Windy City Secrets Sharing the best that Chicago has to offer! <![CDATA[ Not Especially Magnificent]]>
Chicago's Near North Side has a very famous stretch right north of the Chicago River called the Magnificent Mile. Chicagoans refer to it using the nickname Mag Mile, but no matter the name, what everyone knows is that the Magnificent Mile is one giant mother of a shopping district. It's the largest shopping district in the city, featuring some 3,100,000 square feet of space with a shitload of retail outlets, boutiques, restaurants, and hotels.

Take a look at that last feature. Hotels. That should say everything about the audience the Magnificent Mile is aimed at.

The main stretch of the Mag Mile is located either directly on or just off Michigan Avenue. Michigan Avenue's stretch contains three shopping malls: 900 North Michigan, Water Tower Place, and The Shops at North Bridge, which is notable for floating over Grand Avenue with an enormous Nordstrom. There used to be four malls, but one of them, Chicago Place, closed down a few years ago and is in the process of being converted into office space. It also contains a lot of the bigger hotels, including the Ritz-Carlton, Park Hyatt, and Four Seasons. If you need a quick cash infusion, you can stop through Bank of America, Citibank, and JP Morgan. Or if you're in the mood to use a Chicago bank for the local economy, there's always LaSalle Bank and Harris Bank.

Let's face it, though, I have no clue how LaSalle and Harris manage to maintain any kind of active presence on the Mag Mile. Because if this place is any tourist's idea of sampling the local wares, said tourist needs to be run out of town on a rail. Here's a quick sampling of the vendors who set up shop on the Mag Mile: Gucci, Hugo Boss, Giorgio Armani, Tiffany and Co., The Grand Lux, Drake Hotel, Rolex, and Prada. Now, what do all those vendors have in common? Aside from the fact that affording their better items means taking out a second mortgage? All of them are national brands with a large presence in most major cities.

So this is what tourists are looking for when they shop along the Magnificent Mile. Large retail chains that can be found in a million other cities in the country, or possibly the world. You're not seeing Chicago or any of the most unique or local wares it has to offer by running up and down Michigan Avenue. You're getting the same brands as anywhere. I'll grant you'll be getting a lot more of them; many of the bigger retailers run their stores on multiple levels. The Macy's store at Water Tower Place takes up space on all eight floors of the mall.

Say you're in Chicago to see some of its world-famous architecture. The Magnificent Mile doesn't have a whole hell of a lot of that, either. The southern end has the Tribune Tower and the Wrigley Building, and the north end contains the Chicago Water Tower - a remnant of the Great Fire of 1871 - and the John Hancock Center. It won't take much more than 20 minutes to walk from one end of Michigan Avenue to the other, which should be more than enough time to take all the photographs you want, unless you're trying to visit the observation deck at the top of the Hancock.

If you're looking to visit more unique places in Chicago, the Milwaukee strip in Bucktown and Wicker Park is a lot better. Or if you really don't want to leave your mainstream comfort zone, at least try Clark Street through Lincoln Park and Wrigleyville. There's really nothing magnificent about this mile unless the size of the crowd and buildings really impresses you all that much.]]> Sat, 26 Jul 2014 18:44:58 +0000
<![CDATA[ Commit to the Indian]]>
The Stanley Cup was established in 1893, and Canadian teams fought over it pretty much exclusively for the next two decades. But back then, there were the NHA, PCHA, and the Western Hockey Association. And there was the Portland Rosebuds, who in 1916 became the first American team to compete in a Stanley Cup Final. They lost to the Montreal Canadiens that year, and the American hockey fans would have to wait until the following season to finally have a chance to hoist the Cup when the Seattle Metropolitans beat the defending Habs. Since this was basically the NHL's crazy anything-goes era, though, the Rosebuds folded in 1918. They were reborn in 1925 when the Regina Capitals moved to Portland that year, but were quickly bought by coffee magnate Frederic McLaughlin when he learned the National Hockey League was starting a wave of expansions into the United States. The NHL needed a team in Chicago, and so McLaughlin took most of the Rosebuds players to Chicago and renamed them after an infantry division he had been the commander of in World War I: The Blackhawk Division. An odd paper discrepancy left the team to be called the Black Hawks for most of their existence, but that was corrected in 1986.

McLaughlin actively ran the team, serving as his own general manager despite having no hockey background, and became a bit of a radical for his willingness to promote American players. A number of his players - Doc Romnes, Taffy Abel, Alex Levinsky, Mike Karakas, and Cully Dahlstrom - became mainstays with the team, and the Chicago Black Hawks were the first team to field a lineup of players who were all born in America.

The Hawks posted a fairly decent record in their first season, going 19-22-3 to finish in third place and losing the first round of the playoffs to the Boston Bruins. "Fairly decent" wasn't good enough for McLaughlin, though, and he got into a big fight with head coach Pete Muldoon over whether or not the Hawks were good enough to finish in first. McLaughlin threw a major hissy fit, fired Muldoon, and on the way out the door, Muldoon promised he would curse the team so they would never finish first! At least, that goeth the legend. Although hockey fans believed in the Curse of Muldoon for decades, the whole thing was in fact made up by Toronto Globe and Mail sportswriter Jim Coleman, who admitted to it years later. Coleman had been running a deadline, had nothing to write about, and created the whole story, figuring the Curse of Muldoon would be forgotten after about two days. Well, the Black Hawks went their first 39 years - and three Stanley Cup victories - without ever finishing in first. Good thing Coleman never mentioned that.

By the 1928 season, the Hawks had become the worst team in the league. Three years later, though, they made the Stanley Cup Finals, led by goalie Charlie Gardiner. While Chicago took an early 2-1 lead in the five-game Finals, they flatlined it for the final two and Montreal took the Cup. It wasn't until three years later that the Hawks made the Finals again, against the Detroit Red Wings. The Finals ran four games, with the last one being a double overtime thriller in which Gardiner kept the Red Wings blanked as Chicago held on for the 1-0 clincher.

Four years later, the Black Hawks…. Well, kinda, sorta sucked. They got into the playoffs, although it was a real squeeze with a 14-25 record. Once the playoffs started, they managed to stun the Montreal Canadiens. Going into the second round, they then pulled another stunner against the New York Americans. That vaulted them into the Finals, against the Toronto Maple Leafs. By then, goalie Mike Karakas was injured and unable to play, and the desperate Hawks lucked out by finding minor leaguer Alfie Moore of the Pittsburgh Hornets out of a nearby Toronto bar and pulling him onto the ice. Moore played one game and won, and tried it for the next game with another player who lost. For the next two games in the Finals, Karakas was outfitted with a special skate, and he proceeded to win both. The 1938 Chicago Black Hawks are still the worst team to ever win the Stanley Cup.

In 1944, Doug Bentley scored 38 goals. His lineman, Clint Smith, led the team in assists, and the Hawks upset Detroit and returned to the Finals. It had been a good season, even though the Hawks were quickly destroyed by Maurice Richard and the dominating Montreal team he led. Surely, things would be even better through the coming years, with another championship on the way, right? Perhaps it would have. Unfortunately, McLaughlin died in 1944, and his estate sold the team to a syndicate led by Bill Tobin, the longtime president of the Black Hawks. Not so bad, except for a few sleazy details. See, back when McLaughlin first bought the Rosebuds, he outbid a certain James Norris in order to take control. By 1944, Norris owned the rival Detroit Red Wings. Why does this matter? Because Tobin was his puppet. Also, because Norris had bought Chicago Stadium in 1936, which made the Hawks his own personal tenant. This scenario played out even worse than the Kansas City Athletics arrangement, where they kept sending their best players back and forth to the New York Yankees via trade. At least the Athletics weren't ignored. The Black Hawks were. If the Black Hawks and Red Wings made a trade, it was done with Fox News-like levels of lack of bias for Detroit. Red flew, and black was clipped and grounded as it became the face of NHL futility from 1945 to 1958. Between those years, Chicago only made the playoffs twice. This was during the Original Six era too, making it even worse than it sounds. Meanwhile, Detroit won the Stanley Cup four times in that timespan.

When Norris finally kicked the bucket, the Black Hawks were taken over by Norris's oldest son, also named James, and a Red Wings minority owner named Arthur Wirtz. This was looking at another royal screwjob which could have set up the Wings for absolute dominance, but I guess Norris and Wirtz wanted a new challenge because they took their new ownership seriously. After taking the Hawks through a financial reversal of fortune, they hired former Detroit coach and general manager Tommy Ivan, and got to work rebuilding. In 1957, the Hawks struck gold. Or rather, they struck a Golden Jet! Bobby Hull made his debut that year, and he would go on to become the greatest Black Hawk, known to all by the nickname Golden Jet for his golden blond hair and speed. The next year, the Hawks found Stan Mikita. Pierre Pilote emerged as a guy who had just the right knack for knowing exactly who was in scoring position, and Glenn Hall was heisted from Detroit as a superior backstop. Chicago was a contender again by the end of the 50's. In 1959 and 1960, they were booted by the Canadiens in the playoffs. In 1961, with the Hawks finally sick and tired of being Montreal's playoff stepladder, the Hawks formed a plan for defense designed to wear out Montreal's galaxy of superstars. It worked like a charm - Chicago beat Montreal, then they went to the Finals, where they avenged all the shit the Wings put them through and won the Stanley Cup for the third time. This third Stanley Cup Championship is still very special to Chicago. The Original Six era ran from about 1942 to 1967, and 1961 is the only year during the quarter-century that it never went to Montreal, Detroit, or Toronto.

Chicago was in eternal contention during the rest of the 60's, and they even made the Finals twice more, losing in 1962 to the Leafs and 1965 to the Habs. Pilote won the Norris Trophy (top defenseman) three straight times, and Hall was an All-Star for eight years. Hull and Mikita were one of the most feared lines in the league, with Mikita even winning back-to-back scoring titles and Hart Trophies. They had a strong supporting roster which, at one point, actually included Phil Esposito. Although the team was never quite able to pull themselves together the way they did in 1961, 1967 included another big moment for the team: It was the final year of the Original Six NHL, and at long last, the Chicago Black Hawks broke the (again, totally nonexistent) Curse of Muldoon by finishing first. They lost in the playoffs to eventual champion Toronto, though.

Expansion hit in 1967, and Glenn Hall was drafted by the St. Louis Blues. In the 1968 season, Pilote was traded to the Maple Leafs. Then the team got REALLY fucking stupid and sent a trio of young forwards to the Bruins in exchange for three of their guys. Business as usual from the outside, but the players Chicago sent to Boston included Esposito, one of the NHL's true legends. It also included Ken Hodge and Fred Stanfield, solid contributors both - Hodge was even an All-Star. So this routine trade was a fleecing by Boston which helped create the core of the Big Bad Bruins teams of the 70's. Bobby Hull broke his own scoring record with 58 goals, but in 1968, the losses of Hall, Esposito, and Pilote proved to be too much to take, and the Hawks missed the playoffs for the first time since 1958. It was also the last time they missed the playoffs until 1998! Hall was missed, but not for that long, because the Hawks found a new goalie in Phil Esposito's little brother Tony, who was every bit as good as his sibling. He backstopped the Hawks to another Finals appearance, where they finally bowed out before another one of those dynastic Canadiens teams everybody loved so much. All through the 70's, while the Black Hawks didn't win the Stanley Cup, they did conclusively prove the Curse of Muldoon was dead with a capital D-E-D and buried. They won their division seven times.

Unfortunately, the team's core was starting to hurt. Bobby Hull was one of the NHL's marquee stars, which meant it was a bad idea for Hawks owner Bill Wirtz to piss him off for underpaying him. When the World Hockey Association came along in 1972, Hull bailed for their Winnipeg Jets. Mikita retired late in the decade. The Hawks tried to pull one over on the Bruins in 1976 by trading for Bobby Orr, but the Bruins clearly knew something the Hawks didn't, as could have (and SHOULD have) been signified by the fact that the Bruins were, you know, TRADING BOBBY FUCKING ORR! Orr's health was in serious decline, and by the time he retired in 1979, Orr had only played in 26 games for the Black Hawks, total. While the Hawks kept making the playoffs, well, in the NHL the playoff teams are decided by a single question: Are you a professional hockey team playing hockey in the National Hockey League? If the answer is yes, congratulations! You're in the playoffs! Yeah, they got to the Conference Finals in 1982, but they were Cinderella-ing it by then.

