Allium Hot Chocolate

Last night, I resumed my quest for the best hot chocolate in Chicago. I have been on this quest for several years, though it takes a brief hiatus in the summer due to the weather. For those of you unfamiliar with this quest, I am very picky about my hot chocolate. I want a thick, but not all consuming, cup of hot chocolate. It’s harder to find than you think! I’ve been following the advice of several lists including the 2012 list from Chicago Now.

For this week’s trial, we went to Allium at the Four Seasons Hotel. It was a fascinating experience. I didn’t realize that the Four Seasons was located in the Bloomingdale building. The lobby is on the 7th floor and it is an interesting combination of traditional marble and wood with contemporary art features. Beautiful glass chandeliers paired with abstract glass paintings. I rather dug it. We had our hot chocolate at the bar. We sat in these striped chairs that had tall backs that went over our heads. The walls displaying these awesome photos juxtaposing wild animals and fashionable ladies.

As for the hot chocolate, it was a bit disappointing. It tasted a bit like Swiss Miss but thicker. However, the hot chocolate was served with delectable whipped cream. I don’t normally eat whipped cream but this was whipped cream on a different level. It was quite thick, almost like frosting. It was most excellent. Looking back on the recommendation from Chicago Now, I think Allium has excellent hot chocolate for the Christmas Season. The list includes Mexican Hot Chocolate, Jack Frost, and some other flavors. We will return and check it out during December.

I don’t normally make note of these things but the bathroom experience was something else. When we wandered to the bathroom area, we found a Mario Bros arcade game sitting in an alcove. It was just there, waiting to be played. Within the bathroom itself, it had an array of interesting art; most paintings referenced fashion. It was not your typical corporate art. There were carnival mirrors that had phrases overhead like “Go ahead and eat that dessert” or something like that. These mirrors made you really really skinny. It was hilarious. And if that wasn’t enough, there was a trash can in the shape of giant Chanel lipstick. Logo and all. So weird and delightful.

Mario Bros Arcade

Mario Bros Arcade

Chanel Lipstick

Chanel Lipstick

So I look forward to going back and checking out the holiday hot chocolate. The ambiance was definitely fascinating but I hope the hot chocolate can meet the challenge.

That’s all for now!

Haunted Houses

This weekend, we went to the Haunted House at Pulaski Park. Haunted houses are one of my favorite parts of the Halloween season. I’ve always loved the holiday but it wasn’t really until my fiancé and I started dating that it became a regular thing. I remember going to one in Chicago when I was a kid but I never went again aside from the Haunted Mansion at Disney. It’s still my favorite ride there.

For the past six years, we have gone to at least one Haunted House in October. We always go to local Haunted Houses, the ones within the city limits. We’ve never gone to one of those giant places outside of the city. While the ones in Chicago may be smaller and perhaps less spectacular, I like to see the heart and creativity of these smaller ones. Usually the Park District or a local school or church run them.

Anyone who knows me is aware of my abhorrence of horror films. I will not watch them unless Joss Whedon does them. But that’s the exception. So it’s a bit curious that I hunger for good scares at these haunted houses. I know that I will have to be face to face with some terrifying things. And I am definitely disappointed if I don’t have a good scream or two. Maybe that’s the difference. I can face these things head on instead of watching them passively on a screen. I don’t know.

The absolute scariest moment in all six years was a bouquet of flowers. In a haunted house run by a school in the far north side, there was a room set up as a funeral parlor. There were coffins and flowers all around. I was sure that someone was going to jump out of a coffin and scare me forever. Instead, someone jumped out at us who was dressed like one of those giant bouquets of flowers that you only find at funerals. It scared me so much! It’s my favorite moment to this day. Another great moment was when we were led into a dark room. All of a sudden, a strobe light turned on and we were surrounded by dancing, menacing clowns. So well done!

