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More Terrible Places In Chicago

Dear People of the Internet,

I know many of you probably travel, and that many of you might even travel to Chicago.

In the interest of making your lives easier, here are a few more places that you should never, ever visit, because they are absolutely horrible.

Hotel Allegro, 171 W Randolph Street, 60601.

First, this place is right in the beating heart of the downtown theater district. Who wants to stay there, right? It’s busy, busy, busy all the time, with all those bright lights and taxis and every form of public transit known to man running day and night. Who wants to stay in the middle of that? Amirite?

Worse, it’s like three blocks from the Joffrey — so if you’re a dancer, you’re basically obligated to go*. Vacation is supposed to be about relaxing and eating too much pizza and pastry, not hoofing it to ballet class and letting them whip your sorry butt into shape for an hour and a half.

Moreover, really comfy beds make it likely that you’ll sleep in and miss the 9 AM Ballet Basics class, so then you’ll have to do some other, harder class, which you will regret even more.

Room at the Allegro

Comfy. Modern. Oh, and they remembered our extra pillows.

To top it all off, the Allegro offers loaner bikes, so if you really, really want to ruin your relaxing vacation by being all healthified, you can totally do that without even having to break into the mysterious world of the Citibike.

To offset the calories you’ll burn on the bike, the Allegro also offers a nightly reception in the lobby with wine, sangria, and sometimes guests. Guests like tarantulas and box turtles from the Field museum. Who wants to have drinks with giant, hairy spiders?**

Courteous, efficient staff ensure success for the Allegro’s evil master plan to seduce you and all your friends into returning for another trip and handing over all your money. So if you know what’s good for you, you’ll stay far, far away. Like, maybe at the Budget Motel in Gary, IN. Assuming it’s still there.

The Allegro is also full of these cozy little niches -- perfect for convincing you to feel comfortable and at home...

The Allegro is also full of these cozy little niches — perfect for producing a false sense of security…

312 Chicago, 136 N LaSalle Street, Chicago, 60602.

To begin with, 312 Chicago pretends to be in another postal code entirely, but in fact it shares a building with the Allegro, so LIAR LIAR PANTS ON FIRE. Who cares if your doors are on another street entirely, 312 Chicago? We see what you’re trying to do!

Second, your smooth, professional serving staff is entirely too knowledgeable and courteous. How will people ever learn to make up their own minds if you keep suggesting perfect wine pairings and delicious desserts?

And the barkeeps! What are you thinking, letting them walk around making really amazing pomegranate cosmopolitans? I’ll have you know that I drank three of those and became quite chatty and sociable, which is entirely out of character for my superior, unsociable self. Come on, 312 Chicago, you’re messing up my mojo, here.

I should probably also mention the food. It’s not fair to raise people’s expectations like that, 312: delightful foccacia; perfectly-seared steaks; melt-in-your mouth fingerling potatoes; Caesar salad with just the right anchovy kick. Needless to say, last night’s Foreman-grilled sirloin and nuked potatoes were pretty disappointing after all that.

And now, here I am writing comments to a restaurant, like it can hear me and respond. You see what this place has done to me?

Avoid at all costs, especially if you like your bank account balance and your waistline***.

Ronny’s Original Chicago Steakhouse, 100 W. Randolph Street, Chicago, 60601.

Ronny's Original Chicago Steakhouse: don't get sucked in.

Ronny’s Original Chicago Steakhouse: don’t get sucked in.

Two words here, guys: epic portions.

Must ... keep ... eating.

Must … keep … eating.

Three more words: rock-bottom prices.

While Ronny’s isn’t going to hit you too hard in the wallet, if you value that svelte dancer’s physique for which you have toiled so many long hours under the grinding tutelage of your sadistic ballet instructors, STAY. AWAY.

Because Ronny’s is all about value, and by “value,” I mean, “Putting enough food on a tray to feed an entire rugby team.”

For $8, my Ronny’s breakfast included some 8″ of Polish sausage (yeah, yeah, go ahead with the 8″ Sausage jokes, Internet), a pile of crisp and delicious home fries (billed as “hash browns,” because LIARS) that probably weighed a pound, two enormous eggs skillfully cooked over-easy, two gigantic slices of Texas toast, and a little slice of watermelon.

