The Single Englishwoman’s Guide to the Bars of River North

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My trip began with a visit to NYC to see a friend. I had arranged to fly to Newark and stay at the Hilton Penn Station in Newark. From there I took the train to Penn Station in Manhattan. All went well, I got my ticket and train on time and in 20 minutes I was standing on the corner outside Penn Station on 8th Avenue looking at the venue the for the meeting, an Irish bar called Tir Na Nog – I had been in there previously and remembered the bar men were lovely…so I had chosen the venue on that score alone. Thank God the food was nice!

The afternoon was lovely, I had a very nice chat to “soho” and we had a delicious meal. She was waiting for me at a table with a glass of water bless her. That’s the difference between me and a lot of my Internet friends – I would be propping up the bar and into glass number God Knows What and trying to flirt with the bartenders whilst I waited.  They are just so much more civilised. The time went too quickly and I was sad when we parted – who knows when we will meet again but I hope that we will before too long.

So it was back into the hot house hell of Penn Station and a scrum to get on the train when the track number was called. Then I walked across the road – past the spot outside Newark Penn Station where Tony said goodbye to Janice after she had shot Richie (in the Sopranos) and straight into bed where I slept very soundly.

Next morning saw me on the concierge floor of the Hilton (good old free upgrades) and chowing down on some delicious bacon whilst talking to a lady from Lima and a man from San Diego about modern art “installations” – the consensus being they were shit. After this it was back to the airport and onto Chicago.

Chicago was beautiful – I got the train in on a sunny afternoon and was happy walking the 10 blocks from the L station to my apartment. After getting my keys I got a message from my friend Kathy (I met her with her partner Dan at Rock Bottom last July). I was to meet her at the Hard Rock Cafe at 5.30pm for a private party. So after paying my first visit of the trip to RB I was standing waiting for Kathy at 5.30pm and being chatted up by a drunk. The bouncer from the HRC came out and rescued me, bless him, just as Kathy arrived.

So I found myself schmoozing with Chicago’s hospitality professionals at a networking event. There was some prick of a sportscaster that was giving out the raffle prizes on stage and after a few free vinos on an empty stomach I started heckling him so it was time to leave. Eventually we ended up at the Red Head Piano Bar where Dan came out of his office to say hello and we got very very drunk indeed.

My other friend David came over and that was the end of my memories. The next thing I really remember was David waking me up on my balcony and saying he was off home. I haven’t seen him since…

I spent a few days after this working and hanging out at RB. Eventually on Thursday afternoon who should trot in but my secret crush – an ex-bartender there who we shall call Tom to protect the innocent. So, true to form when I fancy someone, I immediately become someone else and awkwardly offer to buy him a drink. As he used to work there this proves tricky, I haven’t managed it since and I didn’t manage it then either. So we chatted for a while and then more bartenders arrived as they got off shift and then the ex- brew master pitched up and I was in seventh heaven. Or so I thought…suddenly a hand on my arm caused me to look back behind the bar and there was my man Mario. Saviour of many a night out. I almost vaulted the bar to kiss him but he didn’t seem to mind, bless him. Seeing as I was three sheets to the wind I decided it was best to go home shortly after this and demanded a hug from Mario before I left to do some drunken shopping.

Friday saw a return to RB and I was almost immediately trapped by a guy who was okay to start with but then just got annoying. I mean 5 hours drinking one pint? Seriously?  And he was demanding Mario top up my glass. I told him they would look out for me well enough and he should shut his cake hole. The only break from him was when I managed to diffuse a potential situation between the bar staff and an Australian. So after too long I tried to get away from him by going up the rooftop for a bit whilst Mario tried to throw him out but by this time he was already talking to another punter (poor cow) and so I ended up standing at the end of the  bar chatting to many a bartender off duty and of course my man Tom who I insisted on kissing on the cheek at the end of the night. He’s lucky he has a girlfriend.

So eventually the fun had to end and I bade Mario goodnight whilst bracing myself for the bill (I had been  in there for seven hours) and he said “call it two bucks.” What? How much? Two? That can’t be right” thinks I and I move to the end of the bar to see if I have heard him correctly. I thrust 10 dollars into his hand and mumble something about sorting it out next time. Two bucks?  For copious wines and two pints of Line Drive Light? I am bemused as I walk home and check out the pool on the social floor – floor seven (now known as the Floor of Death. I was bemused enough to miss a step walking towards to the pool to see how warm it was and I fell flat on my face. Well my jaw to be exact. After managing to breathe again – which was an effort, I sat up and assessed the damage. Nothing broken, still had all me teeth, bruised and swollen chin, swollen arm and totally bruised forearm – black from my right wrist to my elbow, horrendous bruised legs…aw bliss. It was going to be one of those weekends then.

My friend from Columbus flew into town on Saturday and arrived at my apartment just in time to see the bruise on my chin really start to blossom. After plastering over the chin with foundation as best as I could, we went off to her sisters place to hang out on the deck for the afternoon. They were sunbathing but I was in black opaque tights – no one would see my bruises!  The one on my arm was bad enough and my chin looked so black I seemed to have a goatee and it was three sizes too big, without bringing my legs into the mix as well.  I had a quiet night in to lick ice my wounds before Amy arrived from North Carolina the next day.