Fortunately, there was another talent influx just around the corner. Denis Savard was drafted in 1980. Later in the decade, they drafted Jeremy Roenick and Ed Belfour, who led them to the Conference Finals again in 1989 after a fourth-place finish and three first-round losses in the previous three years. They lost to the eventual champions, the Calgary Flames. In 1990 Savard was traded to Montreal for Chris Chelios, and in 1992 the Hawks returned to the Finals on the backs of Chelios, Roenick, Belfour, and Steve Larmer. Their eleven straight playoff wins set a record. They were blanked 4-0 by the Pittsburgh Penguins, who were the defending champions. Despite the sweep, the Finals were much closer than they looked and could have gone either way. In the first game, Chicago managed to give up two three-goal leads. Chicago lost the second game 3-1, but games three and four ended with respective scores of 1-0 and 6-5. That year, Chicago hosted both the NBA and Stanley Cup Finals. The Bulls won their title, the Hawks lost theirs. The Blackhawks coach was Mike Keenan who, in a weird coincidence was part of this same kind of situation again in 1994. He moved on to coach the New York Rangers by then, and in 1994 both his Rangers and the New York Knicks played in their league Finals. This time, though, it was Keenan's team that won.

The early 90's dominance of the Blackhawks was gone before too long with Bill Wirtz more than earning the nickname Dollar Bill for his frugality. Roenick, Belfour, and Chelios were all traded. Denis Savard returned, but only on his last legs. The Blackhawks got progressively worse, and in 1998, they finally fell out of the playoffs. They were one season short of tying the Boston Bruins for the record number of consecutive playoff appearances. Except for a surprise season in 2002 and a quick exit from the first round, the Hawks were gone from the playoffs for the next eleven years. Gone, also were the team's better players: Eric Daze and Tony Amonte. The best player on the team became Tuomo Ruutu, a solid player who was nonetheless incapable of carrying a team himself. They spent the decade missing the playoffs by a wide margin every season. When I first moved to Chicago in 2006, this was the Blackhawks team that greeted me, the one that I willingly adopted.

Bill Wirtz was a good man with a lot of people who were fiercely loyal to him, I should let it be known. He loved his team, too. Unfortunately, his business acumen wasn't able to evolve with the changing times, and it worked against him in a terrible way. While I made the choice to adopt the Hawks - really, I grew up having my heart ripped out by the Buffalo Sabres, so it wasn't like I couldn't take it - and became a diehard fan, Wirtz had so thoroughly run the team into the ground by then that Chicago had forgotten about them, in some cases literally. He made some PR moves which were outright shitty: In 2006, he let go of longtime announcer Pat Foley. He had home games blacked out, citing it as unfair to season ticket holders. He raised ticket prices to an extent at which they were among the NHL's most expensive. When an author wrote a book critical of Wirtz and tried to sell it outside games, Wirtz had the author arrested. The parts of Chicago that remembered the Windy City even had an NHL team were so apathetic to it that the Chicago Wolves of the minor league AHL were literally more popular than the Blackhawks. For awhile, the Wolves were able to sell themselves on a slogan which zinged the Hawks: "We Play Hockey the Old-Fashioned Way: We Actually Win." I remember being out one night in an underground music show chatting up a girl. I happened to mention that I'm a lifelong puckhead.
"Oh. Are you a Wolves fan?" she asked.
"Well, yeah, I guess. I'm a Blackhawks fan, really," I responded.
"Who are the Blackhawks?" The question didn't shock me so much as her earnestness in asking it did.

In 2007, Bill Wirtz lost a battle to cancer. The team was expected to pass to his first son, Peter, but Peter only held onto it for a few weeks because he wanted to stay with his day job, running Bismark Enterprises. So the team passed into the hands of another son, Rocky. Now, for years fans had been calling on the Wirtz family to sell the team to a radical, Mark Cuban-like owner. As it turned out, Chicago had its own Mark Cuban under its thumb all along. Rocky decimated his father's dated policies. He started airing home games again. Then he hired John McDonough as president, which was important to getting attention because McDonough had been the PR master responsible for turning the Chicago Cubs into a nationally popular team. He established a fan festival, announced a partnership, ironically, with the Chicago White Sox, and Wirtz got to work hiring long-alienated stars like Hull, Mikita, and Esposito to serve as ambassadors. Because of McDonough, the Blackhawks took to Wrigley Field for the second-ever Winter Classic against Detroit.

Meanwhile, general manager Dale Tallon was collecting all the right players: Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Brian Campbell, and others to form the core of a high-flying team which was temporarily coached by Denis Savard. After the 2008 season started badly, Savard was fired but immediately brought back as an ambassador. Joel Quenneville was hired. The Hawks missed the playoffs again, but they sent a message to the NHL. In 2009, they were back, and they made it to the Conference Finals only to lose to Detroit. (Again.) The next year, the Hawks hired Marion Hossa as a free agent, and made Stan Bowman - Scotty's boy - their general manager. They easily made the playoffs. Even having to start a backup goalie with the merely-decent-at-best Antti Niemi, the Blackhawks tore through the Nashville Predators and Vancouver Canucks. In the Conference Finals, the long-frustrated San Jose Sharks looked to be the team that stopped the Hawks, but they ended up performing one of their famous tank jobs. In the Finals, they met the Philadelphia Flyers. The goaltending was shaky on both sides, but Niemi proved to be just a hair better in goal when it was needed. The Flyers were clearly the inferior team, and to have a chance, they needed to win the first two games and/or game five. They weren't able to. And so, when game six concluded with an overtime goal from Patrick Kane, the Chicago Blackhawks skated off the ice as the Stanley Cup Champions for the first time since 1961. The city went nuts.

The team needed to dump some significant salary since then, so it's a good thing they got through the window. Even so, the Hawks are exciting again, and among the NHL's elite and popular. As of this writing, they are 10-0-3 on the current season, flying on an incredible streak which hasn't yet seen them lose a single game in regulation yet. They have 23 points so far, and are so far the best team in the NHL this year.

As you can see, the Chicago Blackhawks are one of the oldest and most storied teams in the NHL. As such, they've had a score of some of the league's greatest players suit up for them. Bobby Hull is chief among them, though Jeremy Roenick, Chris Chelios, Doug Gilmour, Steve Larmer, Ed Belfour, Max Bentley, Al Rollins, Duncan Keith, and Charlie Gardiner were no slouches, either. They've all won trophies, after all. All-Stars include Eric Daze, Jocelyn Thibault, Martin Havlat, Marion Hossa, Doug Wilson, Pit Martin, Doug Bentley, and seemingly their entire 1961 team. Glenn Hall, Keith Magnuson, Pierre Pilote, Bobby Hull, Denis Savard, Stan Mikita, and Tony Esposito have all had numbers retired. The Blackhawks as a team have won one Presidents' Trophy, their conference trophy seven times (they switched conferences, so they've won the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl five times and the Prince of Wales Trophy twice) and the Stanley Cup four times. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are currently the faces of the Blackhawks.

The Hawks' 49-year Stanley Cup drought is surpassed only by the 54-year drought the New York Rangers suffered from 1941 to 1994. That's one of their primary markers, in fact. That and the never-existed Curse of Muldoon come with the mystique of being one of the NHL's oldest teams. It was the Blackhawks who started the fan tradition of cheering wildly during the national anthem. The Hawks are also identified by one of the most recognizable and prettiest uniforms and logos in sports. It's an Indian head - controversial, yes, but ultimately even the most ardent American Indians' rights proponents around Chicago agree that, no matter what they think of it, it's one of the more tasteful and respectfully done ones. The third jerseys are some of the nicest-looking in the league. They were voted by The Hockey News as the best in the NHL, and one of the 25 best in professional sports by GQ magazine. The same basic design has been in place since about 1955, with only a few minor changes here and there. The fans constantly sell out games these days, and so Chicago is known to house the most devoted hockey fans in America. That's what people are trying to sell us on, anyway. The truth is, while there were pockets of diehard holdouts when I moved to Chicago during the bad years, I find the general fanbase to be possibly the most overrated since people began hopping on the New England Patriots bandwagon. When I moved to Chicago, I was seen as odd for being a hockey fan. If the Blackhawks fanbase was everything it's cracked up to be, the team never would have been allowed to be forgotten to the level it was.

Like all Chicago teams, the Blackhawks have a fierce rivalry with Detroit. The marquee rivalry of the NHL has long been between the Hawks and the Detroit Red Wings. These two teams can't stand each other, and they've met several times in the playoffs, including in the Finals. They played against each other in the 2009 Conference Finals. Detroit took that match. The Hawks beat the Wings in the 1934 Finals to win their first Stanley Cup championship, and again in the 1961 Finals for their third. The St. Louis Blues, far from being known as just "those expansion guys who stole Glenn Hall" have become a team of history and tradition in their own right, even though they're a lot younger than the Blackhawks. They have an ongoing rivalry against Chicago too.

In over 80 years of hockey, the Chicago Blackhawks have been to the highest highs and the lowest lows. They've won the Stanley Cup, and been the face of futility. They've exemplified everything wrong about dual team ownership. They've fielded legends, and gotten fleeced for other legends. They've won squeezers of games and gone on rampaging winning sprees. The story of the Chicago Blackhawks is a long one which has rarely been boring, and you'll be hard-pressed to find another team which contains the incredible ride the Hawks have taken their fans on.]]> Wed, 13 Feb 2013 19:08:45 +0000
<![CDATA[ Grizzly Bears They're Not]]>
Only a few teams have ever managed to pull that off one way or the other. The NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers are one of the most famous cases. Founded in 1933, the Steelers are one of the NFL's oldest teams. They took the field for the first time only to lose to the New York Giants by a score of 23-2, and it was a perfect sign of just what came to torture Steelers fans for the better part of 40 years. They proceeded to win just 24 games over their first eight years, never made the playoffs until 1947, were repeatedly killed by their archival Cleveland Browns, and posted only eight winning records, one of which came during a war year in which they were forced to merge with the Philadelphia Eagles just to survive. They were markedly improved by the 50's and 60's, but in this case, "markedly improved" means "at least they were competitive." Finally, after bottoming out in 1969, the Steelers won first pick draft rights over the equally dreadful Chicago Bears, and they used them on a Louisiana quarterback named Terry Bradshaw. Bradshaw won four Super Bowls, and the Steelers stayed good long after he left, eventually winning a sixth Super Bowl in 2008, which gave them more Super Bowls than any other NFL team.

On the flipside, we have the Chicago Cubs. Their history as the Lovable Losers of Major League Baseball is very overblown. It's true they haven't won the World Series in 104 years now, but they didn't actually stop being competitive until the late 40's, when the Billy Goat Curse came into being. Before that happened, World Series victors or not, the Cubs were monsters. They were 16-time Pennant winners who did everything right, and were one of the most hated teams in the National League.

The Cubs are one of the oldest teams in baseball. The official record states their original founding in 1876, but that's only because it's the year the National League was founded. They actually came into being in 1870 as the Chicago White Stockings (and yes, the current Chicago White Sox did name themselves as a nod to that), and went through several rolls of names. Due to the fact that they just couldn't find a place to play, they were given other nicknames like the Chicago Orphans and Chicago Remnants, as well as other names like the Chicago Colts and Chicago Zephyrs which sportswriters pulled from the air. While they were doing this, they were also winning Pennants. They won the first National League Pennant in 1876, and they followed that up with a dynasty that won it again in 1880, 1881, 1882, 1885, and 1886 led by the day's luminaries: Albert Spalding, Ross Barnes, Deacon White, and Cap Anson. In 1885 and 1886, the National League played a primitive World Series against the champions of the American Association. They played against the Saint Louis Brown Stockings both times, ending with a tie in 1885 and Saint Louis being the 1886 victor. They waned by the 1890's, and were deadwood by the 20th century.