We’ve been very fond of the Park District’s haunted house in the Theater on the Lake that they’ve run for at least three or four years. Sadly, it appears that the renovation of the building has trumped the house for the year. But it was a neat experience. While you waited in line, there was a screen showing short scenes from silent horror movies with an electric swing soundtrack. Also, there were people in costumes that would meander through the line and startle you. If you revealed yourself as a jumper, they tended to return to bother you. Amazing. And in some years, you exited the facility when a man with a chain saw chased you. Sadly, I never got that opportunity. Some day I will live the dream of being chased by a chain saw wielding actor…I hope.

We went this year to Pulaski Park’s Haunted House in Noble Square. It was pretty neat. We wandered through a labyrinthine basement; the space itself was rather creepy. We were never quite sure where to go next. I loved that. There were some wonderfully creative haunts. I had a couple good screams, which is what I wanted. I believe that there will be an entire festival next Saturday that will include camel and horse rides, costume contests and more. Sounds neat. You should go.

That’s all for now!


Review: The Book of Life

This past weekend, we went to see the newly released Book of Life. Yes, this is a mainstream movie with sound at a theatre. It happens sometimes! I was keen to see this because I was excited to see a celebration of Mexican culture and mythology. Plus it’s an animated film, which I also hold dearly in my heart. I liked the movie.

The basic story is about two men, one is a brave army guy and the other is a matador who really wants to be a musician. They are both in love with the same vivacious woman. Two Lords of Death (literally) decide to make a bet on who will win her heart, which will have impacts on how the underworld is run.I’m not sure it’s strictly adheres to Mexican stories but it feels in the spirit. Considering what there has been, it’s a nice change from European fairy tales and whatnot. I hope to see more movies about Mexican creatures and legends. Of course, I’m not sure how La Llorona would go down in a children’s film… (According to legend, she’s a weeping ghost who drowned her children in life. It’s a tale to tell to children to get them to behave).
But seriously, it’s a film about the importance of family, being true to one’s heart, and more. And I love the depiction of the underworlds or any other world. I always do. I love representations of the afterlife. Beetlejuice and Spirited Away are still my favorite movies after all these years.  I only wish they had spent more time there.
However, my qualm with the movie is that it did not pass the Bechdel test. For those of you unfamiliar with the Bechdel test, it was developed by Alison Bechdel in her comics. The basic rule is: does a movie have two female characters who talk to each other about something other than a man? You can read about it here and why it is important. It’s surprising how many movies fail this test. And sadly, The Book of Life did in my opinion. You can make the argument that there storyteller talks to a group of girls and boys but that’s really stretching it. What makes this disappointing is that the movie is about this great fiercely independent woman. She is very much her own woman and knows what she wants. But the movie isn’t about her. It’s about the men who want to marry her. So boo.
However, don’t let that stop you from seeing the film. It’s still fun and it is about a different culture’s legends. So that’s awesome. Go see it! I’m sure it is in theaters for a few weeks.
That’s all!

Review: Why Be Good?

This past weekend, I attended a screening of the silent film Why Be Good? (1929) starring the amazing Colleen Moore as part of the Chicago International Film Festival. As readers of my blog know, I’m a big fan of silent films and I try to see as many of them as I can on the big screen. This film was well worth checking out.

Before the movie started, there was a conversation between David Robinson, biographer of Chaplin, and Michael Kutza, CIFF Founder, talked about Colleen Moore and her films. Michale Kutza and David Robinson theorize that the only reason we don’t know her as well as Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, or Buster Keaton is because her films didn’t last. Most of her films were lost, despite her own efforts. She had preserved her films by obtaining copies of them, and handed them all over to the MOMA many years ago. However, she discovered years later that many of her films had mostly disappeared from MOMA. There are theories on what happened to them but no one knows for sure. What a tragedy! This incident points to the importance of initiatives like WITASWAN (Women in the Audience supporting women artists now) that try to support the work of women in art. Here is another sad instance of a woman’s work lost due to indifference and perceived unimportance!

In this conversation, Michael Kutza talked about the influence that Colleen Moore had on the Chicago International Film Festival. She lived in Chicago towards the end of her life. She sort of served as a mentor for him, giving him advice and using her network of stars to help build the festival. So it was really neat that for the 50 anniversary, they could screen a film of hers.

