Sunday, September 20, 2009

Circus World, A Wisconsin Historic Site

We're in the Wisconsin Dells for our 11th anniversary! Today's highlight, and something you should know about, is Circus World (a registered Wisconsin Historic Site).

The Wisconsin Dells bills itself as the water park capital of the world. Basically, a family destination. Families have kids. Kids like the circus. So, Circus World is a good place for kids, right? Maybe -- you be the judge:

Are you ready to enter? It's okay to say no -- we can meet you back at the gift shop . . .

What we know now as Circus World has its origins as the wintering grounds of the legendary Ringling Brothers circus. As this poster illustrates, there were 5 brothers, and they started with little, and wound up creating the greatest show on earth! Here's some of their story:

We learn that it might have been the "Rungeling Brothers" -- with an umlaut. Doesn't say "three ring circus" does it?

Although the Ringling Brothers circus is Baraboo's claim to fame, Circus World opens its archives to all circuses, greatest show on earth or not. They have a nice collection of vintage posters, full of, shall we say, a lack of a certain measure of cultural sensitivity. Of course, the circus would never promote itself these days with such images -- now they leave that kind of thing to the people carrying signs at tea bagger protests.

Have a look:

Of course, back then we didn't know that pointing at people who were different and other cultures and saying "that's freaky!" wasn't nice. Now we know to keep that in close company.

They were really just trying to trade on all things "exotic" to draw a crowd. Here are some other attempts:

I should be careful. Years from now, we'll look back and wonder how we could gawk at people confined to a life of walking on their heads. Let's get back to some old fashioned freaks at the "sideshow" section of Circus World:

The circus also apparently had its own chaplain:

Looks likes they're trying to heal that lion -- and it's nice that the circus is being sent off by choir boys. Vaya con Dios!

You may not want to run away to join the circus, but, from the convenience of your own home, you can join the circus fans! It probably keeps the circus in your life all year around. In fact, I liked this sentiment from the management:

Indeed -- no carry-ins allowed -- I couldn't have said it better. Oh, and may all your days be circus days!!!

Monday, August 31, 2009

September 1: this date in Chicago history

The Chicago street numbering grid, flinging numbered blocks east, west, north, and south from the intersection of State and Madison, went into effect 100 years ago today, on September 1, 1909. What was your address before the numbering went into effect? Check it out here:

Friday, August 14, 2009

Friday Happy Hour: Suffering Bastard

This is a drink where the name says it all. Supposedly, this drink was created at the Shepherd’s Hotel in Cairo, Egypt during World War II. I’d like to imagine that this is a drink that one’s grandfather would have enjoyed had he been serving in the north African theater at that time. Another anecdotal story about this drink is that the name supposedly comes from a drunken slurring of the original name, "suffering bar steward."

Here’s the recipe:
1 oz. lime juice
1 oz. bourbon
1oz. gin
dash of bitters
4 oz. ginger ale

Build this drink up in the glass – no need to shake it, although you may if you like (but shake before adding the ginger ale). Pour in the ginger ale, add a straw, and give it a quick stir.

Garnish with an orange slice and a maraschino cherry. Add a sprig of mint.

This is a perfect drink for summer. Take a sip, feel refreshed, and imagine a cool nightfall breeze after a long sandy and sunny day in Cairo. Suffer no more, bastard.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Friday Happy Hour: Bloody Mary

The Bloody Mary is an old dowager of a drink that has remained as relevant as ever, maybe kind of like Hillary Clinton or, well, even Bill Clinton.

Like a lot of truly vintage cocktails, the Bloody Mary traces its roots back to the 1920s -- and this one even has a Paris pedigree.

Now that we're in August, maybe you have some tomatoes ripening, or have already plucked some tomatoes from your garden (or your neighbor's). Fresh tomatoes are one of the great rewards of the dog days of summer. We mention the Bloody Mary at this time because this drink is an imaginative way to put some of those tomatoes to good use.