The down period didn't last very long. By 1903, their famous infield of Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers, and Frank Chance was locked and loaded, and by 1906 they were complimented by an army of pitchers including Orval Overall, Ed Reulbach, and the immortal Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown, whose lost index finger allowed him to get an extra spin on his pitches and allowed him to dominate batters. In 1906, all that firepower took them to 116 victories, a regular season record which is still standing today. It was tied in 2001 by the Seattle Mariners, who needed 162 games to tie it (seasons were 154 games long back then), and the 1998 New York Yankees came within two games of it. They ran away with the Pennant and looked like a lock for the World Series title when they were matched up with their crosstown AL White Sox in the first subway series. (Technically, it would be the Red Line Series, or it would have been if the Red Line existed back then.) Now check the matchup: The Cubs set a record for wins, and also a record for winning percentage which is without equal. The White Sox won 93 games, a miracle when you consider their team batting average was a paltry .230, lowest in the AL. Who would you assume won? That's right, the White Sox managed to gut this sucker out with superior pitching. Their team batting average in the World Series was .198, low but still better than the .196 the Cubs could muster against the South Siders' superior hurlers.

The Cubs didn't let let that little setback slow them down. They returned to the World Series the next two seasons and won it both times, thus creating the second dynasty of baseball and the first dynasty of the modern era. So far, the 1907 and 1908 titles are still the only World Series the Chicago Cubs ever won. The 1908 Pennant races featured baseball's first one-game playoff, against the New York Giants, a classic game in which a very possible Giants victory was ruined when Giants player Fred Merkle didn't touch all the bases. Although Merkle was a rookie that year who put together a respectably solid career which lasted around 20 years, he never managed to live that play down. After 1909 went to the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Cubs returned to the World Series once again in 1910 to close out their dynasty.

The Cubs made the World Series again in 1918. They weren't dominant this time, but their 84-45 record did lead the majors, and they had the pitching of Grover Cleveland Alexander. In the World Series that year, they became the final victim of the Boston Red Sox before their own famed curse - the Curse of the Bambino (which Boston natives never believed in, and which was an idea spread in the 1990's by sportswriter Dan Shaughnessy, who was bemused at his half-baked idea taking on such a life of its own) - took hold, and they didn't win the World Series again until 2004.

William Wrigley then bought the team. He changed the name of their home field, Weeghman Park, to Wrigley Field. After being criticized by a loudmouthed sportswriter named William Veeck, Wrigley then hired Veeck to run the team, challenging him to do better. When Veeck assembled talent like Hack Wilon, Gabby Hartnett, Billy Herman, and Rogers Hornsby, the Cubs were a dynamo again and Wrigley presumably said "Well, that shut me up." Beginning in 1929, the Cubs won the Pennant every three years until 1938. They kept getting hiccups during the World Series, though, and often got humiliated. In 1929, the Cubs met the Philadelphia Athletics. In game four, the Cubs were leading 8-0 in the seventh inning when the As scored ten runs. The embarrassing part of that incident was that they gave up three of those runs on an inside-the-park homer when Hack Wilson lost an everyday pop fly in the sun. In the 1932 World Series, Babe Ruth of the Yankees made a gesture at Cubs pitcher Charlie Root, then hit a home run off him. When Ruth was asked what was up with the gesture, he gave only a vague answer which baseball lore twisted into the idea of him calling his shot, even though only one eyewitness on the field believed that. Everyone else - including Charlie Root, who said he would have drilled the Bambino on the next pitch if he believed Ruth was calling his shot - believes he was giving Root a strike count. 1935 probably gave the Cubs their best chance when Billy Herman hit .321 and led the Cubs to 21 straight wins in September, allowing them to roll into a hard-fought, six-game World Series against the Detroit Tigers which they lost. In 1938, behind the stellar pitching of Dizzy Dean, the Cubs won an important late-season game with Gabby Hartnett's Homer in the Gloamin'. In the Series, they fell to the Yankees again, as so many of the Yankees' World Series opponents are wont to do.

In 1945, at the end of the war years, the Cubs' replacement players won the Pennant. One sportswriter, when asked who would win the World Series against the Tigers, famously quipped that he didn't think either of them were capable of winning it. The 1945 World Series was one of the sloppiest ever played, and the Tigers won it in seven games. The whole series was overshadowed by one particular incident in the stands, though. For one of the games, bar owner, Cubs fan, and goat aficionado Billy Sianis bought two box tickets, one for him and one for his pet goat, Murphy. Goats tend to smell bad, though, and after a few too many complaints, Sianis was booted from Wrigley Field. On the way out, the pissed Sianis uttered under his breath "The Cubs, they ain't gonna win no more." Of course, that phrase was laughed off, but 68 years after the incident, the Cubs have yet to return to the Fall Classic.

My opinion on the Cubs would be a lot different today if the team didn't latch on to that image. While at a singles meeting one fine winter night in Chicago, I chatted up some sports fans, and one of them told me the Cubs hired a marketing director who decided the team might be able to play up its loserdom as an image of cute underdogs and run away with profits. After realizing the Cubs weren't going anywhere fast, "Lovable Losers" was apparently invented as a way to market the team, and that led to the inevitable transformation of the Cubs into the "Cubbies," the fandom into "Cubdom," and Wrigley Field into "The Friendly Confines." Harry Carey was hired to broadcast in the late 70's or early 80's (ironically, after having spent years broadcasting for the team's two biggest rivals, the White Sox and the Saint Louis Cardinals), and his exclamatory style and cutesy gimmicks like pronouncing names backwards won an audience of yuppie frat boys. Although the Cubs and White Sox have around the same number of fans in Chicago, the Cubs have an enormous national fanbase, and probably around 90 percent of the casual fans living in Chicago. The imagery is my problem with them. I'm in many ways an ornery Rust Belt factory kid; even if all this didn't happen, I would still have reservations about cheering for a team called the Cubs. But no one has embraced bad baseball the way the Wrigleyville upwardly mobile have. Could you imagine guys like Frank Chance or Charlie Root embracing a title like the Lovable Losers? No, those old players would have stomped fans to the curb for referring to them as the Cubbies.

Anyway, back to my brief narrative, the Cubs were merely average for a couple of years before they started bottoming out. From 1947 to 1966, they were one of the worst teams in the National League, only breaking the 500 mark twice. The Cubs discovered Ernie Banks, their greatest player, in the 50's, but couldn't dig up any real help for him. Players like Hank Sauer and Ralph Kiner were there only temporarily, and Phil Cavarretta was signed late in his career, when his numbers were falling. By the early 60's, the Cubs finally had a semblance of a real talent base again when they had Banks, Billy Williams, Ron Santo, and Ferguson Jenkins. Wrigley, however, chose that time to try a bold experiment in management which looked like a good idea in paper but proved to be a disaster that led to the Cubs hitting perhaps the lowest point in their history: The College of Coaches, a rotating collection of eight managers who would all take periodic turns ruini - er, running - the Cubs. The would rotate through the entire organization, so every player in the minors would also be introduced to a standard system of play. To Wrigley's credit, this system anticipated the coaching specialization which eventually evolved into the game. Unfortunately, it also meant team leadership was inconsistent, so players had to adjust to a new system every so often. After the 1962 Cubs lost 109 games - the most in their history - Wrigley reinstated the old system, but the college didn't go away completely until Leo Durocher was hired to manage in 1966.

Durocher was excellent as a manager, and the Cubs finally finished the 60's with a string of winning records thanks in large part to him. In 1969, the Cubs were just plain good, good like in the old days good. Until September, that is, when they went 8-17, fell into second place, and lost to the New York Mets, who went 39-11 to finish and clearly weren't going to be stopped no matter how the Cubs did. No, the September record didn't help, but the Mets got hot at the right time and plowed through everything in their path in their miracle year. Fans thought up the stupidest excuses in the world to explain the collapse: In August that season, a black cat ran across the field. Others blamed the number of day games the Cubs played, a result of Wrigley Field not introducing night baseball until 1987.

After middling through a nondescript decade in the 70's, the Cubs were finally back in contention in 1984. Led by a talented cast of players which included Ryne Sandberg, Davey Lopes, and Rick Sutcliffe, the Cubs won their division with a league-best 96 victories. In the NLCS, they met the San Diego Padres, ran them into a 2-0 in the then-five game long series, and became the first team to squander that lead, losing the Pennant. They won the division again in 1989 with Mark Grace and Joe Girardi, this time losing the NLCS to the San Francisco Giants. After hitting more mediocrity in the 90's, the Cubs won the Wild Card in 1998 during what was prognosticated to be a transitional year. Part of that was due to slugger Sammy Sosa playing a game of Top This! with Saint Louis Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire. Although Sosa hit "only" 66 home runs to McGwire's 70 in the great home run chase of 1998, they both topped Yankee Roger Maris, who had held the original mark for most homers in a single season at 61. They won a tiebreaker game against the Giants to get the Wild Card that year, but were promptly flattened by the Atlanta Braves in the playoffs. Same old, same old, and no, that's not a plug for the swill known as Old Style Beer, a Wrigleyville staple.

Five outs. That's literally how far away the Cubs were from their first Pennant since 1945 back in 2003, the first year for manager Dusty Baker, hired fresh off a World Series appearance as manager of the Giants. The Cubs had won their division that year under Baker's positivity slogan, "Why not us?" They had beat up the Braves in the LDS and now, here they were in the NLCS, up three games to two against the Florida Marlins, five outs away from winning the Pennant. Unfortunately, Baker could taste the history he was about to make. He left his starting pitcher, Mark Prior, on the mound a bit too long; while Prior had been confusing and muddling Marlin batters all night with a dazzling array of fastballs and breaking balls, he was also visibly tired by the eighth inning. The Marlins picked up the momentum when his pitches lost their velocity, started hitting, and shortstop Alex Gonzales ended up booting a ground ball which could have ended the inning. Somewhere in the rally, a fan named Steve Bartman caught a pop fly foul because he did what any fan would have done by reaching for it. As outfielder Moises Alou was jumping to make the play at the time it landed in Bartman's lap, many fans ended up blaming Bartman for losing the game. Although the Cubs fanbase appears to have regained its rationality for the most part with this, Alou is being a complete ass about it. At first he said he was sure he would have caught the foul. Years later, he took it back, saying he never stood a chance at catching it. A couple of months later, he denied ever saying he wouldn't have caught it, saying if he did say that, he probably only did it to make Bartman feel better. Now, when I saw a photo of the scene, first of all, at least three or four other fans were also reaching out. Second, there's no way in hell Alou was going to catch that ball. His arm was a solid foot away from it, at the very least. Anyway, the Marlins took the momentum back, then the Pennant, then beat the Yankees in the World Series.

The Cubs actually did better the following season, winning their division and more games, but they were promptly ejected from the playoffs, then were bad again until Dusty Baker was replaced by Lou Piniella in 2007. That year started rocky, but the Cubs found their footing and got involved in an exciting race for the division title with the Milwaukee Brewers. The division crown was important because none of the NL Central teams that year were particularly good, so the second-place finisher was out of the playoffs no matter what - the Wild Card leaders were ahead of the division leaders in the NL Central. Eventually, Chicago pulled through with 85 wins as opposed to Milwaukee's 83, but they lost the first playoff round to the Arizona Diamondbacks. This was seen as a stepping stone to greater things, and the following year, the Cubs posted 98 wins, best in MLB. They were actually pretty lovable while doing it too, so much so that Chicago Mayor Richard Daley - a diehard White Sox fan who is known for in Sox circles for his indifference to the North Siders - was actually seen photographed in a Cubs cap. The Cubs, in this, their 100th anniversary since their last World Series title, really looked like a Team of Destiny. Unfortunately, they choked in the postseason as well, this time against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Since then, Piniella started floundering, and the Cubs have failed back into mediocrity. Chicago is still waiting.

