Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Two Worlds, One City

People often ask me why I love living in the city so much. My go-to responses include: I grew up in the city, so I'm used to the atmosphere; I like being able to walk anywhere I need to go; I like that the houses don't all look the same; and there's just more to do. But now I can add another reason to my long list: You can experience completely different worlds without leaving the city limits!

Allow me to explain the happenings of this past weekend and how I came to appreciate the city of Chicago even more than I already do.

On Friday night I met up with some friends at a hip, downtown rooftop bar. After standing in a line downstairs for a couple minutes, our ids were checked by a pair of well dressed men, who then gave us wrist bands to indicate our appropriate age. We were ushered into the elevators that took us up to the top floor. We stepped out onto black tile flooring, speckled with flecks of blue and silver. White leather couches were grouped together throughout the large room, with fancy rugs flung out underneath them. A fire place sat quaintly in the corner next to a larger grouping of chairs and couches. The cubed tables donned little "reserved" signs, indicating we were not important enough to sit there. My friend and I walked out to the patio section, where two fire pits roared in the middle of the action, as thirsty patrons sipped their drinks and nibbled on small appetizer plates. Booth tables made of dark, paneled oak lined the sides of the patio. All of these were filled with groups of people chatting away.

A quick once around of this trendy spot, and I had the general clientele pinned: successful, well-dressed professionals in their late twenties and early thirties. While I am neither successful nor in this age range, I felt quite at home as I sat at the glowing neon-green bar and ordered a $10 glass of Argentinian wine. My outfit was no where near as nice as the suits and cocktail dresses worn by the rest of the crowd, but I certainly fit the part of young socialite with designer jeans, a fitted deep cut top and Jessica Simpson heels. (Wow, do I ever feel pretentious.) Despite my wardrobe and the pricey drink in my hand, there was still this sense of being an outsider, like I was visiting a different world. My Friday nights usually consist of dining at a local sports bar or making food at home while enjoying a movie. It's safe to say I live within my means most of the time. But every once and a while, like Friday night, I like to take a trip to the world I imagine I could one day live in; one with fancy parties and bottle service, expensive clothes and high-class acquaintances. It's a fantasy world, a lifestyle that is full or privilege and prestige. I believe it's the kind of life I would have if I ever wrote my book and became a best-selling novelist. But for now, for one night at least, I got a nice glimpse into another world, another culture and class I don't get to experience very often.

Then Saturday night came, and I found myself on the train heading in a different direction. Instead of hitting up the trendy, overpriced clubs and bars downtown, I ventured north to the outskirts of the Irving Park neighborhood. My friend and I walked along the nearly deserted streets to this small dive bar. It was lucky we knew the address, because there was no sign or anything announcing the name of this place. The space had no garnishes, no flashy decorations, just dingy windows that allowed you to peer into the dark room. As we entered, the bouncer took our ids and stamped our hands, as my friend informed me that the bar also served as a liquor store--in case one beer wasn't enough and I wanted to purchase a six pack. Classy.

As I wandered down the bar to where most people were sitting, I suddenly realized what it reminded me of: a house basement. Perhaps it was the scratched linoleum floors, or the fake wooden paneling on the walls, but I felt like I was back in high school when I would spend afternoons studying in my friends cluttered basement because her mom was occupying the kitchen. In the back corner, one spotlight was focusing on a singer and drummer performing for the tiny crowd. As I approached the bartender, I pulled out a $20, but soon realized this was far too much than what I needed. I ordered a bottle of amber wheat beer, and the price: $2.50! Even compared to my considerably frugal purchasing, that was super cheap. My friends and I made our way to a fold out table surrounded by wooden chairs that felt like they would break as I sat down. As for the people, it was quite an eclectic group. The young students who were groupies for the bands that were performing crowded together in little circles, while the older regulars sat at the bar further away just observing the action. The only couches in the bar were located right in front of the makeshift stage. The faux-leather cushions were worn and faded, so whenever anyone sat in them, they sank down deep into the couch.The occupants of said couches were some young couples, dressed in revealing clothing that left little to the imagination. It felt like a complete turnaround from the night before. I looked down at my clothes, and sure enough, they pretty much matched the feel of the evening. $10 flip flops paired with skinny black pants from H&M and a top that was over 2 years old that I got on sale.

How did this happen? Within 24 hours, my world had changed, I was somewhere else completely. But despite the dilapidated conditions and somewhat creepy bar occupants, the experience thrilled me. I had traveled to a different world entirely. What a contrast! It occurred to me that this was something I had experienced before, though in a much more subtle way. Just venturing from one neighborhood to another opens the door to another world, or at least a slightly different one. Ukrainian Village features stores and restaurants that differ from those in Logan Square or Wicker Park. Lincoln Park and Lakeview have a different mood and feel than the Gold Coast or River North. Each area offers something different; so no matter what you feel like doing, what kind of life you want to live for one night, you can find it in the city.

I wonder what world I'll visit tonight...

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