Now, that would be a perfectly reasonable meal if I was planning to spend the next 6 hours in the studio and not eat anything else — but for a mere mortal on a normal day, it seems like a bit much, doesn’t it? Like maybe the good folks at Ronny’s were hoping I’d die of a coronary (or maybe of a ruptured stomach) right there, right then?

They topped it off with a diet Coke large enough to refresh a racehorse. That much caffeine on top of that much food could kill a lesser person. Fortunately, I’m a cyclist and a dancer, so I know how to cram huge portions of food down my gullet (even so, I was not able to finish all of my potatoes).

I’m not sure whether Ronny’s is trying to kill us or maybe just put every other restaurant in Chicago out of business. Either way, given the portion sizes, delicious greasy-spoon style food, and prompt service, I’m pretty sure they just might succeed … if we let them.

In Conclusion

Chicago is a dangerous place, y’all. Chicago wants to take all your money while simultaneously making you super fit and eleven pounds heavier per day. Chicago wants to whisper its siren song into your ear and convince you that you love her like you love your own mother. Be strong! Don’t listen! Stop up your ears and visit some other place, like maybe Peoria, for example. Chicago will suck you into her warm and worldly embrace and feast on your soul … so you should probably just stay away.

But if you don’t, and you meet me in any one of these places … well, you know. My responsibilities as the Warning Klaxon of the Internet weigh heavy on my shoulders, and sometimes I have to go back more than once to find out whether or not a given threat has been neutralized.

Remember, people, I’m doing you a favor here.

So, You’re welcome.

And mum’s the word.

Notes
*I, however, did not make it to class this time because of an unexpected wedding-related engagement. I will go to Chicago many more times; my friends will only be getting married once, and they wanted to see us during the time we were going to do class. There are, in this world, a few valid excuses.

I practiced combinations in my room to make up for it.

**Yeah, so I totally do. These guys came with a curator from the Field Museum — I guess you could say they were on a Field trip? There were also some fascinating preserved specimens. You know, if you like that kind of thing 😉

***To be fair, I have no idea what 312’s prices look like. We were there for a wedding dinner. I have a feeling they’re probably fairly reasonable, all things considered. That said, Denis and I are used to blowing most of our entertainment budget on fine dining, which has really warped my sense of what “fair” restaurant prices look like. If you’re on a shoestring college budget, for example, 312 is probably a “once-a-year, when the parents are in town” kind of place.

ChiTown Weekend

Quick disclaimer:

If it were up to me, we might very well relocate to Chicago*. As such, my opinions on the city in question are probably less than objective.

Anyway.

Here we are at the Hotel Allegro. Our room is fairly nice. The decor is rather in the style that Denis calls “Early Gay Bar,” which works for us, and we’re both enjoying the very strange and presumably retro light fixture above our bed, which looks like one of those little pincushions with a flat top and chenille balls all over the sides rendered in glass and upended on the ceiling.

That said, the marbled mirror tiles on the wall at the foot of the bed are a bit much. Likewise, the carpet. Wow. Um.

The bed itself, however, is rather delightfully comfortable.

Today’s plan is to hit up the Shedd and then either do class at the Joffrey or catch a play based on Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books. I’m leaning towards the former because it doesn’t involve an hour-long transit trip (two hours on the train is a long time on a really short vacation, y’all!) and also because ballet.

Right now, though, we’re on the hunt for breakfast.

Anyway, more to come. That’s it for now.

Notes
*We’d have to bring our friends Kelly and Jim with us, and my Mom-in-Law, Phyllis — but then we could all live together like some kind of giant hippie co-op, I guess? …Only with better hygiene. And doors. And not so much of that free-love thing.

Five Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad* Places You Should Never, Ever In A Million Years Visit In Chicago

I never think to write this kind of post, even though we travel a fair bit. We’ll be traveling more than usual this year (Weddings! Workshops! Vacations! Oh, my!), so I think I’ll try to make a point of writing all about the worst things in every place I go that you should never, ever even think about doing.

Everyone’s always writing these namby-pamby lists of places you just have to visit. Well, let me tell you, in every city, town, and remote seaside rock, there are places that you should simply avoid. Really. It’s for the best.

So, without further ado, here are five horrible places in Chicago that you should never, ever visit**!

