S is for Seven (free things to do in Chicago)

1. Visit Millennium Park. They have free concerts of all music genres. Free movies.  Free yoga and Zumba classes.  Cloudgate aka the “bean”. Or cool off in the Crown fountain.

2. Hang out by the lake. Take a walk or run. Enjoy the boats and beaches. Go by the Buckingham Fountain. One of the world’s largest.

3.  The Cultural Center Chicago. Free concerts, cultural exhibits and more.  Visitor brochures.

4. Dance, dance, dance. At SummerDance in Grant Park. Take a different dance style lesson and practice your new moves when the band plays afterward. (Weekends, June – September).

5. Lincoln Park Zoo. One of the few free zoos left in the U.S.

6. Museums. Ed Paschke Art Center in Jeff Park on the northwest side. Polish-American artist born and raised in Chicago. National Museum of Mexican Art in Pilsen. Made In Chicago Museum through August 2018 at the Edgewater Historical Society (north side).

7. Take a little trip further south and visit Osaka Japanese Gardens in Jackson Park. Built during 1893 World Columbian Exposition. A gift to Chicago from Japan.


SEVEN. Because there’s seven days in a week.


River to Rooftops

What is it about a river?  Life-sustaining;  a way of travel; civilizations have grown around them.  Rivers are the inspiration for song.

If the lakefront is our heart, the river is our soul.  It runs through the city, through downtown and the neighborhoods, for 156 miles and it runs in reverse. It is the place to learn about Chicago history (the learning center to our lakefront playground) and take in spectacular views of the architecture. Watch a movie filmed in Chicago and chances are you’ve seen the river.

The Chicago river  sure has changed since I was a child (well, in the last century really, but I wasn’t there so I’ll leave history to the experts).  Unlike the lakefront walks I took with the family, except for the boat tours, and Riverview Amusement Park of which my memory is vague, I don’t recall much going on by the river. I do recall hearing back then, there was a vision: that one day the river would be a place for entertainment and bring many visitors here.  The day is here……

The Chicago river is pulsating with life:  music, entertainment, walking or boat, history or leisurely tours and the like. There’s an Irish pub, a tiki bar, a French café, steaks, brunch and blues. And a special event or two. You can get to Navy Pier from there and you could spend days exploring. One of my favorite things to do is take a water taxi to Ping Tom Park in Chinatown; have a picnic, walk around, grab some dim sum or a bubble (boba) tea or go during an event. Last year we saw a Polynesian themed show with hula and fire dancers. It’s also the site of the dragon boat races.  I don’t know exactly why but I feel a special connection to Chinatown. Perhaps it just seemed like different and exciting place to me when I was young and that memory stuck. I like it even more now that I found Ping Tom Park on the river.

If I were to change some words to the song God Bless America to be more Chicago specific,  instead of:

“from the mountains to the prairies…”

It might go something like:

“from the river to the rooftops….”

Rooftop establishments have really become quite the thing in this new millennium. It makes sense  in a big city when there’s so much congestion. Why grow out when you can grow up. Especially in a city with such spectacular views. Rooftop bars and restaurants are the fastest growing establishments it seems. I probably couldn’t name them all here, at the rate they’re opening, I’m not sure I can keep up.  But,  I will give a shoutout to two of my favorites thus far.

The J. Parker – located in a boutique hotel across from Lincoln Park. You get the view of the skyline, lake, park and zoo. I love going in early fall when the leaves on the trees are changing color and the little tableside fire pits are going.

London House Hotel – Named after the London House jazz club that used to occupy the ground floor.  It’s a historic building, a skyscraper from the 1920s with great views that overlook……

the river.

Can’t get any better.




Q is for Quincy (Jones)

They call him Q. Quincy Jones is a famous musician, composer, producer, arranger whose been around for decades. Since the 1950s, he’s worked with the biggest names in the industry. You know, people like Michael Jackson. But did you know he’s originally from Chicago?

Born in 1933 in Bronzeville (an up and coming area now) on the Southside. His family moved when he was 10. He once said that growing up in Chicago in the 1930s was worse than it is now.  I’m wondering if that’s, in part, because of all the mafia activity that used to take place here?  Whether true or not,  I also wonder how he could say that when he doesn’t live here anymore?

