Thursday, January 15, 2015

My BFF's birthday surprise and things to see, do, eat, drink in Chicago

My best friend moved to Chicago almost two years ago. We went to high school together and when she moved to Savannah, I followed. We roomed together (literally same room, without killing each other) for months. So naturally, she thought--or hoped--that I'd do the same when she moved to Chicago. I didn't move; I didn't visit. And except for an unusually long, snowed-in layover at O'Hare last January where I basically cried, sent belated "Happy New Year!" texts and cried some more, I hadn't found a way to make it to the Windy City for a proper visit with my biff. 
I think I made up for my "lack of urgency" pretty recently when my girlfriends and I got together to plan Ash's Chi-town birthday surprise. I landed at 5 a.m., ate McDonald's shortly after (the horror!), and then waited five hours for my friends to land while my head bobbed over and over in a nearly-empty terminal.

After that, the weather was perfect, the surprise was perfect; the food, the lattes, the mulled wine: all perfect.

The city is, in a way--like I'd heard from various friends so many times before--a cleaner, smaller New York. Chicago in December is supposed to be really, really cold. It was cold, but not really, really. No rain, no snow, not even much wind, actually.

"Did you get to see Bowie?" my friend asked me. She's referring to the David Bowie Is exhibit at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art. No I didn't, and this is my only regret. We ate and drank and ate and drank and ate and gossiped and ate and ate and drank. But the food and the scenery and (most of) the people in Chicago are so great and it'd been so long since we'd had a real girls' trip.

Chicago on speed: In only two and a half days, we did our best to eat and drink our way through the city by foot (and by cab the few times we ran late). 

DAY 1: Straight from the airport, we broke into Ashley's West Loop apartment, dropped off our stuff, and walked the 15 minutes or so to Little Goat, the diner/bakery/cafe version of Stephanie Izard's Girl and the Goat. We did coffee, scones and then... I had something so delicious, I don't know how I've lived 27 years without ever having tasted it before: a huge, messy, juicy Sloppy Goat. Sorry, PETA. 

Next, we kidnapped Ash from her job (she cried, in a good way), Skyped with her mom (all of us, yes) and finished a bottle of wine on the couch while deciding where we'd eat next: Christkindlmarket, the German Christmas market at the Daley Plaza in the Loop. At the market we bought mulled wine in these porcelain mugs we continuously complained about having to carry around. Back in our respective cities/states, we complained some more about forgetting all of our mugs at Ashley's apartment. We didn't make it to the Skydeck on this trip, but we did make it to the 96th floor bar at the Hancock Center (free entry, normal-ish priced drinks), which could've been a cool photo opp, but it was late and there was on-again-off-again fog.  

DAY 2: La Colombe in the West Loop for funny little pastries and coffee. The Publican for Saturday brunch. Try the turkey hash (just trust me on this one--it melts in your mouth) with a Publican Mimosa that's made with beer in place of champagne. We walked off the food and played the tourist game; first with a cheesy photo shoot under and around The Bean at Millenium Park (which i just learned isn't actually called the Bean, but Cloud Gate, and I'm upset about this discovery). Then to Buckingham Memorial Fountain, Lake Michigan and some beautiful library that I can't remember the name of and also couldn't get a decent picture of. We recharged with a cafecito (actually one of the best I've had outside of Miami, which says a lot considering I haven't had anything close to an authentic Cuban coffee in New York or Savannah or even LA) at Cafe con Leche. After downing a bottle of champagne and a bottle of wine while getting ready at the apartment (my mom will be doing the math on this while reading: "that's already half a bottle per girl!"), we went for more drinks at Salero and waited for our table at Avec, both incredible West Loop restaurants located on Randolph Street, like Little Goat. 

DAY 2.5: On Ashley's actual birthday there was no actual cake. A birthday donut from Glazed & Infused hit the spot, though. La Colombe in Wicker park for coffee (the shop also has locations in Philly, New York and D.C.) and Big Star for tacos and margaritas--nothing like getting a little drunk before cabbing it to the airport. We didn't get to experience Wicker Park as much as I'd have liked to, although the neighborhood did remind me a bit of SF's Haight-Ashbury district; even some of the stores were the same. 

Highlights: The cutest group of redheaded girls at the Bean, who were just like us but 10 years younger, asked if we were sisters. A girl at a bar told me I look like Dita Von Teese. 
Song: "Open Arms." Mariah Carey. We practiced karaoke in the cab at 3 a.m. Driver loved it. He said we were "not the best ever, but the best in a long time" and he turned on his strobe light for us. I have videos. 

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