It started, as these things invariably do, with an email from a publicist.
The situation was thus: the fine folks from Harley-Davidson were looking to shine the light on the ’72 Harley, the latest and greatest model from their Dark Custom Line, with an all-expenses-paid trip to Chicago’s Wild Fire Harley-Davidson. Fair enough…except for the fact that I don’t own a motorcycle, it’s been more than ten years since I’ve ridden on a motorcycle, and, given that the ride in question – on the back of my brother-in-law’s bike – was so goddamned terrifying (he turned a corner, my feet dragged on the ground, and I was convinced that both our asses were about to hit the fucking pavement) that I’ve never thought for even so much as a moment about buying a motorcycle.
Ah, but the pitch wasn’t just about motorcycles. Indeed, the phrase used to describe the expedition was “a jam-packed day of ass-kicking and whiskey drinking.” Now, not being much of a scrapper, I can take or leave the former, but when you bring up the latter…? Sir, you have my undivided attention.
And that, my friends, is how I came to get…
Because of the designated start time on Saturday and the terribly unhelpful flight times from my home base from Norfolk (ORF) to Chicago, it was agreed that the most convenient time for me to arrive into O’Hare would actually be on Friday…and after this was agreed upon, I then begged, pleaded, and ultimately annoyed my hosts into getting me on the earliest possible flight, so as to be in Chicago for as long as possible.
Coming down the escalator, I was met by a driver holding up a card with my name on it, which is an experience that every flier should have at least once in their life. In short order, I had been deposited at the front door of The Drake Hotel, a gorgeous establishment right in the heart of the city, and – to my utter amazement – I was able to check in immediately, go right up to my room, drop off my bags, and hit the streets of Chicago.
And, now, a confession: the biggest reason I wanted to get into town as early as possible on Friday is that I wanted to visit the joint offices of two of the greatest publications in modern media: The Onion and The Onion AV Club. I began as a contributing writer with the AV Club last year, but I’d never actually met most of the people for whom and with whom I’d been working, so it was cool to finally meet Keith Phipps, Tasha Robinson, Genevieve Koski, Kyle Ryan, Nathan Rabin, and so many other folks whose work I’d been reading long before I ever actually joined their ranks. I’m still not entirely sure I’m worthy of walking among them, but, hey, if they think I am, then who am I to complain?
Later that evening, knowing that I had nothing on my official agenda until the next morning, I met up with a buddy and experienced the awesomeness of Barrelhouse Flat, an outstanding drinking establishment located at 2624 N. Lincoln Avenue. As it happens, our bartender that evening, Greg Buttera, also happened to be the general manager of the joint, so not only did he treat us right (as we, in turn, did him), but he provided us with an amazing display of dexterity and cocktail knowledge…and I’ll be damned if I can tell you which was more impressive, because he never dropped a drink nor checked a recipe, and I think we determined that he made a couple of dozen different drinks just while we were sitting there. Why, it almost made it worth it that we weren’t able to sit upstairs…although I did least get a chance to take a stroll up there before we left, and, man, it’s just something else.
But why take my word for it? Here’s a shot of the place when it’s not dark, loud, and filled with semi-intoxicated revelers…
Swear to God, if I lived in Chicago, I’d be frequent this place all the damned time. But, alas, I was exhausted after having flown out of Norfolk at 6:30 AM, so after a pair of specially selected beers – I decided to stick with Chicago beers, so I started with a pint of Goose Island Sofie and closed with a can of Half Acre Daisy Cutter – it was back to the hotel for me. After all, with a threatened day of ass kicking and whiskey drinking on the horizon, I figured it probably behooved me to be well rested.
Morning soon broke, and with it went the snowstorm that had blown into town right about the same time I had, but the bitter cold (at least to a Virginian like poor ol’ me) had lingered. Good times. Dressed accordingly, I came downstairs and met my fellow journalists in the lobby of the Drake, and we soon hopped upon a waiting bus and headed off to enjoy a tasty lunch – accompanied by some tasty beverages – at Brauerhouse, located at 1000 N. Rohlwing Road in…Lombard? Wait, what happened to Chicago? Were we really on the bus that long?