Q, musically I think he’s GENIUS. He may even be a great guy. But perhaps he should just stay on his hilltop, at the Bel-Air mansion he calls home.



P is for Pizza

There’s been a long-standing debate on who has the best pizza: New York or Chicago? Before I weigh in on the subject, I’d just like to say one thing: If you like big, floppy slices of hard to manage tomato soaked bread with greasy cheese, New York pizza is for you. I prefer the true Chicago pizza… the thin crust…. that I, and most Chicagoans I know, grew up on.  With that in mind, I’m going to eliminate the New York pizza and ask the real question:

Thin crust or deep dish (aka Chicago style)?

Thin crust pizza is cut into squares making it more manageable to eat. It’s also known as tavern style. For me, the thinner and crispier the crust, the better. Like a cracker.  For locals, thin crust pizza outsells deep dish. Any day. All day. Two pizza places near my home that have become favorites: Bartoli’s in Roscoe Village and Marie’s in Albany Park. Although they’ve both been around for a while, Marie’s was established in 40s, I only recently discovered them for myself.  Hey, with so many restaurants in Chicago, it took me a while.

What is now known by most as Chicago style, deep dish pizza has a thicker outer rim of crust. Like a pie. A 2 inch deep pizza pie. And although it is good, it’s not the thin crust we grew up on. Exactly who invented the deep dish pizza here has also been debated.  Some say it was the Pizzeria Uno founder, Ike Sewell, in the 40s; others say it was the chef, Rudy Malnati.  Whichever the case, I can tell you, many of us prefer Lou Malnati’s (son of Rudy) version best.   Pizano’s (Rudy Jr’s place) also makes a really great pizza.  I’d go for the thin crust there, I think, and stick to Lou’s for deep dish.  Either way, you can’t go wrong with pizza royalty.

Pizza options are endless in Chicago… Neopolitan, stuffed, deep dish, wood fired, tavern crust, hand tossed….

Whatever you are in the mood for, when it comes to pizza, you can find it here. Even New York style. You may even find that we do it better than New York.




Poor Mrs. O’Leary
never lived it down.
Her cow kicked over a lantern
spreading fire thru our town.

Of course this is just a story; an enduring legend that many of us have been taught at some point and believe. It’s been suggested that the O’Leary’s, being poor Irish immigrants during a time when there was a lot of anti-Catholic, anti-Irish sentiments in Chicago and the rest of America, were easy to blame. Other tales of how the fire started circulated as well: she was drunk; there was gambling (her son was a known gambler) in her barn and someone knocked over the lantern. No one knows for sure exactly what happened that night except that it did appear the fire originated somewhere near the barn. The combination of all wood being used in the building of the city and the drought that was taking place, ensured the rapid spreading of the fire.  It’s also said that Mrs. O’Leary spent the rest of her life being faulted; wrongly accused and heartbroken. Although never officially charged, the O’Leary’s were officially exonerated in 1997. And it only took more than a century to do it.

147 years later and despite what people had to say about the O’Leary’s back then, there’s no denying the major contributions that the Irish immigrants and their descendants have made to this city since.

(Catholic churches to Irish pubs. On St Patty’s Day we dye our river green. Michael Flatley of Riverdance fame is one of many Irish-Americans Chicago can claim.)


Chicago was incorporated as a city in 1837.  Irish as well as German immigrants were some of the first Europeans to settle in this area.  They built the churches, became firemen and cops, and have dominated Chicago politics.  In fact, since 1933, 6 of 10 mayors spanning 70 of the last 85 years, have been of Irish descent. The longest reign being that of the Daleys (Richard J from 1955 – 76) and that son of a Daley (Richard M) who together share 43 of those years.





Night Out in the Neighborhood

It was October and we were celebrating my sister’s birthday on the swanky rooftop of a  boutique hotel with some of the best views of the city. Afterward , we decided to take our party “down-to-earth” and opted to go back to the old neighborhood to have a nite-cap. None of us had been there before so what a surprise we had in store.

