One of the great things about Chicago is the diversity of its neighborhoods. Bronzeville has a completely different feel than Wrigleyville, Logan Square is much different than Lincoln Square, and Lincoln Park and Hyde Park could be in separate cities. Yet, as I experienced Thursday night, even within the neighborhoods you’re not limited to a one-size-fits-all evening.
I started off at Jake Melnick’s Corner Tap for Media Bistro’s monthly networking event. This is a group for media professionals, and each month we get together at a bar or restaurant, eat appetizers and drink adult beverages and mingle with other writers/editors/publishers. I hadn’t been to Jake’s since shortly after it opened so I was looking forward to checking it out again. Blackhawk Lodge was the previous tenant of that location, and Jake’s still has its rustic feel, which was perfect on a cold rainy windy night. They’ve got a good beer selection and are known for their burgers. I was really, really looking forward to trying one of those and hoped they’d put them out on the appetizer spread, but instead they had veggies and dip and mini-hot dogs and do-it-yourself nachos.
Nachos at a networking event were probably not a good idea. The bowls of onions went largely untouched; the chili, however, disappeared. (I suppose the effect of one is much more easily denied than the other!) As a networking venue, the layout also was not conducive to maneuvering easily from one contact to another. While the back room was available to us, a makeshift bar and the food spread were set up in a narrow space in front of it. Since everyone congregates in the “kitchen”, so to speak, it got a little crowded in the front. Despite the limitations of the space, the staff was extremely attentive and I loved having the fireplace in the back room. I guess I’ll just have to go back some time to try the burger.
Networking has become a big part of my social life and I’ve made some great friends through these events, so after Jake’s a few of us decided to go out. Elizabeth Grattan of Radio Elizabeth, Phil Rosenberg of reCareered, and Paul Banks of thesportsbank.net and I walked a few blocks to Cru Cafe and Wine Bar. We took seats at low-slung tables with banquette and lounge chair seating. This was definitely a more chi-chi environment. Paul and I perused the extensive wine list while Elizabeth and Phil selected beer from the very minimal but fairly eclectic selection. Paul liked the Prosecco while I had the Clay Station Petit Syrah, and Phil chose the Half Acre. Elizabeth is a Guinness gal, which they didn’t have, but we appreciated that our server was knowledgeable and suggested the Rogue Mocha.
I’m of the belief that if you’re in a wine bar and a cheese flight is available you simply must order one, so that we did. Two of them, actually. Both the French and the Italian flights offered generous portions of a mild, a pungent, and one that was in between, with nuts and fruit. We were too civilized to lick the plates, but we did return them to the kitchen without a single crumb left.
The crowd was subdued and about what you’d expect in a wine bar, except for a crazy lady that came in dancing to the hip-hop that would have been too loud if it had been one decibel higher.
Despite societal admonitions to avoid discussing politics and religion, those were the main topics of our conversation, so after Cru we were all in the mood to relax and just kick back in a dive bar. The only one I could think of that was close without heading to Rush and Division was Pippins, but Elizabeth really wanted to play pool and they don’t have a table. We headed there anyway, and the bouncer directed us right around the corner to Streeter’s Tavern.
Now this is a dive bar. We walked down the stairs to a crowd of 20-somethings playing beer pong. That might have deterred a less-cool group, but after our nice and polite evening of networking and cheese eating and serious debating we were ready for a place where our shoes would stick to the floor. We found a table near the back, Elizabeth got her Guinness and her pool game, and although those three had just met that evening we left Streeter’s as group of old friends.
One of our discussions had centered on generalizations and stereotypes, and our evening was representative of the argument that they create a disservice. All of these decidedly different spots were in the seemingly homogeneous Gold Coast neighborhood. One neighborhood, one night, three distinct experiences. I love this city!
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