Monday, November 10, 2014

Best of Chicago

Recently, New City put out their annual Best of Chicago issue, a fine read from start to finish.  Nevertheless, it being only as perfect as any such publication, it contained omissions that I felt needed addressing.  In short: I was inspired to fill in some of the gaps and write my own Best of Chicago post.  So here goes.

(Side note: I’m sure I’ve done this before, but rather than comb through past blog posts I figured I’d just write a new version because, you know, no one’s reading or remembers anyway.  If for some reason you do remember and wish to accuse me of redundancy, well it’s my blog and I can do as I please.  So there.)

Best place for Vince to confront how much he and the city have changed:  Red Lion Pub.

When the Red Lion closed up six years ago, many of us were adrift.  We knew that the remodeling would not be quick, despite assurances to the contrary.  And many were upset that our favorite watering hole was getting a makeover, but I understood.  The barkeep and co-owner, Colin, said it best: charm is great but not when you have to live in it.  And while I was (sorta) okay with the charm of the semi-dilapidated faux British pub being scrubbed away, I accepted that it was a necessary scrubbing and that what emerged would be a bar where I could piss without fear of falling through the floorboards. So when the place finally reopened earlier this year, I was, as the kids used to say, stoked. 

But, sorry to report, this new polished incarnation just isn’t for me.  A fine place to get a pint (if you have the money—drinks were never cheap at the Lion but now the prices now suggest some staggering remodeling debts), but where there was once charm there is now gloss.  And books (most behind the bar or placed high above reach or locked behind glass) that work as decorations but are inaccessible to the average customer/reader.  But people seem to like it.  Me?  Eh, it just makes me long for long gone days. 

But not really.  You see, I hung out at the Lion in my late 20s and off and on through my 30s.  Now that I am in my 40s—happily married and in a very different place with my life—I shall step aside and let others enjoy this new fangled Lion while I opt for an alternative (see below).  The Lion has changed, but so has the city.  I barely recognize this town, save for the shitty weather.  Why hang on to relics of the past?  I’m not the same.  Why should my city stay frozen forever in 1994? 

Best place to spend six hours of your birthday drinking with friends and occasionally reading Ulysses: Red Lion Lincoln Square. 

To ease my sadness over the loss of the Red Lion, I’ve been going to the Red Lion.  The Red Lion Lincoln Square, to be specific.  This location is associated with the other by history only, which is a long story, but I like that this location retains most of the old look and fee of the old Lincoln Avenue location, not to mention the superior fish and chips.  And the pints are closer to what I’m comfortable paying, cheapskate that I am (see below).  This year, I decided to celebrate turning 43 by sitting on my ass for several hours drinking Guinness at the Lion.  Somewhere in there ate some scrod, chatted with friends who came and went, and read a few pages of the James Joyce novel that dominated my summer.  It seemed a fine way to usher in another year of living.  Some people climb mountains.  Some go on vacation.  Some eat cake.  But for Christ’s sake, 43 is an important year and should not be spent in so trivial a fashion as any of that.

Best place to get a drink: my apartment. 

Even though the last two entries on this list have been about bars, I really prefer drinking at home.  The booze is cheaper, there’s never a mistake with my order, the pours are heavy, and the company is lovely, even when I’m alone with the dog. 

Best library: the Francone Library, my apartment.

Sure, I don’t have the archives of the Newberry or the volume of the Harold Washington Library, but I’ll wager my collection bests most in town, not to mention there’s always something I want to read in these stacks.  And the chairs are comfy.  Plus: no Nicholas Sparks.

Best place to see a movie: my apartment.

The abovementioned comfy chairs make film watching a pleasure, and while the screen may not be as big as what one will find at the stadium style theaters, one will not find any crying babies, chattering dolts, or incessant texting in my apartment.  And there’s cheap snacks and booze.  This makes for relaxed viewing, so much so that I often fall asleep before the end of a movie.  Thankfully, there are no ushers at my place to kick me out.  

Best place to practice playing guitar where no one will hear how much you suck: my apartment. 

Never a virtuoso, I did achieve a certain level of skill, though years of neglect have left my chops rusty (mixed metaphor?).  So it’s nice to run through some scales without the judgmental ears of anyone but my dog who never complains about missed notes or fumbled chords.  Of course, the lovely Casandra is supportive and likes when I play, but it took me longer than it should have to learn “Behind Blue Eyes” and even after I had the changes down the guitar was out of tune.  No problem: like Eddie Van Halen, I tune the guitar to itself.  Unlike EVH, I… well, everything. 

Best place to write grumpy blog posts: my apartment.

Surrounded by the familiar, the outside world seems loud and cruel.  And scary. Better to stay inside.  I don’t like the looks of those teenagers.