#5: Tiztal Café
Tiztal Cafe is the kind of place that serves up epic portions of Latino-influenced breakfast stuff packed with the flavors of chorizo, exotic spices, and ranchero sauce alongside creative takes on standard midwest breakfast fare and oatmeal milkshakes. Seriously, oatmeal milkshakes! Who takes a perfectly bad-for-you treat like a milkshake and healths it up with oatmeal? And chorizo in the eggs? Come on. Everyone knows that breakfast is supposed to be boring. It’s A Rule.

Chorizo: It's what's for breakfast, thanks to these yahoos.  (Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

Chorizo: It’s what’s for breakfast, thanks to these yahoos. (Image courtesy of CycloneBill on Wikimedia Commons.)

Wow. What a bunch of jerks. Seriously. Readers: you should never set foot in this place.

#4: Bon Appétit at the Art Institute of Chicago
First off, seriously, who even sets foot in boring old art museums these days? Please. That’s why we have the internet. Nobody goes to see stunning, world-class exhibits by artists ancient and modern in person anymore. And the food? I mean, come on. If I want to eat really good food, served cafeteria-style, in an art museum, I need to pay exorbitant prices for it, okay? That’s part of the whole art museum experience. Bon Appétit is simply way, way too cheap.

And the portion sizes! Huge! What, are you trying to kill your patrons so you can get to their wills faster, or what, AIC? Seriously, people could rupture.

#3: O’Shaughnessy’s Public House
Come on, O’Shaughnessy’s. First off, all that ambience. Really? It’s so quaint I could puke. And also, everyone knows that fried fish is bad for you. Especially unlimited fried fish on Fridays. So what the heck are you guys doing making it so good that basically nobody can possibly resist, except maybe really dedicated vegans? Yet another Chicago dining establishment that’s trying to kill us all.

Oh, and that spot-on Irish-style salmon plate on your appetizer menu***? Yeah, the one with the capers and cream cheese and pickled onions and that chewy bread? I’m on to you, guys. I know it’s just there to provide a health halo and lure would-be health nuts in so they can get sucked into plate after plate of heavenly deadly fish-and-chips.

#4: The Brown Elephant Resale Shops
Like we need another precious, zany, unique thrift store selling stuff we’ll just have to schlep home on the Megabus. Do I even need to say anything else?

And the shoes. You guys have a lot of nerve, Brown Elephant Resale Shops.

#5: The Joffrey Ballet Academy
What kind of ballet school makes its Ballet Basics class one and a half hours long and provides a real, live pianist? First off, it’s Ballet Basics, for super-newbies. People could die from an 1.5-hour long class. Second, that live pianist? You’re going to give people ideas, Joffrey Ballet Academy, and they are going to go home to their regular ballet schools and try to talk their ever-patient husband into playing for the classes he isn’t taking. Ahem.

And, seriously, dancers don't a view like this when they're trying to tendu.  That's just not fair.  (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

And, seriously, dancers don’t need views like this when they’re trying to tendu. That’s just not fair. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

Oh, and your instructors? Entirely too inspiring. What, are you trying to start some kind of ballet revolution?

I thought so. I’m watching you, Joffrey Ballet.

-.-

So that’s it. Five terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad places you should never, ever in a million years visit the next time you’re in Chicago.

But, you know, if you do, and you happen to see me there … mum’s the word.

Notes
*By which I mean, these places are so awesome that I don’t want anyone else to know about them, because then they will be totally crammed with people the next time I want to go!

**Seriously, stay away! These places are MINE!

***And you should absolutely NEVER have this as your entree, because if you do, next time I’m in Chicago, they might be out of salmon, and then I will have to cry great tears of woe. And you don’t want that, do you? Remember: There’s no crying in ballet class!

Various Thoughts About Chicago, and a little On Ballet!

I am fond of Louisville. There’s a fair bit to like about it, excepting its landlocked location in this oft-sweltering cauldron of concentrated air quality problems known as the Ohio Valley. It’s too far from the ocean, but it’s got friendly people and great cycling and a nice ballet company with a good school and some of the most beautiful domestic architecture around. Where parks are concerned, it has few, if any, rivals in the United States.

Seriously. Name another US city this size with nineteen graceful parks bearing the unmistakable stamp of Frederick Law Olmstead’s trail-blazing vision; with this much space set aside to be green and a little wild sometimes and beautiful so the people who live here can get away from the bustle of urban life for a bit any time they so please. I have lived in quiet rural and suburban places and in busy urban places and I have concluded that it’s best to be able to experience both; one makes you appreciate the other more. Here, you can do that without leaving town.

