Can’t stop listening to this…Guarantees by Atmosphere
Can’t stop listening to this…Guarantees by Atmosphere
I’m behind on things. The New York Times was talking about Chicago about a few weeks ago. Chicago is talking about the The New York Times book review that talks about Chicago. And I am caught in between in ways I probably shouldn’t put words to. I live in Chicago but I was born in Queens and raised on Long Island and then the rest…well, you know.
As I write this, I’ve spent 46.1% of my life in The Great State of New York, 28.2% of my life in Chicago, and the rest elsewhere. (And I’m 29!!!!!)
There are things that drive me crazy about Chicago. Super crazy. Like…
Public transport in Chicago is half of what it should be. One night, when I was recently repatriated, I set myself up at the bus stop. A nice man, in a Cubs hat, stopped me. “You know there is no bus here after midnight, right?” It was 12:15 a.m. No, I didn’t know that. Chicago is a world class city. I thought we had world class transportation. $12 later, I got myself home in a taxi. I miss a good night bus. (I know they do exist in Chicago. I could take the Ashland bus, for example. But it doesn’t run in the wee hours.)
Winter in Chicago. I hate you. I hate you. I hate you. The blizzard of 2011 was my great welcome. I adopted a 16-year-old German exchange student at O’Hare and took him home for 48 hours. He played a lot of Call of Duty, and I tried to figure out how to feed us. I lived here during the blizzard of 1999, when the roof of my building caved in, taking all the kitchen cabinets on the 3rd and 2nd floors with it. (Thankfully, I lived on the ground floor.) I hate winter. I hate boots. I hate coats. I hate the dark.
Khaki trousers on women. I’ve written about this before. Seriously, what are you thinking? If the New York Times lady had included this, I totally would have taken her side 200%.
Jewel-Osco. I go into Jewel and I’m like totally, “OMG where is the food? I mean, there’s some fruit here, but where is the rest of the food?” Because everything is in boxes and cans. This may be more of a statement about America. I miss Waitrose. (The leading photo on their site right now is of CHAMPAGNE.) P.S. I MISS EASILY ACCESSIBLE CHEESE.
Six-way Intersections. Seriously.
I’m afraid I’m going to get shot. The bar down the street from me got shot up the year before last. On a weekly basis, my neighborhood Facebook page is all like “OMG, did you hear that???” What’s with the gunshots, Chicago?? If you want tourism dollars — particularly from all those countries where their currency lets them buy ALL of Michigan Avenue — people just can’t get shot.
PIZZA. I JUST WANT A SLICE. A real slice. Thank God for that bagel place by the Whole Foods on North Avenue or I would die a salt-bagel-deprived life. Pizza and bagels really have nothing to do with each other, EXCEPT WHEN THEY ARE COMBINED!
Sports Bars and Bars Chockablock with TVs. I am not really into sports. Or TVs. I’ve tried. I’m just not. There are so many other things to do, read, see, etc. This is a total personal preference, but please list for me the bars in Chicago without televisions, and I will gladly visit them with you.
Steamed hot dog buns. SUCK.
People who say they’re from New York. So this happens a lot. I’m in Chicago and someone complains about something and I ask them where they’re from and they say they’re from New York and I ask where from because I’m from New York and it turns out the person is really from Ohio or Pennsylvania or somewhere but they lived in New York for three years and they tell everyone they’re from New York. Note to all: I lived in London for a while. I don’t say I’m from London. (But I still love it to pieces.)
Dude, I am all about being holistic. There are a lot of positives here.
- The airport — Chicago O’Hare — is easy to get to. After spending a lot of time in Brazil last year, I cannot even begin to explain how much I appreciate the Blue Line to O’Hare. And they have nice tortas at O’Hare. (Mexican sandwiches.)
- I like char dogs. (Grilled hot dogs, although see above about steamed buns.)
- People are nice, most of the time.
- Cheap manicures and pedicures. $35 for both if you’re lucky.
- The grid system makes it hard to get lost.
- BEER. From all over.
- Liz Phair, when she was good.
- Late May through early September.
- I own an apartment that I could never, ever afford in NY or London.
- I like tacos.
- The WGN morning show. (They’re doing something right there. That team has been there forever.)
- NPR. So soothing.
- Anything from Lao Sze Chuan.
I don’t know if I’ve really said anything. Maybe this is just a brain fart. BUT I WARNED YOU. That is all. Go for it.
I took the family to the Bahamas over Easter. I owed them. And you know when you don’t really know what you’re doing but you do it and it turns out amazingly well? That’s what happened.
