiday made for hopeless romantics just like me. I consider myself to be a fairly decent catch—I have all my teeth, no hair sprouting in places it shouldn’t, relatively intelligent…so what’s the problem? Then I remember “That Thursday Night At McGees”—the night that clued me into the fact that may be the problem. Not so much me.

I went to McGees on a Thursday night with a coworker—two single ladies out on the town. We were minding our business, sipping our $1 Bud Lights when Bachelor #1 approached. We felt his presence before we saw him—a tall dark shadow fell over our table. We looked up… and to our dismay, saw what can only be described as an, ahem, interesting stranger. With hair that had never seen a brush a day of its existence, a long brown coat with a fur collar and crooked teeth, he was no Brad Pitt, to say the least. But it was what came out of his mouth that was really appalling. Turning to my friend, he uttered the words he clearly thought every woman wanted to hear: “Shorty, what’s your numberrrrr?” She managed to politely decline his enticing request for her digits before falling into a complete fit of laughter. Seeing he had been rejected, he backtracked and asked for her name. “Hope,” she replied through giggles. Fed up with her lack of seriousness, he turned his attention to me. “Joy,” I said. Realizing that he wasn’t making much progress here, he left, searching for a new victim to romance.

Less than two minutes later, Bachelor #2 approached. His appearance was not so faulty—he looked like what I like to call a “granola guy,” ya know, the type that Paul Rudd played in “Clueless.” He paused, and we leaned in to hear what he might have to say. “So,” he began. “I’m kind of retarded. I get really drunk, and ask strangers for cigarettes.” Believing he was seriously just fiending for a puff, we told him we were not smokers, and therefore had no cigarettes for him to bum. Then his friend approached. “I’m sorry,” he began. “My older brother is kind of retarded. He likes to get drunk and ask beautiful women for cigarettes.” At this point, it became painfully obvious that this was a set-up—they had clearly huddled together, decided that one would approach, and the other would swoop in two minutes behind. Wait just a minute, I thought. You actually planned this encounter, put thought and effort into it, and the best opener you could come up with was, “Hi, I’m kind of retarded” between the two of you?

I couldn’t help but begin to think I’d been enlisted for an unsuspecting role on “The Pick-Up Artist.’” You know, that show on VH1 where a douchebag in fur, eyeliner and goggles by the name of Mystery “coaches” socially inept men on how to pick up women using the lamest lines imaginable. Enter Bachelor #3. We couldn’t help but laugh the second he approached—we, like most young women, have had our fair share of bad come-ons, but three in a row? Were we the only females in the bar? What the hell was going on?

This guy looked fairly normal, and didn’t say anything wrong—but he was so nervous, he could barely get through his question. “Uh, so,” he began. “Um, my, uh, friends and I were, um, sort of wondering…oh shoot, um….why, uh, you guys, might, ya know, um, be here, sort of um, you know, not really talking to any guys?” Not wanting to be bitchy, we listened patiently, if only for his nervousness—we don’t consider ourselves the type to be nervous about by any means, and dude was literally sweating bullets over here. “We’re actually just coworkers out enjoying each other’s company,” my friend said politely. “Oh. OK!” he said before practically running back to his friends. He was clearly relieved to have completed his mission—he needed stay no longer.

When I was tapped on the shoulder again a moment later, we couldn’t help but roll our eyes. “Excuse me,” said Bachelor #4. “I just want to know what that guy said to you girls?” He paused before continuing. “I just want to know what NOT to say, because I just watched you shoot down three guys in a row, and I don’t want to be the fourth.” Needing to share the strangeness that had just occurred, we humored him. We told our stories, shared some drinks, and eventually parted ways. He took a liking to my friend, and with no real spark between his friend and me, I was left, quite happily, alone.

I suppose I could continue to mope about my Valentine’s Day singledom—perhaps I am, plain and simple, too damn picky. But if that night at McGees is any indicator of what my options look like, I can quite honestly say that I, for one, will happily celebrate Valentine’s Day this year a single woman—at least until Mystery comes up with some better material!

Guy Talk: Turns Out, Five Guys Got Nothing on Wendy

Lincoln Park, Oak Park No Comments »

fiveburgerBy Michael Nagrant

How many guys does it take to make a great burger? Based on my recent experience at Five Guys in Oak Park, it’s definitely more than five. Of course, quantity probably doesn’t matter, as McDonald’s Corporation employs hundreds of thousands of people and they’ve yet to get it right.

Actually, the number of folks it takes to make a great burger probably isn’t as philosophical a question as how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll pop. There’s no doubt in my mind the best fast-food burger available in Chicago these days can be found at Marc Burger in the food court at Macy’s on State, and that burger was invented by one man, chef Marcus Samuelsson (C-House).

So what’s wrong with the Five Guys patty? It all starts with cooks who use spatulas and grill presses to smash the life out of the beef. Once grilled, these well-done juiceless pucks look like Wile E. Coyote after one too many anvils to the head. While struggling under the weight of the press, the patties never really get griddled, but instead steam in their own juices.
You also wonder why a place that cooks patties to order makes their burgers well done, but at Five Guys, it’s not really a secret. Their corporate Web site answer is “By cooking all of our burgers juicy and well done we are able to achieve two goals: Insure a consistent product [and] Meet or exceed health code standards for ground beef.”

