Most days I feel comfortable saying that I’ve seen pretty much everything my home city has to offer. I’ve been to the tourist traps and the holes-in-the-walls. I’ve ventured to all corners of the city, and after 15 years in Chicago I thought I’d pretty much nailed down what to do and what not to do here.
It was a stupid cold and sleeting winter day in spring (read: late March in Chicago) and the weather threw a monkey-wrench in a scheduled pre-wedding “Meeting of the Moms.” In searching for indoor, get to know you activities, the conservatory seemed like a great alternative to window shopping in Andersonville, because moms like flowers, right?
Blogging is not something anyone does to make bank, but it does have its perks.
I was recently contacted by Vimbly to promote the new Chicago branch of their event booking company. Sort of like Amazon for events, Vimbly partners with companies to provide a storefront for all sorts of fun things to do around Chicago. They asked if I would try out one of the events, and I had originally booked a walking tour in Millennium Park. If I’m honest with you, I wasn’t that sad when Vimbly contacted me to let me know the event had been cancelled. In exchange they offered me my choice of other events as a replacement, plus an additional voucher.
So, you mean, instead of parking downtown and walking around the bean in the cold I get to stay on the North Side and tour the (indoor) KOVAL Distillery (and you’re giving me money to do another event too)!? Ask me if I was disappointed…
The KOVAL tour is something I’ve been wanting to check out for awhile. You know me… I’m into that local sustainable thing, and everything at this Chicago-based whiskey distillery is done locally, and by hand. The only thing they don’t do on site is grow the grain that becomes their whiskey. Oat, wheat, barley and rye, along with all the ingredients needed for flavored liqueurs and brandies are from Illinois or its surrounding states (except the coffee liqueur, because coffee doesn’t grow in Iowa).
A tour of the original distillery – which now appears to be purely for show while operations are out of a bigger facility elsewhere – lasts about an hour, including a generous number of tastings. The story of this family business is a fascinating one, as is the process of making fields of grain into bottles of spirits. Each step is thoroughly explained with tastes along the way, and for the beverage enthusiast this is a not-to-be-missed afternoon for North Side Chicagoans. While you’re at it, you might as well walk up to the Fireside and grab a hot apple cider too (maybe sneaking in a little of the apple brandy you just bought at the distillery…).
My only concern for KOVAL is growth. It’s so good that everyone’s going to want some. I’ve been on a couple of similar brewery tours of craft beers that started as small, family-oriented, DIY businesses and are now huge empires run by machines. For now, everything at KOVAL l is done by hand, but how long can they keep that up? The fact that a guy stands in front of the bottler and pours whiskey into bottles all day long is part of what makes me want to buy it. I want to support that guy. With growth and expansion (and there’s been a lot of that for KOVAL over their five years of existence) comes the inevitable replacement of that guy for a more efficient method. When machines start taking over I start losing interest, but fortunately that’s not the case yet.
Koval Distillery is located at 5121 N. Ravenswood in Chicago. $10 Tours + tastings take place each Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday, and can be booked in advance online through Vimbly.com.
Every once in awhile, it’s fun to schmooze downtown at a fancy place – the sort of place where you might go hang out as a tourist. Last weekend, the GF and I got an opportunity to meet up with some friends at the Radisson Blu hotel bar before a dance performance at the Harris Theater. The bar was fancy enough, but the bathroom was out of this world. We all decided it was like being inside a disco ball. I wouldn’t want to be the guy that placed all those individual mirrored tiles (and, let’s be honest, it doesn’t make for the most flattering image).
But wait, there’s something else! The toilets are named after my guilty pleasure band.
When I was first invited to the grand opening of Plum Market, I pictured a small cafe / grocer much like Panozzo’s or the once lovely City Provisions, which closed earlier this year. I got dressed up to meet new blogger friends from the Chicago Blogger Network under the assumption that I’d be spending a leisurely hour or two perusing, schmoozing, and sipping on free coffee.
Boy, was I wrong.
In spite of massive thunderstorms that moved through overnight I arrived at Plum Market’s inaugural Chicago branch to find a line hanging out the door of a relatively massive grocery store. More akin to Whole Foods than City Provisions, all of Plum Market’s 27,000 square feet of organic goodness were packed to the gills. I never found any of the bloggers, I never got a free coffee (for fear of running out of my free hour of parking waiting for it), and wondered the store in somewhat of a culture shocked daze after spending three weeks in unpopulated Wyoming.
