Adventures in the Sloop

A few weekends back, we decided to spend some time in a neighborhood neither of us know too much about: Chicago’s South Loop. The Sloop, as at least one teen refers to it, is the up-and-coming area home to Printer’s Row (formerly the center of the Midwest’s publishing industry), the Museum Campus, and many new, modern apartment buildings and condos. We wanted to get a feel for what it would be like to live in that area, so we decided to spend the weekend getting acquainted with our equal parts trendy and rough around the edges downstairs neighbor, Sloopy. (At least she’s quiet at night.)

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We kicked off Saturday with a brunch for the books: Chicago Waffles. Holy. Bananas. If ordering a Waffle Flight is wrong, we don’t want to be right. It came with four mini waffles: red velvet topped with strawberries and strawberry whipped cream, liege topped with bananas and Nutella, chocolate topped with walnuts and chocolate drizzle, and green tea topped with candied ginger. Morgan stated the red velvet was “life changing” while Mandy was more into the green tea and liege. We split this entrée and another: the Irish Beny” – a toasted english muffin topped with corned beef hash, sautéed tomatoes, two poached eggs, and hollandaise sauce. While the corned beef hash could have been crisper (and the english muffin perhaps less crispy), the flavors worked great together and we left the restaurant incredibly happy. It didn’t hurt that they have Intelligentsia Coffee on their menu, which is arguably one of the best Chicago-based coffee roasting companies around.

Later that day, we decided to pop into The Scout, a sports bar, for a quick drink. Not a ton to report as we only stayed for a beer, but we dug the upscale ambiance. It was also at this bar that we noted the South Loop to be much more diverse than many other neighborhoods we frequent in the city. That’s definitely something we like about the area.

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After The Scout, we were really hoping to check out the microbrewery and taproom Vice District Brewing Company, and tried to visit, but by the time we arrived, it was literally packed to the gills. Not only could we not get a table, but there was hardly any standing room for us. We were bummed not to hang out longer, but this just gives us a reason to make another trek down in the near future.

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A little while later, when evening-time rolled around, we were in search of a light bite and a good selection of brews. First Draft to the rescue! With a large craft beer selection (many of which were on draft), this place met every desire we had down to the menu. Being the pub rats we are, we split the fried brussel sprouts and fried pickles, and they were equally delicious. From the warm atmosphere and kind wait staff to the killer bar snacks and delicious beers, this place felt very homey and “us.”

On Sunday, we were more low-key. Starting off the day feeling mildly hung over after a night out not in the South Loop, bagels were needed. Hero Coffee has a handful of locations in the city, and after reading many good reviews, we were looking forward to giving it a try. Morgan ordered the “Usual Suspect” on a sesame bagel and Mandy ordered a “Veggie” on jalapeño cheddar, and to their credit, what we got was fantastic. However, Morgan received a “Usual Suspect” on jalapeño cheddar, and Mandy got a “Sunnydale” on sesame. Truth be told, we were too hung over and in too much of a rush to fight our wrong orders. Plus, they were delicious anyway, as were our coffees (a cold brew, which was on tap, and a “fast” drip).

Midday, we were in search of another snack (and still staunchly against alcohol), so we ended up stopping at a local Nando’s, and probably for the first time in the history of all of their chicken-craving visitors, just ordered the hummus plate with veggies. It’s by no means an “only in South Loop” restaurant, but it was there, it was healthy, and the veggies were needed.

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Overall, we had a great weekend experiencing this new-to-us neighborhood. And what’s even better? We by no means exhausted what’s there. There’s still so much more of it we’d like to check out, and now that we know all it has to offer, we think we’ll do just that.

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Adler After Dark

Living in Chicago, there are certain events that everyone you know has either gone to or has a friend that’s gone. Examples include Lollapalooza, an architecture boat tour, and Adler After Dark.

Taking place at the Adler Planetarium after hours on the third Thursday of each month, the planetarium hosts a 21+ ticketed, themed evening with open access to space shows, live entertainment, and cocktails. Our night’s theme was “Solar Eclipse of the Heart.” They allegedly never repeat themes to ensure each month’s event has a unique twist.

As this was both of our first trips to the planetarium, we weren’t exactly sure of what to expect. Upon entrance, we were greeted in a room filled with space memorabilia, attendees donning bright colors and too much hairspray, and the sounds of an eighties cover band jamming to a Bonnie Tyler song. Not exactly a bad way to start!

After checking out some of the exhibits, we started noticing a number of people walking past us with bright pink drinks that appeared to be smoking. Need! We found a place in line at one of the numerous bars throughout the museum and ordered two of these tequila beverages that included a few cubes of dry ice, which made the drinks bubble and smoke. Seems appropriate that they used science to make a fun cocktail for us to drink while we upped our space knowledge at the same time, right?

Even early on, the main floor was filled with guests dancing and enjoying the band. They were decked out in bright pastel suits and played some of the best hits the 80’s had to offer.

While watching the band, we worked our way through the main floor and decided to hop in a long line we weren’t sure what was for. After a few minutes, we realized that we were in line to win ice cream! Upon reaching the front of the line, we stepped up to a screen scrolling through flavors of ice cream in the fashion of a slot machine, tapped the screen, and were awarded with the flavors we landed on (chocolate, and more chocolate). Best part? Everyone’s a winner.

