Monday, August 07, 2006

Is It The Jacket...Or Is It Me?

- Sean Chercover

Chicago has changed…and, as much as I hate to admit it, so have I.

A few months back, I was dog-sitting for vacationing friends. I stayed in their condo in Lakeview and marveled, as I always do, at how the neighborhood has changed.

I first met Lakeview shortly after moving to Chicago in 1987. I was a student at Columbia College and I lived in the South Loop, but many of my fellow students lived in Lakeview/Wrigleyville and I spent a lot of time there.

It was, at the time, a neighborhood in transition. On the path to gentrification, but still funky and affordable for the students and hippies who called it home.

Now everything has gone condo and what rentals remain are out of reach for college students.

The Dunkin Donuts at Clark and Belmont draws fewer punks than it once did, but still enough to retain its nickname, Punkin’ Donuts. The punks, however, look to me both younger and more retro than they did in the late 80s.

The Dram Shop is still a true dive, and a good spot to hang out with the older hardcore drinkers. The day drinkers, who claim their barstools early and stay for hours, trading stories of how it used to be.

I spent some time shopping at Reckless Records and the fantastic Selected Works bookstore, and the neighborhood got me feeling nostalgic. I called my old friend Jay, who lives on the south side, and he hopped on the Red Line and came up to Cubs country for a night of Remember When…

Still the troublemaker, Jay wore his Sox cap. He arrived after the end of a Cubs game, and took some verbal abuse as we walked north through the sea of postgame drunks.

We stopped for pre-dinner libations at the Underground Lounge. When we were college students, the place was called Club Lower Links, and it featured Free Jazz, seriously alternative music, poetry and fiction readings, or (God help us) Performance Art, depending upon the night.

Jay and I used to be regulars, on the nights when the Hal Russell NRG Ensemble played their ear-splitting, beautifully anarchic free jazz.

But Club Lower Links went out of business in the 90s. Now it is called the Underground Lounge. Unfortunately there’s now a big screen TV and there were a couple of tourists in baseball jerseys sitting at the bar. In the old days, people like this never would’ve set foot past the door. And the place now serves fancy Belgian beers in even fancier glassware. But after moaning about the changes for a few minutes, Jay and I conceded that we were just being old guys. Truth is, the Underground Lounge still has the general vibe of the old place (once the television is switched off) and it still hosts great live music.

We stayed a couple of beers longer than intended, then hit the El Jardin Café. Not to be confused with it’s upscale sister restaurant El Jardin, the El Jardin Café is the place for Mexican food in this part of town. I’m happy to report that the enchiladas still rock, the nice Mexican ladies still sit at your table and rest their feet while taking your order, and the Margaritas are still the best in town.

As I stood in the Men’s room, trying to translate the Cerveza Tecate advertising poster into English, it occurred to me that the last margarita had been, perhaps, one too many. Back at the table, Jay was fading fast. Time for bed. We settled the bill and Jay hopped on the El and I walked down Clark, back to the condo where I was dog-sitting.

But on the way, I stopped at The Alley. The Alley was the place where I bought gargoyles to furnish my little apartment, back in the day. It caters to punks and rockers and sells leather boots, mean-looking belt buckles, T-shirts both funny and obscene…and other essentials for the young rebel.

More than anything else that evening, walking into The Alley made me feel the weight of the almost 20 years that had passed since I’d been a regular in this neighborhood. I didn’t see any gargoyles, but I didn’t leave empty handed. I bought this lovely blazer:



The blazer, as lovely as it is, has been hanging in my closet, unworn and neglected, since that night. Chicago has changed...and so have I.

Truth is, this jacket just isn’t me. Not the 40-year-old me, anyway.

But maybe it is you. So here’s the deal – if you like this jacket and think you can give it a good home, e-mail me at seanATchercoverDOTcom, and it’s yours. I’ll even pay postage. There’s only one, so first come, first (and only) served. It's a 42 Regular..as am I.

37 comments:

Kevin Guilfoile said...

That was my first neighborhood when I moved to Chicago. It's been closed for seven or eight years now but there was this fantastic and cheap BYOB Italian place on Belmont called Pastafina. They had this tortellini in creamy pesto sauce that was amazing.

And actually there's been a bit of a violent crime wave up and down Belmont recently. The runaways in front of the Dunkin Donuts seemed mostly harmless in my day--some were probably turning tricks but they mostly left you be. Maybe it's the heat but they've been pulling out the knives this summer.

Rob in Denver said...

The blazer is tempting. My heart raced a little when I saw the picture.

I find myself in the same boat as you: Young enough to know why it's very cool; old enough to not be able to pull off wearing it

Pete said...

That was my first neighborhood in Chicago, too--though I must sheepishly admit to have been the baseball-jersey-wearing type back then. I second El Jardin and Reckless, but I'm drawing a blank on everything else.

Maryann Mercer said...

When my daughter and son-in-law moved back up to Chicago from Kentucky they ended up in a two-bedroom apartment on Dakin...one of those streets where you park your car wherever you can find a spot and don't move it unless absolutely necessary! My favorite memory of my visits there was the night we headed to The Cubbie Bear to hear (I believe) The Mighty Blues Kings. I brought nothing but some money...and almost didn't get in because I couldn't prove I was 21! It took all three of us to convince the guy at the door he could trust me when I told him how old I was...ah Chicago :o)
Think I'm too old for the jacket?
(As a southsider Sox fan I could be automatically disqualified anyway)

Jon The Crime Spree Guy said...

The joys of getting older.... This post sums it up perfectly. I go place where feel the same nostalgia. Here in Milwaukee a lot of my favorite cool places have made the changes with the times. I never thought to get a t shirt when Oriental Drugs was open, but now I really wish I had the "I'm hooked on Oriental Drugs" shirt. Record stores closed and replaced by holistic health stores, used clothing stores replace by starbucks.

A few ahunts are still around, but most feel a little... different.

Maybe I feel a little different.

And Mary Ann?
I love the Might Blues Kings!

Sean Chercover said...

Pete - I'm still a baseball-jersey-wearing type...in my backyard, or maybe even at a ballgame. Next time you're in the 'hood, check out that bookstore. You'll dig it.

MaryAnn - You are definitely not too old for the jacket, as long as you don't feel too old for it. Your status as a Sox fan and a Southsider in no way disqualifies you. But alas, the jacket is taken.

Jon - Reminds me of the conversation we had about some of the rock concerts we've attended. We're not too old for the music, but getting a little old for the fans.

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