Mil-wacky in March, Part 1: Chicago

Yet another start to a travel series that I never seem to finish. This one tells the tales of our Milwaukee adventures in late March of 2012. We went there to do some serious drinking. Oh, and also Trevtastic got married. Yeah, some girl actually married that boy. But still, it was a good excuse to show the Lady Friend the various drinking landmarks of Milwaukee, so that’s what we did. Wistful wanderings in Wisco.
Yah dere hey.

If you’re wondering why I haven’t posted for awhile, this is why. If you didn’t notice… well… never mind.

Yes, I know that the series is named for Milwaukee, and Chicago is a different city, in a different state. I understand that. But as a whole, we spent the most time in MKE, so… too bad.

The adventure starts, as most do, with a trip to Harpoon Brewery. Well, not exactly. But we walked right past it in our usual combination of parking garage -> Silver Line -> Logan Airport. With nothing else to do in the terminal, I stared at the TV, because I can’t resist that flickering siren. In the entertainews cycle I caught a story of some woman in California who was caught speeding three times, in one hour, with speeds over 100mph. Are you kidding me? Shoot her in the leg, take her car and say “have fun commuting now.” I was making comments along these lines and bantering with the Lady Friend when the girl in front of us turned around, agreeing with my heavy sarcasm. Strangely, she then proceeded to ask if it was the first trip the Lady Friend and I had taken together. I guess it was our passive-aggressive conversation about the Lady Friend wanting the aisle seat, despite booking MY name for it. I actually hate the aisle seat (I’m a window guy) but it was amusing that SHE booked the tickets and still didn’t get the seat she wanted.

It was an uneventful flight, sitting in between the Lady Friend and some crunchy-emo girl reading a Nicholas Sparks novel, likely because nobody loves her and no one ever will. Especially if she keeps reading that dreck. We touched down in the massive complex that is O’Hare, and paid a quick visit to my dinosaur friend, before boarding the CTA (or whatever silly name they have for their transit system) into the city.

My Chicago tradition. Although Denver might be more apt.

It was about 40 degrees and “fahkin raw” in Boston when we left, but a sunny 65° in Chicago, as we hauled our bags and winter coats down the sidewalk to our temporary base of operations: the Congress Plaza Hotel. Nice hotel. Old and classy. Allegedly haunted. Great view. They even have their own logo-printed wallpaper.

Awesome: king bed.
Not Awesome: The hinges on the bathroom door sounded like a witch being boiled alive. Despite the acres of space in the bed, the Lady Friend woke me up every hour on the hour with a hideous screech from the bathroom door, since she has a bladder the size of an infant salamander. Fact.

We changed into warm-weather garb and headed out in search of food. We found a pizza chain with a combo deal for a jumbo slice and a pop. WTF is a pop? Silly Midwest. Despite the odd name for a liquid that educated people refer to as “soda,” I will grant that their jumbo slice was indeed, quite gigantoid.

Pen added for scale. It didn’t actually come with my meal.
This thing was seriously large.

Thusly stuffed, we made it to the Sears Willis Tower, slapped down $18 each, and proceeded to wait in a line full of swollen Midwestern parents and chubby nasal-accented stinkchildren. Then there was a brief movie. Then another line. Then into the next room, containing another line. Finally, through a revolving door into a line in front of the two under-sized elevators. Push and shove, push and shove, sardine can, 103 stories up and we’re there. The “Skydeck.” Urchins ran amok as their birth-givers squealed over the shot glasses, t-shirts and official Willis Tower branded Lego kits in the gift shop. We did our viewing out the windows, and stood on the protruding “skyboxes” which extend out from the building about 4′. Unfortunately, they’re on the most uninteresting side of the building, and all you can see on the horizon is the endless flat expanses of Illinois. Thrilling.

This was the slightly more interesting view.

After waiting in another 45-minute line just to get DOWN from the observation deck, we needed to get far far away from people, so we strolled along the river before popping into a pub for a few pints of liquid powerup. It was named Poag Mahone’s, which is either some sort of chain, or just a popular name for an Irishy pub. It’s suspect as to whether anyone of Irish descent has ever set foot in the place. Either way, it was properly dim and pub-like, and had many signs for some sort of sporting team, a so-called “WHITE Sox.” Well, that’s just silly. A Frankenstein assemblage of large wooden bar back, old-timey stained glass room dividers, and pop-culture Gaelic phrases stenciled on the walls made it seem like this place was trying a bit too hard. Most importantly, they had a decent beer list, with several selections previously untasted by Squirrelfarts and the Lady Friend, so most of the bars sins were quickly forgiven. I went with a New Holland Mad Hatter IPA, which was excellent. Resin and overripe fruit on the nose. A syrup start and VERY bitter hop kick. Dry, sour, finish but quite tasty. It’s got quite the hoppy punch. The Lady Friend’s Great Lakes Brewing Commodore Perry was a bit too sickly-sweet with fig for me, but she enjoyed it. From there she moved to Two Brothers’ Cane & Ebel rye beer, and I hit up the Half Acre Daisy Cutter Pale Ale, which I’ve heard about, but never seen in MA. It came in a shiny silver tallboy can and was quite an adventure. Fresh, wet, hop aroma; spicy and pungent. The taste was all at once woody and smokey, with some dark spice. It was like drinking in the smells of a springtime camping trip: the wet trees, campfire smoke, and decomposing leaves. Wildly entertaining. I thought it was great. Snag one if you see it.

I had been giving the Lady Friend some insight to the unique personality of the Midwest, in that there’s a lot of cheese, a lot of beer, and pop-culturally, they seem to lag about five years behind the coasts. I believe I told her to expect someone to describe something as being “da bomb.” Or reference Spider-Pig. Or McLovin. Or Ella, Ella, Ella, Eh, Eh, Eh. Naturally, as soon as Little Miss Salamander Bladder went to the bathroom, the yokels at the very next table started quoting Borat and CRACKING UP. I couldn’t have possibly come up with a better example than that, and she totally missed it.

With aching feet temporarily silenced by our intake of liquid painkillers, we set off for some deep dish pizza because a) it was Chicago, and b) I would have wanted deep dish pizza no matter what city we were in. The sun dipped at a low angle on the horizon, and the combination of the Magic Hour and my mild buzz led to the Lady Friend gaining a lead of about a block, while I lagged behind shooting and giggling over the intensely orange solar beams and resulting crisp shadows. We finally made it to the restaurant, and tucked into a Founder’s Centennial IPA and some good (but not great) deep dish (Paxti’s was better). A post-dinner cocktail was debated, but I was wiped out. Waking up at 5am, a day of travel, and hiking around a city tends to do that. Time for a king bed and a horribly squeaky bathroom door. Tomorrow: MIL-WACKY.

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