Tag Archives: chicago

blaugust #10: home from home.


Green Mill Lounge (Gangsta’s Paradise) by Keith Cooper. Photo used under Creative Commons License.

The Green Mill is Chicago’s oldest jazz club – possibly the oldest jazz club in the world. It also happened to be my neighborhood bar for the ten years that I lived in Uptown, just three blocks away.

Walking through the door is like stepping into Chicago’s storied past. There have been so many changes to the building and bar over the years, but it still retains the look and atmosphere of a 40’s nightclub. The bar itself is long and L-shaped, taking up half the length of the room. On a busy night, it comfortably accommodates several bartenders. My preferred time of day for a visit to the Mill was late afternoon, however, when there was just a single bartender there on the day shift. This club, so plush and elegant at night, is just a comfortable neighborhood bar in the afternoon. Regulars on barstools, Mike behind the bar, Jeopardy on the flickering TV over the door. I’d claim a barstool in the corner, with the cash register and bar phone in front of me, the front window behind me. Gin and tonic or a Manhattan. If it was really hot out, Mike’s own specialty that he called a Lemon Radiator. I’d read or write letters for a couple of hours after work until the evening crowd started to sift in, and then I’d go home. Or I’d stay and listen to the piano player doing swing tunes until the first show.

Green Mill (13)

I went to a lot of fancy evenings out at the Mill, as well, and had my farewell party there just before I moved to Portland. But afternoons in the corner with a book and a cocktail were my favorite. It’s rare to find a place where you can either shine or disappear with equal comfort, depending on your mood. To find such a place that is also vibrant with history and artistry is unique. There are other wonderful bars and coffee shops, plenty of places I like to spend a few hours with friends or by myself. I’ll have other locals. But the Green Mill was once in a lifetime, and I won’t find it again. I’m glad I had it.

(This is Day 10 of the Blaugust initiative. You can read all about it here.)

blaugust #09: cheers.

I love Portland, but there are a couple of things I really miss about living in Chicago. My friends there are at the top of the list, and my favorite bars – these two missings are closely related. This morning I was reminded of a wonderful bar called The Violet Hour that I often went to with my friend Natalie.

The fun starts before you even get in the door. The exterior of the bar is completely nondescript, with an entrance that looks like a stage back door. The artwork on the side of the building also changes regularly, and sometimes it conceals the door so well that you wouldn’t notice it if you didn’t know it was there – a nice nod to Chicago’s speakeasies during Prohibition. Violet Hour serves deliciously complex, perfectly balanced cocktails concocted by their bartenders. They all have wonderful, evocative names (often literary), rendered in a heady array of fonts on the menu. I’ve taken dozens of photos of elegant drinks there, but they’re all on my old phone and I can’t put my hands on them at the moment. I’ve stolen a recent one of Natalie’s; she sends me love letters on Instagram when she’s there.

violet hour 3I’ve kept a menu from almost every time I’ve been there, and for a while I was making a series of earrings based on my favorite cocktails. I came across this one this morning while I was working on the (never-ending) sorting of my Leaves of Glass back catalog. Hush & Wonder had the faintest trace of Creme de Violet, and it was delicious.

The menu changes regularly, but if you have a favorite cocktail of yore, chances are good that they’ll remember it and will make it on request. It’s a dark bar, heavy on the velvet and candlelight, with tables and chairs arranged in small groupings. The chairs all have very tall backs with heavy upholstery. Sound is absorbed and there’s a nice sense of privacy, even in a large open-plan room. It’s still easy to people-watch, though, and it’s a pleasure. And if you enjoy documenting your cocktail intake for social media, it’s absolutely designed to make that irresistible. Beautiful drinks, good glassware, tiny decanters, handsome food, candlelight – it’s intoxicating. The entire experience of an evening there is a feast for the senses, and I miss it.

Up tomorrow, another of my favorite places in Chicago: The Green Mill.

day 2.

On Wilson Avenue, the Nigerian women spill out of church in a galaxy of color, their crisp paper headdresses like petals, like boats. A small boy emerges from his mother’s skirts to stare at himself in the sun-bright plate glass window. He wears a winding cloth of brown fabric around his head, and his narrow white robe sways around his ankles as he begins to dance, watching his own reflection. He spins around, arms over his head, clapping, and gives himself a two-handed pistol salute, thumbs up.

leap of a lifetime.

After more than 18 months of planning, saving, setbacks and re-planning, I am so happy to finally be able to say that I’m moving. In 40 days, I’m moving 2,123 miles. Chicago to Portland. Old life to new life. I’ve been repeating these words to myself over and over and over for the last 10 days, partly in celebration and partly in an attempt to make myself believe that it’s really true. That on December 21, I will work my last day at the high school where I’ve worked for 10 years. That on December 22, I will get on a plane with a one-way ticket and that when the plane lands, I will be in my new home.

It’s something of a crash landing. I don’t have an apartment lined up. I haven’t found a new job yet. It feels like a massive achievement just to have arrived at this point, and I have people who will catch me when I fall out of the sky. To be honest, I’m not going to worry about the job or a place to live for at least a couple of weeks. I’ll be staying with Shana and Shawn until I get settled, and I’m going to take a little time to recover. This year has taken every ounce of bravery and patience I have, and I need to collapse for a bit. Actual conversation from last week:

Shana: Is there anything you’ll need when you get here, besides a game controller and a place to fall down?
Me: I love you. Oh, and beer!

For the next six weeks, I’m packing my apartment, working full time, trying to see my friends as much as possible, and running a small business heading into the busiest of the year. I’m excited, I’m overwhelmed, and I am profoundly tired. I’m also in some kind of epic design vein, badly timed but very welcome. Like a fugue state, with sparkles. I’m making piles of new things, which I’ll list in the shop as I can. Fingers crossed, I’m planning to keep both urban legend and Leaves of Glass open until December 18. I don’t have a date set for re-opening, but I’ll make that happen as soon as possible after Christmas. (In the meantime, I will love you devoutly if you do your sparkle Christmas shopping early.)

That’s all the news I have for now, but I’m thrilled with it and I think it’s enough. 40 days. 2,123 miles.

national poetry month, day 5.

Scrambled Eggs and Whiskey

Scrambled eggs and whiskey
in the false-dawn light. Chicago,
a sweet town, bleak, God knows,
but sweet. Sometimes. And
weren’t we fine tonight?
When Hank set up that limping
treble roll behind me
my horn just growled and I
thought my heart would burst.
And Brad M. pressing with the
soft stick and Joe-Anne
singing low. Here we are now
in the White Tower, leaning
on one another, too tired
to go home. But don’t say a word,
don’t tell a soul, they wouldn’t
understand, they couldn’t, never
in a million years, how fine,
how magnificent we were
in that old club tonight.