Y is for YMCA

The YMCA on Wabash Avenue is in an area that was known as Black Metropolis; more commonly referred to these days as Bronzeville. It was a social center for African Americans in the early 1900s. For those migrating from the south, the Y on Wabash provided job training and housing as well. It was there where a man named Carter Woodson and others would spend time discussing black history. In 1915, Woodson with his associates formed the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History.

In 1926, they designated a week to black history because it had otherwise been ignored or misrepresented.  The second week in February was chosen as it coincided with the birthdays of both abolitionist Frederick Douglass and former President Abraham Lincoln. The group still exists today as The Association for the Study of African American Life and History; and from what was once known as Negro History Week grew into Black History Month.

As for the YMCA on Wabash Avenue in Black Metropolis-Bronzeville, it is a Chicago landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


Winning City. Windy City. White City. World Fair City.

Random thoughts on W. Chicago specific.

W: 2016  saw a lot of blue W’s in this city. Flying the W flag every time the Cubs won a game and eventually the World Series.


Hold onto your hats ladies and gents! The wind sure is whipping off the lake this morning. Looks like we’ll be living up to that “Windy City” moniker today!

says no real Chicagoan. Ever.

(Although we’ve embraced the nickname. We are not the windiest city in America).

Windy City they call us
Well it’s not due to the

Or, maybe it is? The earliest uses of  “Windy City” date back to the mid 1800’s;  Green Bay and Cincinnati used it in reference to our weather.  Cincinnati at the time was also a rival city. However, many believe the more popular story of the New York reporter who called us the windy city because our politicians were a bunch of blowhards. New York lost its bid to host the World’s Columbian Exposition, 1893.

It was also from New York around the time of the World Columbian Exposition that we got the name: Second City. Geez, NYC, sore losers much?  But Chicago is resilient. Perhaps our resiliency is another reason to refer to us as a second city. We were built twice; the first city  before the 1871 Chicago fire and second city after. The World Columbian Expo (aka World’s Fair) which happened 22 years later, played a key role. It changed the landscape of Chicago and put us on the map.

There were many firsts at the World Columbian Exposition: Cracker Jacks, The Ferris Wheel, Vienna Beef Hot Dogs and what they call America’s first serial killer (I’m guessing  first known serial killer) H.H. Holmes. Erik Larson has written a best selling novel about it: “The Devil In the White City”.

White city
was the name of the site,
buildings for the fair
all painted white.
The way it lit up!
especially at night.

Walking tours of the white city exist today but there are very few places left from this time: The Osaka Gardens and what was known then as The Palace of Fine Arts, now The Museum of Science and Industry, among them. After looking at all the old pics, I find it rather sad.

But I found this youtube video which I thought was interesting:

V is for Viaduct

Viaducts: the bridges that generally cross land, a road, etc. so that trains and the like can pass over without interrupting the flow of traffic. In a city like Chicago, where railroads were an essential part of our economic development and growth, viaducts are plenty.  More recently, the area under viaducts have become both a place to showcase art, with their murals and mosaics; and by contrast, where many Chicago homeless live.

July, 1977

We set out to walk around the neighborhood as young, bored teen girls sometimes do. “Let’s go find my brother and his friends” one of my girlfriend’s said.  We looked in the usual places: down the street, in the alley.  And just as we gave up on the idea of finding some boys to entertain us, there they were! fast-pitching under a viaduct; throwing balls against the walls. The guys sometimes practiced there, as we discovered, and played softball (invented in Chicago) in the area near the tracks, whenever they were looking for something to do and, I surmised, didn’t have girls around to entertain them?  I surmised wrong. In that moment at least, we were pretty much ignored. It was an early  lesson in boy/girl relationships:  when it comes to sports, you will likely come in second.  It was also the first time I’d seen anyone make use of the space under a viaduct.

July, 1877

One hundred years earlier at a viaduct on the other side of town: The Great Railroad Strike of 1877 that started in the east had gained momentum becoming the first national strike in the US.  In Chicago, crowds gathered by the thousands around the city and one place in particular…a viaduct on Halsted Street. The protestors were determined to get people from all industries to stop working and the city was determined to remove the crowd. Police came, violence erupted, the military was also called in.  Order was restored in about a day but not before the battle left many dead and many more injured.

September, 2007

One hundred and thirty years later at yet another viaduct further north: While strolling down Bryn Mawr on my way to one of the last beach days,  I couldn’t help but marvel at the newest public artwork: “Living 2007”.  Created by 400 people, many of them youth, using a bricolage ( whatever’s available) technique:  this 185 foot mosaic mural represents daily life in the Edgewater community where it resides. The beauty is in the details and each time I stroll down Bryn Mawr to the beach, I try to take in something new.

September, 2017

Ten years later at a viaduct just a little further south: Mike and dozens of his fellow tent city residents are concerned. As the city starts much needed renovations of the Lawrence and Wilson Avenue viaducts, where will they go?  Pacific Garden Missions? Mike says it’s worse;  more dangerous than the thought of  concrete falling on his head under the viaduct.  Some have set up in the park but police tell them if they’re out  after the parks close, they’ll be arrested.  Joe, another viaduct resident, says he’ll take his chances.  He’d rather have a bed and food in jail than spend the night at the Missions.  The city is trying to find permanent housing for the viaduct residents but the wider issue of homelessness still remains…. under many of the viaducts around the city.




