Joe will bring us coffee and a bagel and we will love him for that. So let's pretend we went on that sweaty walking tour. Look at all the beautiful photos "we" took. Aren't they fantastic? Wasn't that extra hour of laziness totally worth missing this tour? You feel like you were there anyway, don't you?
By this point, 10am or so, I'd managed to shower and put pants on (shorts actually since it was supposed to be 97 and humid) sucked down coffee and a bagel, and we hailed a cab and headed over to the Art Institute for a morning filled with a staggering amount of pop art and Sands brothers. Aren't they adorable? Matching mirrored aviators and brotherly love right there.
We met Jon at Millennium Park and walked up the back walkway into the new modern wing of the Art Institute. It's a very cool entrance actually. Up on the walkway you have a great view back into downtown, so of course we stopped, took in the skyline, and then into the vast modern art oasis we wandered.
And who should we stumble upon while buying tickets? Why, Conan O'Brien's hilarious sidekick, the fabulous Mr. Andy Richter, and his whole family. Conan's show was filming in Chicago while we were there, so when we glanced up to the front of the line and heard Andy's distinctive voice, all three of us started whispering like giddy children, "Hey, that's Andy Richter." Joe snapped a discreet cell phone shot, and then we proceeded to subtly stalk him throughout the Lichtenstein retrospective. A little pop art with a pop culture darling. (With that visor and man bag, Andy Richter really is darling.)
The Lichtenstein exhibit was staggeringly good. So many rooms upon rooms of his art. I'd been to a much smaller exhibit of his work in New York a few years ago with my dad, but it was nothing compared to this. Pieces from each period of his work, the early more traditional work, the pop comic explosion where he took on Mickey Mouse, damsels in distress, and then mimicked the ultra famous work of the impressionists and post impressionists and then Picasso. It was like gorgeous primary colored candy. Big, bold, funny, over the top, and something so American about it all.
The exhibit was very full when we first got there, so much so that it was hard to see the art around all of the people crowding in staring or posed with their cell phones up in front of their faces taking pictures, but as it thinned out, we could breathe and spent a couple of hours just taking it all in.
Andy Richter again, see, I told you we were subtly stalking him. He takes cell phone pictures just like the rest of us. I need to see if he's on Instagram. Every time we saw him the three of us looked around to find each other in the room and gave this head nod/smile combo, like "See, we're cool, like we hang out with Conan and Andy all the time."
Some smaller original sketches were fascinating to see since it helped show how the large dotted paintings began. And I had no idea, but Lichtenstein was a bit of a sculptor and designer too, he had several small sculptures and this gorgeous mirrored piece as well, that was a spin on work by artists like Frank Lloyd Wright.
After the Lichtenstein explosion, we moseyed around some other sections of the museum. More modern work, (crap, the African exhibits were all closed,) some architectural stops, some sculpture and a bit of folk art, and we were about ready to head out for lunch. More than about 3 hours worth of art museum and I hit sensory overload. Except for one last stop.
The America Windows by Marc Chagall. I hate to even admit this, but ever since I saw Ferris Beuller's Day Off at age 11, I wanted to stand in front of those stained glass windows. (Blame movies and TV for our cultural downfall, but Ferris Bueller's adventures in the Art Institute helped inspire me to fall in love with art.) I've seen these magical windows several times in my life since then and each time I stand there like a glazed-over giddy child. I stare and smile and the colors and shapes and scenes wash over me. These windows have a tranquility and liveliness and glow to them that makes me feel both at peace and more alive than in front of nearly any other piece of art I can think of. I love the enormous Chagall paintings at Lincoln Center in New York, I love so much of Chagall's work, but there is something about the the glass, the light, the fragmented vignettes of the United States that strikes up a patriotic fervor in me that feels like the 4th of July. So we had to stop. Had to. Photos don't do them justice, stop by next time you're there. Give yourself that treat.
So in a Ferris, Sloane and Cameron art fueled glow, we headed out of the museum in hot pursuit of some lunchtime vittles. Caught a train, headed to Jon's neck of the woods, and dove into the underground, dark, and old school bar, Half Shell, for some serious seafood.
Did I mention that there was a Cubs game about to commence? Did I mention that our train was so packed with riders by the time we exited that I spent nearly 30 minutes pressed up against a man wearing a khaki utility kilt and making way too much eye contact? (Oh, sidebar, ladies, don't wear pale yellow while running around the city in the summer. Pale yellow, like white, just begs for people to spill things on you, pale yellow turns into dingy hospital yellow by the end of the day, just some advice.)
Half Shell is not a place you go to for fancy, white table cloth meals, your lap protected by a linen napkin, table covered with twelve tiny forks and black tied waiters filling your wine glass before it's even half empty. Half Shell is a bar, it feels like a bar, and if you are looking for a hefty plate of shrimp or crab legs or just a cool place to hide in the summer with a couple of oysters, go here. (Jane Lynch loved Half Shell when she lived in Chicago, so celebrity endorsement, yeah.)
We feasted on clams, crab legs and oysters and then walked around Jon's neighborhood, enjoyed some very weak Long Island ice teas with his roommate, Chris and a couple of friends, and then we decided to grab a cab and head back to our apartment to relax since we had a late night ahead, but there were no cabs. None. Oh, did I mention the Cubs game just ended? Did I mention Jon lives just blocks from Wrigley? We waited and waited for a cab, walked looking for a cab. Thinking there had to be one just around the corner. But no, trains packed, cabs full, so Jon huffed off to his apartment (dude loses his cool about few things, but having to wait for a cab sends him over the edge) while Joe and I killed some time in the used book store two doors down, Bookman's Corner.
