just like old times: FoodNerd and WineNerd loose in Chicago, part 1 – Humboldt Park

Last week I went to Chicago for work, and FINALLY, after years of waiting, my trip coincided with one of C’s trips. WAHOO!

The first night, we went out with Bar to Borinquen, to introduce C to the glories of the jibarito. We started with a tamale (meh) and some “fried meat” (a little dry, but crispy and good in general), then each of us ordered a jibarito. ┬áBar & I both went with the chicken, and we pointed C toward the pork, so we could compare and contrast. C admitted later that he’d been skeptical of the raptures we described, since a) how good could it really be and b) he doesn’t actually like plantain that much. His first bite changed his mind, and because C has a truly enviable capacity to consume, he ORDERED A SECOND ONE when he finished the first. This one turned out even better than the first, crispier and saltier, probably because it came straight from the griddle instead of waiting for two other sandwiches to be ready.

Then, because we were so close by, I took them to the California Clipper for a drink or two. But since C had failed to bring his ID with him, the big dope, they wouldn’t let us past the door — even though it was dead as a doornail in there. (The complete emptiness of various venues on this trip was odd and scary… i should post about that later.) They pointed us down the block but that place was jammed, so we bailed out and walked down Augusta to Western, where we figured if we couldn’t find a bar we could at least find a cab.

We decided we’d try the first Old Style sign we saw once we got to the corner. So we did — but the door was locked. Oh shit. But they came right over and let us in, which turned out to be completely awesome, because it was a textbook example of the old fashioned Chicago neighborhood bar. Old wooden bar, crappy linoleum tile, beer signs, and middle aged Polish folks clustered at the far end of the bar playing the jukebox. Perfect. We sat there for over an hour, drinking Old Style, running the Polish pop songs through the iPhone (it did remarkably well IDing them) and watching men’s figure skating on TV. At one point C ordered “whiskey” and was given Jack Daniels in a shotglass. Around 10:30 we remembered we are theoretically responsible grown-up people and attempted to go home, but we couldn’t hail a taxi, so rather than freeze to death we went to the OTHER Old Style sign across the street to try and call the guy who dropped us off at Borinquen.

This turned out to be the cheesy modern Polish neighborhood bar, also with a locked door, this time with a homemade wooden bar, Christmas lights, a friendly Polish girl about our age tending bar, and one weird dude sitting at the bar. Also men’s figure skating. They didn’t have even crappy whiskey, so we drank the Polish vodka, also from shotglasses. We got points from the barmaid for wanting just plain vodka, no mix. The cab dude didn’t answer his phone nor did he show up, so after a half hour or so, despite a very good time being had by all (including the weird dude), we went back out to try and hail a cab and this time we managed it. Everybody got home in one piece, and no one’s hangover was too wretched. And that is the sort of evening that Chicago does better than anyplace, as far as I can tell.

Tune in next post for part 2 – Moto.

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