Un-hip in Chicago

Bernie and I went to Chicago last weekend for another meeting (read: cocktails, yummy food, and plastic surgery pow-wow-ing). Ostensibly, these mavens of microsurgery were assembling to discuss research and stuff. Could they have hammered out logistics over a conference call? Maybe. But thing is, these incredible surgeons–the reconstructive geniuses you need when a shark bites you, cancer ravages you, or when you literally fall on your face—is a tight knit group. Over the years, we’ve logged many hours in hotel lobby bars, guzzled gallons of mediocre wine at “gala” dinners, and attended scientific meetings at finer resorts everywhere to keep abreast of an ever-advancing field. The plastic surgeons I know are wicked smart and quite a bit of fun, and I was only too happy to see a handful of my favorites.

So Bernie and I flew to one of my fave cities where they put us up at the tragically hip Virgin Hotels. We knew right away we were two decades too old for this scene. After our eyes adjusted to the nightclub-dark check-in desk, we were greeted by young men with alarming facial hair, giant ear holes, and man buns. The couple in front of us was dressed for Burning Man and had two skittish dogs wary of the funereal foyer. Behind us, another dude with a messy, high ponytail and a large guitar case waited to be greeted with how awesome it was that we were there, no worries, alright, niiiiiice, etc.

Bernie and I giggled the entire wall-to-ceiling carpeted elevator ride to our room. Virgin Hotels beds are ultra modern, white leather creations with a raised lip at one of the corners. Our inner 8 year olds immediately imagined Superfly Snuka. I suggested it was for lounge-reading; Bernie proposed something more… gymnastic. I doubted they ever Chlorox wiped the leather. Moving on…

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After a grown up dinner at Smith & Wollensky’s, we braved the roof deck bar back at the hip hotel. I love chatting up strangers. So I did. Chicago is really the best. Sharing cocktails in an upbeat, cooler-than-us spot with a racially diverse crowd doesn’t really happen in Boston. What struck me the most were the ladies. Oh, the ladies. I’d forgotten what it was like to go to a bar on a Friday night in my 20s: hair up, body perky, the swagger of youth and beauty. Back then I loved chatting up strangers, too. So I did. But these gals? No engagement at all.

“You look gorgeous,” I said to the 14th flawless millennial attempting an identical selfie as her parade of friends at the very same railing. She looked at me like I had just asked her for a tampon. Oh, dear. I’m old, hideous, and embarrassing. But I am me, so that thought didn’t take hold for very long and I continued making more friends out of strangers. We closed that place down.

The next morning, Bernie was off to be bow-tied and collaborative at the meeting, so I grabbed my book and attempted to nurse a minor, but still-needing-hash-browns Prosecco hangover at Miss Ricky’s, which is like a diner that spent one semester at Parsons. Outside, young people sat in actual swings as they ate avocado toast. I ordered coffee. The wait staff couldn’t have been nicer, but were more likely hired for their cool cred and sleeve tattoos than any sort of, you know, wait staff experience. Here’s how it went:

Waitress: Anyone help you yet?
Me: Hi! Nope. But I just want the breakfast sandwich. Scrambled egg.
W: Did you want The Wabash?

*scans menu where there is no such thing*

Me: I don’t know what that is.
W: Oh it’s like the breakfast sandwich but it has this kind of hot sauce.
Me: Got it. It’s not on the menu, though.

*still scanning menu where there is no Wabash but there is a breakfast sandwich*

W: So did you want The Wabash?
Me: I don’t really know what that is.
W: Oh, it must be on the lunch menu or something. Do you want me to get that?

Me: No, it’s alright, I’ll just have the breakfast sandwich that’s on the menu.

W: Ok. With the fried egg?

Me: Scrambled.
W: Oh, right. Should I put the hot sauce on the side?
Me: … sure.

A few minutes later: an oozing fried egg topped with sausage on an enormous hamburger bun. And two bottles of hot sauce. On the side. This would be decadently delicious for most, but I abhor fried eggs. Hated them since I was a kid. Not changing. They’re gross. Giggling, I ordered the check and laughed louder when it arrived:

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I swear, The Wabash is nowhere on the menu. But I paid for it and left a weirdly large tip because sometimes that is fun to do. Moving forward, I’ll probably call any restaurant blunder a “Wabash.” She should get royalties for that. Maybe I’ve already become an odd anecdote in Veronique’s life: the blonde mom who laughed at her uneaten breakfast and left a wad of cash.

Virgin Hotels didn’t really want us to eat. (Maybe most guests are too busy with, um, that bed.) The next morning I ordered oatmeal that said it would arrive with “all the trimmings.” Sadly, “all the trimmings” meant “just raisins” which are only a half step above fried egg on the gross scale. Luckily, Chicago is bursting with incredible restaurants and we never leave there without going to the Slurping Turtle. Only the Lees would go to Chicago to eat sushi and ramen instead of pizza pie. But Slurping Turtle never disappoints. And after slurping, we saw all of the things that make Chicago so fun to visit.

And later… a yummy dinner that wasn’t a total Wabash. Love you, Chicago!

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7 responses

  1. What a strange hotel and restaurant experience! I wonder if the less-than-bright waitress was confusing the hot sauce add-on with the street the restaurant resides on. Given I am originally from Grand Rapids, Michigan, a stone’s throw from Chicago, I have been to Chicago countless times. I do not go there much any longer, despite my best friend living there, because it has become so dangerous. In fact, my friend is moving away from Chicago because of the crime. I was afraid your post was going to include a crime event, so I was very pleased to read only your fine wit and the humor in your trip. After all, who needs more Wabash than a friend egg and hot sauce on the side!

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