I say this because I don’t want you to think I’m dissing the city where I live. There’s a lot to like, even love, about Louisville.

The thing is, I think I like Chicago even more.

I suppose Chicago has some unfair advantages.

First, Chicago has trains. I love trains. I love trains for themselves, for the feeling of riding them, and for what they mean. In Louisville, people like me, who don’t drive, can escape from the city by riding bicycles or getting on the bus and then riding bicycles or walking. In Chicago, it is possible to get on a train and go. It’s easier. You can take your not-so-athletic friends along. You can even get a ticket on the South Shore Line and ride all the way to Michigan (the first time I visited Chicago, it was by South Shore Line from Michigan City, Indiana, which is practically in Michigan).

Moreover, the trains form the core of a transit system that moves a lot of people. Here, people still mostly seem to regard public transit as a stopgap measure for people who can’t afford to drive — which is, quite frankly, a pretty backwards way of looking at things (this isn’t to say that it’s not getting better, but that’s still the prevailing sentiment). Chicagoans drive more than New Yorkers, but don’t seem to regard public transit as an embarrassment. They cram onto the trains and busses in their legions and go to work, to concerts, to clubs, to the ballet, to restaurants. Many of them don’t drive a whole lot or at all, and because of this Chicago is full of vibrant, walkable neighborhoods where there are people out getting dinner, retrieving groceries, going to bookstores, whatever. The trains, in their way, have helped keep the city operating on a human scale.

I grew up in a small town, but it was (and still is) a small town where you could walk to dinner, to the grocery store, to a good ice-cream place, and so forth. I loved that and had no idea how precious it was.

The thing I dislike about my current neighborhood is that it’s the kind of place the vast majority of people would consider unwalkable. Places you might want to go are a mile away or more. Sidewalks, where they’ve been included, are inadequate. There’s a big, beautiful park practically in my backyard — literally about a block over — but the neighborhood (built long after the park) is designed in such a way that you either have to travel two miles to get there or trespass on private property. Nobody thought to include, for example, a path. If you do choose to get to the park by cutting through people’s yards, you then have to either climb over or tunnel under a big fence, which is (of course) meant to prevent people from cutting through private yards going to and from the park.

It is this way because my current neighborhood was designed for people who drive cars, by people who regarded diving as the wave of the future; as a new convenience that would save us all so much time. They meant well, but these are the people you can thank the next time you’re sitting in a traffic jam, because these are the people who designed so much of America as we know it today. These were not, for the most part, the people who planned and designed the neighborhoods in Chicago.

Second, Chicago is several times the size of Louisville. A few years ago, even a year ago, I wouldn’t have identified that as an advantage. It’s still not something I would automatically point out as an advantage. Like, I enjoy New York and Washington, D.C., immensely, but I wouldn’t describe their sheer size as an advantage, necessarily. In Chicago, though, the scale of the city lets it breathe in a way which neither NY or DC can do, being situated where they are. Yes, downtown Chicago is dominated by giant buildings — but they stand far apart, across broad streets, and you don’t feel like you’re in a cramped, narrow canyon.

Chicago can do this because it’s in the big, flat heart of the Midwest on the shore of a lake so huge that people who know things about bodies of water classify it and its sisters as a series of freshwater inland seas. Perhaps because of the trains, though, Chicago doesn’t seem like a collection of unrelated cities jammed together. Different neighborhoods feel distinctly different, but they’re all connected by the same circulatory system; they’re all part of the same organism.

Third — well, did I mention the lake?

The city of Chicago is sliced up by rivers and canals flowing up towards the lake. Maybe that should be Lake, with a capital “L.”

I’m an ocean junkie. I grew up on the Sound and the Cape and the Atlantic. The first time I felt the thrill of real, mortal fear, it was in the waves of the Atlantic on the windward shore of Block Island. The first time I felt the unspeakable power of the numinous, it was watching the moon rise over the ocean from the peak of Mount Desert Island. My people have never lived far from the ocean. I joke that you’ll find members of my family everywhere, but in truth I don’t think very many of us can be found very far from the coast, or not for long. I miss the ocean keenly and powerfully, and that particular flavor of homesickness never seems to fade.