TIKI at Lost Lake to TEA at The Drake

I had been wanting to go for a while. Once, a couple of years back, we even made an attempt but after seeing a line outside, it was decided we’d come back some other time.  So when I was making plans on where to celebrate my birthday this year, the Saturday before the actual day, I chose that particular tiki bar. It’s so close to home, easy to get to and oddly, although I’m not a big fan of rum, I AM a fan of the tiki bar; one of my favorites being Three Dots and A Dash. Also, I just really like the name: Lost Lake. The idea was to get there when they opened at 4 p.m.  One of my friends thought I was being a little nutty when I said I wanted to get there early before the crowds. Bars don’t usually get that crowded at 4 p.m. But I had an inkling this one would. Besides what I’d seen outside before, this place has good reviews. Both the owner bartender (I mean mixologist) and the bar have gotten quite a bit of press and awards. Lost Lake, according to their website is a place that:

“….evokes both the glamorous tropical escapism of 1930s Hollywood and the rugged nautical, island aesthetic of the world’s first tiki bar — the original Don’s Beachcomber Café.”

I was hoping.

I’m not sure I got that vibe.

Even though we arrived only a little later than planned, my feeling was correct, it was pretty crowded already.  The place itself is fairly small so maybe there weren’t really that many people? but between having to stand elbow to elbow and wait almost 30 minutes to get our drinks, it was hard soaking in the ambiance.  It wasn’t too long after we got our drinks though, we were able to get a small table in the back.  Ah, much better. We ordered one of those smoky drinks to share then headed off to another party.  Some of us agreed we would try this place again. But only on an “off” night.  In the meantime, if I’m looking specifically for a tiki bar, I’ll stick to Three Dots….. which, by the way, still gets very crowded also. It’s just a bigger place with many more tables. And if I’m being really honest, better drinks. I’ll save Lost Lake for a weekday when I want something a little different and don’t want to travel too far from home.

On my actual birthday, the weather was gloomy and it started to snow. Depressing because it’s mid April; but we didn’t let it get to us.  Instead, a dear friend of mine took me for afternoon tea.

I have always wanted to do a fancy afternoon tea.  Of the hotels I know that do it well, Palmer House and The Drake were my top two choices. The Palmer House’s fascinating history and the times I’ve enjoyed there: whether for drinks, dinner or events, has made it one of my absolute favorite places. Trader Vics, a tiki bar/restaurant that I used to frequent has long since closed (sad day). I adore the ornate, grand lobby and can sit there for hours taking it in. One day, I’ll get around to the tea.

The Drake Hotel is iconic, classic Chicago. Situated at Lake Shore Drive across from Oak Street beach. As many times as I’ve walked passed it, sat across from it at the beach, looked up at it with wonder and imagined what it was like back in the day, would you believe I have never really explored the building?

The tea was a lovely idea. We sat next to a beautiful limestone fountain in the middle of the room; tables decked out in white linens. The only thing missing was the harpist who plays later in the week and weekends. Our waiter from Bosnia, was also celebrating an anniversary… 20 years here in Chicago.  I was celebrating many more years than that here on earth. What an elegant way to spend a cold afternoon.

After tea we went to explore a little. The Gold Coast room was empty so we were able to go in.  What it must be like to have a wedding there! I just might have to find a way to get invited to an event. With splendid views of Lake Michigan, it was cool being able to see it from the other side……to look down at the lake rather than looking up at the building. I no longer have to wonder.


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.




Basket Blessings in Bucktown

Lately I’ve found myself wanting to create some new traditions and honor some old ones. I remember being a little girl and going with my grandmother to St. Mary of the Angels Church in Bucktown, near our house. We’d go to mass and although I had no idea what the priest was saying, it pleased my grandmother because it was in Polish.

Well, it’s been a very long time since I stepped into the church. It was a different experience than I remember. Not a full mass; no kneeling, standing, sitting. No smell of incense either. On this holy Saturday, the priest spoke briefly about the meaning of Easter followed by a prayer. Then just as they did many decades ago, he walked the aisle and sprinkled holy water on each of our baskets of food. I think I remembered most of what to bring: ham, polish sausage, rye bread, hard boiled eggs. Afterward, we lit a candle, took a few pictures just because… St. Mary’s is a lovely church and as we left, I wondered if they still held a carnival in the parking lot. This is the place where my mom scared me while at the top of the Ferris wheel. So much so, that I’m convinced it’s why I’m afraid of heights today.

Driving around Bucktown to reminisce about where I lived from the ages of 2 to 6, I wanted to see what ultimately became of the places I knew. The bar  we lived above is gone. It just sort of looks like a store front building now. I’m sure there are no children sneaking onto the grassy hill that leads to the expressway to play, like we did. Clem’s corner store, where I got my penny candy, crackerjack and surprise packages, is now a dental office. (Probably owned by someone who used to go the Clem’s?!)  The school where I attended kindergarten, a block from the church, appears much smaller than it did when I was 5.

Bucktown was originally an area where the Polish working class lived. And while it’s gone through many changes over the years…. some newer homes have been built and rents have gone up due to gentrification… not everything’s changed.  St. Mary’s is still there. Polish mass and all. My 4’11” grandmother (busia) would still be very pleased.