Monday nights are sticky-floor, nasty-meat-market, sopping-wet-menu nights so packed that I spill half my drink just getting away from the bar. I always wear killer heels, and I can never get a table unless I cut into the wait-list line. By the end of the night I'm hurting from head to toe. Otherwise there'd be no point in going out at all. And from now on there isn't. My regular beginning-of-the-week hangout, Mod, which hosts Martini Monday ($3 martinis all night), is closing this Sunday after brunch--five years to the month after its birth.
Mondays at Mod kicked off an early-week triumvirate that's kept me entertained on the cheap for a few years now. Tuesday it's $5 for a movie at City North 14, where you also get a coupon for free popcorn, and if you're stealthy you can hop theaters and watch movies till closing time. Wednesday night you can get a burger and fries for $3 at Pontiac, one of my favorite places for people watching, even though it feels like you're sitting in a driveway. It's right by the Blue Line stop, where teen punks from the suburbs get off--Wicker Park is the new Clark and Belmont.
The only place more congested than Monday night at Mod is Saturday night at Sonotheque, which isn't surprising, since they share an owner. Terry Alexander, who also owns the beloved Danny's Tavern and three Mia Francescas, and used to own Okno and Soul Kitchen, plans to breathe more life up the skirt of Wicker Park. "Mod has already run its course," he says. "It's not a sad thing--we've had five amazing years. It's just time to move on." A few weeks after Mod closes he's opening an offshoot of Mia Francesca called Francesca's Forno, which will serve drinks and snacks in the old Soul Kitchen space. "There's plenty of bars in the neighborhood, but not that many new restaurants," he says.
In the meantime, he and Chris Dexter (from Elm Street Liquors, Goodbar, and Spoon) will redesign the Mod space and turn it into a Spanish cafe with Mod's head chef, Andrew Zimmerman. The new place, designed by the mono-named Suhail, will have a "rustic" look, Alexander tells me, causing my eyes to almost boing out of my head--Suhail's responsible for Mod's Jetsons-style futurism, Sonotheque's chilly lounge vibe, and Sugar's upscale Wonka flavor--but he reassures me that "it's not gonna look mainstream." There's no name yet, but they're talking to a handful of young designers about a logo, including the ubiquitous Cody Hudson.
Two Mondays ago Mod was acting like a guy you're about to break up with--on its best behavior, reminding you how amazing it can be, showing you what you fell in love with in the first place. A man with a shaved head and a soul patch kept calling me "young lady" while touching my belt, which was slung dangerously close to my nether regions. A young guy called Dimitri sashayed around in bright red socks--with sandals, no less--and red Daisy Dukes. Dimitri's one complaint that evening was that his shorts weren't short enough. Two hot young women ran around modeling dresses from their own line, Trois Chemises, whose every item is made of three T-shirts. And the gay black contingent that's been hitting Martini Monday almost since its inception was turned out. They're always dressed so good it hurts, in looks ranging from thrift-store nerd to tribal chief to obnoxiously affluent professional athlete to full-on pimp. I asked a few of them what they plan to do after Mod closes. "I don't know!" wailed a guy in a sports jersey. And it hit me that I don't either.
My friend Joe, on his never-ending quest for glamour, decided to spend his 25th birthday with his friends at a hotel and casino owned by Donald Trump. So Saturday night eight of us piled into a few cars and headed to the hamlet of Gary, Indiana.
No matter where you stood at the Trump--lobby, guest room, elevator--you could hear the sweet strains of Stevie Wonder blasting from the hotel's Harbor Lights Lounge. We surveyed our room--two beds with polyester coverlets, harsh lamps, a turd floating in the toilet--before unpacking a suitcase full of hard booze and sparkling wine, making several trips to the ice machine with a giant plastic shopping bag, throwing some vintage silk scarves over the lamps Stevie Nicks-style, stringing up Christmas lights, and revving up the iTunes. "This place is great!" Joe exclaimed, his last syllable cut off by the blare of a freight train engineer laying on his horn as he sped past right outside our window.
We were having so much fun pouring cocktails and talking that we didn't get to the casino until after 2 AM. Walking down a long corridor reminiscent of the scuzziest el stop, then through a glowing tunnel that looked like the psychedelic United terminal at O'Hare, we ended up on a yellow flowered carpet lit up by rhinestone chandeliers dangling from mirrored ceilings. The place was packed with track suited zombies who sat there for hours, feeding their life force into slot machines one bill at a time.
We pranced in, bushy-tailed--only a couple of us had ever gambled before. The girls split from the boys. Three of us ladies took on one five-cent slot machine, where we spent several dollars just trying to figure out what the hell was going on. After a while I approached the machines like they were video games, just enjoying pressing the buttons and looking at the pretty cartoon pictures of jewelry, fairies, and mushrooms.
We got in line at the cashier's desk to break our bills. Behind us, a lady in a gray sweatsuit and a fancy hairdo sighed impatiently and rolled her eyes as I ogled my friend's fancy Labello lip balm. Finally the woman had to point out to us that a window was open, ready for the next customer, and we were holding up the whole line. I apologized. "Y'all are playin' around with your lipstick," she scolded. "You need to pay attention."
In the end I only lost $20--successful by gamblers' standards.
Confidential to L.L. at the Sun-Times: I really enjoyed your June 16 piece "Graffiti ad gets graffiti treatment," about the Axe billboard controversy I've been writing about for the past few weeks. You neatly summed up the two sides of the argument, and you quoted a blog that linked to my column (which you didn't mention, but oh well). You got one thing wrong though: my friends, who painted over the billboard, aren't exactly "anti-corporate graffiti artists"--in fact they're not graffiti artists at all.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Liz Armstrong, Andrea Bauer.