A copy of her last silent film Why Be Good? was found. This screening was the North American premiere of the film, since it first came out in the 1920s. What a fun film! Spoilers ahead. Colleen Moore plays the quintessential flapper who meets a Rockefeller and they fall for each other. It’s a fun look at the jazz and flapper scene in the 1920s. She is such a joy to watch.

It was interesting to see how gender roles and expectations played out in the film. The film centers on Colleen Moore’s character, a working girl who enjoys the nightlife. She meets a Rockefeller who falls for her but is wary of her outrageous nature. Also he’s her boss. So there is some drama over that but ultimately he’s not sure if she is a “good girl.” At one point, Colleen Moore’s character, Pert, tells her mother, “I’m a good girl but I can’t let anyone find out.” In this film, a good girl is a woman who doesn’t have sex before marriage. It turns out all right because Pert was a good girl so all can live happily ever after.

I know that the film was trying to address how the flapper age brought a redefinition of women’s roles. Suddenly, there were women going out, drinking, even smoking, and behaving more aggressively than before. There are films from this era about fallen flapper women trying to seduce good boys; these flappers come to bad ends. This film along with Dancing Daughters tried to show that flappers could be good people to. However, it’s within a limited view of female behavior. In Dancing Daughters, one of Joan Crawford’s friends had sex before marriage with another man and the movie suggests that she is going to be dealing with that mistake for the rest of her life with her jealous husband. Never mind that it happened before she met her husband. And then the main plot centers around the male lead’s wariness of Joan Crawford’s outward behavior. Both movies show that outward appearances shouldn’t be taken for granted. Here’s a good flapper and a good boy. Now, it seems so limiting.


Anyway, Why Be Good? is still worth watching. I hope they find more of her films. That’s all for now!

Part 3: Open House Chicago

The past two days, I’ve talked about the places I went to for the Open House Chicago. Now, I’m going to end with the last four places in Streeterville/Gold Coast.

After visiting the Elk National Memorial and the National Shrine of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, I stopped in Second Church of Christ, Scientist. The main church is on the second level. It doesn’t have a lot of decorations, especially after the Ukrainian and Russian churches from Saturday. But it did have a wonderful golden dome.

As a member of the Chicago Architecture Foundation, I had access to three sites that required reservation. I decided that I was most curious about the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland in Chicago. The house is situated on Lake Shore Drive and it is apparently one of seven remaining mansions in the area. I had to sign up beforehand for a designated time. So on Sunday, I made my way there. It was well worth the stop. We were given a little tour of the residence. I learned that this was the second year that the house was open for Open House. Also, the Consulate is the only one that opens itself to Open House because of the mansion.

It is a beautiful house that shows a lot of pride in the history and culture of Poland. My impression of the house was that it had large well light rooms. The rooms may not be full of furniture or art but what is displayed was very tastefully chosen. One room had a magnificent wooden fireplace, while another room had paintings by Polish painters on loan from the Polish Museum of America. Upstairs in front of the library, there was a copy of Poland’s Constitution. Throughout the house, there were amazing textiles hanging on the walls, which were really pretty. We got to peek into the office of the Consul General, which was cool.

Polish Consul General's office

Polish Consul General’s office

Then I ran up to Warwick Allerton Hotel to see the Tip Top Tap room on one of the top floors of the hotel. Again, that priority card was handy. When I got there, they had actually closed the general public line since it was close to the end of the day. I got to bypass it and check it out. It’s a beautiful space with white and black carpeting and wall decorations. It has some neat views of Michigan Avenue. I got some good pics of the old neon sign that is still on the side of the building. It was a nice space; it’d be neat if they make it into a bar again. They had an old menu that had a list of cocktails, including Scarlett O’Hara. That drink was made from Southern Comfort, grenadine, and lime.

