Sunday, February 21, 2010

Planet Earth's Flipside

Here is the text of the story that I wrote for the Sun-Times (Feb. 12) on Late Bar, the new nightspot run by Dave and Kristine, who I've mentioned here recently.


For two decades, Dave Roberts has kept the New Wave music torch alive in Chicago. Residencies at Club 950, Spin, Neo and Holiday Club gained him a legion of followers for his weekly “Planet Earth” night.

But when he was asked where he went when he wasn’t working, he’d say, “I stay at home,” because there was no place he knew of “where I could go to have a nice drink and hear music I wanted to hear.”

Late Bar, which he and his partner Kristine Hengl opened on Dec. 26 in the Avondale neighborhood, may be that once elusive place.

The two have “always wanted a nice place for people who didn’t like to go to sports bars or Top 40 places,” he says. “A nice bar that’s comfortable and you can still hear the music.”

Late Bar is open late (until 4 a.m.) but the name has a more significant meaning.

“Late Bar” was the flipside to the Duran Duran single “Planet Earth,” and “this bar,” Roberts says, “is the flipside” to his “Planet Earth.”

He still spins New Wave, on Saturdays at Late Bar, but there’s also an array of alternative and independent music throughout the week there, be it ska, psychedelia, electronic, industrial, or 50s and 60s rock and soul.

“This is the house that Planet Earth built,” Roberts says, but the music, avant garde videos and d├ęcor (subdued shades of purple and framed black and white photos of the likes of Louise Brooks, Marlene Dietrich and Siouxsie Sioux) span the generations of what he calls “subcultural.”

The look is a far cry from the carpeted, wood-paneled neighborhood bar that had been there for the past 40 years, but Hengl says what they liked about the space was its neighborly vibe, something that they’re working toward in their own way, for a different crowd.

It’s a place to hear alternative music and have a beer, but where you can order “a martini and not have the bartender roll their eyes at you,” she says. The bar also stocks gluten-free and organic beers, as well as soy milk, for vegan-friendly cocktails.

“We know there are people out there who are looking for something like this,” Roberts says. “The vibe and the reputation are just what we want them to be.”


Late Bar, 3534 W. Belmont Ave., is open Tuesday through Saturday, 9 p.m. to 4 a.m.

Friday, February 19, 2010

I'm not gay, but my column is

Chicago Sun-Times ports columnist Rick Morrissey should just come clean and confront the issues he has with how he sees other males sometimes. In his column on Friday, Feb. 19, he once again wrote hundreds and hundreds of words which left left the reader wondering, "huh?" at its end. And, once again, he showed that he has some issues with what he sees as a lack of masculinity in male athletes sometimes.

The column this time around started off innocently enough, as he praised Chicago-area native Evan Lysacek for winning the gold medal at the Vancouver Olympics the night previous. But he couldn't simply congratulate Lysacek for his gold and get on with it. He had to attack the man's sport, as well as the effeminate nature of some who participate in it and watch it.

In discussing the matchup between Lysacek and the Russian who came in a very close second to him, Morrissey noted that, "Thursday wasn't an arms race. It was style vs. might." He added, "There's a raging battle in figure skating between the people who want athletic jumps to be rewarded more and those who think artistry should be recognized more. Some want higher and faster. Some want more chiffon."

"Chiffon." He was just getting started, though.

"I don't presume to speak for all men, but I will say that many of us would enjoy the sport more if one's vertical leap were valued over the spangled piping on one's pants."

A little uncomfortable watching the figure skating, are we?

But wait, there's more.

"Here's an added bonus, football fans. Lysacek managed to look halfway OK in his outfit."

"Football fans"? Why should anyway give a rat's ass what "football fans" think of figure skaters? Do people who like, say, hockey, worry about what those who like tennis think of their sport, for instance? That's almost like saying, "Here's an added bonus, steak eaters. The salad is halfway OK." It makes no sense at all and there is no reason to draw such an analogy.

Are you steamed, yet, readers? No? Well, what about this, then?

"This is sport as envisioned by college theater majors."

Attention theater majors, theater professionals, and theater schools: The offices of the Sun-Times are at 350 N. Orleans St., if you need to find it for your protests. It's in a building called the Apparel Center, which is next to the Merchandise Mart -- you know the place, where dozens, if not hundreds, of interior designers, kitchen and bath places, tile, rug, antique and decorative glass wholesalers work out of. It is also the home of an art and design school, as well as a couple high falutin tea and coffee shoppes. It's a really gay place -- wonder how comfortable Rick feels working there.

He then wrote, about the outfits, "I also know that there was a skater wearing a tuxedo with spangles (he fell) and another dressed like a swashbuckler (down went Errol Flynn!).

The Czech Republic's Tomas Verner, in a rhinestone-studded vest, skated to the music from ''The Godfather,'' bringing to mind what Luca Brasi said to Don Corleone: ''And may their first child be a masculine child.''

I know! He cannot help but write about the figure skaters' costumes, but he qualifies his comments by saying, more or less, that these skaters are soooo gay.

There's more: "Jeremy Abbott of the United States smacked the ice hard while attempting a quadruple toe loop, but at least he tried. However, points should be taken off for the blue satin shirt buttoned to the top.

Why doesn't somebody break out and wear something different? Jeans and a T-shirt. Muscle shirts. Anything."