The Cubs have a total of two World Series titles and 16 Pennants. Their Hall of Famers include Cap Anson, Ernie Banks, Ferguson Jenkins, Ron Santo, Mordecai Brown, Ryne Sandberg, Rube Waddell, Robin Roberts, Goose Gossage, and Richie Ashburn. They've retired the numbers of Ron Santo, Ernie Banks, Ryne Sandberg, Billy Williams, Ferguson Jenkins, and Greg Maddux. Also, Jackie Robinson. Unfortunately, Cap Anson was one of the most vile people to ever play Major League Baseball. He played in the 1800's, and when his team was once scheduled to play a game against a team fielding a black player, Anson, sporting the belief that those "chocolate-covered coons" (his term) shouldn't be playing his pure white man's game, refused to take the field. Plessy vs. Ferguson was right around the corner, so naturally, everyone in the league sided with him, and by the late 1890's, black people were out of baseball. He's part of the reason professional sports were segregated, so if you ever happen to spot his grave, defecate on it.

The Cubs have one of the greatest rivalries in the National League with the Saint Louis Cardinals. This came to a head when the Cubs traded Lou Brock for Ernie Brogglio. This pissed off Cardinals fans, because Brogglio was a 20-game winner one year, who had won 19 the following year while Brock could barely tap fouls at the plate. When the trade was made, Brock suddenly morphed into a great hitter who eventually won two World Series titles in Saint Louis and retired as the all-time leader in stolen bases. Brogglio only won seven more games in his major league career. The Cubs also have rivalries with the crosstown Chicago White Sox, who suffered a nasty World Series drought of their own which lasted 88 years, from 1917 to 2005. It was torture for Cubs fans that the South Siders managed to win the Fall Classic before they did, and White Sox fans won't let them forget it.

I hate the Cubs. I can't stand the way they've turned losing into a badge of honor. I can't stand how their fans keep skewering baseball history to make it look like there's some massive conspiracy against the Cubs, one of the most popular teams in MLB. To be a Cubs fan, what you need to be is white, yuppie, and fucking stupid. Cubs fans are convinced their team lost the 1984 NLCS because the lack of lights on Wrigley Field forced them to start more games in San Diego, or something. They're convinced a black cat scattering across Wrigley Field destroyed the 1969 season, and the way they first acted at Steve Bartman is inexcusable. Bartman actually needed a Police escort to escape Wrigley Field, and Florida Governor Jeb Bush offered him a chance to get out of Chicago to hide in Florida. The ones who don't actually follow baseball appear to be the fans the organization frequently caters to. I find it a baseball injustice that Harry Carey got a statue before Ernie Banks, or any other players, did, but it sums up the frat house mentality which affects even people who aren't at the games during summers. I do, however, have to admire the way Cubs fans refuse to see doom around every corner. They're a glass-half-full kind of people, and on the often occasions the team is sucking, they do take in the incredible atmosphere at Wrigley Field.

Wrigleyville is a unique place in baseball. Wrigley Field is notorious for not having any parking, and that's because it sits right in the middle of the neighborhood. Instead of a slightly isolated area, Wrigley Field is located literally right across the street from some apartments, bars, and souvenir shops. It's a breathing part of the neighborhood it resides in. Wrigleyville even has its own beer associated with its identity: Old Style, which is nasty stuff but unique to a Cubs fan mindset. Not a lot of other teams can claim that.

I should rate the Cubs higher, but the way the organization caters to secondary fans, the way those secondary fans react to the team, their cuteness and quiche, and a bunch of other factors prevent that. For my Chicago baseball fix, I'm sticking to the White Sox. Although I must confess that I'm waiting for the Cubs' storybook World Series victory myself, just because it would be followed by one hell of a party.]]> Thu, 1 Nov 2012 17:42:31 +0000
<![CDATA[ The Greatest Bullfighters]]>
No one was sure of professional basketball in Chicago when the Bulls were created in 1966. Lord knows, there had been a few attempts at it: In the 30's, the god king of Chicago football, George Halas, created the Chicago Bruins with the hope they would do for basketball what the Bears were doing for football. The Bruins played in the short-lived American Basketball League, which went from 1925 to 1931. Halas tried again in 1939 with the National Basketball League, and that time they only went until 1942. When the Basketball Association of America was formed in 1946, the Chicago Stags debuted in 1946 as a charter member, but they folded just before the BAA merged with the NBL to form the NBA. The struggling NBA tried its luck again when it created the Chicago Packers in 1961, but it was probably a mistake to take the name of the Bears' biggest rival, so they changed their name to the Zephyrs in 1963 before bolting to Baltimore the same year. Third time proved to be the charm, with a logo designed by noted American sports artist Theodore Drake, one of the great icons of professional sports anywhere: Red, black, with a truly mean face and blood on the tips of its horns, the logo has never been changed.

The Bulls themselves hit the ground running with Red Kerr as head coach. (What is it with the NBA and old-school coaches named Red? Red Kerr, Red Holzman, Red Auerbach...) They secured a 33-48 record in their inaugural year, not good but still the best ever by an expansion team. Somehow it managed to get them into the playoffs (the NBA was really small back then) where they were promptly eliminated by the Saint Louis Hawks in the first round. The next year, they did something outrageously stupid: They traded their best player, Guy Rodgers, to the Cincinnati Royals, and suprise surprise! Their promise of their first year went straight down the crapper! Their second year, they started 1-15 and finished 29-53 and got waxed in the playoffs (you know, early NBA, a 29-53 team in the playoffs is just pathetic) by the Lakers. After that year, Jerry Colangelo, who ran the front office, took up that position with the newly-created Phoenix Suns. Kerr went with him, and he was replaced by Dick Motta, who won three Big Sky Conference Championships at Weber State. He was an unlikely choice, but he was the one who forged the original identity of the Bulls: Defensive, tough, didn't take any shit, and always ready to fight the other team to the death even if they weren't as talented.

The 1970 Bulls were the highest-scoring squad in team history - they averaged 114 points a game. With defensive stalwart Jerry Sloan and leading scorer Bob Boozer, the Bulls acquired Bob Love by trading with the Milwaukee Bucks and started playing like a competitive team in the 70's. In 1971, they posted a 51-31 record through rugged, intimidating physicality, going to the playoffs and getting drubbed by the Lakers again. The Bulls then reeled off a stretch of 50-win seasons and made the Western Conference Finals in 1974. The next few years saw them slipping, posting good but not great records except for a 50-loss 1976 season when Sloan was hurt. Then, as the downward spiral points, the Bulls sucked again, except for a 45-37 record in 1981 when they eliminated the New York Knicks from the playoffs. Those later years had stellar performances from Artis Gilmore, Scott May, and Norm Van Lier, but they were just a bad team by then, and a revolving door of coaches eventually saw the Bulls finishing 1984 with a 27-55 record - second-worst in team history at the time - and the Bulls' flagging fanbase crying to the fates for a miracle.

Incredibly, the fates were listening.

NBA fans know the 1984 draft may have been the most important one in history. It gave the league a lot of new faces and personalities. Among the draftees that year was a young North Carolina player named Michael. Now, Michael was packing some SERIOUS talent, and everyone knew it - he was a projected superstar. The Houston Rockets, going first, picked Hakeem Olajuwon. The Portland Trail Blazers were second, and drafting for the need of a low-post scorer, they picked up a Kentucky product named Sam Bowie who had an injury-riddled past. Michael seethed - after all, it was him who Bobby Knight, after seeing him, called the Blazers (their GM was a friend of Knight's) and begged them to take him. (When the GM, Stu Inman, said the Blazers were in need of a center, Knight reportedly screamed in response "WELL, PLAY HIM AT CENTER, THEN!") Chicago, unable to hide their disbelief, made Michael the next selection. And so Michael reported to Chicago, where he selected the number 23 (because he believed that no matter how good he got, he would only ever be half as good as his brother, who wore 45) to wear under the felt letter embossing the surname J-O-R-D-A-N.

Some players are extremely competitive, and hard workers. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson always fought with each other in their competitiveness, raising each other to greater heights and eight rings between them. Bill Russell was competitive - his motivation was to get the Celtics to win, and he rode that to eleven rings. Jordan, though.... Jordan was a form of competitive that no one else would ever really want to be. The stories are legendary: He used every slight against him, real or imagined, for motivation. Upon losing a Ping-Pong match to a teammate, Jordan bought his own table and became the best Ping-Pong player on the team. He bribed airport luggage carriers to put his baggage first, then bet teammates his luggage would be the first out. He destroyed Clyde Drexler in game one of the 1992 Finals because the press got stupid and started comparing the two, and when Portland said they would beat the Bulls by making them shoot threes, that's exactly what Jordan did - and he set a record doing it. By the 90's, in a league where everyone talked smack, Jordan was off-limits because teams playing him didn't want the damage to be worse. When Jordan contemplated his return with the Washington Wizards and was at a tryout, Paul Pierce said he better not return and was chided by his coach for it - this was after Jordan was out for three years! When Jordan made his Hall of Fame speech, he used it to counter every slight and talk smack to everyone. In other words, Jordan was competitive to the point of pathological destruction.

With Michael Jordan destroying the league with the intensity of a level five tornado, Chicago got busy surrounding him with some indomitable talent like Horace Grant and Scottie Pippen. In 1989, Phil Jackson was given head coaching duties in Chicago, where he introduced the triangle offense. Now all the pieces were in places, and in 1991, the Bulls charged off to the first of three titles before Jordan retired to try his hand at baseball. When that washed out, Jordan returned for 1995, and with a new supporting cast which included Dennis Rodman, Luc Longley, and the best bench in the NBA, the Bulls reeled off three more championships. In six Finals appearances, they never lost. In the process, they enjoyed several 60-win seasons, set the record for regular season victories in 1996 by going 72-10, and established themselves as one of the league's premier teams. The Bulls, originally doomed to the kind of small-market feel shared by the Chicago White Sox, had risen to the top of the NBA and won more titles than any other team except the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers. They also became one of the league's true global teams as Jordan established himself as a brand of his own and, once Magic Johnson and Larry Bird retired, became the face of the NBA.

It's Jordan's shadow which hangs over the team, which is understandable because he played a huge role in turning the NBA from a blip league which had been in serious danger of going under just a few years before his arrival into one of the most popular and respected professional sports leagues in the world. When the team moved from Chicago Stadium to the United Center, United Center became known as - and still is known as, and in my first tour of Chicago as a resident, was introduced to me as - The House that Michael Built. Naturally this necessitated the retirement of Jordan's number 23, which now hangs alongside the numbers 4 (Sloan), 10 (Love), 33 (Pippen), 545-193 (Phil Jackson's record as coach), and Jerry Krause, the GM who built the Jordan teams. LeBron James, who donned 23 when he first entered the NBA with Cleveland, switched when he moved to Miami and believes everyone wearing 23 should give it up. (The list of players currently wearing it is considerable, and none of the current 23-wearers are worthy of carrying Jordan's jockstrap.) Unfortunately, Jordan's legacy has come under fire recently due to some revelations about his character, but despite his gambling, hedonism, and shitty basketball acumen as an executive, nothing will ever diminish what he did for the Bulls and the NBA. And to top it all off, Jordan was one of the focal points of The Jordan Rules, one of the first adult sports books I ever read, and one of the best. Its author, Sam Smith, is the Chicago Tribune's beat writer for the Bulls. It exposes Jordan in a way a lot of people hated, but still, awesome book, and I highly recommend it.

When the Bulls dynasty took its final title out of Utah in 1998, they were running on fumes and were worn and decrepit. From there, it was either suffer a slow decline or implode the team and rebuild from scratch. Neither option looked good, and Krause went with the second, trading and refusing to bring back a lot of the dynasty's big names. Krause still had an eye for talent - he brought Elton Brand aboard, as well as Ron Artest, the successor to Dennis Rodman as the league psycho freak. They began finishing with their worst records ever, not even winning 20 games for two straight seasons. They didn't go back to the playoffs until 2005, with the assistance of, Tyson Chandler, Ben Gordon and Luol Deng. In the 2007 season, they signed Ben Wallace, overcame a 3-9 start, won 49 games, and went back to the playoffs. They beat the defending champion Miami Heat in the playoffs, then faced the Detroit Pistons in the second round. Detroit took a 3-0 series lead, but the Bulls forced a sixth game and for a minute, looked like they would be the first-ever basketball team to win a series after falling behind 3-0. This was my first full-season Bulls team in Chicago, so they have a special piece of my heart for displaying such toughness. Being from a non-basketball city, that was the first basketball team I could truly call my team.

