P.S. Right after I filed this story with my editor, I read about Mirabella Cuisine & Bar in Bon Appetit magazine. The Italian steakhouse is owned by an Ecuadoran immigrant who is carrying on the red sauce legacy of Chicago. I didn’t even know Chicago had a red sauce legacy… or that Mirabella was a hidden gem in my neighborhood that I pass almost every week on my Irving Park runs. Can’t wait to try it!
That’s my favorite thing about living in a city as big as Chicago. There’s an infinite amount of restaurants, art, people, culture, events, drag shows, book stores, et al, to discover here.
I know I keep writing about how much this winter has been one relentlessly cold yuck, but the silver lining is that it’s got me jazzed for when warm weather finally hits and Justin and I can do full-day sessions of The 10 to 10. I’m so excited about it, in fact, that I recently wrote about the game (from the mind of Justin Golak TM) for Neighborhoods.com. Check out my piece titled “How a Roll of the Dice Helps Me Explore Chicago neighborhoods.”
When you walk a city’s neighborhood with no particular place to go, you end up keeping your eyes open for things to do, more than if you’d arrived at your destination with a set plan.
This winter’s cold has been unrelenting. But I still want to go out, even if it means wearing three layers underneath my heavy-duty winter jacket. Same? These three activities offer a cozy and cavernous getaway while we count down the days to spring.
Go deep inside: The Palmer House
The OG brownie is at The Palmer House, a historic Chicago hotel that Rudyard Kipling long ago described as “a gilded mirror rabbit warren crammed with barbarians.”
Today, I recommend going barbaric on the hotel’s OG brownie. It’s as decadent and rich as the golden drapery and as opulent as the soaring ceilings. The confection was concocted in the late 19th century under the direction of Bertha Palmer (watch the video below for more) for the Columbian Exposition World’s Fair in 1893. Pro tip: Get dinner at the burritos and bowls quick-service spot right outside the hotel so you don’t feel totally gluttonous after downing the whole dessert by yourself. Because you will.
Go behind walls: Dorian’s
On a recent round of The 10 to 10, we rolled into Bucktown and ended up walking to Wicker Park. We passed a boutique record shop that seemed worthy of a step inside.
It was more than a record shop, though. Hidden behind an unsuspecting “secret” doorway was Dorian’s, a midcentury mod-style restaurant, tucked away with tiki-themed drinks (and a mocktails option!), jazz spinning on the sound system, and a charcuterie board complete with pickled grapes.
Go underground: Three Dots and A Dash
At Three Dots and a Dash, go on a warm adventure beneath the city. Located in the River North neighborhood, no treasure map is required to find it: Just look for the sign in the alleyway off Hubbard and head down the dramatically lit stairwell to a dreamy tiki hideaway. At the grass-skirted bar or a cozy booth, surrounded by chic wooden fixtures and sunset lighting, order up some small bites, a cold pressed juice or handcrafted cock(or mock)tail. The team of mixologists makes its own syrups, such as falernum and allspice, to keep things fresh. The exotic combinations are designed to give even the most well-traveled tongue an exciting new taste.
It’s ten past nine in the morning and my ass boasts the gridiron stripes of a beach chair.
I’m trying to read my book—a jaunty little beach read about AIDS in the 1980s—but I keep getting distracted.
I’m getting distracted by the beautiful Dominican women who are getting distracted by the Speedo-clad European men who are getting distracted by the unmistakable sounds of Pitbull drifting ashore from the island about a mile out.
Maybe I’m misremembering, but isn’t there a G-20 rule that Pitbull is only allowed to be played strictly between the hours of 11pm and 4am? You know, the timeframe when you can shamelessly acknowledge that you somehow know every word to every Pitbull lyric. Of which there are three.
I guess that rule doesn’t stand in the Dominican Republic, which is where I’m staying for the week with my husband and mother-in-law. It’s day three of our much-needed vacation, and we’ve each taken the morning to do our own thing. This was an unspoken arrangement necessitated by the former evening’s discontent slash disembowelment courtesy a dinner at the resort’s French restaurant. There should be a G-20 rule that Caribbean island hotel chefs don’t attempt French cuisine. Yes, the food here is total shit. I’m hungry and have been sustaining the past two days mostly on room service pineapple slices and the rogue mints strewn about the resort’s makeshift lounge areas. Their clear candy dishes double as ashtrays in the evening. Everything here is damp.
No matter. I still give this Caribbean island resort 10 out of 10 stars. Because it is, after all, a Caribbean island resort. But to be honest, trying to decide what to do with myself this lazy, self-directed morning has been a bit of a task for me. Three reasons:
Like a forlorn beached whale, I feel uncomfortable and exposed, flown in here from the gaping wounds of the Midwest cornfields. This means I am a white lady that’s as white as the putty-colored sand I’m now trying to happily dig my toes into, and I have to apply SPF-100+ sunscreen every hour to avoid sun poisoning.
