There probably aren’t too many people in here who’d know what a ‘mardy bum’. So it’s fairly easy to work out – from the British, northern accent, who put the Arctic Monkeys on the jukebox at The Lodge – an English-cum-ski-chalet-cum-almost-anything bar on West Division Street.
Gary is from Bury (pronounced properly, as in Buree not Beree) and has worked “on and off” in Chicago for about three years. I don’t ask his trade, as it’s pretty late and he’s surrounded by a bunch of American workmates who’ve clearly been drinking for several hours. They don’t know what a mardy bum is either.
The Lodge itself is a friendly bar along a strip of after work haunts in the so called Magnificent Mile area – a street full of huge shops and big business. Though by 10.30pm most of the roads are virtually empty, at least on a Tuesday night. Some of the best places to drink are those in real neighbourhoods. The problem being, nobody really lives around here, so there’s no neighbourhood. Still, there are free peanuts, which after a flight of indulgent food and drink is just about enough to keep me awake for a couple more drinks.
The beer is a Goose Island, a native of Chicago. And – for a downtown bar – pretty good value at $5. The hat cost significantly more, and it’s a good job I brought it. In recent weeks, temperatures here have plummeted to a staggering -40c; as we landed at O Hare, the pilot welcomed us to “character building” +5c. The trouble is, I’m famous for losing hats, so it’s best I keep this one close to my pint.
But although it’s getting frosty outside, US Customs seems to have significantly warmed their default position for visitors. The immigration hall has dozens of (working) electronic terminals, which – remarkably for me – recognises my passport, knows that I already have an ESTA via waiver, efficiently takes my fingerprints and issues a receipt. The whole process takes about 10 minutes, and that includes the second check from a human being.
Then again, the authorities already had me on their radar. At the boarding gate at Heathrow, my name was called. I was ushered swiftly into the Business Class fast track queue. The helpful British Airways lady began “You have been selected today for…” – this was it – a First Class upgrade, a chance to turn left into the hushed tones of the 10 seat exclusive cabin. I’d be given my own chauffeur on arrival, who I could keep if I so wished.
“You have been selected today for an additional security check by the US Immigration Service.” My passport was taken from me and together with five other passengers I was asked to wait in a featureless room. Thankfully, the search consisted of an additional bag scan and a pat down. No latex gloves today… More time for this.
Order a Millennium Knickerbocker anywhere else in the world, and you’re likely to get (a) a puzzled look, (b) if British and from the 1970s, an exotic ice cream sundae or (c) arrested. In the Windy City, though, it’s an elegant hotel dating back to Art Deco times, though tastefully modernised in recent years.
It’s upscale, business like and not the cheapest place to stay. But it’s about as downtown as you can get, and NewsMutt does hs usual thing by checking the essentials first.
This all looks rather promising…