For our drink, we used 2 fresh tomatoes. We muddled them rigorously, and then strained the juice, but you can also use a blender or any other device you can think of to pulverize the tomatoes. For us, this yielded about 4.5 ounces. For you, it may differ.

The fresh tomato juice breathes some new life into this old drink. Here's the recipe we used (but there are a lot of extras that are optional):

3 to 1 tomato juice to vodka (so, 4.5 oz tomato juice and 1.5 oz vodka)
.5 oz lemon juice
1 teaspoon of Worcestershire Sauce
sprinkling of pepper

Optional items include celery salt (some might argue this is hardly optional), horseradish, olive brine, or Tabasco Sauce.

We garnished ours with a classic celery stalk, but you can add a slice of lemon, olives, or any other kind of savory item. This is truly a savory drink.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Friday Happy Hour: Daiquiri

You've heard of a daiquiri, of course -- as in "strawberry daiquiri" and "banana daiquiri" etc., right? Well, the "plain daiquiri" (if you will) is the grandfather to those more colorful members of the daiquiri family tree.

A daiquiri doesn't require a blender, the ingredients are simple, and it doesn't need a lot of fuss. It's a great drink for summer because it has a light combination of sweet and tart. Here's how we did ours:

2 oz light rum (a/k/a white rum or silver rum)
juice of one lime (approx. 1 oz)
1 teaspoon of powdered sugar
Shake and serve.

Powdered sugar is the traditional ingredient, but you can substitute simple syrup. This recipe makes a conservatively sized drink -- unlike the heaps of blenderized icy froth adorned with fruits and cocktail umbrellas you might think of when you imagine a daiquiri. Not that there's anything wrong with froth, fruits, or cocktail umbrellas, of course.

We read that John F. Kennedy was sipping daiquiris while waiting for election returns in 1960. Ernest Hemingway famously drank daiquiris in Cuba before the revolution. This daiquiri is that kind of drink.


Saturday, July 4, 2009

Special 4th of July Happy Hour: The Sparkler

Happy Independence Day!

On the 233rd anniversary of the independence of these United States, we offer you a perfect drink for your 4th of July picnics, cookouts, family gatherings, and fireworks viewing. And it's a Rogers Park Retro original!

We call it the "Sparkler" -- it's just as scintillating as the sparklers that are so perennially associated with 4th of July celebrations.

Here's how we make it:

1.5 oz of light (or silver) rum
juice of one lime (approx. 1 oz)
3/4 oz of pineapple juice
1/2 oz of triple sec

Shake well and serve. Cap it off with American sparkling wine. Ideally, garnish it with an American flag.

To us, this is an ideal Independence Day drink because it has a light summer composition, and the ingredients even bear some symbolic significance. Rum is closely associated with the American revolution. Paul Revere is said to have fortified himself with a drink of rum before his midnight ride. General George Washington is said to have ordered a double ration of rum for his soldiers to mark the 4th of July in 1778. We won't go so far as to propose that the pineapple represents our 50th state, or that the cherry garnish calls to mind the old story of George Washington and the cherry tree. The point is that you can enjoy the drink as a patriot, too.

Here's to the Spirit of '76!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Friday Happy Hour: Pink Squirrel

Some would call this a "girl drink" but we prefer to think of it more as a nip from Grandma's liquor cabinet.

Maintaining your self respect while having this drink is all a matter of timing and good judgment. A pink squirrel at the wrong time, at the wrong place, with the wrong person so easily ends in disaster -- and the rub is that almost all times are the wrong time, almost all places are the wrong place, etc. What a shame. We've been there.

Technically speaking, the right time is probably with dessert or as a late nightcap. It's a good idea to have it with people who can be open-minded enough to try something a little different. It's important to have it with a healthy sense of humor.

Or, failing that, have it by yourself, behind closed doors, with the shades drawn. Maybe even unplug the phone.

