19 September 1999

Best of Chicago 1999

Best Punk Rock Ghosts
Fusion 660
Not all of us recall the glory days of Chicago punk, having stand-up sex in the O’Banion’s women’s room in ankle-deep water, but those of us who do have always have a double-take or two in mind in the various culinary incarnations of the former pogo chateau. Whether serving indifferent flautas, Chinese under the name Won Ton club or the current incarnation, the memories reaming fragrant in the deep, oblong space.

Best caffeine buzz
Mexican soda at Jinx
1940 W. Division
The double latte's not bad. The American coffee is strong, hot and there for the asking. And while products from south of the border are available at many groceries throughout the land, Jinx specializes in the sugary, super-caffeinated stuff that marched its way north into your own clouds of buzziness. No fountain drinks for you, bud. Tank down a couple of these Latin Coca-Colas and climb atop a sweet sugary cloud of buzz.

Best architecture in Goose Island
Republic Doors and Windows
Geese flock to Goose Island, waddling and WONKing at each other. drawn by the river and the Water Management site. They tramp along the green triangles of grass. Corporate HQ new-builds and dullard warehousing, some dowdy and one fantastic. The old brick that still stand. Ugly, pre-fab metal and board. Industrial suppliers and wholesale grocers. But tucked back on Hickory Avenue, Republic Windows and Door factory and offices. Hiss of traffic. Staggering of aluminum, the height, it's like designed by ---, surrounded by pale pink tea-rose bushes. Glorified corrugated overhead doors, died and gone to heaven, reincarnated as Vancouver International Airport. Surrounded by its maroon semi-trailers for dispersing their product. Seen from the west, the front porch eaving upward like a ski ramp that shoots toward Sears Tower in view ahead. (A trajectory that is likely not unintentional.) The front roof, five slats across with no roofing. The front entrance, building-height clerestory windows. Bold black steel letters with the company name, clean like the building. A breath of fresh air. The flowers leading up to it, gaudy magenta petunias and egg-yolk marigolds are almost a tacky afterthought. Blue spanses of glass, the metal panels. Simple, direct, unneedful of ornament. lines as clean as a new Beetle or an Air Canada terminal.

Best hidden night-life corridor
Chicago Avenue from Green Street, north along Elston, west along Division on a Friday or Saturday night
Every possible pole and tree is stapled full of posters for this week's DJ spins, albums being released, concerts coming up. Move past the Performing Arts school—black-sooted yellow caution horses are up to prevent anyone from parking in front of the rapture-illumined facade of the cathedral, generously soiled surface. The empty bike paths this time of night are illusory—smells of the river, of new construction's lumber fill the air. A hint of grease past the Yellow Cab garage. The sound of repair in the shop all night long. Approaching Division, cars and cars and vans are lined up toward Life's Too Short. "Don't Drink and Boat!" warn signs but say nothing about the rave-head teens out of ratty vans or borrowed daddy vans clustering on the verges of the road, chatting, smoking, waiting for cops to roust them. Pass under the expressway west on Division. Salsa pours out of cars around you. Traffic swims erratically, haphazardly in both directions. Past the Amoco and Shell lit for mothership landings where human-scale architecture once stood. Past Ashland then, past the yupsters hubbubbing outside Mas, then the line in front of Liquid Kitty. Who are these people? Why are they wearing those clothes? Do they like this music? Do they know about the club a mile back on our journey? And where do I get the cell phone plan they've got. Then further west—all is quiet as a suburb. For a few blocks, at least.

Best hotel view
Four Seasons by land, Ritz Carlton by sea
it depends on what you want to see—water or land. Avail yourselves of a room on the higher floors of either and see friends and enemies alike vanquished to blurs smaller than ants, the prairie of residential architecture stretching west to the sky, or

Best meat cloud
Ashland and Division
It's olfactory mayhem: the smell of the singe of beef, a tsunami of Argentine churrusqueria, the inside of your nostrils rubbed shiny with a cloud-like chamois. A place well-known to those returning from United Center after a ball game or the Stadium after a hockey game, with always-clamoring lines. With the three storefronts belching Pasadita's sensory-demonstrative verve, the cookie cutter Pizza Hut and Wendy's nearby are just apostrophes in a sentence of meat.

Best night-life corridor (Randolph)
On any night late in the week, an aerial view of the broad esplanade of Randolph Street's reupholstered market mile stretch will reveal the antlike crawl of restaurant row traffic, gathering and disgorging clusters of the peckish and moneyed. There is the dance of car hikes and taxis and speed-walking pedestrians along the stretch just west of the Kennedy Expressway. Even when the faces aren't pretty, most of the clothes are. A local magazine with a prodigious inferiority complex Second-Citied this ever-bustling stretch of eat-and-be-seen real estate as "The future SoHo of Chicago." But why settle for that belittling metaphor when there's so much more to eat so close to home? It began with the likes of Marche, Vivo and Red Light, yet it remains Chicago’s great white way.