Having fun, enjoying myself, playing, are not things that come easily to the bumper crop of workaholics from which fate has planted me like a rotten apple tree. In some twisted way of coping with the undercurrent of guilt I’m experiencing for enjoying myself on this vacation, I feel a bit relieved that the faux-French restaurant’s attempt at a lobster thermidor the night before tasted… like the putty-colored sand I’m now trying to happily dig my toes into.
As stated, the book I brought to read on my super-duper-fun-time-vacation is making me fall in love with characters who will ultimately die terribly, tragically from AIDS.
Equally disheartening is my sudden awareness that the last time I was supposed to be lounging sublimely on a foreign beach, for my honeymoon, the book I had brought along to read was about a man with an addictive overeating habit searching for his lost, troubled son with an addictive heroin habit. It’s as if my subconscious tries to armor me with subtle reminders that where there is pleasure found, there is almost always potential-pain afoot. My subconscious is like an annoying shoulder-angel dressed completely inappropriately for this vacation in a turtleneck. I assume my shoulder-devil looks like Pitbull.
This spiraling train of thought is interrupted by a neon orange flying saucer careening toward my head. It plops a foot away from me, but not before I can pretend to give a socially-acceptable level of effort to stop its descent. Like a Dominican Republic Daria.
“Ay mate,” says the strapping hunk of meat strapped in Speedo now inches from my face. He bends down to retrieve his frisbee. “Beautiful day, no?!”
“Yes,” I say.
“I’m having such a wonderful time,” I lie.
American to Aussie (in a land we’re pretending is ours when it’s convenient) we nod good day. I watch him walk away, thankful for the opaque sunglasses that let me surreptitiously stare at his Speedo bum while I appear, to anyone watching us, to read.
How do I become someone like that? A person who has a healthy enough respect for pleasure and the spiritual fortitude to enjoy it that I remember to pack a toy while I dally in the breeze that threatens to carry that same toy to <<<shudder>>> the beach next door where children are allowed. Instead, all I find remarkable right now is the way the palm tree waving above my head looked like a bodacious, billowing burlesque feather from my balcony an hour ago. But now, upon closer inspection, looks and sounds like sun-beaten, hairspray-crusted, dusty, rattling window blinds.
I apply sunscreen for the fourth time. I mostly associate palm leaves with Catholic Sunday school and Lent. I feel like, when I trace my lifelife, that there are always people, scared adults mostly, along the road reminding me like soothsayers that there was some man somewhere, sometime who died for me to live this way—so modern and unencumbered. Jesus. Soldiers. AIDS victims. Starving monks. iPhone makers. Pineapple pickers. Mermen.
Meanwhile, a seagull suicide bombs into the ocean.
Pitbull croons undisturbed.
Four days later, my husband and I are back in Chicago. We’ve deposited my mother-in-law at her car to drive herself back to Indiana. She’s glowing like golden corn silk with her new tan. I’m glowing like gooey glue paste with no sunburn. This is considered a win by all involved.
And despite notions I’ve give you to the contrary, I’ve decided I had a ton of fun on my vacation actually! After all, on our last day the islanders let us sail a catamaran on the ocean unattended. No training or anything. Just a life jacket and a wave. They told us where to sit as we hoisted our privileged American asses on the totally-unmotorized plastic ship and pushed us off with giant, totally-unsarcastic grins.
COFFEE IS HOT warning label-era child that I am, I’m used to having to sign a waiver of liability to do anything except cut my own toenails. Our next of kin could have sued the resort had we gotten eaten by sharks at sea, corpses on a catamaran. But instead they just let us figure it out ourselves. It was fun… refreshing, even if the food wasn’t.
It’s snowing in Chicago, but we’re both still on this oh-catamaran-my-catamaran high. So much so that we put off unpacking our bags and checking our emails and decide to play a game instead. And not just any game. We’re going to play the Ten to Ten, a game devised by my husband, Justin. Justin is our two-person family’s self-appointed Minster of Fun, because clearly I’m no good at things like having a good time, unless you count when I am drunk, but I can’t do that anymore because I did drunk as dangerously and as extremely as I do sadness.
We started playing the Ten to Ten this summer. Here’s how it works.
From a miniature velvet drawstring bag, one of us draws a dice. There are three sets of dice in this pouch, and each set is a different color of a CTA line near our apartment. Depending on which color we draw—red, brown, or blue—we will take a CTA train from that colored line to a destination. Our destination is determined by the number we roll next using the drawn dice. Once we have our color and our number, we refer to a map. On this map, we have numbered stops on the red, brown, and blue lines that we don’t visit that often but would like to see more of.
The rules of the game are that we have to now travel to that destination on the CTA and spend 12 hours exploring around the area—from ten am to ten pm.