We took a little puddle jumper (Silver Airways) from West Palm Beach, Florida to Marsh Harbour in the Bahamas. Only one flight attendant so the pilots would say things like “Kate, please be seated.” The water as we approached the Bahamas was crystal green and blue and turquoise.
I rented a house in the Bahamas, at the Abaco Club at Winding Bay. It was nicer than my house, my mother’s house, and my aunt and uncle’s house.
The view was tremendous. Obviously, the house was not in the bay. But really, this is what we looked at all day long.
I hired a private chef one night. My uncle said, “The only people who have ever cooked for me are my wife, my mother, my sister, and The Colonel.” We ate a lot of stone crab. A LOT of stone crab.
We spent an afternoon in Hope Town. It was beautiful. Sleepy. Perfect.
We took a golf cart (!!!) to Firefly while we were in Hope Town. We sat on bar stools overlooking the turquoise bay, and we clogged our arteries slowly.
We took one last photo before we boarded the Hope Town ferry, of a gorgeous beach with no human in sight. Sunshine and turquoise water…amazing what they can do.
The Verdict: I will be the first to say that I am not a fan of Nassau or Freeport in the Bahamas. Too many t-shirt shops and sunburned tourists with unfortunate braids in their hair. But I loved Hope Town and I LOVED the Abaco Club at Winding Bay. If you’re looking to unplug, you should GO. Note that the Abaco Club is about 18 miles from civilization and you will need to stock up on provisions before arriving (or have the resort stock up for you, as we did). But sometimes, being 18 miles from civilization is just what you need.
Everything’s fine, really. But as I’ve been saying to friends lately, the days are long, but the years are short. And my God, are the days long. Even though Chicago’s darkness makes for darkness. I’m eating out by myself tonight. Not unusual for me, but more unusual for Chicagoans, I think. (Necessity: there is only whole wheat pasta in the house that I bought in 2010. Accidentally at Costco. In bulk.) Chicago must not have the business travellers that London and New York have. The waitstaff ask me, “Where are you from?” And I tell them “Um, I’m from around the corner.” I don’t mind dining alone, but is seems to bother people here for some reason.
I’m rambling. The fact is, this blog is coming to an end. I’m not as excited about food in Chicago as I was about food in London. That may be more about me than it is about Chicago, so Chicago, don’t take it personally. (Although the local industry really needs to invest in power washing its restrooms and you really don’t need to fill my water glass every three minutes.) 2004 til now ain’t a bad run. And maybe I’ll keep going with it. Maybe in a different way. Maybe during trips to London. Or maybe if I really discover something amazing in Chicago.Maybe.
I hope you are well. I know that I have been irregular with updates but, in the main, it is because I have been working so many hours to try and make the [pub] a success. I am emailing today to update you all with the current situation of the business, give you an overview of what is happening.
Since opening in [x] I have continued to work as hard as possible to ensure the success of the [pub] and build a business that would not only give me a future but deliver a good return for my investors and those who put faith in me. The reality currently is that the business is in a very difficult position. Since opening I have, as much as possible, refrained from taking a salary and for the first, nearly two years worked not less than 90 hours per week. I opened in a recession and hoped the economy would improve but it has only got worse. To cut a long story short I have made two chefs redundant, cut every cost to the bone over the last year and it has not been enough.
I know that this news will not be the news that has been hoped for and no one is more disappointed than myself that it has got to this stage. This year I have personally put in every penny I had managed to save plus a loan and up to the limit of my credit card and the business, in October, hasn’t broken even and this is with me not taking a salary and being understaffed. It is this realisation that leads me to sending this email. It is, as you can imagine, not an easy realisation or email to send. I have wanted nothing more than to reward my investors and grow a business that saw everyone paid back but unless something drastic happens the business will run out of money within the next few months and I do not have anything more to put in.
This is not a call for more investment into the [pub] as I am not convinced it would do any good. I have given everything I have; work, blood, sweat, ideas and more and the business, after this long, is losing money. I truly think that closing the [pub] is our only option unless there is a dramatic turnaround in the next four months. There is an option to exit in [month N] as it is the [y] year anniversary but if we don’t then there is another [z] year commitment which, at the current income level, would be impossible to sustain for any time at all and at this point the business would literally run out of money. I am also personally in a position where I can no longer go on without any income.
I think that I made a mistake with the location and, although the general area is wealthy, being quite remote, in this economy, means we are a very infrequent destination. Having been in catering for some years I can honestly say that I think people’s spending habits have changed during this prolonged recession and I am not sure they will ever be the same again. I see customers sometimes who used to come often and now come only every few months and they say “oh sorry we haven’t been in a while, it’s not that we’re going elsewhere but we just haven’t been out for a few months”. It seems that the middle ground in dining, where I firmly sit, is being abandoned and the £10 for two meals big chains are much busier.