Apparently so. But it’s worth it, because the burgers are phenomenal…or, at the very least, mine was. I had the so-called Hickory Leroy, which features bacon, BBQ sauce, chili, and jack cheese. Oh, man, I’m practically drooling just thinking about it. And I also had a deliciously creative beverage – sorry, make that two of them – while I was there as well: a Black Banana, which is a blend of Banana Bread Beer and Double Chocolate Stout. Great, great stuff. Unfortunately, the process of studying the menu, taking our orders, making and delivering our food, and figuring and paying our checks took so freaking long that we effectively started our day already an hour late, which bodes poorly for the rest of the rigorously scheduled day we have ahead of us. D’oh…
Thankfully, it’s only a short bus ride from Brauerhouse to our next location: Wild Fire Harley-Davidson. Everyone at the place seems pleased to see us, which is precisely what you’d expect, given that they want us to write something nice about them and their product. But it’s more than that. Not only do the people who work here love the product that they’re selling, but they quite clearly live that love of Harley-Davidson well outside the walls of Wild Fire.
Not only do we scope out the whole joint, getting the chance to check out the various new models of motorcycle as well as the latest Harley-Davidson leather and gear from their Black Label line, but we also get a taste of the so-called Motorcycle Boot Camp. Thankfully, it’s just a taste, which means that only a couple of us get to savor the experience of changing the oil and primary fluid on a Harley-Davidson Sportster…and I, thankfully for all of us, am not one of the chosen few. Similarly, I opt out of giving the Jumpstart Dyno a ride. Even though it’s stationary and almost certainly not going anywhere, it’s still far too close for comfort, at least as far as I’m concerned.
As you can probably guess, I didn’t exactly leave Wild Fire with a burning desire to rush out and buy myself a bike…not least of all because I can’t afford it. I did, however, walk away impressed with the wide variety of individuals who work for the dealership and their knowledge of their product. Also, if I wasn’t scared to get on a motorcycle, I’d definitely get me one of those Sportsters…and you’d better believe I’d spend the extra few bucks to get one with flames on it. Scary or not, that thing is pretty bad ass, ya gotta admit…
Unlike the Harleys, if all too much like the burgers at Brauerhause, our next stop was one which would have ordinarily inspired me to shout (and paraphrase Ralph Wiggum) exuberantly, “Oh, boy! This is where I’m a Viking!” I just can’t thank 8 to 8 Cigars enough for giving us the hook-up on a sweet stogie while also providing us with the opportunity to taste several different types of scotch, including some pretty damned old stuff…which, probably by coincidence, tasted far worse than anything else that was presented to us to taste.
I hadn’t had a cigar in ages, so I felt a little flummoxed at first as I fumbled with the provided cutter and attempted to chop off the end of the cigar without doing any dramatic damage to the tobacco at hand. In addition, the first several puffs left me convinced that I’d been right to keep my wife happy and avoid smoking cigars at all cost…but then – and it’s probably coincidence that this happened right around the time I considered that my wife was more than a few states away at that moment – I suddenly got whatever the casual cigar smoker considers to be his second wind. I was puffing away like the chimney on a steam engine, listening to our hostess as she discusses the finer points of whiskey, the differences between the different types, and then noting in which order we would be tasting ours. For my part (and I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who felt this way), I think my favorite was the wheat whiskey from Lion’s Pride. That stuff was goooooood. In fact, I’m trying to get a bottle to review for the site. I’ll keep you posted…
You wouldn’t be able to tell it from the above picture, but I’d never had a straight razor shave before I put my face (and my jugular vein) in the hands of the fine gentleman you see before you. I just figured, “The man’s a professional, a second-generation barber, and he knows what he’s doing.” Of course, he might be a bit too funny for my tastes. I’m pretty sure he didn’t need to preface the shaving under my chin by saying, “Here comes the ‘Godfather’ moment…”
Joe’s Barber Shop, located on West Fullerton in Chicago, is the very definition of an old-school establishment, not only in their method of shaving but also in the lather, creams, and other assorted materials necessary for a good shave and haircut. Sure, it’ll cost you a bit more than two bits nowadays, but it’s worth the cost for the quality that goes into it.
When we got to the shop, Joe Caccavella, Sr. was done for the night and preparing to head home, but he’d stuck around to say “hey” to all of these assembled journalists and thank us for stopping by. That’s his son, Joe, Jr., who’s giving me the shave in the above picture.