While the Bulls missed the playoffs the next couple of years, in 2008 they were eligible for the draft lottery. They had a meager 1.7 percent chance of winning it too, which is why they sent some very low-level executive to the lottery whose name was misspelled and mispronounced on national TV. But nevertheless, a 1.7 percent chance is still a chance, and when the Bulls won the first pick, it sped up their recovery exponentially when they took Derrick Rose with the first pick, not only a good choice but a seminal one because Rose is a Chicago native. They went 41-41 that year, which locked them into an eighth-seed playoff seed and a mortal battle against the Boston Celtics. The Bulls further won my over in that series, one of the league's all-time classics, a hard-fought fight which contained seven overtimes and went the seven-game distance. The Bulls have since returned to prominence, and although they haven't yet gone the distance again, it doesn't look like the wait will be much longer.

Among the cooler traditions in Bulls lore is the use of songs like "Sirius," which became famous while the dynasty was playing. "Sirius" is accompanied by a jumbotron graphic of a herd of bulls charging down Madison Street into United Center, and culminates with the player introductions. The visiting team introductions are accompanied usually by Pink Floyd's "On the Run" or "The Imperial March" from Star Wars. One of the team's unofficial traditions is wearing black socks during the playoffs, and at one point in their season, the Barnum and Bailey Circus visits United Center, so the team is forced to play all its games during that time on the road, a tradition known as the Circus Trip in Chicagoese as well as something the city's NHL team, the Blackhawks, shares. In 2006, the Bulls were one of the first three teams to partake the league's Saint Patrick's Day uniform program, along with the Boston Celtics and New York Knicks. They also honor Chicago's hispanic heritage by wearing slightly altered red uniforms with the words "Los Bulls," one of many teams to do that. But it's that powerful, intimidating logo that people identify the most with the Bulls, an icon which the team's followers are proud to don.

Like every other Chicago sports team, the Bulls hate Detroit, and a visit to United Center will frequently include the shout "Detroit sucks!" Bulls/Pistons is the main rivalry, and it hit a very nasty apex while both teams were powers in the late 80's and early 90's. The Detroit Pistons won two titles in the 80's, with the Isiah Thomas Pistons always getting the better of Jordan and the Bulls. There was a real hatred there - the Pistons bragged about a super-secret set of defenses called the "Jordan Rules." When Sam Smith wrote his book of that very name, he exposed Detroit's "Jordan Rules" for what the Pistons from those days later claimed them to truly be: A term meant to screw with the league psychologically. It was a code name for a set of simple defenses meant to funnel Jordan away from the paint, but the term tricked everyone into believing they were some sort of government nuclear secret which only the Pistons could deploy. There's no way to understate this: The Bulls and Pistons HATED each other, and when the power balance between them shifted to Chicago in 1991, the Pistons exited the arena without shaking hands after the Bulls swept them in the Eastern Conference Finals. The rivalry was dormant, but has been slightly renewed with Detroit's 2004 title, 2005 conference title, Ben Wallace's defection, and the teams playing against each other in the 2007 playoffs. The Knicks are also a huge Bulls rival - the Knicks fought the Bulls hard in the playoffs but never got the better of Jordan; when they finally won the Eastern Conference Championship in 1994, Patrick Ewing and his gang needed Jordan to play baseball in order to do it. The Miami Heat are also perennial Bullfighters, but they aren't very successful. The Heat did take the series in 2006, eventually winning the Championship, but the Bulls got even the next year by sweeping them in the first round. Miami answered by beating Chicago in last year's Eastern Conference Finals. They've met in six playoff series, with Chicago having a 4-2 edge but Miami taking two of the last three.

I said in my Knicks review that I'm a Knicks fan, and that's the truth. But here's a bit of my background following basketball: I got into it to follow a schoolmate who was drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers in 2002. The NBA was playing slow back then, and so the primary reason I followed the league was for word on him, but I was otherwise bored by the sheer volume of play stoppages. So for my first few years of basketball watching, I didn't attach myself to any team in particular. It wasn't until the league eased up its rules and I moved to Chicago that I finally had a team to really latch onto. I adopted the Knicks just before returning to Buffalo in order to show my hometown connection. But overall, it's the Bulls I'm more attached to, because Chicago had a basketball team and Buffalo didn't really care. (Kind of like my baseball situation.) Ever since I saw them play in Chicago and regularly watched, I've been a proud Bulls fan. Especially after that Boston series in 2009. And I admire their ethic of toughness, and the way they rose up from perennial underdog to a force and a real ambassador for the league and sport. Unlike the Knicks, they didn't have that status bestowed on them by virtue of being in the team's headquarters, something I truly love about them.]]> Sun, 3 Jun 2012 18:37:57 +0000
<![CDATA[John Hancock Observatory Quick Tip by BaronSamedi3]]> Tue, 28 Feb 2012 18:16:55 +0000 <![CDATA[Harry Caray Quick Tip by BaronSamedi3]]> Sat, 4 Feb 2012 00:52:41 +0000 <![CDATA[ Da Monsters]]>
The Bears are not, however, a permanent resident of Chicago. They began life in 1919 as the Decatur Staleys in Decatur, Illinois, a small city in central Illinois, southwest of the great Chicagoland area. They were started by the AE Staley food starch company, which is how they got that old name. The company hired George Halas and Edward Sternaman in 1920 to run the team, and turned over full control in 1921, when they relocated to Chicago and became the Chicago Staleys. Halas wasn't the founder, although the official team and league records say he is. In 1920, the team paid a $100 franchise fee to become a charter member of the NFL. In 1922, Halas was given some nice new digs at Wrigley Field, and in return he promised to name the team after the baseball team that played there, the Cubs. But Halas also took note of the fact that football players seemed to generally be larger than baseball players, and in that spirit, he decided that if his hosts were Cubs, his bigger players should be called Bears!

From there, the Bears immediately ranked among the league's elite. They were competitive, and in 1925 they made headlines when they signed football's first true superstar: Red Grange, AKA The Galloping Ghost. With Grange on the payroll, Halas then took the Bears on a 17-game barnstorming trip across an American landscape that scoffed at the idea that professional football was played at a higher level than college football. (The Bears went 11-4-2 in those 17 games.) That trip impressed a lot of people and provided a serious financial boon to teams in a debt-ridden league.

Although Grange wasn't around for the last few years of the 20's, he returned in 1929 and was joined by his new teammate, Bronko Nagurski, as they led the Bears to four Championship games and two titles. Inthe late 1930's, Halas visited University of Chicago football coach Clark Shaughnessy to figure out a new way to approach the offense and the position of quarterback. What they came up with was the t-formation, many of whose key innovations are still in extremely widespread use today, even though the pure t-formation is now obsolete. To run the T, Halas drafted Columbia quarterback Sid Luckman and turned the T into a high-powered, time-wasting scoring machine which defeated the Washington Redskins in the 1940 Championship game 73-0 and opened the path for the Bears's first dynasty, from 1940 to 1946, when the Bears went to five Championships and won four of them. After those years, the Bears middled for the next few decades, but they still managed to capture their conference in 1956 and win the title in 1963. Then came the absolute nadir of Bears history: The 1970's.

In the 1970's, the Bears were atrocious. They fielded players like Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers at the same time, drafting Walter Payton in 1975, and still totally sucking. In the 80's, things were still looking low, but by then the Bears had started rebuilding. GM Jim Finks was finding A-grade talent while Bill Tobin exercised his knack for grabbing overlooked talent in the draft, and defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan created a revolutionary new defense called the 46, or the Bear. In 1982, legendary Bears tight end Mike Ditka was hired as coach, and a mean, snarling Bears team emerged and took back the NFL.

The 1985 Bears still hold a special place in the hearts of Chicagoans. They are the only Bears team to ever win the Super Bowl. They cut through their first 12 opponents, beating them all by a combined score of 456 to 198, including one memorable three-game stretch in which they outscored their opponents 104-3. They handed the Dallas Cowboys the worst loss in their history, smashing them 44-0. They lost only one game all season, to the Miami Dolphins. In the playoffs, they shut out the New York Giants 21-0. In the NFC Championship, they shut out the Los Angeles Rams 24-0. (One of the Rams coaches later admitted that the 1985 NFC Championship was the only game he ever went into knowing he had no chance.) In the Super Bowl, they rolled up 46 points against the New England Patriots, which was at that point a record for points scored and margin of victory. Although the Patriots drew first blood in the form of a field goal, the only other points they scored in that game came from a face-save touchdown late in the fourth quarter. During the 1985 fiasco, the Bears also found time to record a rap record called "The Super Bowl Shuffle" and turn some of their players like Walter Payton, Mike Singletary, Jim McMahon, and William "Refrigerator" Perry into national pitchmen. They are still widely regarded as the finest single-season team in NFL history. (And frankly, they still should have been even if the 2007 Patriots had closed their perfect season. They were an overrated team with a shitload of defensive holes which good teams had been exploiting all season, and are actually not even the best team to ever LOSE the Super Bowl.)

The Bears dominated through to the 90's, but dropped off again, having only occasional good seasons. With Dave Wannstedt as head coach, the Bears had a couple of 9-7 seasons, and Dick Jauron brought them to a 13-3 year amidst a bunch of terrible years. In 2004, current Bears coach Lovie Smith was hired. His current record as Chicago's head coach is 63-49, good for third place in the all-time Bears coach pantheon. Under his tenure, the Bears have ended the divisional reign of the Green Bay Packers, and won three division titles and one NFC Championship.

The Bears have notched over 700 wins in their history, a feat which only they have achieved. They hold the NFL record for the number of Hall of Famers fielded, at 27. Their all-time roster includes some of the NFL's great luminaries: Red Grange, Mike Ditka, Dick Butkus, Gale Sayers, Walter Payton, and Mike Singletary. The current team is led by linebackers Brian Urlacher - who will go into the Hall once he hangs up his cleats - and Lance Briggs, who is also a strong candidate for that honor. Their current kick returner, Devin Hester, is unquestionably the greatest special teams player since Buffalo played the amazing Steve Tasker (who should be in the Hall of Fame), and very likely the greatest special teams player in history. He holds the NFL record for return touchdowns, and has a number of good years left.

Despite the offensive innovations the Bears are historically responsible for, they're known primarily as a smash-mouth, run-and-defense-first team. The 27 Hall of Famers from Chicago only include one quarterback, Sid Luckman, who isn't likely to draw breathless comparisons to Otto Graham or Joe Montana or Johnny Unitas or any of the other transcendent quarterbacks from anyone other than Bears fans. After Luckman, their greatest, most iconic quarterback is Jim McMahon, who pretty much lucked into that position and is more of a right place right time quarterback than anything else. He was the 1985 team quarterback, and he was gutsy, but he ultimately became an unremarkable journeyman who played for six other teams. Quarterbacks for the Bears are in fact so collectively bad that if you visit Chicago and suggest there is a curse on Bears quarterbacks, no one will laugh. They've never had a 4000-yard quarterback. Their current quarterback, Jay Cutler, was expected to be a keystone after being a standout in Denver, but he's been pretty sporadic. (He's also wrongfully perceived as a wimp because he sat out the 2010 NFC Championship after a very nasty knee injury. Because Bears fans apparently think he wanted to watch the most important game of his life, which would have taken him to his ultimate goal, from the sideline.) Their 2006 Super Bowl run was directed under center by Rex Grossman, an otherwise excellent thrower who can't seem to grasp the concept of game management. When Cutler was injured last season, he was replaced by Caleb Hanie, possibly the worst quarterback I've ever seen. Yes, worse even than Trent Dilfer.