Because, here's the thing: you want this! For anyone with a sweet tooth (their name is Legion) this is a drink too good to be true. Sure, you want your stronger poisons for day-to-day use, but this little drink is the indulgent reward you want to give yourself. You won't know how you drank it so fast, and you'll want another almost as soon as you poured your first.

The recipe is simple:
1 oz Creme de Cacao
1 oz Creme de Noyaux
1 oz light cream

So, yeah, it's a girl drink. You can tinker with this, though. Add a shot of gin if you like, or reduce the light cream (that's half & half, incidentally, to speak more plainly). You can un-Grandma-fy it only so much, though, of course. It is what it is. It's not ashamed of itself, and you shouldn't be ashamed of it, either.

Or, you can full-on turbo Grandma-fy it by substituting the light cream with vanilla ice cream and mix it in a blender. Perhaps a dollop of whipped cream? Again, it's not ashamed, and you shouldn't be either. Please, though, at this point make sure you're not only doing this behind closed doors, but make sure the doors are locked.

Try it. Enjoy. If you don't agree that it's a unique treat, write a nasty comment. Grandma will smack you right back for sassing her favorite drink.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Great House, Unfortunate Address

This fine example of early-seventies Modernism was found in Evanston, and would be nothing short of perfect if not for the house number.

The Wilmette Public Library

The suburb of Wilmette is several miles north -- and more than a few rungs up the socioeconomic ladder -- from Rogers Park. But retro can be found all over Chicago's North Shore. The Wilmette Public Library is one nice example of mid-century civic design which we stumbled upon while estate saling one Saturday morning.

The building has undergone a number of additions, some more obvious than others. The two most recent are a bit unfortunate -- attempts to update the library rather than stay true to its classic Modernism. The front, shown here, is from 1994 and little more than a foyer that encases the original main entry in dark glass. Have you considered joining a reading club lately?

Walk around to the east side, however, and you can see what must have been considered pretty radical architecture at the time. The blocky, brick forms do a good job of expressing the library's interior spaces and functions, with reading rooms that jut out from the main body and a large boxy mass in the back. It probably housed the stacks once upon a time, but now contains an atrium and mostly administrative offices. The fieldstone planters are a nice touch that appear on several exterior corners.

Here's the atrium, a several story semi-circle that seems to be part of the 1986 update, judging from the Frank Lloyd Wright-style staircases that surround it, with touches of mauve and teal.

The interior is a bit maze-like, with a number of stairways connecting the floors of the separate masses. Fortunately, evidence of the early '50s interiors can be found all over. This stairway leads to a mezzanine where newspapers and magazines are archived.

Directly opposite it is another stairway leading down to the non-fiction area in the basement, and a passageway to the lobby.

These Wassily chairs surely date from the original building, judging from the degree of scuff and sag in their leather strips. They're still classics, however, no doubt originals, and probably worth a pretty penny. All it would take is a bit of polish and TLC to cover the wear and bring them back to life.

Though the '94 and '86 additions are proudly commemorated on large plaques, there's no obvious cornerstone for the original structure. Fortunately, some quick Internet research revealed that it was dedicated in 1951, and went on to win an award from the American Institute of Architects.

One of the librarians mentioned that the building is undergoing yet another renovation. I must have cringed a little when she said this, because she hastened to add that they were taking great pains to restore the original brickwork.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Friday Happy Hour: A Perfect Manhattan

What was the first drink you ever ordered?

If you said "a Manhattan" then we have something in common.

Once upon a time, each of the boroughs of New York City had a famous drink named after it (except Staten Island). The only one left that people still order is the Manhattan -- although if you scratch the surface a little, you'll uncover how popular the Bronx was not too long ago into the past.

Maybe the Manhattan remains popular -- although a little grandfatherly -- because of its classic ingredients: bourbon and sweet vermouth. It can also be made with rye. Both bourbon and rye are venerable American spirits. Bourbon is a whisky made from at least 51% corn, a native North American crop. Rye, as you might suspect, is whiskey based on rye. George Washington, the father of our country, was a rye distiller.

