We saw two guides this week to Chicago from Southern publications. The similarities pretty much end with that sentence— one is of a rarefied Chicago few will ever see, the other is very much the ordinary visitor’s Chicago… peppered with the obscenities that are the common man’s meat (and hilarious because it is so, so true). First up is in Garden & Gun, by a writer for Newsweek and elsewhere named Julia Reed. Here is a Chicago that seems almost a genteel satire from a Whit Stillman movie, Chicago seen from the rarefied air of the hyperarticulate upper classes. It’s called “Chicago’s Southern Soul,” but it doesn’t mean Edna’s biscuits:
her father, “Ace,” was a larger-than-life trial lawyer who presided over the improbably tasteful bar (complete with stools) in their enormous apartment on North State Parkway (otherwise known as “State Street, that great street”). Ace poured us icy martinis, ordered up filets with béarnaise at the Ambassador East’s legendary Pump Room, and ensconced us for the weekend at the Ambassador West… The party itself was at the Saddle and Cycle Club, a country club complete with a three-hole golf course smack in the middle of the city, and by the time I left, though (or perhaps because) I’d only seen a fairly rarefied view of the place, I’d decided that Chicago was definitely my kind of town.
Frankly, from there we’d rather have continued this glimpse into upper crust life straight, than what actually does follow, a thin attempt to fulfill the “Southern soul” mandate with a paragraph of Wikipedia about African American history in Chicago— when the only restaurants the author namechecks are things like Blackbird, RL and Belly Shack. Three old-line private clubs get visited, but no barbecue shacks— my dear, if you want Southern soul, next time we’ll take you on a tour of where it is in this city.
The second comes from a very different part of the South— Texas and a website called Go Go Go. Ed Hirsch is an ex-Chicagoan who says he’s “asked about every three months for advice about visiting Chicago: what to do, where to stay, what to eat, and so on.” This is his guide, fairly obscene, but redolent of the ring of truth and the city we all know:
Chicago is good at ethnicities and racism. It’s a good mix, as it means you end up with very particular neighborhoods and streets (ghettos?) to experience unique foods. Here in Texas, I’m not sure if most people can tell the difference between an African American and a Latino, but in Chicago my old barber (Uncle Joe!) once gave me a lecture on exactly when the neighborhood went to hell: when the Irish moved in.
He covers everything that really matters, from how to shop the Magnificent Mile (“if you came to Chicago to shop you are human trash and I hope you die”) to how to order a deep dish pizza on a one-night stand; his rules for how to pick a hot dog stand are impeccable ("4) They have any of the following: a. Signed pictures of the old mayor; b. Railroad paraphernalia; c. A picture of a giant hotdog, possibly floating in Lake Michigan; d. A menu hanging above the counter that appears to have ~50 items; e. An elderly lady working the cash register”). In the battle of the Southern guides, advantage goes to Ed Hirsch and Go Go Go (just avoid the awful comments that follow, though, which don’t get his humor at all).