Tip Top Tap Sign

Tip Top Tap Sign

Next was the Tribune Tower lobby. Even though I’ve worked nearby for over two years, it never occurred to me to go into the lobby. It really looks a lot like a church in there, which was intentional. There are some beautiful wooden carvings that may depict Aesop’s Fables. Giant quotations line the walls (including two from Colonel McCormick himself) about the power and responsibility of journalism. There was also a map of the US over the guard’s desk that was partially made from old currency (something about giving structure to the paste). Very interesting. Well worth a peak if you can get in there during other times.

Map in the Tribune Lobby

Map in the Tribune Lobby

My final stop was the Lake Point Tower park. This was my other favorite site of Open House. Lake Point Tower is that building on the other side of Lake Shore Drive; it’s close to Navy Pier. There is a secret garden on the third floor! It’s designed by Alfred Caudwell who also designed the pond next to the Lincoln Park Zoo. The park was a real gem. There is a wonderful pond with a waterfall. All around me were trees festooned in golds, reds, and yellows. It was an oasis next to Lake Shore Drive. What a wonderful place!

Lake Tower Point pond

Lake Tower Point pond

So that’s all for now! To recap, my three favorite new sites were St. Volodymyr and Olha Ukrainian Catholic Church, Elks National Memorial, and the Lake Point Tower.

Until Open House 2015.

Part 2: Open House Chicago

On Day 2 of Open House Chicago, I went to three neighborhoods: the Loop, Lakeview, and River North/Streeterville. In past years of Open House, I had spent time going to sites far from the center of the city. The first year, we did a tour of Bronzeville and Hyde Park, which was really fun. Last year. we toured Uptown and briefly went to the Board of Trade (after participating in a historical reenactment there). So I was surprised to find out that there were long lines for some sites, specifically, the sites downtown.

This is when I learned the power of the priority pass. I joined as a member of the CHicago Architecture Foundation last fall after Open House since I wanted to take their walking tours. I’ve talked about the walking tours previously, which are great. Another perk to CAF membership is the priority pass at Open House. So for the downtown sites, I got to stand in a much shorter line. It was worth its weight in gold. Some of those lines looked like an hour or so wait for 20 minutes or so (depending on how knowledge the docents were) at each site. The system isn’t perfect (we got yelled at the Warwick hotel since the lines were confusing) but the card made a huge difference for me. There are other Open House perks; there are a few Member only sites and a few Member Only RSVP sites.
My first stop of the day was 190 S. LaSalle. I had read about this penthouse library so I had to check it out. I quickly bypassed the line and went up to the 40th floor. It was a beautiful space. It was two stories with windows on three sides. You could actually see Ceres on the Board of Trade! It had been used by Mayer Brown as a library but now it was a private club for building residents. A wonderful place.
190 S. LaSalle

190 S. LaSalle

Then I wandered over to the Board of Trade since I was curious about Board of Trade Board Room, a members only site. Part of the process was a trip down to the vault. I had been there last year but it was nice to tip my hat at the giant safe door and the room of metal boxes. The Board Room itself is more interesting in theory. It’s a wood covered room with a strangely shaped table. It was neither oval nor rectangular. It sort of tapered at the end. There were some beautiful art deco wall scones. There wasn’t a lot to see. But it was a room that certainly impacted our lives. The docent suggested that some of the derivatives dealing may have taken place in the room. The lobby of the Board of Trade is my favorite. It’s a wonderful example of art deco with black, white, and silver details. There is a balcony overlooking the lobby that has little owl details.
Board of Trade Lobby

Board of Trade Lobby

Then it was time to trek up to Lakeview for National Shrine of Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini and the Elks National Memorial. I had seen photos of the Elks National Memorial last year and was determined to see it. I believe the Elks National Memorial is open at other times to the public so you can check it out more than once a year. Both buildings are on Lakeview street.
The National Shrine is tucked behind a high-rise. Apparently, the developer had wanted to knock it down but that clearly didn’t happen. I think they built around this wonderful church. It’s not as ornate compared to the Ukrainian/Russian churches I saw on Saturday but it’s a beautiful church with lots of marble. It has a wonderful frescoed ceiling and delicately carved marble (I think) stations of the cross. There are a few rooms about the life of Mother Cabrini. She traveled the world but she also walked the streets of Chicago. It’s wonderful that Chicago has a saint. I hadn’t known that before I heard about this church.
The Elks National Memorial was well worth it. It was one of my all-time favorite sites. You enter into a huge room with a vaulted ceiling. There are giant statues representing various virtues like “Justice” and “Brotherliness.” There are vibrant frescoes all over the room that reference various wars. The building is a memorial to 1000+ Elks members who died in WWII. Straight back, there is a baroque inspired room. It’s got intricate gold leaf covered molding, more frescoes, and incredibly ornate furniture. It was something out of Versailles. However, the people depicted in the frescoes looked a bit off, a little pasty and oddly proportioned for my taste. Also, there was a neat sculpture show throughout the space. Go visit it.
Elks National Memorial Main Rotunda