I do believe that the [pub] is a good model and in a different economy and a better location the model I have created would work and work well. It just seems that the economy is making it impossible and having not operated outside, effectively, of a recession, I have never had a good period in which to build a steady trade to underpin the business. I have tried everything I can and we have had many successes and have exceeded many customer’s expectations but this hasn’t led to enough repeat business. I took out a loan of £10,000 and put it in this summer but I am not sure what has happened this year, the whole Olympic period and following summer/Autumn just hasn’t moved at all. The whole time we’ve been open we have only really achieved break even because I didn’t take a salary. To give you an example, our best week last summer we took about £12,000 and this summer our best week was about £7,000.
I would welcome a conversation to explain more about the situation and to answer any questions you may have. Finally I want to apologise for any loss that looks likely to happen but I hope you understand that I have given absolutely everything I have to try and succeed but the tide against us was too strong.
Thank you again and I look forward to hearing from you soon.
From Krista: I received this e-mail towards the end of last year from a friend. I have the writer’s permission to post the e-mail. but without the pub name, location, and specifics. Thanks for reading, and if you can do anything today, tomorrow, this week or next, head down to your local, buy a beer, and stay a while.
I was born in Queens. Raised on Long Island. Call me Bridge & Tunnel but I am more New Yorker than a lot of people. And I miss my people. I miss our directness, our way of talking. In London, I learned to talk AROUND the subject; in New York, I address it straight on.
Three nights in New York City. Three nights that were enough, but not enough. I need to do this more often.
Friday: Dinner with Shinny and Monica at Shin’s place on the Upper West Side, where Shinny tested her recipes on us. (Shinny is an MBA and Michelin chef, now doing her own thing with food.)
Saturday: Food tour of the West Village with Sidewalks of New York with a tour guide who had had gastric bypass surgery. (Fscinating career choice.) Then a visit to the Apple store and a great chin wag with Jessica (Londoners might remember her as Ripe London) over wine and cheese at Bar Boulud. Afterwards, I arrived back at my hotel and stopped in the lobby to pick up some (more) wine and cheese (complimentary, this time). Then, a late night fight in the hotel room above me where I heard a woman yell “Get your hands off me! Get your hands off me!” over and over and over and over and over and over again. I called the front desk. I tried not to listen.
Sunday: Lunch with so many friends with so many babies at a unmemorable Chinese restaurant with a B on the door on the Upper West Side. (I love the NYC version of Scores on the Doors.) $24 per adult and the children were well-behaved. A long walk over to the Lower East Side Tenement Association and a FANTASTIC tour (book ahead), followed by a stop at the Crosby Street Hotel (Firmdale, don’t you know) and meeting up with an old friend for Red Stripes at Miss Lily’s. Then, the most amazing of bands and the most amazing of trombone players at Madame Geneva’s on Bleeker Street.
Monday: Sore head. Sore heart. Bagel full of suitcases from Ess-a-bagel on 1st and 21st. Lunch with Shinny at David Burke Kitchen, in the basement of my hotel, where the duck meatballs were spicy but the service was missing, hiding, gone for most of our meal. Shinny brought me some Excedrin, like a good friend, and I got in a taxi and I went to the airport and I bought some magazines and I flew home. Sore head, sore heart.
I sometimes find myself these days gripping my iPhone like a child would a blankie or favorite stuffed animal. I rarely put it down or let it out of my sight. I SLEEP with it. And yes, while this is disturbing, I’ve been thinking about how my life has changed for the better because of it. Especially for someone who lives alone, doesn’t have a car, and lives 1,300 miles away from family.
1. Words with Friends, online “Scrabble.” Generally, I talk to my mother once every week to ten days. With Words with Friends, we play EVERY day. I also play Words with Friends with my cousin Maureen, who I see once year if that. But now we too “talk” on Words with Friends nearly every single day. (You can play me under kristainlondon — yes, still haven’t gotten around to changing that username.) Neither my mother nor Maureen are happy that I keep beating them though.
2. Peapod, online groceries. Without a car, I used to hate schlepping to the grocery store, especially if I needed anything big like laundry detergent or paper towels or toilet paper. Now, as I remember things I need around the house, I add them to a shopping list on my Peapod app, and when I get to about $100 worth of stuff, I get it all delivered. MAGIC. Just last week, I was sitting in a restaurant thinking “I should really get those paper towels delivered soon” and placed my order via the app around 6 pm at night. The groceries were delivered by 8 am THE NEXT MORNING.
