Getting off at an El stop late in the evening is such a Chicago thing. You know where you are.
But I’m wondering, when did this city start feeling so... vibrant? When I lived here as a grad student in the seventies, I felt I was sacrificing aesthetics and pleasure for a good education. I know, I know, Chicago has always had its neighborhoods and mine, on the south side, was especially troubled. But even when I made the trip downtown or to the near west side, I felt that it was only a light reprieve from an overall depressing reality.
If people groan that New York is no longer edgy, that it has been taken over by young families with tots and strollers and sanitized places with gutted and refreshed interiors, I think the argument can be made that Chicago’s new face has been sketched by the young professionals, the pre-baby-in-a-stroller set. Or maybe the I-never-wanted-a-baby-in-a-stroller-to-begin-with set. The countless bars, cafes, good food choices attest to that. Suddenly, it’s a cool place to live.
I’m in a neighborhood now that, even on this cold windy (yes windy) night feels comfortably inviting. Come in, sit down for a while. Here, or here. Have a beer. Or an espresso with some locally made toffee. This is not the same city I once called home.
My daughters and I eat dinner at a local favorite. A crowded local favorite. And it feels right that we should start off with mixed drinks (something that I never do in Madison), because when someone pours elderflower and pear stuff and some form of vodka into a shaker, what comes out is delicious and warming and in Chicago, on a December night, you’d be crazy to turn that down. Besides, I'm in the neighborhood that was once the epicenter of the great Polish immigration to America. Vodka, even though diluted with fruit juices, seems fitting for this first night here.