Saturday, May 25, 2013

No. 376 – Martha

Performer: The Jefferson Airplane
Songwriter: Paul Kantner
Original Release: After Bathing at Baxter’s
Year: 1967
Definitive Version: None

This song might have been the one that put me over the edge when Laurie and I saw Tributosaurus become The Jefferson Airplane in 2010. That is to say, after I heard them do this one, I decided, OK, that’s it. I have to get more Airplane on my playlists. By the time our anniversary rolled around that year, I had several Airplane tunes on my computer, including, of course, this one.

That year, Laurie and I decided to have a staycation to celebrate six years since my first visit to Chicago to see her. It wasn’t the first time we spent a night in a hotel in our own city, but it was the first time we had a full-fledged weekend getaway without actually going anywhere.

Laurie had won at a silent auction a night at the Four Points hotel, and we added a second night to make it a full weekend. The weekend turned out to be all about food at new places—new to us, that is. The first night, we took a cab downtown to maintain the illusion we were somewhere else and got dudded up to go to Naha, which was just a couple blocks from the hotel.

Naha is fairly expensive by regular standards—not bad by downtown Chicago standards—and it’s clientele is hipper than thou. Laurie wasn’t the only woman in the joint wearing a dress, but I almost certainly was the only dude who wore a tie (I went full suit) and didn’t have any product in his hair. I felt out of place.

Well, whatever. I’m here, and we found that Naha certainly had earned its good reputation. I got scallops that were good, but the revelation was the ribeye that Laurie ordered. Chicago is home to Lawry’s Prime Rib and Gene and Georgetti’s and about a dozen other classic steakhouses, but the best steak I ever had in my life is the ribeye at Naha. Hokey schmokles! It’s so tender and buttery. I knew in an instant I ordered the wrong thing, and, as I write this, I have a jones for Naha’s steak that must be satisfied sometime in the near future.

After dinner, we hiked to the Peninsula Hotel, which if it isn’t the toniest hotel in the city, it’s in the top three. And talk about being a scenester’s delight! I mean Bradgelina stay there when they come to Chicago. Nuff said.

Typically, whenever we tried to stop at the Peninsula bar for a drink, we left because it was too crowded, but on this night, we got a table right away where we could have an after-dinner bev—Laurie had champagne, I had a chocolate martini for dessert—and then another.

Apparently, we had one too many, because it ended up being a short and not so romantic rest of the night. What’s interesting is that when you’re an older couple, one night doesn’t seem to matter as much. There’s always the next night.

The next night, after a light lunch and a day touring the modern wing of the Art Institute, we had dinner at Mercat a la Planxa, which if anything is even nicer than Naha. Tim from the Ratpack crew had a huge gift certificate and invited Laurie and I, Timm and Eva and Eva’s sister for a gala bash. We worked it out so the gala would be that weekend.

Mercat is part of the Blackstone hotel, and it’s a cool space. You start in the 1960s style bar—dark wood with black and orange accents—on the ground floor before walking up the wide spiral staircase past the cascading fountains (I told you it was Sixties style) into the restaurant. The room looks like it was a bank at one time—regal, open and huge.

Mercat is a tapas joint, and when they started bringing out the plates, Laurie and I realized we had a new place in our top 10. Everything was amazing, and it was fun to be there as part of a big group of friends. We had a great time, but Laurie and I were on our own after the suburban crew headed back to points west. So Laurie and I went to check out the new Buddy Guy’s Legends.

About a year or so before, we went to the original location and had a great time. I drank Tres Generaciones tequila and got a lesson in the blues courtesy of Lurrie Bell. We knew it was going to be a totally different night when we arrived at the new place and saw that the layout (more open), lighting (brighter) and furniture (fancier) were totally different. The old place was a bit of a dive, which is what you want in a blues bar. You can’t feel the blues in a fern bar, fer crissakes.

And you definitely can’t feel the blues when it’s being played by a bunch of white guys in hipster beards. I know I’m stereotyping here, but it was pretty clear from the first note that the only thing these guys had to feel blue about was that they weren’t being paid in bottled PBR. The main act was Magic Slim and the Teardrops, who is, or was (he died this year), legit, but Laurie and I weren’t feeling it, so we called it a night. After all, we had a romantic night back at the hotel to make up for.

We ended our anniversary staycation with a trip for brunch at Eleven City Diner, which is a very popular diner just south of the loop. My man Steve Dahl says the pastrami sandwich, which is named for him, was the best he ever had. That was enough of a recommendation for me Laurie and I got the soup / half-sandwich combo—homemade chicken noodle soup and the pastrami—and it was at least as good as advertised. Fully sated, we hiked back to the hotel, grabbed our bags and cabbed it home.

Too often I, like a lot of people, find myself not really venturing to tourist attractions in my own city. I live here; I can go anytime I want. And then it turns out that you never do. We did that weekend and were glad we did.

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