The true greats of the Bears have shined on defense. Dick Butkus is mentioned alongside Lawrence Taylor as one of the league's golden name linebackers, and Mike Singletary is a top ten name too. Richard Dent is in the Hall of Fame at defensive end. Bill George played alongside Butkus, Bulldog Turner helped anchor the 40's dynasty, and even Red Grange and Sid Luckman stood out as cornerbacks. Bears running backs read like the roster of an NFL legends team: Red Grange, Bronko Nagurski, George McAfee, Gale Sayers, and Walter Payton. Particularly those last two, both of whom are frequently evoked in running back conversations beginning with the words "the next..." Sayers was known as the light speed demon, and is now known as the only guy in the league willing to try to denounce Devin Hester. Payton was known as the all-around workhorse back who would do a bit of everything - including rack up the all-time record for rushing yardage, which he held until Emmitt Smith broke it in 2002.

The Bears are rivals with the Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, and Detroit Lions. They have the most hate for the Packers, who live in northern Wisconsin. The two teams are first and second in the number of league titles won. The Packers have more titles (13 as opposed to nine) but the Bears have more overall victories and lead the all-time series between the two. The Bears also have an established rivalry with the Arizona Cardinals, with whom they shared their city until 1960, and this rivalry decided quite a few of the NFL's early title contests. Naturally, it's very cooled these days, although it can come back every now and then. The most notable recent game between the Bears and Cardinals was in a 2006 Monday Night Football game in which Arizona ran up a 23-0 halftime lead, only to lose the game in spite of preventing the Bears from scoring any touchdowns on offense. The meltdown resulted in Arizona's coach giving one of the most humorously indecipherable speeches ever heard - the now-famous "They're Who We Thought They Were!" speech.

The Bears are also a constant staple of pop culture. The most notable form of this has been the classic TV movie Brian's Song, a very popular drama chronicling the friendship between Gale Sayers and Brian Piccolo. Piccolo helped Sayers rehabilitate after a devastating knee injury, and the two became friends and stayed friends as Piccolo later lost a battle to lung cancer. The movie was originally released in 1971 and starred Billy Dee Williams and James Caan. In 2001, the movie was remade with Mekhi Phifer and Sean Maher. In the 1980's and 90's, Bears fandom became a staple of Saturday Night Live, as Bill Swerski's Superfans became a recurring sketch which introduced the phrase "Da Bears!" to the world outside Chicagoland. The sketch featured George Wendt, a Chicago native, as host of a talk program in which Mike Ditka could do no wrong. The sketch usually showed the show's cast members eating sausage and drinking beer, and one of them having a Bears-induced heart attack. Wendt reprised his role just before the 2006 Super Bowl, in which the Bears played against the Indianapolis Colts. There are many TV shows which are based in Chicago, and on many of these shows the Bears are the household favorite. The classic sitcom That 70's Show also makes a lot of Bears references, since the characters live in Wisconsin and cheer for the Packers. Brian Urlacher once made an appearance on Entourage, and Mike Ditka's fiery, blunt personality has made him a popular media favorite.

The Bears can or did at one point lay claim to a lot of NFL records. Walter Payton was once the all-time NFL rushing leader. He was surpassed in 2002 by Emmitt Smith, and Lions fans contend that Barry Sanders (third all-time rushing) could have broken it a lot sooner and blown it completely out of proportion had he played his remaining good years. (I believe that myself.) George Halas holds coaching records for most seasons coached with a ridiculous 40, which resulted in his record 324 career victories as coach. Return specialist Devin Hester holds the record for return touchdowns, with 18 and counting. The Bears have over 700 wins as a team, which is unsurpassed, and nine titles, a record surpassed only by Green Bay. The 1940 title game set the records for biggest blowout, most points, and widest margin or victory.

Though the Bears struggled last season - finishing 8-8, third in their division - the sight of their navy and orange uniforms and iconic C logo is always welcome among Chicagoans who love their team and appreciate the sense of history and tradition they hold. While the winters in Chicago are notoriously difficult, you'll always find people at Soldier Field, bearing down themselves in what is called Bear Weather coming off the harsh Lake Michigan environment, ready to watch their team smash and grind any unlucky opponent that has the misfortune to play against them this week. They are one of the league's truly great teams, and if my hypothetical no-team fan likes trench football, he won't find any team where that mentality has been better exhibited than with the Monsters of the Midway.]]> Sat, 7 Jan 2012 16:55:13 +0000
<![CDATA[Chicago Spire Quick Tip by BaronSamedi3]]> Tue, 3 Jan 2012 01:00:49 +0000 <![CDATA[Chicago Deep Dish Pizza Quick Tip by BaronSamedi3]]> Tue, 3 Jan 2012 00:52:36 +0000 <![CDATA[Free Things to Do in Chicago Quick Tip by BaronSamedi3]]> Thu, 29 Dec 2011 00:58:09 +0000 <![CDATA[Chicago Style Hot Dog Quick Tip by BaronSamedi3]]> Sat, 24 Dec 2011 01:38:13 +0000 <![CDATA[Millennium Park Quick Tip by BaronSamedi3]]> Fri, 23 Dec 2011 00:24:08 +0000 <![CDATA[Navy Pier Quick Tip by BaronSamedi3]]> Fri, 16 Dec 2011 19:34:57 +0000 <![CDATA[Chicago Sun-Times Quick Tip by BaronSamedi3]]> Wed, 14 Dec 2011 23:25:33 +0000 <![CDATA[Phil Jackson Quick Tip by BaronSamedi3]]> Fri, 4 Nov 2011 17:51:01 +0000 <![CDATA[Chicago Traffic Quick Tip by BaronSamedi3]]> Wed, 2 Nov 2011 21:08:10 +0000 <![CDATA[ Chicago's Other Baseball Team. You Know, the One You Haven't Heard of]]>
The Chicago White Sox are pretty much forgotten. On the popular map of baseball loyalties you can find on the web in a lot of spots, the White Sox have only a very small enclave to themselves niched out of the Cubs' territory. Even though the White Sox won the World Series in 2005 - ending 88 years of title drought - the greater midwestern area is still a massive territorial battle between the Chicago Cubs up north and the St. Louis Cardinals in the more middling states. With the Milwaukee Brewers and the Minnesota Twins north of Chicago taking the respective states of Wisconsin and Minnesota all to themselves, the poor White Sox are hung out to dry, known only to their fervently devoted fans on the South Side of Chicago and in the immediate southern suburbs. The 2005 title is already forgotten. The team's underrated rivalries with the Twins, Detroit Tigers, and Cleveland Indians - forgotten.

On the rare occasions people actually do remember the White Sox, it's usually in a passing reference to the Black Sox scandal of 1919, in which a small group of players were caught conspiring with gamblers to throw the World Series; or the most disastrous team promotion in history, Disco Demolition Night in 1978. Any positive thoughts nationally turned toward the White Sox usually focuses on legendary outfielder Shoeless Joe Jackson, one of the greatest baseball players in history. Even the portrayal of Jackson is misunderstood - he's usually used as the main focus of the Black Sox scandal, when sportswriters try to paint him as the naive sucker who was tricked into conspiring, but who in the end stood tall and played his very best in the World Series. The reality about Jackson is that his numbers took significant dips in the games the Sox lost, and so in spite of producing one of the great performances in World Series history, there are questions surrounding how much of a role Jackson played in this fix. It tends to overshadow the legacy of another conspirator, Buck Weaver - who the great Ty Cobb was scared to bunt at - who had 11 hits and batted .324 during the same series, and who spent the rest of his life insisting he pulled out of the fix.

The White Sox have the misfortune of sharing half of their team name with one cursed team - the Boston Red Sox, cursed for 86 years - and their city with another cursed team - the Chicago Cubs, cursed for 102 years now and still counting. The Red Sox curse, the Curse of the Bambino, was based in the sale of Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees. The Cubs' curse, the Billy Goat Curse, had its mythology created in 1945 when a tavern owner was kicked out of Wrigley Field during the World Series because people didn't like the smell of his pet goat. In the literal middle is the White Sox, who endured an 88-year title drought which people trace back to the worst scandal in baseball history, and no one acknowledges it or gets behind the team! What's more, the White Sox curse years bookended the Red Sox curse years - the Red Sox drought began after they won their 1918 title and went until they finally snapped it in 2004. The White Sox won the World Series in 1917 and didn't win it again until 2005. The Red Sox won a handful of Pennants between their titles, and even though they didn't win after 1908, the Cubs were a regular visitor in the World Series until 1945. The poor White Sox have just one Pennant win (1959) in their entire drought. The rest of the time, they were up and down, and were playing the Yankees' bridesmaid even during their best years in between.

And so it goes. Despite fielding such players like Joe Jackson, Minnie Minoso, Luke Appling, Eddie Collins, Frank Thomas, Roberto Alomar, Goose Gossage, and Carlton Fisk, the White Sox are most characterized by Bill Veeck's ownership tenure. Veeck was known as The People's Owner because he truly cared about entertaining the fans and for the well-being of the players. It's mostly because of Veeck that the White Sox developed the odd, offbeat character that appealed to me. Veeck was responsible, among other things, an elephant show, putting Astroturf on the infield at Comiskey Park while keeping the outfield natural, installing the team's famous exploding scoreboard (it shoots fireworks whenever a Sox player hits a home run), and perhaps most famously, outfitting the team in shorts and collars for a game in 1977. (Disco Demolition Night was courtesy of Bill's son, Mike, and local radio deejay Steve Dahl.)

The White Sox have managed to combine their goofy, offbeat image with an exciting, never-say-die style of play which contributes to their current image as a band of blue-collar outlaws. A little-known fact is that while Tony La Russa managed the team in the early 80's (La Russa, by the way, began his incredible managerial career with the White Sox in 1979. Oakland and St. Louis, you're welcome) the popular phrase "winning ugly" was coined by Texas Rangers manager Doug Rader in 1983, who meant it to be derogatory when he said it. White Sox fans have adopted it as a badge of pride for the team the way Yankees fans use "Bronx Zoo" and "Evil Empire" as badges. My friend Katy described the White Sox as pirates when she moved to Chicago, and said that's why she adopted them as her second team instead of the corporate, stoic Cubs and their cutesy, frat house mentality. (Katy is a Wisconsin native and loyal to the Brewers.) After 2005, the White Sox also adopted the slogan "win or die trying."

The team's image tends to drift between blue collar and outright thuggish. This is a major point of contention for White Sox fans. When fans rushed the field in 2002, many folks in Chicago - mainly Cubs fans and probably writer Jay Mariotti - chalked it up to Sox fans being Sox fans, which is grossly unfair to 99.9 percent of the team's fan base. The team's primary colors are black and white with a dash of silver, and so we get mentioned in the same breath as Raiders fans who glue skulls to Darth Vader costumes at games. That the nickname of US Cellular Field ever since naming rights were sold to US Cellular is "The Cell" certainly doesn't lend a warm and fluffy image to the team, especially not when they're sharing a city with a team whose stadium is nicknamed "The Friendly Confines." Also look at some of the other nicknames: The White Sox have "The Southsiders," the "South Side Hit Men," "The Go-go White Sox," and "The Good Guys in Black" to compete with the "Cubbies" and the "Lovable Losers."

The team also receives a lot of flak for some of its players and personnel. Manager Ozzie Guillen, who has been running the team since 2004, is constantly in the hot seat because of an unfortunate tendency to shoot his mouth off at the worst times, at the wrong people, and over the wrong subjects, and most frequently some combination thereof. Some incidents can no doubt be attributed to Guillen's passion and care for his team: In 2007, Guillen defended his team from notorious sports blowhard Jay Mariotti by using the derogatory f-word for gay people without having the courtesy to censor it. This caused a brief media furor, which died down in some part because much of the media actually sided with Guillen - Mariotti is a notorious bombast who is widely hated even within his own circles - and in some part because the gay community seemed outraged not because the word "faggot" was used, but because it was applied to Mariotti in particular. There was an incident with nude blow-up models in 2008, and current catcher AJ Pierzynski can be a real lightning rod at times. Ace pitcher Mark Buehrle - a Missouri native and lifelong Cardinals fan - made news for showing up to Cards games in a Cards hat when St. Louis won the World Series in 2006. When Michael Jordan retired from basketball the first time to try his hand at baseball, it was the White Sox system he was signed into. Paul Konerko is currently the captain and he's considered too quiet to be effective, and Frank Thomas had a Barry Bonds personality - friendly and charismatic sometimes, dour and a moody jerk at others. Thomas, though, cemented a reprieve for his worst behavior by being cooperative and helpful with the Mitchell Report, and he has been an outspoken proponent of steroid testing for years.