The Manhattan is thus associated by its ingredients with Americana, by its name with sophistication and urbanity, and by its taste with clubby masculinity.

A Manhattan is 3 parts bourbon (or rye), 1 part sweet vermouth (a/k/a "Italian" vermouth), and a dash of bitters. It's garnished with a maraschino cherry.

Now let's talk about a "Perfect" Manhattan. A friend of ours tells a funny story about this: a lady at a restaurant orders a Perfect Manhattan. The waitress hustles back to the bar and orders "a Manhattan, and it has to be really good!"

The name Perfect Manhattan is misleading because it isn't a commentary on its quality, although it is really good. In a Perfect Manhattan, the 1 part sweet vermouth is substituted with half sweet vermouth and half dry vermouth. That's it -- that's the big secret behind a Perfect Manhattan. Maybe it's called "Perfect" because it's not too sweet, and not too dry -- maybe it's called "Perfect" because it is.

Perfect Manhattan

3 oz bourbon or rye
.5 oz sweet vermouth
.5 oz dry vermouth
dash of bitters

Stir (or shake) and serve with a maraschino cherry.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Word of Warning

We love a fancy drink as much as the next questionable pair of men living together in Rogers Park. Maybe more. But only within reason. There are, after all, consequences and cautions that deserve mentioning.

Fortunately, the work has already been done for us by the Kids in the Hall. Kids in the Hall was a delightful comedy skit show that ran during the early '90s, a time some of you may only dimly remember. It featured a cast of Canadians who, in M's opinion, are way funnier than the entire nation of Great Britain. Canadians are hysterical. That's just the way God made them.

The sketch is entitled "Girl Drink Drunk," and we offer it here as a cautionary tale, one best enjoyed with a Squash Strawberry Alley-Cat at hand.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Friday Happy Hour: The Corpse Reviver

Corpse Reviver
3/4 oz gin
3/4 oz Lillet blanc
3/4 oz Cointreau
3/4 oz lemon juice
1 drop of pastis
Shake, pour, garnish with cherry, and serve.

Okay, that's the official version.

This is a legendary drink with a ghoulish name. And, no, this drink has nothing to do with Easter Sunday.

We'd never actually had one of these before, and it's not the kind of drink most bars would be able to make. Or, well, maybe they would -- let us know how it works out if you try. Indeed, some of the ingredients are a little rare, revealing how antique the drink really is. We'll admit that we substituted anisette for the pastis. Although, with absinthe being legal again, this is a perfect drink to celebrate that fact.

The Lillet blanc is another specialty ingredient -- worth having around for a few vintage drinks, not the least of which is the signature James Bond drink, The Vesper.

We read that the Corpse Reviver is one of those drinks where the sum far exceeds the parts -- that, in the proper proportions, the ingredients to this drink add up to something wonderful. It's true. This drink will win you points for your savvy and expertise when you serve it to your friends and guests, and it will earn their respect and love when they quickly realize what a wonderful new gift you have given them in the Corpse Reviver.

Today in Rogers Park history

June 12: North Shore Electric Line opens in 1896

Monday, June 8, 2009

Today in Rogers Park history

June 8: Cudahy Library at Loyola University is dedicated in 1930.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

"The Weekend" by Jack Jones

Most people not of a certain age probably don't know who Jack Jones is. Neither did we, until we picked up this album at an estate sale some time ago. But listen to the voice, and like us you'll probably say, "Hey, that's the guy who sang The Love Boat!"

Smooth, handsome and the very embodiment of a happening mid-century male, Jones enjoyed his greatest successes in the sixties. His biggest hit, the theme from 1963's Wives and Lovers, describes a Mad Men-type view of work- and home-life that Jones was forever identified with. Now 71, he continues to perform worldwide.

"The Weekend," from his 1966 album For the "In" Crowd (got to love those quotation marks), is Jones's celebration of the best two days of the week. In it, he details his workaday duties against a slow, loping beat and the mournful wail of a background harmonica.