When they asked for volunteers, I was the first one to raise my hand. I mean, why not, right? Everyone should have a straight-razor shave once in their life, and I’m glad I can say that I’ve experienced it. I wasn’t willing to give up my goatee, but I still got as much of the full treatment as I could, which meant the hot towels on my face and, at the end of the process, some fierce aftershave. A few chairs over, one of my journalistic comrades got his entire head shaved. Hey, if it’s free, why not get as much out of it as possible, right? Good for him, that’s what I say.
I admit that I’d never heard of the restaurant Three Aces before I learned that it was going to be the site of our dinner, but it’s funny how accepting you can be of a restaurant when you learn that its slogan is, “The Italian countryside meets the American farmhouse…in Keith Richard’s basement bar.” I don’t really know what the hell that means…but, by God, I like the sound of it!
Our food was ordered family style, with all of us sharing amongst ourselves and trying to taste a little bit of everything, so I can’t necessarily swear that I’m remembering everything that I tried, but I can, at least, confirm that way more than the majority of what I tasted was top notch.
First off, the arancini (braised oxtail, celery leaf, and parmesan) was the perfect starter, followed by ricotta gnocchi (confit rabbit, mushrooms, pecorino, celeriac cream sauce) and mussels and Brussels (shredded Brussels sprouts, bacon, shallots, garlic, fresno chiles, and assorted herbs). Of the “Barn” portion of the menu, I can’t say as the beef tongue hash did a lot for me, but I blame that on the hollandaise. Never been a fan. The so-called Slagel Farms steak, however, was fantastic, and I could’ve eaten a full order of the ribollita – a Tuscan stew consisting of white beans, milk-braised pork shoulder, parsley pistou, and shaved parmesan – if I didn’t think the richness would’ve given me a heart attack on the spot. Can’t tell you which of the pizzettas I tried beyond the carbonara (parmesan cream sauce, parsley, homemade bacon, black pepper, and egg yolk), but, holy shit, that was crazy delicious.
Okay, here’s the problem with getting old: you have a huge meal, a couple of beers, and your instant default setting becomes, “I want to go home, watch TV, and go to bed.” What you do not particularly want to do is go see a band play. Sorry. I’m 41. That’s just how I roll now.
But in this case, I did go see a band play. This was partially because I didn’t really have much choice in the matter (tired or not, I just couldn’t see myself hopping off the bus, into a cab, and back to the hotel on my own) and partially because the band in question – Pegboy – are pretty legendary in Chicago. Really, though, it was mostly because I figured, “Hey, free concert, free beer…I’m old, but I’m not dead yet.”
The Flat Iron is a pretty nice beer joint on North Milwaukee Avenue. More importantly that night, however, was the fact that it was the site of the 5th Annual Half Fast “Burning Love” Party, where Harley-Davidson unveiled the latest addition to their Dark Custom line.
I gotta tell ya, I was too tired, too full, and…well, I wasn’t too drunk, at least, but the end result was still that I never actually got around to checking out the motorcycle they’d brought in. But my guess is that we might’ve seen it at the dealership earlier in the day, anyway. In fact, yeah, let’s just go ahead and presume that I did, shall we? And it was awesome. Pegboy was pretty good, too. But, fuck, am I tired…
…and I’m still tired come the next morning. And cold. And ready to go home. And very, very glad that there’s a vehicle parked outside the Drake to take me to the airport without all the hassle of a taxi, subway, bus, or anything else. You wanna talk about a guy’s-guy event? That’s what this was. It was, just as the press leading up to it had described, a real back-to-basics kind of day. Eating, boozing, smoking, rocking out, riding motorcycles, and – lest we forget – a goddamned straight-razor shave. Was there any ass-kicking? No. But was it kick-ass? You better believe it.
Tags: 3 Aces, 8 to 8 Cigars, American Girl, Brauerhouse, Chicago, Cigars, Harley Davidson, Joe's Barber Shop, Pegboy, Scotch, straight razor shave, The Drake Hotel, The Flat Iron, The Onion, The Onion AV Club, whiskey, whisky, Wild Fire Harley-Davidson