So the lake isn’t an ocean. But it’s still pretty good. It’s a proper inland sea — it’s Big Water. It has moods and waves and a bit of the terrifying power that makes the ocean so compelling. It has sandy beaches and a far, blank horizon. I can look at that horizon and feel something of the same thrill that I feel when I gaze out over the Atlantic.

So it seems inevitable that I, who so love trains and variety and, above all, Big Water, should like Chicago an awful lot. Don’t think I’m some kind of rosy-glassed pushover about it — I know it has its own problems; its own quirks I would probably come to resent if I lived there, the same way I resent the highways here that cut entire swathes of the city off from each-other and disrupt the flow of what could be a pretty cool urban lifescape, so to speak. Nonetheless, I really like Chicago. I think I could be really happy there.

Now for the ballet part. On Saturday, we got up and ate breakfast and made our way up to the Joffrey Tower for class. The Joffrey’s adult open division Ballet Basics class is 1.5 hours long. I wasn’t 100% sure Denis would make it all the way through. I didn’t know what to expect (one never knows what to expect when one starts a new class, though).

What we got as an awesome and really pretty enormous class. I think there were about sixteen of us; about half of us were men (our teacher, Lynne, exclaimed, “Oh my gosh, there are never this many men! We’re doing pas de deux today! …Just kidding.”). The barre work was athletic and demanding (for what it’s worth, I don’t think I’ve ever done attitude en cloche at the barre before), which I definitely appreciated.

I found that after exercising my brain trying to memorize long combinations at the barre, it was surprisingly easy to memorize the combinations when we worked in the center … though also surprisingly easy to get mesmerized while doing changements and forget to move on to the next sequence. This, however, is not a problem that is specific to ballet. When counting repetitions, I tend to forget to stop. The effect wears off once I know the pattern and stop counting (in this case, on the first repeat, when we reversed the direction of the combination).

Lynne did a brilliant job explaining how to stop your circular port de bras from looking like some kind of fit or an attempt to deflect a missile (though she didn’t put it quite that way). She also sorted our promenades, which I deeply appreciated, as I think promenades look a wee bit silly to begin with much of the time, and look even sillier when I’m sort of f(l)ailing my way through them. By which I mean that she sorted my promenade. Everyone else’s looked pretty okay. I feel like mine is uniformly terrible, though once in a while on Saturday I caught sight of myself in the mirror and realized I looked better than I expected to look.

We did a nice reverence, though I tangled my legs a couple of times.

So that was class at the Joffrey. It was excellent. I would say “Excellent, as expected,” but I didn’t know what to expect.

I’ve found that what people say is true: it’s good to take classes from different teachers, as long as they’re good teachers, because every teacher explains things a little differently, focuses on different refinements, and so forth. Just as Claire’s correction for my back has really helped me get my turns and stuff sorted, Lynne’s explanation of circular port de bras and a number of other things clarified stuff I’ve probably been doing wrong for a while now, if not since, like, first grade.

It’s weird how you can take this long, long journey of digression in your life, go wandering about in the wilderness, and then find your way back to the track you started out on, and realize it was the right one in the first place. I sort of stumbled out of ballet class in middle school — not because I didn’t love ballet, but because my life was pretty crushingly depressing and I stopped doing almost everything. In high school I did modern dance for a couple of years (as a non-major) at an arts magnet, and I loved it, but I lost the thread again after I graduated. Then for a few years I entered a kind of wilderness in my own life. I don’t quite understand why it took me so long to find this shimmering thread again.

I guess clarity just comes when it’s ready to come. We don’t have the privilege of divine insight, so we make mistakes and discard things we should keep and sometimes don’t get back to where we should be for a long, long time.

I feel like I’m finally returning to the self I was intended from the beginning to be: ballet, in a sense, is an expression of that. I suppose I had to learn how to identify and to be that self. I am sure there are still plenty of things I’m missing.

It is very much like re-learning ballet. You attempt some bit of technique you once had down cold years ago and it doesn’t come, and doesn’t come, though you can sort of see it, if you will, “as through a glass, darkly.”

Then, as if from nowhere, you hit it, and it’s like the fire of memory enlivens every nerve.

P.S. If you happen to be in Chicago and you’ve always wanted to dance, give the Joffrey’s adult open division a try. You won’t regret it.
P.P.S. Denis survived and then went on to also survive a walk and a visit to the Art Institute of Chicago and another walk (to the bus). He is coming to class this evening, the first time he has done a Saturday and a Monday class in the same week.

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