Seeking respite from winter’s deep freeze, you’ve journeyed on the Red and Orange Lines and the #62 bus to the Garfield Ridge neighborhood west of Midway Airport. At 7050 West Archer, it looms like a beacon in the night: the fifty-foot-high neon sign for the Rainbow Motel/Pink Palace (773-229-0707, rainbowpinkpalace.com).
With its whimsically-themed Jacuzzi rooms, this seventies-era honeymoon hideaway is Chicago’s answer to Japan’s quirky love hotels, a fanciful venue for liaisons licit or otherwise. Or, as the Rainbow’s brochure says, “It’s a year-round paradise and a dream fantasy vacation. A couple’s place to get re-acquainted with the one you love, celebrate life with the one you married or begin a new, exciting relationship.”
The eleven fantasy suites are available for four- and six-hour visits as well as overnight stays. The “Hawaiian Waters” room includes an octagonal waterbed and tiki décor; “Space Walk” has a bed shaped like a lunar lander, surrounded by stars, planets and “friendly spaceships”; “Out to Lunch” features a bed shaped like a giant BLT.
The Rainbow doesn’t take reservations over the phone and when you arrive most of the wackier suites are booked, so you opt for the relatively traditional “Valentine” room. The stoic female receptionist, a recent transplant from Lithuania, hands you a complimentary bottle of cheap spumante wine and shows you to your comfy, if slightly dingy, accommodations.
A video of a fireplace crackles cozily on the TV as you inspect your love nest. The walls are pink stucco with murals of a Valhalla-like scene with a golden lake and cherubs frolicking in a fountain. The curtains are red velvet and the bed is a heart-shaped waterbed with Cupid appliquéd on the coverlet. Above it on the ceiling is a huge, heart-shaped mirror, rimmed with red Christmas lights. The double-wide “Cleopatra tub” spa is surrounded by pink marble and more mirrors.
After savoring plastic cups of the sweet bubbly you venture outside to explore the local nightlife. First you walk two blocks west to the Fleetwood Skating Rink, 7231 West Archer (708-458-0300, fleetwoodrollerrink.com), and join the multiracial crowd roller skating to hip-hop amidst swirling lights. It’s mostly teens and tweens, but a middle-aged guy in a purple Ed Hardy shirt has some sweet roller-disco moves. You enjoy participating in the “Cha Cha Slide” line dance but you’re a little disturbed when the soundtrack for the boys-only skate session is Trey Songz’s playa anthem “Bottoms Up.”
Hungry, you cab it to Grand Duke’s Lithuanian restaurant, 6312 South Harlem (708-594-5622, granddukesrestaurant.com), a castle-like eatery serving hearty, spud-based fare like kugelis, zeppelins and potato sausage with kraut and borscht. After downing a Svyturys beer (tableside kegs are available) and a Mai Tai, you summon the courage to join the overwhelmingly blond crowd performing Polka-like moves to a live Eurodisco duo. Soon the Lietuva natives grab you for circle dances and conga lines.
Afterwards, unable to snag a cab, you trudge a half-hour in the cold back to your room, where it’s definitely time to fire up the Jacuzzi. In the morning you cross the street to Weber’s Bakery, 7055 West Archer (773-586-1234, webersbakery.com), in business since 1930, and buy kolacky and coffee to enjoy in your waterbed. At 12:45pm the receptionist calls to remind you it’s checkout time. Your Southwest Side sojourn has come to a close. (John Greenfield)