Reviewing the year that was is a popular and trendy thing to do. And based on Facebook, it seems like everyone had a pretty good year. My 2014 offered plenty of happenings and friendships and travel, and opened the door to what is sure to be a memorable life experience. I know that California will have a lot to offer, but will always be fond of home and everything last year provided. I’m late for pretty much everything in life, so it should be no surprise that my year in review comes a handful of days into the year following. I’m just glad to be done with this entry before February.
TEN – Bar Louie – Dollar Burger Tuesdays at Bar Louie became an important and regular part of my routine last winter during basketball season. It was easy to stop at the bar for a pint and a burger (and tots!) after a feeder basketball practice. Davey and I would occasionally discuss strategy regarding plays or defenses or lineups or coaching philosophy… Or we would order a second beer and focus on watching the Blackhawks. The promotion recently changed and is now $5, but includes a side to pair with the burger. The Bar Louie Southwest Turkey Burger with jack cheese, roasted red pepper, jalapeno, and avocado hit the spot every time.
NINE – Chicago Blackhawks – Speaking of the Hawks, I was fortunate enough to see my team play in three different arenas in 2014 and am happy to admit I’ve got a front row seat on the Chicago Hockey Bandwagon. I grew up watching the Hawks away games and ordering Hawkvision Pay-Per-View for Roenick-era Playoff games, but recent Blackhawks hockey is an exciting new experience. I saw a heartbreaking playoff loss last spring in St Louis, but the team soon after won four straight to advance into the next round. Davey and I went to a game at United Center against the Flyers for an impressive victory just before I moved to the West Coast. And I made it to Honda Center for convincing Black Friday win over the Ducks. The Blackhawks have my full attention despite now living in California and not having Chicago cable access. I’m able to stay informed thanks to Twitter follows like @realfansprogram and @marklazerus.
EIGHT – New Holland Brewing – The California promotion was casually mentioned and then seriously offered in late August. I asked that I could wait to submit my decision until spending time with family and friends over Labor Day weekend. We had a great long weekend together, despite knowing the gravity of the situation. It may have been the high ABV beer at New Holland, but more likely the tears shed that caused us to turn the wrong way down a one way street. Thankfully the friendly officer pointed us in the proper direction and sent us on our way without any further trouble. We packed as much Pure Michigan as we could into the holiday weekend.
SEVEN – Burt’s Place – I almost didn’t want to include Burt’s and give away the secret of the best pizza in Chicago. But it was too good to not mention our Father’s Day Sunday Night Pizza at this Chicago (area) landmark. If it can be worthy of mention by Anthony Bourdain, it can be included on this quaint blog. Lou Malnati’s or Gino’s East may be more well-known, but Burt’s Place is the best pizza I’ve ever had. The kitschy decor and quirky wait staff and bizarre reservation/ordering system only add to the experience.
SIX – Mickey Finn’s – The old Mickey’s on Main Street in Libertyville was a great place with a fantastic outdoor area and diverse selection of ales and lagers. This was a must stop destination after youth basketball games played at the Libertyville Sports Complex or elsewhere in Lake County. But the new Mickey Finn’s is an amazing place. The interior is a blend of old and new and is able to seamlessly combine a century of Libertyville history with all of the modern technology and conveniences and friendly service of a high-end sports bar. Grab a seat at the bar or in the restaurant or secure the private party area. I will return this summer to have a pint of Amber Ale in the new and improved beer garden.
FIVE – Arlington Park – It has been my practice to not combine work and pleasure, but this MSCI Event in August was too good and too close to home to pass. And I was able to combine work and friends and fun and MONEY during this warm summer afternoon, hitting on a streak of small, complicated wagers that were enough to pay for dinner that night. When describing to others where I live, if simply saying Chicago does not suffice, I’ll casually mention that I’m from Arlington Heights, “ya know, where they hold the Arlington Million at Arlington International Racecourse.”
FOUR – The Salt Lick – In any other year, our afternoon at Salt Lick may have been the number one highlight. Texas is an expansive place that offers lots of things to do, but The Salt Lick BBQ is a must-visit. Its located somewhere between Austin and San Antonio. What was originally planned to be a simple drive-thru for a taste of brisket turned into a wonderful, outdoor summer kick-off afternoon. We listened to live music. We people watched. We sampled Lone Star and Shiner. We devoured plate-fulls of smoked meat and beans and cobbler. I cannot recommend The Salt Lick highly enough. Just make sure your GPS is charged and plan on spending a few hours on the property to fully enjoy the communal eating experience.
THREE – Boulder Ridge/Terrace Hill – I grew up playing most of my golf along Route 62 in Algonquin. My family belonged to Terrace Hill on the south side of the street. My grandpa worked for Mr. Plote and belonged to Boulder Ridge on the north side of 62. Since my grandpa passed, I no longer have the same perks of playing country club golf at Boulder. But recently they have relaxed their policy and I’ve been able to play BR each of the last two summers.
This was my best ever year of golf and included my first hole-in-one at Boulder Ridge on the 188-yard Seventh Hole. It was a sucker pin tucked over a bunker on the far left side of the green. Our foursome played quickly so that the twosome of members could play through. I played last after temper tantrum’ing a lousy start to the round and pulled my four-iron slightly left of my aiming point, but it was never off target. The ball disappeared and we all celebrated awkwardly. I’ve got the plaque and scorecard to prove the accomplishment, but with most of my other things, it remains packed in a cardboard box.
Besides the Ace at Boulder, I also participated in the club championship at Terrace Hill. I had only played in one other competitive tournament since high school golf, but wanted to play Terrace one last time before moving. It was a miserable, cold, rainy, gray October day. I laid in bed that morning wondering if I should even play. But since I had already paid I made the trek to Algonquin, fully layered in fleece and corduroy and rain gear. Long story short, I tied for low score in the event, before eventually losing a playoff on the first hole after scrambling through the trees.
TWO – Mago & Harry’s – We had long tried to plan a double-date with G+L, but the pressure was now on since I would soon be leaving for California. We ended up being a party of six and had a fantastic dinner at Mago with plenty of mezcal to wash it down. The plan was then to walk over to Harry’s for a night-cap, but what I did not know what that there was a surprise going away party waiting for me there in the upper deck. It was fantastic to get another chance to see friends from Hersey and Parkside one last time before leaving town. We indulged a bit too much, and much of the night remains a groggy memory. But it is an evening that I’ll cherish and be grateful to know so many people were willing to offer a proper send off. Perhaps Harry’s will soon get the same farewell treatment as it is traded to new management and converted to Cortland’s Garage.
ONE – Long Beach – The last month of my year was spent wandering aimlessly, not knowing where anything is. Racking up the data plan on my phone with no cable or internet or GPS. It took a full week to not get to and from work without getting lost. During that same week, I slept on the floor with no furniture in my apartment. My most frequent/only guest has been the handyman fixing minor issues throughout my apartment. Until I returned from Chicago to Long Beach after Christmas, the entire California experience has seemed like an extended vacation. But now that I have returned and the five-day work weeks and early wake up calls have commenced, this now feels more authentic and permanent. And I’ll spend my 2015 trying to make this foreign place my new home.