After securing my bag of “blogger income” (i.e. free samples) and navigating the store, a few key points came to mind:
Grocery stores can be very beautiful. Aside from my obsession with piles of fresh food, Plum Market goes a step beyond in it’s stunning design elements, bountiful hot and cold bars, and specialty areas.
People other than hipsters enjoy organic food. I love Whole Foods as much as the next person, but sometimes being waited on by a disinterested dirty hipster is a turnoff. The staff at Plum Market are clean cut, friendly, and very helpful. If they can keep it that way I’m totally sold.
What’s good for Old Town is good for me. Just north of Division and Wells, Plum Market is in an ideal location bordering hoity-toity-ville, gross bar-ville, and homeless-man-hanging-out-by-the-red-line-ville. This market will easily satisfy the residents of Old Town, is walking distance to the Ruth Page Center for the Performing Arts, and hopefully will give the miserable Jewel at Clark and Division a run for it’s money. Though grocery stores don’t necessarily make for great tourist attractions, Plum Market extends Old Town’s charm a little further to the South then the average visitor would be apt to walk, and provides a lovely stop to grab a cup of coffee and a break before turning around and heading back.
Experience Plum Market for yourself at 1233 N. Wells St. Store hours are 8am-10pm; free parking for 1 hour with validation. For more information, visit www.plummarket.com or @PlumMarket on twitter (#PlumMarketCHI). Plum Market is also on Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram.
When an occasional chance to get out of town for a minute presents itself, I have a “just say yes” policy. I love trips in the car… staring out at the world as it passes me by. I find it to be really peaceful.
Anyway, a day trip to Lafayette, IN was on the docket for Saturday. A shining star in the middle of a corn infested, flat-as-a-pancake, Wal-Mart-centric state, Lafayette is hilly, and decidedly hip – at least, for Indiana. So while I might have passed on, say, a trip to Hobart, I knew that Lafayette would be a nice treat.
While the gf attended a rehearsal I wandered around Purdue’s beautiful campus, in search of wifi and a cozy nook in which to get some work done. Apparently, if you want wifi anywhere on campus you have to request it weeks in advance. So, after twiddling my thumbs and running software updates on my computer for about half an hour, I walked into a little downtown-ish area and found the Greyhouse Cafe.
Really big and delicious hot chocolate: check. check.
This is a serious college town coffee shop. Hipsters wearing bandanas make beautiful foam in enormous for-here mugs and there are easily 40 seats with their own power outlets. Apparently you can order a crepe, which I hear are good, and take about 45 minutes to prepare in the kitchen. It doesn’t matter, because Greyhouse is a place you want to stay for hours.
On the return trip, we stopped at the mysterious Fair Oaks Farm off of I-65 in Fair Oaks, IN. Having passed the self-proclaimed “Dairy Adventure” on numerous trips through Indiana, it’s a place that has always piqued my curiosity, though never enough to stop… until now.
After my recent up-close and personal day with a flock of turkeys, I wasn’t certain how this was going to measure up, but thought it could be interesting to see the birthing barn. When we found out it was twelve dollars each to board a black and white camouflaged school bus to see a cow or five, I thought better of it and ultimately passed on the whole Dairy Adventure. The cafe/gift shop was really enough for me to get the idea that a couple of midwestern dairy farmers likely got drunk one night and decided to transform their struggling farm into an over-commercialized Six Flags Over Fair Oaks, IN. I will say, however, that the grilled cheese was one of the best I’ve ever had, and I would go back again, if on I-65, simply for that reason.
There’s the mad dash from the gate. The in-fighting over the shaded spots close to the Pavilion. The pop up tables, real crystal, and vases of flowers. Everything you’ve heard about Ravinia is true. It’s at times chaotic and dripping with wealth, but the North Shore folks in khaki pants and claustrophobic lawn quickly fade away once the music kicks in. You settle into your bottle of wine, gaze up at the trees, and all your worries melt away.
For just ten bucks, you can sit in the most beautiful back yard in the tri-county area and hear some of the best musicians in the world. This particular Sunday it happened to be Idina Menzel with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Admittedly sniffly, and suprisingly crass, that bitch can sing.