As we entered the corner tavern,  the front area was pretty empty but for someone making tacos. Suddenly we were hungry.  Before sitting down to eat though, we went to check out the situation in back where the norteña music was pumping.  “Vamos a bailar!” someone shouted.

Men in cowboy boots and hats, button down non-flannel plaid shirts with piping (the kind you might wear with a bolo tie) and tight jeans lined the bar and dancefloor alongside curvy, long-haired beauties with short tight skirts or well fitted jeans and high, high heels. We were just a little out of place. Not because we weren’t beauties ourselves but the age of the crowd was at least 15 – 20 years younger. We weren’t exactly wearing our “clubbing” clothes either.  And then my friend Anna spotted a guy she knew. “Oh my God, that’s a friend’s husband with another woman!”. We made our way back up to the quiet front and Anna told us the story about how she and her friend were no longer close due to a falling out about this known cheater.  Apparently the husband must have spotted her too because before we knew it, shots of  “please don’t tell my wife you saw me here”  tequila were lined up in front of us. This was the alcohol equivalent to “hush money”.   Later, more drinks were brought over by the owner who had never seen us before and wanted to make us feel welcome. We chatted for a while about his business and about our connection to the neighborhood. A regular who comes from  tortilla-making royalty here and another patron who, for whatever reason, felt it necessary to let us know “if anyone bothers you, you tell me” also stopped by to chat.


I turned around as the door behind me opened and one by one, men in drag started coming up from the basement…… What the wha…?! Now this was totally unexpected. And I thought: maybe I’d had too much tequila. I mean I’ve been to drag shows so no big deal but …. here? In my old neighborhood? where guys were teased and bullied for even being slightly different than expectations. Here? In what seemed a testosterone driven, tequila fueled establishment?   Not. in. a. million. years. And, as surreal as the night may have been at first, I smiled at the thought that my old neighborhood wasn’t so “old” and had maybe caught up? Afterall, the ladies were having good time putting on the show and the patrons were having a great time cheering them on. And, dancing too.




Memories of Mom: Music along Michigan Avenue

Grant Park, Millennium Park, Art Institute are located at or adjacent to Michigan Avenue.

When it comes to entertainment, I inherited a love of two things from my mom: dance being one.

Chicago’s Summerdance, at The Spirit of Music Garden (south end of Grant Park), is held every weekend from June – September. I first started going  with my mom and sister.  They teach a different style of dance… salsa, swing, tango,  2 step,  folk dances from around the globe. Afterward,   one can practice or show off their new moves to live music.  When my mom was younger, she danced a lot of polka and swing.  At Summerdance, she always enjoyed watching the steppin’. She said it reminded her of the push/pull type dancing they did in the 50s.  In case you don’t know what steppin’ is… unlike the name sounds and not to be confused with step-dancing… it involves smooth, gliding footwork. Steppin’ is a dance that originated within the African American community in Chicago. Mom also got a great deal of joy watching square dancing.  Personally, I love and have taken lessons in all styles of dance at one point or another in my life.   I met my honey while salsa dancing at a club and several years later, ran into him at Summerdance, where we started a summer-romance. But that’s a different story.

The second thing was our love of jazz. In fact, it was she who, more or less, introduced me to it. Like my mom, I prefer the jazz of the big band, swing era. Give me Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Oscar Peterson, Chet Baker, Freddy Cole (a Chicagoan and brother to Nat King) and the like.  In the 90s (or maybe it was the 80s?), the courtyard at the Art Institute would have a jazz band play on Tuesday nights. Rachel Lee usually performed and mom just loved her. It was sad to hear she passed away at the young age of 62.  We would have dinner, a cocktail and the white chocolate mousse with raspberry sauce. When the Art Institute stopped Tuesday night jazz, we, she in particular, truly missed it. Why do away with a good thing?  Not only was it great entertainment and a nice atmosphere; it was  mother/daughter bonding time. I think she still had a menu from the restaurant to commemorate our times there. Years and years later, we were elated to find out about another jazz program at the Art Institute. They called it Martini Mondays. Each Monday a jazz band played in a different area around the museum. Once in the courtyard. Once at the south garden. Once at the north garden. Of course, we preferred the courtyard.