My first road trip in what seems like a great while came to a close with a spontaneous stop in America's third largest city, Chicago, on Monday. Though I'd been before, it had been more than four years since I'd properly visited the Windy City.
After taking a brief, self-guided tour of Northwestern University's campus in Evanston, Illinois, I drove on down into the city and located the hostel I was to stay the night at, a wonderful little place called the Freehand on East Ohio Street in Chicago's River North district.
Now, I probably cannot say enough good things about the Freehand, but I will certainly give it a go. Step foot off the street into the lobby and you're immediately met with an atmosphere that is perhaps aesthetically similar to your average Hollister Co. clothing store — though you can subtract the preppy surfer vibe from that equation (or whatever negative connotation might come to mind when "Hollister" is mentioned).
The lighting is dimmed just so, the décor tasteful, the overall atmosphere inviting and, for lack of a better word, simply "cool." Check-in is to your right, the lounge and bar — called the Broken Shaker — straight ahead, and a neat little café to the left. A single bed for the night, in a co-ed room shared with three other people, cost me a mere $47, and the digs, while small, were certainly cozy.
I would end up spending some time in the Broken Shaker later that night, but first, after taking my stuff up to the room on the ninth floor and parking my car around the block, came a stroll around River North and some of the Loop, Chicago's central business district. I went ahead and checked out Navy Pier too, even though I knew I wouldn't be doing much shopping or going on any boat tours.
Thanks to the wonders of social media, I arranged to meet with a friend that I hadn't seen in quite a long time. He and I met up at the LondonHouse Chicago on Upper Wacker Drive (what a name, am I right?), grabbing a drink at the establishment's rooftop bar overlooking the Chicago River. He said the LondonHouse provided one of the best views in the city, and he was not kidding — aside from the building across the way with the big letters reading T-R-U-M-P, that is.
Afterwards, I grabbed a quick bite to eat at a Shake Shack on East Ohio and then headed back to the Freehand, as the Broken Shaker was supposed to be hosting a birthday party (its own) with drink specials and whatever else.
As it would happen, I ran into one of the fellows I was sharing my room with, a gentleman from Germany, and he introduced me to a couple of his friends who were also staying at the Freehand. (Side note: I love that hostels, as opposed to your average hotel, are conducive for meeting new people.)
I got some food with them — or, I should say, his two friends and I watched him eat because we had already had dinner — and then we shared a drink at the Broken Shaker whilst all the birthday party festivities were going on.
Next morning, I grabbed coffee with another friend I had not seen in some time in the Freehand's café and capped off my brief stay in Chicago with a visit to Millennium Park, where a selfie with the Bean is almost contractual, and the Art Institute, where I found a couple neat photos of James Dean taken by Dennis Stock in 1955.
All in all, a successful end to a trip that began with a stop in the random rural town of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.