It was hot as hell in there, musty, stuffy and so crowded I feared for my life if there had been an earthquake. But totally worth it. We spent nearly 30 sweaty minutes digging through piles of books, stacks of possibilities, just layering our arms with gems, though I think we only ended up buying two or three. And by then Jon came back, we walked a few blocks over, caught a train (Cubs traffic had cleared out), headed back to change and relax, took a couple of serious power naps and got ready for the evening's adventures.
Our evening plans included a little dinner and a little late night theater. And because you are required to have some Italian while in Chicago, we took a recommendation of one of Jon's friends, and made a reservation at Anteprima, just a couple of blocks over from the theater. We hopped into Joe's convertible and headed over to find some parking close to the Neo-Futurist Theater. (thanks for the recommend, Amy!) It was wonderful to be in the car again, no cab worries here. The temperatures had dropped, we cruised along Lakeshore Drive and headed out to Andersonville.
We walked over to the restaurant on Clark Street, in what is obviously an incredibly cool young neighborhood, lots of hipsters, gay and straight young couples, eclectic shops and restaurants, someplace I want to get back to during the day next time we visit, when everything is still open. Particularly this place, the Wooly Mammoth, taxidermy, enormous papier mache heads? What more do you need in a shop?
We chose a table out on the back patio of Anteprima and settled in for a lovely meal. The boys each got one of the meaty, savory pasta specials and an appetizer, all scrumptious. I tried the asparagus risotto and the panzanella salad. It was wonderful with bright, fresh ingredients, and you could choose smaller portions which left room for some of the best ice cream I've ever eaten. After our leisurely meal, we still had some time to kill before we had to get in line for our tickets, we walked over to George's Ice Cream and Sweets. I indulged in something I didn't know existed until this day and has changed my world forever more, as s deep fan of the salty/sweet taste sensation, I introduce you to the chocolate dipped pretzel cone. Sweet lord, paired with a scoop of caramel vanilla sugar free ice cream, I was in heaven. I might have moaned a little bit, it was embarrassing.
Orgasmic ice cream vanquished, we headed back toward the Neo-Futurist Theater to get in line for their first come, first serve show. How do I describe the Neo-Futurists? Their show? Their seating process? Their constantly rotating line up? I'll start with saying I loved the whole thing, but if you like to know the price of your ticket in advance, if you like to know exactly what time to arrive and exactly where and when you'll be seated, if you like to have read extensive reviews or the script of the play in advance or memorize the song book, this isn't the show for you. If you prefer to let wild, inspired theater freaks (I use freaks in the kindest, most admired sense of the word) take over your night and send you through a couple of hours of unexpected mayhem, then the Neo-Futurists are right up your alley. First off, you better get there before the 11:30pm show because they often sell out the 150 seat theater. We waited in line a little less than an hour and got great seats. You roll dice for your ticket cost, ranging from $10 up to $16, you wait inside a very hot holding room before they roll your dice, give you a name tag with a fake name and then send you into the small, dark, old little theater. Joe was dubbed Lovey Dovey, I was Helter Skelter and most appropriately Jon was Vinyl.
This is Jon's (Vinyl's) pissy face. This is the face we saw when we couldn't catch a cab, when a cab driver actually asked him to type the address of our destination into the driver's GPS, or when at this point in his theater experience he was hot, bored, unsure of what was about to happen and quite concerned that the back of his shorts had just ripped. (They had.)
But once the show began, full of audience participation, some singing, some shouting and a lot of fresh, interesting plays, he lost the grimace. The Neo-Futurists have been around for more than twenty years practicing their ensemble theater style, performing 30 two minute plays, rotating the group of plays on a weekly basis, constantly adding new plays, and performing them in no standard order, but instead responding to the audience shouting out which number they want to see performed next. The plays vary greatly. Some of them funny, some are strange, some are messy, some are sweet, some are raunchy, but they are all personal and real. Each actor uses his/her own name, and each play is written based on their own personal experiences.
Some plays are even awkward. One play, an actor sitting at a table alone with a bottle of whiskey and two glasses, asked audience members to come up and join him one at a time, and then rejected each one, until after what felt like hours he finally let a girl sit down and shared some shots and conversation, it seemed to go on for an eternity with no clear purpose. But that's the fun of Neo-Futurists, it challenges your expectations of what theater and entertainment should be. It's a collage, a self produced collage from a group of incredibly flexible and gifted writers and performers, and every night, every performance is different. I can see why they've lasted 20 plus years, it was weird and it was amazing. I can't wait to see what happens next time we go, but I'm guessing Jon will probably stay home that night.
We headed back to the car, driving down Clark St at 1:30 am, and the streets were jammed with the young, the drunk, the scantily clad, and the fight happy. In our short drive to drop Jon off at his apartment, I witnessed two bros pushing each other, one bro punching another bro in the stomach with about thirty people crowded around watching, countless girls filled with whiskey sours struggling to cross the street in shiny platform heels, and a girl holding back her own hair as she threw up over a mailbox. So that's where we end day two of Adventure Chicago, watching a girl gather her hair into a ponytail while puking over the side of a shiny blue mailbox. Sweet dreams! See you soon for Day 3, when we manage to cram in more architecture, a big ol' boat, and a serious number of human skulls.