But then, everything changes. The tempo picks up and the background singers perk up, because it's Friday, and "Friday's the night I get to see you... and we have the weekend!"

Jones and his imaginary lady friend spend the next two days painting the town throughout the song's soaring chorus. The music here is so bright and cheerful you can almost picture them doing the Watusi.

But on Sunday, things slow down and Jones admits to feeling blue, "when the weekend is through... and I have to say goodbye to you." The next morning, the whole thing starts all over again.

Though the song is over 40 years old, it still does a fantastic job of describing life in the 21st century. Enjoy it, as we often do, on a Sunday night.

The Weekend by Jack Jones
Fandalism Free MP3 Hosting

Friday, February 6, 2009

Friday Night Happy Hour: The Vodka Blush

There's a scene in Rosemary's Baby (probably M's favorite movie, of all time, ever) where Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse are having dinner at their new neighbors', the Castavets.

Roman Castavet toddles into the living room balancing a tray of four very full, very tall pink drinks. "Generally I pour these out as precisely as a bartender, don't I Minnie?"

"Just watch the carpet," scolds his wife, played by Ruth Gordon in her Oscar-winning role. "Vodka Blush?" Roman asks, handing one to Rosemary, then Guy. "Have you ever tasted one? They're very popular in Australia."

A few seconds later, Roman ends up spilling some Vodka Blush on the carpet. A few hours later, Guy has embarked on his deal with the Devil, brokered by the cheery witches next door. And nine months later, Rosemary has given birth to the son of Satan.

In between is one of the classiest horror films in the genre, all of it played out in a mid-sixties Manhattan of Danish Modern design and psychedelia-inspired fashion (including a radical-for-the-time Vidal Sassoon pixie cut on Farrow) that make us yearn for a time and place that's 40 years and 800 miles away from Rogers Park today.

Fortunately, a Vodka Blush (or two) and the Rosemary's Baby DVD can bring it all back.

2 1/2 ounces Vodka
3/4 ounces freshly-squeezed lime juice
Dash of grenadine

Fill shaker 2/3 full with ice. Add ingredients. Shake and strain into cocktail glass.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Friday Night Happy Hour: The Scorpion

This recipe comes from the Playboy's Host and Bar Book by Thomas Mario.

2 oz. light rum
1 oz. brandy
2 oz. orange juice
1.5 oz. lemon juice
.5 oz. orgeat

Shake and serve!

Orange juice and lemon juice come in bottles, but they also come in actual oranges and lemons. You'll be glad you opted for the latter. We'll admit it, we sometimes make a pulpy, sticky mess squeezing our own juice, but we never regret it when we taste the fruits of our labor.

We dusted the rim with sugar. Rub a twist from either the orange or lemon (remember, the actual fruit) along the edge and touch the rim of the glass in a thin pool of granulated sugar. If possible, and time allows, we suggest doing this at least a few minutes before mixing the drink so that the sugar solidifies.

The Scorpion is in the same family of rummy fruity drinks as the Mai-Tai, Zombie, and Missionary's Downfall. The Scorpion, in particular, has a reputation of being served in a bowl for an entire table to enjoy; just multiply this recipe. It can be garnished and glamorized to the hilt, if you like. Let the islands inspire you. These drinks go down so smoothly that you're taken aback at the punch they deliver, but you love them for it.

M shared a charming story about the Scorpion when we had this drink at our own happy hour recently. In 1974 his family made their first trip -- by jet -- to California. His exotic and mysterious Aunt Judy lived there, in Huntington Beach, with a Man Who Was Not Her Husband.

The trip included a visit to The Jade Dragon, where a "Scorpion bowl" was served as part of the traditional Southern California Chinese feast. It was indeed garnished and glamorized to the hilt, and M, who was just 10 years old at the time, enjoyed several sips from one of the long straws sticking out at every angle. He declared this version a ringer for the original.

The next morning he went to Disneyland.