Amy arrived early and we stayed in and chatted for a while, did some shopping and awaited Jen’s arrival. When she turned up she signed copies of her book for us (there’s even a dedication in there to me which is so sweet) and we headed out to lunch at Rockit with a woman that they knew from the outskirts of town. I was the odd one out, not having chatted online to this woman and having no idea what to say to her. Plus I was the only one without a bleeding iPhone. How I fucking loathe the things, they stifle conversation at best and at worst everything you say is taken down and tweeted within bleeding seconds of you saying it. So I was in a bit of a bad mood when we left there – I almost walked off on the walk home I was so annoyed. Eventually I got myself together and stopped being a selfish mare and chatted with Jen and Amy until Jen left to go to her nephew’s birthday party.

Monday saw the excitement of a fire in the high-rise. There are about 58 floors in this building and I am on the 43rd. Amy was having a shower and I was dozing on the sofa when I was brought out of my reverie by a sound coming from the small red speaker in the ceiling. “This is the Chicago Fire Department. There has been a fire on floor 41. The fire has been dealt with. Do not leave your unit. Anyone needing assistance please call 911.” Then it would go quiet for a minute or two and then “This is the Chicago Fire Department” would be transmitted again. Oooooh the excitement! I rushed outside to see the whole block had been cordoned off and there were 20 fire crews and 7 paramedics outside.  And there was a smell of smoke – the fire must have been extinguished because they were disconnecting the hoses from the hydrants and rolling them up. In two more hours we were allowed the leave the building when the elevators were back on.

Tuesday saw Amy and I walking down to the Lake and getting a drinkie at RB as she wanted to see where I spend most of my some time. Mario was there in his civvies and I walked over for a hug and like a little girl stuck my arm out for him to see the bruises. I said it was a pool related incident (no need to tell him it came about after that $2 bar tab incident…and he asked if I had been skinny dipping to get so badly bruised. The mere thought, as I ever would…) He then asked if he needed to beat anyone up for me because he wasn’t sure I was telling him the truth. He looks like the type who would know how to handle knuckle dusters…

Amy left on Wednesday and I rode with her on the train to Midway Airport then I returned to the L station in the Loop. I walked home across the river where I love to be more than anywhere in the world and passed the new workplace of Tom. He was in there behind the bar and so I resolved to take him up on his offer of popping in there to see what the wine was like the next day. But I had to get home yet and decided to do this via The Kerryman and a couple of pints of Stella. There were some wankers in there but they were harmless and I spent a happy hour in there watching a punch-up between two baseball teams on the flat screen behind the bar. Then came the check. I have seen many a check in many a pub in Chicago but this one was a new one. 2 pints of Stella at $2 dollars each and no tax. No way. That check should have been at least $12 plus tax. So I spent ages agonising over this tip. I decided in $10 for the lot and exited to go home and fuss a Greyhound on my way. It must be the accent. Or the bruises.

So Thursday was upon me and I had a little walk to the river and then round to RB for a livener and to gain some courage to go and say hello to Tom, who would no doubt get me tongue tied. The place was heaving and as I rounded the corner towards the area known as ‘the pit’ I spotted Curtis, a man who I had made friends with last May. Perfect. I snagged a stool from a table and sat next to him, ate some of his food and let him ask me his obligatory opener “How is Obama doing in the UK, do people like him?”  After a couple of wines I left him to his Bears game and went to seek the company of Tom.

Thankfully the steak house was quiet and I managed to seat well away from two groups of people at the bar. I tried to look cool as I perused the wine menu and decided there was no point in beating about the bush and had the most expensive wine in my area of expertise. I must admit it was very nice and I basically sat there fawning over my man. The poor bastard. I think I charmed or irritated his colleague Martini (yes, really) by asking why there wasn’t a martini called Martini’s Martini. “I meeexed thisa one” he said and pointed to a martini that he had mixed himself and that was on the menu. “Yes but why isn’t it called Martini’s Martini? You’re missing a trick there mate” I all but slurred at him. Thinking my teeth may go black with the red wine I then switched to a white.  It was going down rather too well now…”Am I correct in thinking those blokes at the end of the bar are wankers?” says I in Tom’s ear conspiratorially. “Errr, no, actually I went to his wedding, the guy in the middle” says my love as nice as he can. “Oh, riiight. Well, you know, single woman, I have to check.” Hmm not doing too good here am I? Best just have one more and make a sharp exit. So this time I get him to pick a wine for me – best try and get myself out of the hole of calling his mates wankers I suppose. So I finished that off as slow as I can – once a chugger always a chugger – and tell him I am off back to RB and if he comes in there after his shift I will see him in there.

So back round to RB I go…I walk to the bar and order some light beer, I need some volume in my drinks but not much alcohol by this point and almost as soon as I have taken a sip a man comes and stands next to me, looking at me with his back leaning on the bar.

“What are you doing in here?”

“Err, having a drink? Maybe meeting someone later” I think dreamily.

And to be honest the conversation from then on is a bit of blur because all I can think of is that he has a glint in his eye. And he is really cute. And he is only 28. And he doesn’t come from my usual breeding grounds of taxi drivers, bar men, anyone in high volume cash industries. He actually worked for United Airlines in the revenue division and there with some airline colleagues from a convention. He must have been drinking all day cos he was on water. His colleagues were German from Lufthansa and still resolutely on the beer. His major chat up line was “fancy a snog”, something he had gotten from Peep Show apparently and he tried saying it in an English accent which just made him sound like a strange Aussie.  But the more I looked at him the more I saw this glint in his eye. And after a night staring at someone else I fancy I thought “if you’re up for it then you’re coming home with me tonight matey boy!”. Most unlike me!

So that’s basically what happened. A couple of snogs on the way home convinced me it was the correct decision…and he left his socks in my bathroom. They had holes in the heels.



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Morning from Chicago Churchill. It’s so pretty here…