I cling to the White Sox these days as part of my identity from Chicago. I can relate to the White Sox better than I can to any other baseball team, and I still cheer for them wholeheartedly even though I'm primarily a Yankees fan. A lot of the things about the team which is detrimental to their image is exactly what I find appealing. Like most teams, they have up years and down years, fortunes and misfortunes, and at times are able to bring everything together when it counts. A lot of people born with the White Sox thrust onto them are embarrassed by the team, but since the White Sox fit me like a glove, I'm very happy to call them my team, in all their greatness and misfortunes, highs and lows, favorites and underdogs, funny stunts and scrappy toughness.]]> Fri, 3 Jun 2011 20:53:14 +0000
<![CDATA[Ginos East Quick Tip by Bethany_K]]> Fri, 4 Mar 2011 19:11:35 +0000 <![CDATA[ Sizzling Steaks, Red Wine and Latin Flavor]]>
One of our first stops that Friday night will be at one of my favorite restaurants in the city: Tango Sur. Located on Southport, Tango looks like any regular restaurant from the outside, but a peek inside reveals family style tables sprinkled amidst exposed brick walls, urban artwork, dim lights and candles. The mellow beat of Latin music adds to the cool vibe.

An Argentinean restaurant famous for their succulent steaks and empanadas, Tango Sur has consistently delicious food.  (Perhaps this is why patrons will often wait for two+ hours just to get a table!)

The wait, though tortuous for the hungry, is part of the fun. There’s a small waiting room in the back of the restaurant with benches, a table and some chairs where customers can open their own wine (the restaurant is BYO), and begin vino sampling while they wait. The waiters happily supply wine glasses and uncork your beverage choices. If there is no space in the waiting room, the Irish bar down the street is a cozy waiting place with a vast beer selection.

If you like red meat in large quantities, you'll love Tango Sur. Hearty meat dishes peppered with exotic spices and a side of mash potatoes will make you drool.  I truly can’t eat enough of their fried beef and chicken empanadas drizzled in garlic, parsley and oil. This is my favorite item on their menu and frankly I could eat only empanadas for dinner and be more than satisfied. But for the famished, a tasty selection of el filet, beef vesuvio, and steak para dos will fit the bill.

The food is great for sharing and the atmosphere perfect for romance, an intimate dinner with friends or a large, boisterous dinner group. Possibly one of the best restaurant in Chicago!]]> Tue, 8 Feb 2011 15:33:08 +0000
<![CDATA[Chicago (city) Quick Tip by Sharrie]]> Vegas is my most favorite Western cities. The main reason being they are cities I enjoyed walking around in!]]> Fri, 31 Dec 2010 10:22:32 +0000 <![CDATA[ Looking for a Baby Shower Gift? Go to Nat & Helen's!]]>
Luckily I found the adorable and conveniently located (East Lakeview) baby store called Nat & Helen’s. This small local shop specializes in products that are not only cute as a button, but organic and sustainable (i.e. good for the planet and good for baby).

Minimally decorated, I still managed to find quite a few unique items with cool brand stories. I purchased a silk screened onesie with the words “Mi Amore”, a Maggies Menagerie (100% worker-owned cooperative made) and got our BFF a Bum Genius sprayer just for kicks (who knows, it might actually be the perfect gift!). From bamboo wash cloths to body milk lotion, MooMe bibs to Miyim organic toys, Nat & Helens is a low pressure, pleasant shop to explore.

Items are reasonably priced and I love know that I’m gifting products that are green and promote healthy living. I also recommend checking out their blog – They provide fun gift ideas and suggestions for mom’s to-be.]]> Tue, 28 Dec 2010 01:13:10 +0000
<![CDATA[ The Best Chinese Restaurant in Chicago]]>

Won Kow, is a local, neighborhood restaurant nestled on the main drag of Wentworth Ave. surrounded by stores filled with cultural Chinese knick-knacks. My friend and I hiked up the restaurants two flights of stairs (following the mouth-watering aromas) to find a vast room filled with fellow foodies and gorgeous artwork.

The menu was overwhelming, with over 300 items, making it a long (but fun) ordering process. I started with pot stickers which were enormous and tasty, followed by egg rolls (my favorite), BBQ pork, and Crab Rangoon. With ridiculously reasonable priced entrees I felt like I could order one of everything on the menu and still leave with money in my wallet. For entrees I tried the Moo Shoo Chicken and the Kung Pao Beef. Both were fresh and flavorful and the portions were huge (two people could easily split one entrée).

Stuffed to the brim and happily taking home leftovers, I am certain that Won Kow is one of Chi-town’s best kept secrets and one of my new favorite restaurants in the city. Beyond the expansive food selection, Won Kow also has a fun selection of cocktails! I recommend the Singapore Slinger, its sweet taste and potent alcohol content is serious business!]]> Tue, 28 Dec 2010 00:41:52 +0000
<![CDATA[Lincoln Park Quick Tip by Bethany_K]]> Wed, 3 Nov 2010 12:33:41 +0000 <![CDATA[The Gold Coast Quick Tip by Bethany_K]]> Wed, 3 Nov 2010 12:22:13 +0000 <![CDATA[Bucktown Quick Tip by Bethany_K]]> Wed, 3 Nov 2010 12:16:18 +0000 <![CDATA[W Chicago - Lakeshore Quick Tip by dbranan13]]> Tue, 19 Oct 2010 20:17:39 +0000 <![CDATA[ Tasty and cheap traditional Costa Rican fare.]]> A couple years ago I vacationed in Costa Rica, and though I quickly learned giant spiders and unidentifiable lizards weren’t my thing, the trip did solidify my love affair with Costa Rican cuisine.

Luckily I was able to find the same flavorful fulfillment in Chi-town when I stumbled upon a modest looking hacienda serving the same traditional home-cooked Costa Rican fare I so savored. Irazu (named after the highest volcano in Costa Rica), is a true hole-in-the-wall joint, serving tasty and cheap food. The menu is loaded with creative culinary dishes including Chicharron (deep fried pork with boiled yucca), Chile Relleno (poblano pepper stuffed with cheese), Pepito sandwiches (rib eye steak, sautéed onions, cheese, beans and Lizano sauce), Onioned Steak, and Arroz con Huevo.   For more of the norm, you can also enjoy steak tacos (only $1.95), an award-winning vegetarian burritos, as well as Milanesa and Chicken Sandwiches.

I also recommend checking out their fresh juice shakes in flavors like mora (blackberry), parcha (passion fruit), and pina (pineapple).

Irazu is the only Costa Rican restaurant in Chicago and the food is down-right delicious, especially for the price. Plus it’s BYOB. This is a great spot for an expensive, no frills dinner out with friends or a casual and fun date.

]]> Tue, 21 Sep 2010 17:10:24 +0000
<![CDATA[ Fine sips and they deliver!]]> The first leaves of Fall are starting to drift to the ground and I’ll admit that I’m secretly giddy.  This summer was full of dinners out, concerts, travel and socializing, but Fall and Winter finally give me the time I need to read a few novels, watch my favorite movies and have a few quiet nights at home.

As most in the Midwest, when the weather gets cold I become a bit of a homebody. I love dinner in and some vino by the fire.  One of my favorite locations for unique wines is Red & White, a Bucktown beverage shop, filled with the finest alcoholic fuel for winter isolation. 

First, the décor is funky, fun and artsy with no-nonsense displays made of recycled barn wood, and a clean, orderly fashion of the wine arrangements (reds on the right wall, whites on the left, bubbly and shot-worthy stuff in the center). Their selection also tops the charts with an eclectic mix of Austrian, French, and South American sips. Though the labels and quality of the wine are distinct and delicious, their prices are reasonable with most bottles totaling $20 or less.  

In addition, Red and White makes shopping for a romantic night efficient and easy, providing a selection of tasty truffles and cheese, as well as a refined grouping of fresh flowers in-store. Perhaps the best service Red & White offers is their delivery. I’d like to think that I’d never be so lazy, but when the wind starts to blow and the snowflakes fall, sometimes the thought of going outside is daunting.  Red and White has a thorough website of wine listings making it an easy process when ordering in.

Lastly, when I’m interested in new wines or really just want to get out and do something fun on the weekend, Red and White offers Saturday wine tastings from 2-5pm.  I recommend attending the wine tasting and then checking out a BYOB restaurant just down the street with your new purchase (check out R&W’s website for listings of local BYO’s in the neighborhood).

]]> Tue, 21 Sep 2010 16:28:08 +0000
<![CDATA[ Ancient Athens? No, just great Greek food!]]>  

A couple of years ago I lived with a roomate who was Greek. Every couple of weeks she made the most scrumptious spanakopita. It was so delicious, that I would beg and plead for her leftovers (even offering to clean the entire apartment in a trade). The introduction to Greek food sent me on a quest for great Grecian food in Chicago.

My number one find was Athena, a culinary gem, located in Greek-town complete with ambiance that makes you feel like you've been transported to Athens! The inside is decorated with dark wood tiered floors. The crisp, white-walls are sprinkled with traditional trinkets and the nook fireplaces create an element of cozy. If it's nice outside, the outdoor patio is where it's at, decorated with ancient pillars, a flowing fountain and bright tropical flowers.

The menu is mouth-watering! The appetizer spread consisted of feta cheese, kalamata olives, a gyros plate, and, yes, spanakopita! I wouldn't even try and resist a sample of the chicken lemonati (one of my favorites), shrimp kebab (drizzled in lemon and almonds), and Loukaniko (sausage with rice and potatoes).  For dessert, the Baklava (honey and walnuts in a filo dough) tops the charts.

If you've got the craving, Athena is the place to go!

]]> Mon, 30 Aug 2010 20:02:40 +0000
<![CDATA[ A Home Decorating Haven]]> A shop that specializes in home and life design,  Crosell and Co. is one of the cutest stores in Bucktown. I adore this shop for dinnerware, fine china and general home decorating.

Entering Crosell is a journey into a world of magic, sparkle and glimmer. Housed in a two story black and white brick house at Damen and Armitage, Crosell is a great stop for a house warming gift or just to dream up new decor ideas for your abode. Tables of china, candles, picture frames and home entertaining must-haves cover every inch of their tables.  I especially admire the fine details of the Juliska dinnerware, can't get enough of the Michael Aram sliver leaf platters (great for fall entertaining) and covet the Mary Rose Young colored bowls that embody fun and youth.  Crosell and Co. is the place to go if you envision elegant dinner parties complete with with gold embroidered goblets by Arte Italica or a more casual event where Bella Cucina Artichoke and Lemon pesto spread is served on Vietri silverware.

Their variety of dinnerware ranges from sophisticated to playful, providing options for those with conservative to avant-garde taste. And Crosell and Co. also facilitates wedding registries. Though they carry high-end lines, the staff is always friendly, down-to-earth and ready to answer your questions. This is a must-go if you are looking for an elegant gift or need a bit of unique and refined home decorating inspiration!

]]> Mon, 30 Aug 2010 19:21:21 +0000
<![CDATA[ Making growing up even more fun!]]>  
Contemporary and calming, Grow is a parental port for all necessary (and adorable) children’s items. I felt at ease and even a bit envious looking at all the hot-to-trot decorations modern babies boast: gorgeous Dwell crib bedding in cowgirl themes, bunny wall-art, and hypnotic wood mobiles. I found nursery items galore, including baby bottles, bibs, and blankets, and delighted at the Kate Quinn clothing (sized 0–6 years) that actually had me jotting mental notes for future baby shower gifts. I even saw one of the coolest three-piece stroller sets, a creation of Orbit Baby that included a car seat, stroller, and a base all in one (my only question was where is the built-in WiFi?!) 
Grow is the ultimate retail package for nurture-purchase therapy and totally convinced me that shopping for little people is both entertaining and fun. Since my fantastic discovery, I've introduced Grow to multiple mama's to be and all come back with raving reviews and purchases. This is a must see if you are expecting or play the role of gift giver.
 ]]> Fri, 20 Aug 2010 21:19:33 +0000
<![CDATA[ Rockin' Birthday Gifts for Kids]]> If anything makes me crave childhood, it's the multitude of children's birthday parties I've been to this last year. I enviously discovered that kids toys, games and outfits just keep getting more creative every year (far more fun than they were when I was a wee one!).  As such, it also gets harder and harder to find innovative, fun and unique gifts that these youngin's don't already have and won't be bored with. To make my kiddie b-day party shopping easier I frequent a delightful children's lifestyle store called Bullfrogs & Butterflies.

