Sunday, June 17, 2012

P&PC Travelogue: The City of Big Shoulders

P&PC just got back from an exhaust- ing, whirlwind trip to Chicago where, in little more than forty-eight hours, we went to three festivals, two museums, one play, and plenty of local restaurants and watering holes while visiting with old friends and checking, in particular, to see if the Windy City's craft beer scene has done anything to displace Old Style from its privileged place in the quenching of the city's thirst (which it has, btw). But there was more than just beer and companionship brewing in the city of the big shoulders, that tool maker, that stacker of wheat, that player with railroads; there was poetry, too—and nearly everywhere we turned from the moment we stepped out of our bargain hotel room at the north side's Heart O' Chicago Motel, it seemed. Here is a little run-down of the popular—and the hopular—we got to taste.

After visiting the Art Institute on Friday afternoon to take in the newly opened Roy Lich- tenstein retro- spective— the first in twenty years and a great combination of high and low that set the tone for our weekend perfectly—we made our way west on Randolph, first to Avec for some trendy snackies and a cocktail, and then to Haymarket Square, site of the 1886 massacre now marked by the bronze statue designed by Chicago artist Mary Brogger and pictured below. What drew us there was not entirely the labor and free speech history lesson but also the Haymarket Pub & Brewery, where we stepped in to sample, in an otherwise mostly underwhelming flight of beers, Haymarket's Hogbutcher Belgian I.P.A. The menu has this to say about the choice of names:

"To celebrate the life and work of the great Chicago poet Carl Sandburg, we named this Belgian I.P.A. after his most famous poem, which celebrated the hard working folks who made our city the greatest on Earth. It's brewed with warrior and chinook, and dry-hopped with warrior and cascades alongside only the finest Belgian ale yeast."

Like many of the beers we sampled, as temperatures outside rose into the 90s reminding us of one of the reasons why P&PC is now headquartered in Oregon, the Hogbutcher was summery, light, not very hoppy, and struck us as a gentle step up from a Hefeweizen—not exactly the ideal match for the "husky, brawling laughter of Youth" in Sandburg's poem, perhaps, but nevertheless a workable gateway beer for a city just getting its craft beer footing.

We found the best beer of the night (the Founders Double Trouble double I.P.A.) not at the Map Room or the Fountain- head but at Bangers & Lace craft beer and craft sausage joint in Wicker Park. Try it—you'll love it. And, to cap of the evening, we stopped by the Green Mill—the birthplace of the poetry slam—on the way home. We'd never been there before (can you believe it?) and we absolutely loved it; the super jazz, a beautiful bar, and an atmosphere oozing with the 1920s more than made up for the standard beer selection and sent us home to our room at the Heart O' Chicago content and resolved to drink a big glass of water, take two ibuprofen, and get up at the crack of dawn the next day.

On Saturday morning, we breakfasted on Swedish pancakes, eggs, and sausage at a little Swedish diner in Andersonville, took in some of Midsommarfest, and got pulled into the Swedish American Museum by our Swedish American traveling companion, the Iowa City Press-Citizen Opinion Editor, Jeff Charis-Carlson. There, we ran smack into "The Parting Words of a Swedish Emigrant" (pictured here) stuck to a post with little in the way of explanation:

I'm bound for young America,
Farewell old Scandinavia.
I've had my fill of cold and toil,
All for the love of mother soil.
You poets with your rocks and rills
Can stay and starve—on words, no frills.
Me, I've got a stomach 'neath my hide,
No bonds can keep me on this side.
There, out west a man breathes free,
While here one slaves, a tired bee.
Drunk with our nectar they've set us afright,
But opportunity has knocked, and we'll take our flight.

Knowing that we ourselves had a flight or two in store later in the day—when we would head to Delilah's for a Belgian beer tasting extravaganza—we grabbed a bottle of water and caught the El downtown for the Printer's Row Book Fair and Lit Fest where, among the 160 or so other exhibitors, the Poetry Foundation had its own tent (pictured here). Celebrating the one-hundredth year of Poetry magazine, the Foundation was giving away free copies of the magazine, pins in the shape of Poetry's winged horse logo, and other goodies like (P&PC geek alert) the Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Poetry.

Just opposite the Poetry Foundation tent was the "Arts & Poetry" stage where, right as we stepped in, poet Mark Doty (pictured to the left) was in the midst of wrapping up what was presumably a poetry reading by answering questions from a crowd of 30 or 40 people. You can't see it in this picture, but he had a packed suitcase propped behind the lectern and ready for his flight out of town; we were told by the emcee that he had come to the Fest on his own dime—just like P&PC. After all, who could pass up the chance to visit what Sandburg called this "city with lifted head singing so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning"—right?  Well, partly so. During the weekend we were there, eight people died and 46 were left wounded elsewhere in the city, continuing a bloody year that has seen Chicago homicides rise 50 percent over 2011 numbers. "Yes, it is true," Sandburg also wrote in his Hogbutcher poem, "I have seen the gunman kill and go free to kill again."

We met friends from the University of Illinois for dinner at D'Candela, a sweet Peruvian restaurant in Irving Park, saw "Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind" at the Neo-Futurists theater on North Ashland, had a cold one at the Hopleaf just around the corner after that, and, fighting the sandman's inevitable approach, wrapped up the night with a warm and watery PBR at Carol's country-western bar. (Yes, by then it was about 3:30 am.) After happening on Mark Doty at the Lit Fest, though, we didn't see any more poetry the rest of the weekend—with the sole exception, perhaps, of the subtractive, scatalogical, semi-poetic graffiti (pictured here) defacing the Jim Beam-sponsored pool table sign-up chalkboard at Delilah's punk rock bar (where, if you recall our mentioning it two paragraphs earlier, we visited to do one-ounce tastings of Belgian beers earlier in the day). So, one might say, in just a matter of minutes we went from Doty to doo-doo. That's Chicago—singing, wicked, crooked, strong, cunning, and laughing.  Sandburg had it right. And that's exactly how we like it.