Elks National Memorial Main Rotunda

Baroque room in Elks National Memorial

Baroque room in Elks National Memorial

That’s all for now. I’ll talk about the final four spots tomorrow.


Part 1: Open House Chicago 2014

This past weekend was one of my new favorite annual events: Open House Chicago. It’s one weekend a year where 150+ establishments open up their doors to the public for free. It’s a special event  through the Chicago Architecture Foundation. This was my third year. I went to fourteen locations over the course of two days. It was a lot of fun.

We spent Saturday going to places in our own neighborhood, the Ukrainian Village, and a few sites in or near Goose Island. We started off with St. Volodymyr  Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral. It was formerly a Lutheran Gothic Church turned into an Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral. It’s less ornate than St. Nicholas or St. Volodymyr Catholic Church but it was still lovely. It had wonderful golden iconostasis with colorful icons along the sanctuary. The stained glass windows probably date to time of the Lutheran Church. There was one window that seemed to have a Masonic symbol of the pyramid eye. Very cool.
St. Vol
Next, we stopped by St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral. This is one of my favorite churches in Chicago. It’s an impressive structure with thirteen domes, one to represent Jesus and twelve for his disciples. I’ve written a series of three articles here. Inside, it is a massive space that can hold 1000 people with beautiful golden dome and walls. The icons and stained glass are a celebration of color. It’s a real treasure and central to the life of Ukrainian Village. When we lived closer to the cathedral, we happened upon wonderful processions for religious and secular purposes.
St. Nicholas
Then we headed to the Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Cathedral. The building was actually designed by Louis Sullivan. While it certainly shares a lot with both Ukrainian churches, it had its own distinct feel. It was a smaller space by far with less natural light but it makes it more intimate. We even got to peak into the area behind the iconostasis to see where the priest gets ready for services.
Holy Trinity
Then we took a detour out of Ukrainian Village to head to Goose Island. Our first stop was the Chicago Scenic Design. It’s a company that designs stages for theaters, corporate events, and much more. We got a tour of its manufacturing space and saw its many stations for wood and metal cutting, painting, electrical wiring, and more. If you live in Chicago, you’ve seen something they’ve designed. I know they’ve definitely added the Coke bottles to bus stops around town this summer but I think they said that they assemble the bus stops as well. We saw a giant milk bone that they had made for a trade show. Very interesting.
Then we went to Groupon Headquarters. This was a bit disappointing. This was the first site I had been to where there was a wait, even with a priority pass. I’ll talk about priority passes later. Once we got inside, we had a full tour showing the open floor plan (no cubicles). I was really excited to see the Enchanted Forest but I was disappointed that it had a lot more plastic boulders than fake trees. Boo. There was a swing set area but the seats were chained down so you could only really rock on them. So alas. It was interesting to see the Headquarters with its giant spaceship cat.
Groupon Swings
 Our last stop for the day was St. Volodymyr and Olha Ukrainian Catholic Church. This was one of the sites that I was most excited to check out. I had passed by the church 100s of times but had never had the opportunity to go in. It was well worth the wait. While not as large as St. Nicholas, it’s a beautiful colorful and golden space. The iconostasis was carved from wood with a vineyard theme. Absolutely stunning space.
St. Volodymyr Catholic Church
That’s all for now. Next I’ll talk about day 2 of the Architectural Adventures!