3. Zipcar, online car-rental. OK, I don’t have a car, but if I need a car, I just hit up Zipcar (the pay-by-the-hour car-sharing service) and do a search for available cars within a 1 mile radius and boom, I’ve got a car for a few hours for just $20 or $25 bucks or so. It’s life-changing to have access to a car when you previously wouldn’t have.
4. Yelp, online city guide. Laugh however you’d like about Yelp, but the other night, my friend Christina and I finished dinner at a local brewery here in Chicago — Revolution Brewing — and we weren’t ready to go home yet. We did a quick proximity search on Yelp to see what else was around and discovered The Whistler up the street. I drank a lot White Russians and we met a lovely couple from Hungary, all the while grooving to a pretty fantastic DJ. Wouldn’t have found The Whistler without Yelp. (Although of course we could have asked random people on the street.)
5. My Transit, online transit times: I take the bus now ALL THE TIME. All thanks to this app, which tells me when the next bus is coming. I’ve become quite the expert in finding a good coffee shop to wait in while I wait the six or seven minutes for the next bus. My point here is that I’ve enlarged my geographic circle of influence. I explore more of Chicago than I would otherwise because it’s so much easier for me to take the bus.
6. xfinity, cable TV scheduler from Comcast: I can be 4000 miles away in a different country, and I can still program my DVR to record stuff. That’s pretty awesome.
7. xfinity player: I can be somewhere not in Chicago, and still watch my favorite shows online. Also, I don’t have Showtime or HBO and the xfinity player lets me watch a limited number of episodes of things like Homeland and Girls for FREE.
8. Uber and Hailo, taxi ordering services: The other day, I was stuck on a street corner in the West Loop of Chicago after an ok lunch at Belly Q. The restaurant called us five taxis. One arrived. Finally, I ordered an Uber taxi off my phone and BOOM. I had my own personal taxi in three minutes. AND this was all paid for by my credit card, which was great because I was low on cash.
9. Everyblock, neighborhood communities: I’m kinda obsessed with this neighborhood community website. You type in your address and it tells you where the new restaurants are opening, what property is for sale, where all the most recent crime has happened, and what new fun community events are happening. The other day, I got this weird letter from the city about electricity and I didn’t know who to ask about it. I posted it on Everyblock and within minutes, I had the answer.
10. Apple Remote, control your Apple TV from your phone: Half the time, I cannot find my Apple TV remote. No trouble, I can just USE MY PHONE instead. It’s kinda awesome.
I can go on and on. You get the point. Actually, you’re probably sitting there thinking, “Well this is a dumb post. Who doesn’t know all these things?” And that’s okay. I’m just in a thankful-quality-of-life mood at the moment and wanted to write this all down.
This is a belated review of my nearly two-week stay at 51 Buckingham Gate in London back in October. Let’s get the blog-stuff out of the way. I paid for this stay myself, but lest you vastly overestimate my personal worth, through a right conspiracy of forces in my personal life, I was able to stay here at a very, very good “discount” that was completely, totally and utterly unrelated to my blog. I never would have stayed here otherwise. (And no, work didn’t pay for this either.) I am being deliberately mysterious here because I am just trying to figure out if what I did for the discount was worth it and that evaluation is still in progress. I don’t want to mislead you until that evaluation is complete. More to come around April.
Anyhow, even at just one bedroom, the flat I occupied at 51 Buckingham Gate — just a stone’s throw from Buckingham Palace — was bigger than both of the flats I lived in while I was in London. The bedroom in my suite was huge. The living room/lounge was huge. The master bath/en-suite was HUGE. Heated towel racks galore — and Molton Brown products — for just me. Plus an extra half-bath just in case.
That being said…it kills me to say this…SIZE IS NOT EVERYTHING. The Dean Street Townhouse and its lovely small rooms completely outshone 51 Buckingham Gate. So too did the room at my first stay at a Firmdale Hotel — The Covent Garden Hotel. Both Dean Street and The Covent Garden go luxury in small spaces over large spaces with, um, a half-hearted attempt at luxury. Another hotel also very good: The Zetter. All of these hotels had such a better mix of furnishings, service, and on-site beverage programs.
Because let’s face it…I got kicked out of the bar each evening at 9 p.m. 9 p.m.! I wasn’t there every evening, I promise. But I was there for a few. And around 8:45 pm each time, the staff would tell it was time to go — I was welcome to stay and avail myself of butler service — but the staff was going home.
Bah. Thinking back to what I liked about the place…I liked the Molton Brown products, and I liked the Whole Foods gift basket they gave me because I was staying more than six days. (That being said, I would like to speak to the person who assembled the gift basket because I think they could have put together a more useful combination of stuff. I have a liter of olive oil I’d like to get rid of now.) I liked the twice-daily room servicing, and I liked the library/cafe area.