So, let me get this straight (ahem) here -- Rick Morrissey seems to be saying, in this pointless column, in effect, that "figure skating is so gay. It kind of makes me feel a little gay, which I don't like. Maybe if I just could root for figure skaters to fall down and snickered about their outfits and wished they wore more masculine clothes, I wouldn't feel so uncomfortably gay."

Mind you, this is the same guy who addressed the "scandal" that was a few of the Chicago Blackhawks players being photographed shirtless in a limo in Vancouver earlier this season by saying the thing he had the problem with wasn't that they were caught with their shirts off, literally, but that they looked like they belonged in a boyband, and not a hockey team. Morrissey wrote that he wants his hockey players to be hairy and have chipped and missing teeth and look like smelly mouth-breathing types, and not like young, smooth, wrinkle-less, doe-eyed boys that he ... well, I don't want to go all the way there, but why would he criticize hockey players for looking good with their shirts off if it didn't make him uncomfortable with the way in which he saw these men?

And, let it be noted that when he was with the Chicago Tribune, he spent a column-worth of prime newspaper space commenting on how he did not care for Chicago Bull Kirk Hinrich's very plain haircut.

Morrissey ended Friday's column by writing, about men's figure skating, "after (flamboyant figure skater Johnny) Weir, (Lysacek) looked like a wing-tipped businessman in a sleek, dark outfit. Maybe there's hope yet for this sport."

There may be hope yet for this sport, but not for Rick Morrissey.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

"There's an all-night party..."

Sometimes -- OK, oftentimes -- I feel in a rut professionally. My efforts to be something bigger and better than what and where I am now meet small degrees of success, but these successes seem fleeting, and it feels like every time I get a rung up on the ladder, that rung breaks and I'm back to where I was. Every time it seems that I'm about to replace some nationally-known but not very interesting columnist at the Sun-Times, I quickly find myself back to the reality of calling far away suburban police and fire departments in the middle of a weekend night to get details on an accident or shooting, only to be told to call back on Monday.

But enough pity for today, because I need to remember that there was a time seven or eight years ago when I truly, truly hated my work circumstances, when there were times I'd be ill at the thought of going to work at a soul-sapping place, and the one place where I felt free and happy and still full of some sort of potential was at neo, on the new wave "Planet Earth" Thursday nights, with Dave Roberts spinning the discs and a bunch of wonderful, welcoming people working the bar and door and filling the dancefloor. And I need to remember, also, that I would not have believed anyone had they told me then that one day, only a handful of years from that time, that Dave and his other half, Kristine, would have their own bar, and that I would write about it for the Chicago Sun-Times.

Well, Part I of that dream happened just a couple months ago, when Dave and Kristine opened Late Bar, in Chicago's Avondale neighborhood. Part II comes true Friday, Feb. 12, when my story about the place is scheduled to be printed in the paper. The piece is small, only a few hundred words, and there is no accompanying art, but I feel as though I've actually achieved something here. My particular work situation often sucks, but the consolation is that old refrain about having your foot in the door...well, I guess that's true in a way. Now I just need to get the rest of my ample self through that damned door!

Excuse me for a couple days here while I pat myself on the back. In some ways this is a minor accomplishment, but in other ways it signals how far I've come, though there is still a ways to go.

Ghost in the Machine

The ghost is following us. The ghost that I was certain lived in my apartment now has decided to step outside and go for a ride every so often. Maybe he (I am thinking he is like Casper the Friendly Ghost) gets lonely in the apartment or he gets bored turning the lights off now and then or maybe he just likes to get some fresh air from time to time.

I say this because beginning back in oh, October of 2009 or so, my car began squealing and screeching, sometimes very loudly. But this only happened when I hit the brakes while going forward, so, naturally I surmised there was a problem with the front brakes. I took it to probably the worst mechanic on earth, at Ashland and Lawrence in Chicago, and though they charged me about $900, a couple days later the squealing was back. Yes, I should have taken it right back to that place,, but I was so infuriated and so afraid that a second trip would cost hundreds more, that I eventually just thought it wasn't worth the pain; that I'd just write a scathing Yelp review and go somewhere else, to get the brakes and nothing else, fixed, for my own peace of mind.

Eventually didn't happen until this past week, when relying on good reviews, I took it to a guy named Andy, at Damen and Montrose. Andy is a thin little hairy guy with a neck tattoo, but hey, if there's any line of work you can be in where a neck tattoo wouldn't matter, it would be his. The first time I met him, on a Friday, he said he was backed up and wouoldn't be able to look at the car for a couple days, but if I wanted, he could refer me to a buddy of his with a shop up the street. Um, no thanks there Kris Kringle, telling me to go to Gimble's, but thanks anyway. I took it back to him the following Monday, and he said that after driving it around abit, then taking it apart (!) he couldn't a) hear the squealing and b) there was nothing wrong with the brakes. And he didn't charge me a dime. If I found out anything this week it's that I will take my car, be it this one or the next one (I am lusting for a new Hyundai Tucson, Nissan Rogue, Ford Focus 5-door or BMW X3 ... hey, I can dream, can't I?) Andy's will be the place I take it to.

Until that new car comes along (I'm making the last loan payment on this one this month), if you're listening to that "Car Talk" show and you hear someone say, "Yeah, dis is Jim from Chi-caw-goh, and I got aToo Dousand Ford Fo-kiss," it may be me.

Of course, the car still squeals when I hit the brakes, so I have determined that it's just the house ghost, and he wants to go for a ride. Buckle up, Casper!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Rainbow Pancakes

These pancakes are soooo gay. In a good way, you know, because they are pancakes, after all.