This game is the most fun thing I’ve done since I quit drinking. I think that’s why Justin created it. He knew that, without unchecked alcoholism to help quiet my brain’s chaotic queries of crucifixes and syphilis, civilians droned and babies caged, I didn’t know how to have fun in a healthy way. He knew that, in fact, I probably never knew how to have fun in a healthy way. Fun to me used to look like a blackout.
But today I am almost two and a half years dry. And today, destiny has handed us a good mood and selected us a Brown dice and rolled for us a 6. Off we cruise by bus, then traincar to the Wellington stop.
First, we stop by a place that calls itself a bread café and eat dinner over a tiny table for two. I take a picture of the lace curtains that have happy chickens sew onto them. We stop by a free art gallery we stumble across as we traverse the neighborhood’s sidewalks. We get ice cream. The beauty of the Ten to Ten is that if forces us (me) to get out of our heads (my head). Without having a specific destination or two to hit up before heading back home, we find things we never would have otherwise.
For example, by 8 p.m. this evening we’ve ventured South enough to be on DePaul’s campus. Passing a gymnasium, we see volleyball players warming up through the crack of the heavy gym door. A game is starting. Do we wanna watch? Why not. They have volleyballs to kill and we have to hours to do the same. We fork over five dollars and climb the staticky bleachers to a seat.
As we cheer for the Lady Blue Demons, of which for the next hour we are diehard fans, we remark that we never would have done this together had it not been for the Ten to Ten. We finish out our evening strolling the campus, poking fun at the college’s marketing slogans by night that I very well could have written in my job by day. When we finally get back home, I smile behind Justin’s back as he unlocks our apartment door. It’s a real smile, as if I’m pushing clueless foreigners out to adventure and sunset on a catamaran. In this moment I feel so genuinely happy and I’m thankful for this person. A person who manages to always show me happiness despite his own lifeline landlocked by distress and anxiety, fear and sleep apnea.
Take the bus up to Lincoln Park for aggression release by way of Bad Axe Throwing
Take a million photos of you and the axe that you landed in the bullseye because it’s pretty much guaranteed you will not even hit the board after you do that no matter how many times you try (No? Just me?)
Get a glazed donut at Stan’s, because battle axe throwing is tiring
Watch a movie at Century theater, located in the same building as axe throwing (This has proven to be our go-to ending for #The10to10 days. Perhaps we were a bit ambitious trying to stay out and about for 12 hours straight. We’re always beat the next day. So, spending the last two hours in a dark air conditioned theater has proven an excellent decision. This time we watched “Leave No Trace.” I cried a lot and am recommending it to everyone now, including you.)
For our first edition of #The10to10, I picked a red die and rolled an 8, so to Grand we went.
I was a little bummed at first when we rolled Grand because we’ve already been down in the heart of Chicago. A lot. I was kinda hoping our first fate-driven adventure would launch us into parts unknown. But Grand turned out to be the best starter pack! We still found lots of great stuff we’d never seen before, and since it’s a hot stop for tourists, we got a crash course in Chicago’s history and greatest hits.
Here’s what we found.
GRAND RED LINE STOP
Fuel up with a prime beef sandwich and Italian sodas at Eataly marketplace
Summer in Chicago is renowned for being the reason so many of us who live here are willing to put up with its insane wind tunnels, lake effect snow, and polar vortexes. Spending a day chilling on a Chicago beach, with the iconic skyline floating on the horizon through the sunny, lazy haze? It’s living the dream.
And now that SUMMMMMERRRRR 2018 has finally arrived, Justin and I came up with a game to help us get out and explore our city. Actually, just Justin came up with the game because “making life fun” is his number one contribution and responsibility to our marriage.
Because he’s excellent at it.
Case and point: This new game #The10to10.
Here’s how #The10to10 works:
Choose an L train line and number the stops you’d like to explore as 2 through 12.
Roll the dice.* Add up your numbers. And at 10 a.m., take the L to the stop that corresponds with that number on your map from Step 1.
Start your journey there. Don’t come home until 10 p.m.
* We got a few sets of colored dice to represent the color of the L train lines we want to explore: the blue, red, and brown lines. We blindly draw a die out of a bag. Whatever color die we draw determines the train line. Then we roll two dice to get our stop number in Step 2.
We’re pumped to dig into some neighborhoods deeper than we already have and visit some we’ve never really hung out in before. So many times we end up going to a neighborhood for just one destination and then head back home.
But you know you have to stay a while, get your hands and feet and soles a little dirty, to find the b-e-s-t, gemstone-in-an-alleyway kinds of spots. When you spend a lot of time just walking around somewhere, you truly get to know a place. And I think we’ve finally decided we want to truly get to know this place. Plus Chicago, the city of neighborhoods, has so much potential for adventure.
We’re doing our first #The10to10 today! Follow us on Instagram @jackiemantey and @justingolak to see where we end up and what we find.