I didn’t like the carpets in my room (they’d seen better days), nor did I like the windows (they let in the chill). The master bath, while HUGE, was old and in dire need of a refurb. I did not like the location most of all — the area south of Buckingham Palace is a wasteland of government buildings and is just very, very boring.
In short, even should the fates again conspire to put me here, I’d only say yes because I miss London so desperately that I am open to selling any part of my soul. (Seriously.) Otherwise, you can find me arbitraging on Hotwire.
Quickly…over Christmas, I did that thing I usually do. I headed up to Orlando to visit my dad’s side of the family. My aunt and uncle have a timeshare in Orlando and — gasp — they actually use it. (Most Americans buy timeshares and then quickly realize they just can’t use them and then they try to sell them and can’t.) We stayed one night at the Marriott Cypress Harbour and boy am I glad my dad is a senior citizen, because without his discount, this would have cost us over $400 bucks just for one night. (My father was happy to stay at the Quality Inn 4.5 miles away for $62 bucks a night. Not me.) We got 15% off our rate because he is over 65.
The Marriott Cypress Harbour is an apartment hotel and our room was HUGE. As was the hot tub. A little disconcerting, this hot tub. I let my dad have this room. I took the smaller guest bedroom, above.
I guess if I were a family with two children, this place would have been the perfect setup. For a father and daughter traveling together though, there was no easy access to alcohol, which was a problem. There was no minibar and the bar at the clubhouse required a car to get there. (I often joke that my father would never survive a trip to Kuwait or Saudi Arabia. No red wine.) That being said, my bed was comfortable and the blackout curtains were awesome.
While in Orlando, we had lunch at the Copper Canyon Grill, where my order of rotisserie chicken was large enough to feed fourteen people. (America, this is why you’re fat. Really.) Our server also told us he was a green beret in Afghanistan, and my dad and my uncle, both servicemen themselves, thought he was lying. So that was awkward. (We didn’t tell him he was lying. We just discussed it during and afterwards.) Everything here was nice enough by big-box-chain-restaurant standards though. Speedy service, plenty of tap water, and they very easily dealt with our party of ten.
And before we sped off to the airport the next morning, we stopped at Denny’s at 11037 International Drive. (Remember, I’m not as sophisticated as you might think I am.) And I was again given pause for thought. Do you wonder why there is an obesity epidemic in America? Things like The Grand Slamwich exist, that’s why. Potato bread!! That being said, the service at Denny’s was super-chipper and speedy. There’s something about diner service in America: these servers are not precious, they’ve seen it all, and they are as flexible as flexible can be.
I’m supposed to stop eating things like this but the novelty wins and the 5:2 diet to make up for my life of excess seems like a better and better idea. (Who wants to eat on Mondays and Tuesdays, anyhow?) The food at the Pleasant House Bakery in Bridgeport, Chicago along with their lovely staff, make for an excellent excuse to get yourself out of your Northside “I don’t go south of Madison” comfort zone. Mushroom and kale!! Who knew a mushroom and kale pie could be so perfectly perfect? Best pie I’ve ever had. Really and truly. You should go get one. Or four. (If you really don’t want to go south of Madison, Pleasant House Bakery pies are stocked at a number of places around Chicago.) Thank you to Roam & Home and Mr Roam & Home for the adventure. (And this was only our first stop!) Hmmm…if I’m going to stick around Chicago, maybe I should buy a car. It makes adventures easier.
I don’t know what they do to it. Some sort of breading. Some sort of deliciousness. Some sort of breaded delicious perfection. Some sort of MIRACLE HANGOVER CURE. That being said, the place is a shit hole. (Shithole?) Water dripping from the ceiling, ripped up stools, recycling that hasn’t been emptied for months. You know what I mean.
The guy at the counter did have some nice things to say about my eyes though. And he gave me some free fried catfish, which was AWESOME. You can love my eyes and give me free catfish anytime you want, mister.
The Verdict: If you are hungover and if you want to eat some chicken, you should order from here. Do not eat in; it is gross. And remember, quality takes time. These guys fresh fry everything. It will take time. A lot of time. Bring a newspaper. Or your iPhone. Or something.
Let’s talk about doing things differently in 2013. Let’s talk about being creative. Let’s talked about being INSPIRED. Being original Taking some risks. Let’s talk about brining HAM WITH COFFEE, sprinkling everything with New Orleans, and serving up the most delicious stuffed pig’s trotter (Zampone). Talk about that, think about that, and then tell me what you’re going to do differently in 2013.