Translation: we don’t trust our training programs or our grill cooks to do a good job, so instead, we’ve decided that cooking the living moo out everything we serve is the only way to succeed.

I’d give them slack on this point, but the high-volume Marc Burger grill manned by everyday hairnetted joes somehow manages to turn out perfect, juicy medium-pink beauties one burger at a time and have so for a while.

Lest you think this is the sound of one man typing, one of my good friends, a non-food-writing burger aficionado, suggested that the Wendy’s double is better than the Five Guys burger. I was skeptical, but as I reflected on it, he’s right. The Wendy’s burger (also fresh, never frozen beef just like Five Guys) sports discernible grill marks, good seasoning and a flame-broiled taste. The dense grayish mass at Five Guys tasted as if it hadn’t come within ten feet of a saltshaker.

Even the squishy sesame-seed bun here, which disintegrates under a dollop of mayo and gooey cheese, isn’t much more inspiring than the patties. If I’ve learned anything eating hundreds of burgers in my lifetime, the greatest buns are usually of the potato variety and are best when toasted and topped with a touch of butter, as at local chain Culvers.

The skin-on fries at Five Guys are decent (though much better ones are available at Hot Doug’s or Susie’s in Irving Park), but at $2.59 for a “regular” portion they’re kind of pricey. Five Guys would be better off cutting the portion size and the price in half.
This all being said, the real central question of Five Guys is not how many folks it takes to make a great burger, but rather, how can so many well-respected news outlets can be so hoodwinked into loving it?

Where some burger joints might hang framed prints of scary clowns or fat purple blobs, Five Guys has culled over twenty years of good reviews and posted mini-billboard-style excerpted quotes from the Atlantic City Weekly to the New York Daily News. On one wall, you’ll find a decade or so of successive reprints of the Zagat guide fawning over Five Guys.

It could be that all of these signs work as a form of mind control, but I suspect Five Guys’ success is actually a function of cheap nostalgia and relatively sad competition. Up against the garbage served by mega chains, save Wendy’s, the flawed Five Guys burger is much better.

More than anything though, Five Guys is also capitalizing on the East Coast’s and Midwest’s yearning for the glorious burgers of West Coast chain In-N-Out. Absent their gooey animal-style patties, we settle for second best.

One thing Five Guys has going for it is crispy bacon and oozy cheese and a menu of condiments (any and all free with your burger purchase) that makes the salad bar selection at Whole Foods jealous (golden-fried onions are best). But this is just lipstick (on a cow?). And as we learned last November, when you put lipstick on something, all you end up with is a rifle-toting civil-liberty-revoking hockey mom who can see Russia from her backyard.

Five Guys is located at 1115 Lake Street, Oak Park, and at 2140 North Clybourn in Chicago.

Museum review: In the Dark

Lincoln Park, Museums No Comments »

Just across the hall from the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum’s illustrious butterflies, darkness rules supreme. It is “In the Dark,” an exhibit dedicated to the slithering, flying, swimming creatures of the night. The space is broken up by environment: the darkness of the deep sea, the desert, caves, forests and the underground. Life-sized nature models are akin to three-dimensional “Where’s Waldo”s; guests are encouraged to spot the stuffed flying squirrel, the sidewinder snake, the cave crayfish or the katydid. To make up for a lack of live fauna, “In the Dark” is jam-packed with kinesthetic games and puzzles. Guests learn about bat sonar by attempting to navigate a dark cave using only echoes, or balance atop a wobbling platform to learn about the statocysts of jellyfish. Match the Morse-code-like patterns of fireflies with their corresponding species. Catch a rat using infrared receptors via a rattlesnake hand puppet. Each interactive activity is linked by a common theme: a phenomenal ability to evolve, to develop heightened senses and compensate for a world without sight. (Laura Hawbaker)

“In the Dark” runs at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, 2430 North Cannon Drive, through January 11, 2009.

Museum review: Catholic Chicago

Lincoln Park, Museums No Comments »

Nestled on the second floor of the Chicago History Museum, the “Catholic Chicago” exhibit graces with a superb twelve-foot painting of “Our Lady of Guadalupe,” which was created on Mexican paper and done using gold leaf and pigmented dye. This large piece is flanked with an array of photos showing kids in Catholic school and finally footage from the International Eucharistic Congress of 1926—the first and largest pilgrimage event in America. Despite the airy feel of the building, these striking images alone could appear intimidating, particularly those not necessarily affiliated with the Catholicism. Despite this, expect to be greeted with an exhibit that intertwines the very roots of Chicago with the Catholic Church to a dizzying degree—creating a very personable approach to a incredibly broad topic. “Catholic Chicago” goes beyond the common facts and pertinent Catholic local figures; instead, the exhibit once again attempts to engross the audience—going so far as to feature a short film on Catholic school in front of two school desks (from a real Catholic school mind you), and offers a replica of the church experience, complete with pews, altar and piped-in music from different services and congregations. Perhaps most telling is that the exhibit strives to exemplify the diverse notions of what it means to be Catholic by covering a number of denominations and cultures (there’s an audio tour in both Spanish and Polish). Because of this widespread approach, “Catholic Chicago” is approachable by not only those who are themselves Catholic but really for anyone curious about both the religion and how it guides a person’s way of life. (Thomas Barbee)
“Catholic Chicago” through January 4, 2009, at the Chicago History Museum, 1601 North Clark, (312)642-4600.