Located on Division Ave, B&B is like entering a fairytale playground. From vintage bloomer undies and Room 7 bonnets to Agatha Ruiz de La Prada dresses (so cute you’ll want to wear them) and footgear like Pediped & Robeez shoes, B&B knows how to make dress up fun. They even help moms out with tummy honey creams, books on “What a Mother Should Know”, and genius Bella Bands (the kind that hold up your pants and avoid embarrassing moments). I love that their variety of products allows for one-stop shopping for both baby showers and birthday occassions.  In addition their life-size stuffed animals, huge color-a-mats, plush monster bowling sets, and teeny, tiny, oh-so-adorable sunglasses just make my smile (hey, there's kid in all of us!).

There is no doubt that if I was re-living childhood again, this is the place I would beg my parents to take me to. Bullfrogs & Butterflies delivers the ultimate goodies and reminds me of the magic of youth.

]]> Fri, 20 Aug 2010 18:08:18 +0000
<![CDATA[ Amazing location for a wedding reception!]]>
I was recently at a friends wedding in Chicago and the reception was held at the W Lakeshore. Those who have been here before know that this is a swanky, Asian design influenced hotel with incredible views of Lake Michigan. Far surpassing the W in City Center, the Lakeshore location has panoramic views of the city and lake from the top floor (also where the reception was held). This gorgeous room hosts a dance floor in its center and tables are sprinkled along the outer edge of the circular room creating the perfect elegant dining and dance party atmosphere.

In addition, the rooms, though fairly small, were comfortable and cozy.  With a late check in on a Friday (and a very full hotel) my room view was not of the lake and entirely unimpressive.  The bathrooms however, gave the room a unique, spa-like quality, complete with a pedestal sink and slate tiles.  Home to the Bliss spa, each room conveniently provided Bliss spa products (shampoo, conditioner, soaps, and face wash). As a Bliss product fan, I really enjoyed the free product and it made getting ready all the more pampering.

Other perks:
-iPod docks in the bedroom made for great music before the wedding and post reception.

-There’s a nice bar downstairs right next to where you check in. This was a convenient location for wedding guests to meet after the rehearsal dinner and post reception.

-There are a number of great restaurants in close proximity to the W Lakeshore including the Coco Pazzo Café where I dined with friends on Friday night. Highly recommended – try the bruschetta!

-If you drive, which I did, be prepared to pay $50 per night for valet parking. Though the charge is steep, it may be better than trying to find street parking, which may require a parking permit.
Overall: A swanky place for a wedding reception and a fun place to stay for a weekend getaway. The W Lakeshore provides that hip, young vibe that makes for a fun stay for a young couple or with a group of friends.

]]> Wed, 18 Aug 2010 02:08:28 +0000
<![CDATA[Lollapalooza 2010 Quick Tip by dbranan13]]> Thu, 12 Aug 2010 13:53:10 +0000 <![CDATA[ Best Music Festival of the Year!]]>

Imagine a three day outdoor concert/dance party with 250,000 of your closest friends in the middle of downtown Chicago. Sound awesome? Welcome to Lollapalooza! I was lucky enough to participate in all three days of the event starting last Friday, August 6 through Sunday, August 8th. It was sweltering and crowded, but the lineup was amazing and the location could not be beat. Here’s a summary of the bands I saw and the ones that truly made an impression:


  • New Pornographers: The infectious power-pop of the New Pornographers provided a great opening to our afternoon and helped set the tone for the evening. The full band was in attendance, including Neko Case and Dan Bejar, which seems to be an increasingly rare occasion. When they are all together and on top of their game - as they were on Friday - there is perhaps no better band in the industry today.
  • Dirty Projectors: Provided a relaxing follow up set to the New Pornographers. Their unique male/female harmonies were a great way to keep the afternoon vibe going.
  • The Black Keys: The quintessential Lollapalooza band, the Keys seem to appeal to all types of music fans. They played their distinctive blend of blues rock which kept the energy flowing before Friday’s headliners, Lady Gaga and The Strokes.
  • Chromeo: Chromeo, who I was not very familiar with, provided a great warm up to Lady Gaga’s evening set. They brought a unique sound and sense of energy to the pre-Gaga crowd. They will definitely be a band that I will be looking for in the future.


  • Lady Gaga: Unfortunately, though I had high expectations, she didn’t do it for me. She talked for what felt like 5 minutes between each song while she changed her costumes. Her monologue was meant to be inspiring, all about finding your true self and being who you are meant to be, but instead seemed condescending and contrived. The crowd was strange too, dressed in Gaga gear and wigs. So my friends and I left the show early. Can you blame us?
  • The Strokes: We caught the last few songs of their set after leaving Lady Gaga’s set early and heading across the park. The band played their predictable (in a good way) brand of garage rock. Hopefully their recent tour will result in long awaited new album.

  • The XX: Despite the masses of people at this early afternoon set this was one of my favorite shows of the weekend. I was curious as to how their songs would sound in an environment like Lollapalooza and I was satisfied that even their mellow vibe can translate well in an outdoor concert environment. They played every song on their album and it was great to hear.
  • Grizzly Bear: Great use of vocals and harmonizing helped celebrate a perfect August afternoon.
  • Metric: The Canadian rockers re-energized the crowd after a few laid back afternoon performances (see above). Seemed to be taking hold of their new found popularity (by way of the new Twilight soundtrack) and running with it. Expect big things from Emily Haines and company in the future.
  • Spoon: Played their typical reliable, consistent set of music. They looked like they were working hard up on stage.
  • Phoenix: Amazing. The crowd was into it and they put on a fantastic evening performance.

  • Mumford & Sons: Huge crowd for this group that plays English Americana/Folk music. They performed well, the crowd was singing along and though it was by far the hottest time of day, it was worth it.
  • Yeasayer: I hadn’t heard much of Yeasayer, but found their Middle Eastern influences appealing. They had an upbeat vibe that made their songs easy to dance to and I’ll definitely be buying their CD and look forward to seeing them in concert again soon.
  • Frightened Rabbit: A Scottish rock band, they played on the Sony Bloggie stage (a bit more intimate environment) and managed to get me dancing with their combination of slow and fast songs. The band was lyrically intense and emotionally provoking.
  • Arcade Fire: Perhaps the premiere band of all three days. The turnout seemed like it was well over 100,000 and they put on a great show. Playing songs from their new album and a mix from their past ones, this was one of the highlights of Lollapalooza.

The Good:

Beyond the great music, the location (in Grant Park), makes this concert one of the best in the country. Though crowds can make it difficult to move anywhere fast, if you leave a show a bit early at the end of the night, you are usually able to find a cab and head to the nearest bar, post-show or hotel room.

In addition, the food was excellent. There were entire blocks filled with options such as Lou Malnati’s, gyros, Asian, corn, burritos, salads, ice cream, etc. The alcohol options were also nice (especially for those who don’t like to consume beer) with Estancia wine in red or white, as well as sports bottles of wine being sold (an entire bottle in a can).

The Bad:

Heat in the 90’s with extra humidity, crowd packed stages making it hard to move or see, and young (try 14 year-olds) sitting on the ground crying because they were too hammered to know where they were anymore, all got a bit tiresome.

Cell phone service was hit and miss. With so many people in one area, phone calls were being dropped, text messages weren't going through. All this made it extremely difficult to communicate where you were to friends and people that you were trying to meet up with. Buy walkie-talkies:)


Perhaps the most important takeaways from the event -

Items to bring with you: toilet paper (by nightfall there will be none in the toilets), hand sanitizer (again these stands outside the toilets would disappear by dusk, I am baffled as to why. I saw a couple holding one up in a crowd later that night?!), sunscreen, and a  blanket or towel to sit on (especially key if you plan on attending all three days and you are sick of standing).

The free water refill stations were also key to combat the heat and the alcohol consumption. I recommend filling up your water bottle (bring your own empty, or purchase one for $2) every time you pass a station.

Overall: An amazing experience and one I won’t forget soon. For a three day pass at $215, you really get a lot of music, entertainment and ambiance for your money. I’ll be there next year!

]]> Wed, 11 Aug 2010 19:14:08 +0000
<![CDATA[The W Hotel, Chicago - City Center Quick Tip by ZeeDan]]> Tue, 10 Aug 2010 13:08:47 +0000 <![CDATA[W Chicago - Lakeshore Quick Tip by ZeeDan]]> Tue, 10 Aug 2010 13:03:53 +0000 <![CDATA[Chicago Deep Dish Pizza Quick Tip by dbranan13]]> Tue, 10 Aug 2010 03:34:01 +0000 <![CDATA[W Chicago - Lakeshore Quick Tip by Bethany_K]]> Tue, 3 Aug 2010 20:03:55 +0000 <![CDATA[ Home Decor Therapy]]> After years of sampling Pottery Barn, Crate and Barrel, and William Sonoma, I've grown tired of the same standard couches and coffee tables available for home furnishing. Not to mention their muy expensivo price tags often leaving me feeling like I've been suckered into a big-box price trap. In the quest to find a decorating alternative I stumbled upon a small, but well kept antique shop called the Painted Lady.

This charming, shabby-chic home décor boutique is the picture of comfortable luxury with an ever-changing inventory of hand-painted antique furniture. Specialties include armoires, dressers, bed frames, coffee tables, as well as avant-garde accessories like floral lamps and sparkling crystal chandeliers.  In addition, The Painted Lady provides plenty of colorful, spa-like bedding options Pine Cone Hill, Bella note and Ink House.

The owner has a knack for finding unusal pieces which she often strips and re-paints to her liking. Not only are many of these pieces functional, but artistic and truly different than the standard decor fare. The last time I was in, the owner also mentioned that she can customize pieces and if you are looking for something special she will keep an eye out to find that original piece for you.

Oh, and did I mention the owner also has a Bulldog that is frequently napping around the store? So I may be biased, but this is certainly a shop I would recommend for anyone in search of home decor that is refreshing and original.

]]> Tue, 6 Jul 2010 15:46:45 +0000
<![CDATA[Millennium Park Quick Tip by Bethany_K]]> Tue, 6 Jul 2010 01:25:34 +0000 <![CDATA[Lincoln Park Zoo Quick Tip by Bethany_K]]> Tue, 6 Jul 2010 01:07:02 +0000 <![CDATA[John Hancock Observatory Quick Tip by Bethany_K]]> Tue, 6 Jul 2010 01:01:35 +0000 <![CDATA[The W Hotel, Chicago - City Center Quick Tip by Bethany_K]]> Mon, 5 Jul 2010 22:03:08 +0000 <![CDATA[W Chicago - Lakeshore Quick Tip by Bethany_K]]> Mon, 5 Jul 2010 22:01:14 +0000 <![CDATA[The Ambassador Hotel, Chicago, Illinois Quick Tip by Bethany_K]]> Sat, 26 Jun 2010 21:46:25 +0000 <![CDATA[Chicago Blackhawks Quick Tip by dbranan13]]> Fri, 18 Jun 2010 22:05:04 +0000 <![CDATA[Akira Quick Tip by Bethany_K]]> Fri, 11 Jun 2010 21:18:36 +0000 <![CDATA[The Merchandise Mart Quick Tip by Bethany_K]]> Mon, 7 Jun 2010 16:01:44 +0000 <![CDATA[Chicago White Sox Quick Tip by Bethany_K]]> Mon, 7 Jun 2010 15:53:16 +0000