- a usually young person who is trendy, stylish, or progressive in an unconventional way;
someone who is hip.
I looked up “hipster” in the dictionary recently because it’s a term my adult children throw around in reference to their sometimes chronically cool friends. This makes me laugh because I swear in the 60’s my parents were “hipsters” yet my kids think their generation invented the term. I’m not so sure my 83 year-old mother isn’t still a hipster.
I took my mom to Chicago for her birthday in early September, and we had a blast. My mom, who had traveled all over the world with my father before he passed away last September, had never been to Chicago. In the taxi on the way into town from the airport she was like a little kid; completely excited to see a town she’d heard so much about but didn’t know. Lest you get the wrong impression – ageism lives in the most open-minded! – my mother is sharp as a tack, witty, well-educated and fairly mobile considering she broke her hip (ironic in the context of this blog post) last February. She has a background in studio-art, reads like a fiend, has great taste and is a sparkling conversationalist. I have been to Chicago a number of times over the years but I too was really looking forward to this trip so we had an ambitious schedule for 3 days in the Windy City, and my brother was flying west from New York City to meet us.
Friday morning we ate a late breakfast at the newly re-opened Chicago Athletic Club. My mom was up at the crack, dressed chicly in black-on-black and sporting a substantial appetite. We were staying around the corner at the Palmer House so it was a short walk to a great cup of coffee, a waiter in a man-bun and a plate of rabbit hash with roasted tomatoes for breakfast. A note about the Athletic Club – The street level entry which is deceptively simple boasts a black and white tile floor and a plain-ish oak podium manned (womaned?) by a plump-ish, friendly, Midwestern sort of girl. All smiles and solicitude. One floor up is the main lobby of the club, and the vibe couldn’t be more different. The place was a bastion of “hip-itude.” Gothic fretwork, Victorian fireplaces, library reading tables, velvet cushions on cozy window benches, worn leather armchairs, books piled within reach on every surface, and random paintings – some of them good – clustered on the walls.
Just past the front desk and the hushed tones of painfully bored, metro-looking staff is the game room complete with an oyster shell Bocce Ball court, a rack specifically for dodgeballs (I couldn’t figure out where one would actually play that game), shuffleboard, darts, skittles, foosball and a full bar (obviously). My mom paused between the tap handles to exchange styling tips with the “darling” (her word) bar tender/hipster dude in flat-top afro, split down the middle and bleached on one side for a ½ black ½ white head of hair. Awesome!
We followed up breakfast with a tour of the new Renzo Piano modern wing addition to the Art Institute of Chicago (my mother held forth), and a walk down the Miracle Mile for some shoe shopping. We had dinner at Naha in River North with local friends, (Boyd’s National Sales Director and her husband), who happen to be related to the talented Chef Carrie Nahabedian and her gregarious Operator cousin Michael Nahabedian. The meal started with a warm soup poured gently over a velvety garlic custard and got more ridiculously delicious with each course. After a day of stunning architecture, limitless world class art and sublime Michelin-starred food we were beginning to love Chicago.
Saturday morning we found ourselves back at the Athletic Club for more hipster vittles, followed by long walks and more shopping – always fun in a hip town. We went to the top of the Hancock building to see the view down Lakeshore Drive, then had a beer in Millennium Park where my skeptical brother was blown away by the ability of “Cloud Gate,” my all-time favorite example of public art, to completely mesmerize a crowd. This piece, affectionately known as “the bean,” is made of steel, is polished to look like a drop of liquid mercury and adorns an elaborate staircase that leads to the new-ish Pritzker Pavilion by Frank Geary. My mother was less impressed by the band shell than the bean. She stood transfixed next to a teal-haired Asian dude wearing shorts, a tie-dyed tee-shirt and army boots…and she didn’t even notice him. I think that’s the draw of the bean, it caters to the narcissism in all of us…you stare into its side and you see yourself reflected with all of Chicago as your stage.
Saturday night we dined at Maude’s Liquor Bar over the river on the west side. My mother stepped out of the Uber and said, “I’m the oldest one on this entire side of town, and you two are too old too,” or words to that effect. We got it. We had just stepped out into hipster paradise. There was not a clean-shaven face in the hood…or the restaurant…but once again the food was awesome…the atmosphere was awesome…the drinks were awesome…
It occurs to me that we spend a lot of time eating in Chicago…hmmm…
More food….Sunday morning I had one of the most incredible meals of my life, when we brunched at North Pond in Lincoln Park north of the Chicago Zoo. The quaint little craftsman style building was once a warming hut for ice-skaters, and is now an amazing restaurant with a to-die-for brunch and a to-die-for view of the city skyline over a tranquil pond teaming with turtles.
Sunday afternoon we capped off the trip with a cruise down the Chicago River on one of the city’s famous architecture tours, the perfect thing to when the dogs are tired. Our guide, complete with (yet another) man-bun and beard, was an architecture student at the University of Chicago. He took a shine to my mom who asked about Jeanne Gang, Daniel Burnham, Fredrick Olmstead, Frank Lloyd Wright, Bertrand Goldberg… between the fire that burned down the “old” Chicago and the World’s Fair that built up the “new” Chicago, innumerable legends have left their mark on this incredible town.
Monday afternoon I poured my mom into her plane seat with a smile on her face. She said that Chicago reminded her of New York, Boston, and San Francisco all rolled into one…but only the good parts.
I’ve been to Chicago a handful of times, and each time I find something new to love. This time it was the food…and the architecture…and the man-buns…and the perennially hipster old lady with her eyes and heart wide open.