A familiar face in a brand new place...
There's nothing quite like the excitement you feel when a friend from the other side of the world - from the 'home' you've left behind - calls you and says "I've booked my flights!"
I've been living in Chicago for almost a year now, and although we've made some wonderful new friends here, there really is nothing to compare to the prospect of seeing a familiar face in a new setting.
I met Sammy during our first year of university in Sydney, and we had lived together for the duration of the involuntary vow of poverty that is an undergraduate education, holding rowdy house parties and drinking vast amounts of nasty boxed wine. Fast forward four years, and we are now both gainfully employed in our chosen professions, both engaged, and both a little more discerning in our choice of social lubricant.
Even though her trip was booked for my second week of my first year of teaching (translation: I was in a state of constant panic and exhaustion), and we only had a few days, I was determined to cram in as much food, luxury, laughter and music as possible.
It ALMOST didn't happen at all...
I was at work (ok, I was hiding in the bathroom recovering from a lesson) when I got the text: "My first flight was delayed, so I missed my second flight, and the replacement flight was cancelled. I'm stuck in LA. I don't know when I'll get to Chicago." Ah the joys of a connecting flight. Many frantic text exchanges and phone calls later, she was shoved unceremoniously onto a flight, and arrived in Chi-town, pissed off, hungry, and in desperate need of a shower. We were ready with the essential introduction to Chicago comfort food: the deep dish pizza, a confection so vast and hearty that you are full after one slice, but so delicious that you eat two, and then can't move for an hour.
After Sammy slept off her jet lag (and food coma), and I spent the day shaping young minds (or at least trying not to traumatize them), we embarked on a weekend of epic and legendary proportions!
Friday: Comedy at the famous Second City Theatre.
Having survived my first two weeks of teaching, and given that it was my birthday, we decided to treat ourselves to cocktails and see a late show. Summer in Chicago is all about rooftop bars (given that for seven months out of the year it is physically unbearable to stand outside for any length of time), so we met up with one of my local friends at Drum Bar for a little altitude and atmosphere.
I've been to this place a few times now, and I always love the flavor combinations they come up with for their cocktails! After drinking in the gorgeous summer air (and and more than one gorgeous summer cocktail) we made our way the few blocks north to Second City for their 103rd review: Panic on Cloud Nine. The Second City Theatre, whose tagline is "50 years of Funny", boasts a ridiculously long list of famous alumni, so seeing a show there is like watching a "Who's Who" of future comedy. We were exhausted from laughing, which was lucky, because our next stop had some seriously luxurious beds waiting for us...
Friday night: staying at The Acme Hotel
I'd been for drinks at The Berkshire room before (although to be honest it was maybe the second or third place we had visited, and all I remembered was that they had amazing bar snacks), but I had never stayed at the hotel. When we checked in, we noticed that the decor was distinctly...well, distinctive! There was a dedicated rock and roll, hipster vibe, and we loved it! Our room was spacious and comfortable, and we had an amazing view of the city lights as we lounged on our unbelievably comfortable beds (we later discovered that they have them custom made!), unwinding after the show.
Saturday Morning: Coffee at Asado Coffee Roasters, walking around downtown
After the delicious drinks and sumptuous sleeps, we needed some help to get up and running the next morning, so we hopped on the train in search of caffeine. We we wandering in the vague direction of Millennium park, when we happened to glance down an alley way, and saw an unassuming blue door behind some tables. We went down to explore and found ourselves in the cutest little coffee shop ever! It reminded me of being back in Europe, where you could stumble upon these hidden places that had been quietly doing their thing for decades, serving only the people who could find them (and just because I'm nice, this particular place is here). The coffee was powerful and the croissants were fresh, and we were ready for a day of exploring the city!
Saturday Afternoon: Massages and facials at Massage Envy
After wandering around the city for hours, making the obligatory trips to the signature lounge on the 95th, and the Bean, and Navy Pier, we decided to treat ourselves to a little uncharacteristic pampering (we are both emphatically un-girly girls). After getting our nails done, we literally google "good massage places Chicago" and came up with this one: Massage Envy Spa, with a location right near our hotel! We both booked in for a massage and facial, and endured two hours of absolute bliss! My masseuse was fine with me listening to my own music (I'm not always a fan of the music they play), and was the first person ever to get the pressure right on my neck! The atmosphere was warm and relaxing, and they were very reasonably priced. The facials left us feeling fresh and (probably unrealistically) attractive, and we sauntered out of there with our best "don't you know who I AM?" expressions.
Saturday Night: Dinner at Chicago Q
By this point, we were absolutely STARVING: we had been fasting all day in preparation for the dinner we had planned! We met up with my two Chicago friends outside Chicago Q, an upmarket BBQ restaurant in the Gold Coast of Chicago, that's famous for its Southern-style sauces and Southern-sized servings (I had, after all, promised Sammy the full American experience!). We were seated out on the picturesque little patio, and our every need was catered to by Brandon, our tall, dark and handsome host, who could have made pretty much any dish on earth sound good. We ordered delicious cocktails and toasted our girls' weekend (a break for all of us from our crazy new jobs and degrees).
We may have gone a tad overboard on ordering the food. There were definitely five kinds of meat, three or four salads and sides, including a truly delicious Ahi Tuna salad, and some outrageously creamy "Brulee'd Macaroni and Cheese". An hour later, we were absolutely stuffed, but Brandon wasn't finished with us yet. "Desserts?" he asked. We looked down at our collective stomachs, stuffed already full of delicious food. "Bring it on" we replied.
Absolutely stuffed and unable to move, we sat at our table as the city got ready for its Saturday night out behind us, and the atmosphere in the restaurant shifted from dignified, boutique eatery, to hipster cocktail and whisky bar. Brandon left us in the capable hands of Ben, who talked us through his impressive love of Kentucky bourbon and the families who have been making it for generations. It was an amazing experience, one that I can't wait to recreate for the next special occasion. We had one more stop to make in order to give Sammy the full Chicago night out, and so we said goodbye and hailed a cab, carrying our hefty bags of leftovers that we couldn't bring ourselves to leave behind.
Saturday Night: Live music at Kingston Mines
No visit to Chicago is complete without experiencing the music that put this city on the map: good, old-fashioned, growly, soulful, tongue-in-cheek blues music, enjoyed preferably in a cramped and dingy room with cheap drinks and loud hollering patrons. With this in mind, we headed to Fullerton, to Kingston Mines. We sat down to drink our $4 beers, but immediately got back up again to dance when the three guys on stage (whose collective age had to be north of 250) started playing "Sexual Healing". We didn't sit down again until they finished their set.
It was an amazing weekend, and I felt so lucky to have a friend who was able to travel halfway around the world just to visit. I was so sad to see her leave, but so excited to think that the next time we see one another, it will be back in Australia for her wedding!
True friends are those who you remain close to no matter the physical distance between you, or the length of time between the nights when you sit for hours and talk over cocktails, or dance till the wee hours in dingy bars. I'm lucky to have friends such as these!