We ate our ice cream on the terrace, and enjoyed one of the best sunset views in the city. If you have never seen the city at sunset or at night from the north side of Northerly Island, we highly recommend it.

Post brain freezes, we headed to one of the many shows that were offered throughout the evening. We chose a show about prominent constellations you can see from the Chicago night sky and the stories behind them. The live narrator for our show kept us laughing and learning as we felt fully immersed in the projections of the night sky on the dome above us.

And to wrap up the evening, we walked over to our tour of Doane Observatory: the largest aperture telescope available to the public in the Chicagoland area. With this, for an additional fee (which must be purchased at the time you buy tickets), you’re able to tour the facility and take a close-up peep of the night sky with a small group of people. Because it was a cloudy evening, there unfortunately wasn’t much for us to see, but it was still a cool experience that we would probably pay for again if (when!) we go back to another Adler After Dark.

Any night including 80’s music, fun cocktails, and an excuse to dress up is a good evening. But when you throw in some space stuff, a killer view, and the opportunity to learn a few new things? Simply out of this world.

Kayaking the Chicago River

Over the summer, we wanted to expand our dating repertoire to include something a little adventurous and very specific to our city. The City Lights Night Paddle with Kayak Chicago fit the bill perfectly. We had both kayaked before, but not together and never at night. The sites around the Chicago River are captivating enough even when you’re not right down in the water, but when you add in the city lights, a tandem kayak and a moderate arm workout, it truly makes for a memorable experience.

For this date, we booked our tickets a month in advance, as the days the tours were offered seemed to fill up quickly. Upon arrival, the group for our time slot was divided into two smaller groups of about 30-40 people each. Each person had the choice of selecting a single kayak or a tandem. Although we registered for tandem tickets, they didn’t seem to mind which you chose on that day.

Our evening began with a 30-45 minute on-land orientation, which was half silly and half necessary. From there, as a group, we carried the kayaks down to the dock and with the aid of their 5-6 person staff, were launched into the Chicago River.

Once the entire group was in the river, off we paddled. At the helm of the staff/leaders, we consistency paddled at a medium pace and were warned to stay close to the river’s edge when avoiding passing barges, larger party boats, and the like. From our journey’s launch point north of Goose Island to the farthest point we reached (which was just under/east of the Clark Street Bridge), the distance for each leg of the tour was around two and a half miles. Once we reached that halfway point, we rested for about 10-15 minutes, and then got to paddling back to where we came from. About halfway into our paddle back, body parts started hurting. Namely, our arms and back. Like we mentioned, it’s a bit of work out–but totally worth it. All together, the experience checked out to be about three hours long (give or take) and four thumbs up (rating from us).

If you’re interested in planning a similar date, here are a few things we’d recommend:

  1. Eat before you go. For two people who work on out on the reg, it was tiring. And don’t drink (/drink too much) beforehand either.
  2. Look into bringing/buying a waterproof phone pouch. You’ll want to take photos.
  3. Wear the most water repellent pants or shorts you can find. No one wants that thigh rash from stewing in river water for at least two hours in tight, wet cotton.

And lastly, if pretty city lights aren’t your thing, Kayak Chicago offers a few other tours that we haven’t done (i.e. fireworks paddle on the river, sunset on the lake, shoreline stand up paddle-boarding, etc.). If you attempt one of these aquatic adventures for yourself, have fun and let us know what you think!

A Beautiful Wednesdate

This week in Chicago, there was a point that with windchill, it “felt like -25 degrees.” In our opinion, that warrants double-pants, hot toddies and staying within five feet of the fireplace. However, we do have day jobs that force us to brave the elements and interact with other humankind outside of our homes. (It’s a gift. Truly.)

So on Wednesday of this week, we decided to look past the frigid temps and get cultured–specifically by some mediocre bar food and one of Beautiful’s last performances at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. If you don’t know, Beautiful is about the early life and career of chart-topping legend Carole King. As a fun throwback note, Mandy and her parents tried to see this musical the year it opened on Broadway (2014) when it starred Jessie Mueller. The rush tickets ran out four years ago, but thanks to TodayTix in 2018, we scored inexpensive, central seats for a fraction of what they would have cost by buying directly from the theatre. We highly recommend this service to Chicago theatre-goers (or any place TodayTix has a presence–check out their site!).

Before the show, we grabbed a bite at Randolph Tavern, which is conveniently located directly across from the theatre. In full transparency, their location may have been the best part of the experience. The menu was overwhelming (including barbecue, Mexican, and Asian foods, oh my!), and the waitstaff didn’t exactly help narrow down the selection; however, the food we chose was decent (Morgan enjoyed the brick chicken and “The Loop” drink, Mandy devoured her “dry” shrimp tacos and Daisy Cutter beer, and they both dug the “bacon & eggs” starter). In a pinch, or simply for convenience, we’d go back, but likely only to accompany a show across the street.

Beautiful – The Carole King Musical runs until January 28 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. If you’re into jukebox musicals, the 1960’s, and/or heavy Brooklyn accents, get your tickets and Feel the Earth Move today!