I hope you’ll follow me at Susan_BK.
Of all my posts, I think I’ve centered only one on Chicago. I’ve lived there now for 10 years. Oh, and I was born and raised there, too.
I never appreciated my home town when I was younger. For years I only thought about leaving Chicago.
But when I think back to those days, I actually had it pretty good.
Every month, my mom took me to Clark Street for sushi (before its mayonnaise-ation), then on to Belmont Avenue to get our hair cut. Sometimes I hung out at grungy bars on the north side when my uncle’s ska band played all ages shows. My parents took me to converted warehouses for avant garde art shows on the near south side.
When I was older, about 12 or 13, I rode the el with my younger brother to Cubs games and sat in the left field bleachers–before the lights went up and bleacher tickets were sold in advance. As a teenager, I was free to roam North Michigan Avenue and State Street. This was well before the days of cell phones or Blackberries. My parents didn’t even expect me to find a pay phone to check in. It was a pretty carefree childhood, that’s for sure.
Now that I’m back in Chicago to stay, I do appreciate the city and find that I don’t take what we have here for granted. It’s fun to daydream about my past–dodging teargas in Seoul, getting detained in Saigon, searching for food in Moscow. But I’m lucky my family had the foresight to settle in a city rich with museums, restaurants, and a beautiful skyline. And a scandalous history.
I’m back from a refreshing trip to New York. Three days of shopping and eating does a body good.
On Friday, while trying to dodge the throngs of tourists in Soho, I came across Flight 001, a funky travel store. I’d seen online ads for this store during various web searches for vintage airline bags. I didn’t have time to enter the store, but made a mental note to check the online store again.
But as luck would have it, I stumbled upon their Brooklyn location on Sunday when I was in Boerum Hill with my brother and ex-sister-in-law, heading to Bar Tabac for brunch. I made time to visit the store before my flight back to Chicago.
Flight 001 carries every type of travel accessory you could imagine: soap leaves, dry shampoo, colorful travel pillows, funky passport holders, compact umbrellas. I also found old school toiletry kits, with Brazilian, Japanese, and Italian airline logos.
Then I spotted what I was looking for: the back wall was lined with larger vintage travel bags: TWA, Pan Am, United. I bypassed the futuristic soap dishes and toothbrush holders and made my way to these bags.
But when I reached the back wall, I read with disappointment the sign accompanying the bags:
For display purposes only. Not for sale.
The May issue of Travel + Leisure magazine features an article about Trader Vic’s, the old school tiki restaurant. The article even credits Vic Bergeron, the founder of the restaurant, with giving Americans the travel bug starting in the 1930s, when his first Trader Vic’s opened in Oakland.
I remember the Trader Vic’s in Chicago, my home town. Walking down State Street, I always looked for the giant wooden tiki standing by the entrance on Monroe Street to welcome people to Trader Vic’s in the hotel.
It’s said that Trader Vic’s spread tiki culture around the world. They’ve even been a part of history: opening a restaurant at the Havana Hilton a year before the revolution, an outpost in London where the Beatles hung out, and one in Munich just before the ill-fated 1972 Olympics.
I went out for a post-theater drink with my friend Carolyn at Trader Vic’s a year before it left the Palmer House (it has since been reestablished a mile away in the foo-foo Gold Coast area).
But Trader Vic’s wasn’t the only place to go for tiki time in Chicago back in the day. Not by far.
When I worked at the University of Chicago, I often drove by a dilapidated bar called Ciral’s House of Tiki. Long deserted, the neon bulbs were missing and the windows shuttered. The sign remained for years after it had closed, leaving a reminder of a bar with a 30+ year history on the South Side of Chicago.
Then I noticed other remnants from a lost tiki culture in Chicago: the old Pago Pago painted advertisement on the side of a building on Wabash Street in the Loop and the boarded up Tiki Room near a bundle of crumbling Chicago Housing Projects.
Up north, beyond the Chicago city limits, my family and I used to go to a Polynesian restaurant in the suburb of Evanston, where I grew up. Pali Kai had an outdoor garden, but before we reached it, a hostess clad in a grass skirt would place a plastic lei, the crinkly, non-flower type, around our necks. Once we sat down, our waitress took our drink orders. My brother and I always ordered a bright red Shirley Temple with an umbrella toothpick pierced through a piece of canned pineapple and a maraschino cherry. Unfortunately, the drinks were the highlight of the meal and the restaurant didn’t stay in business past the early 80s.