Aloft in Chicago, Waving Goodbye to NIN and consuming Hot Dogs for three straight meals.

wavegoodbye1As I continue following the Nine Inch Nails Wave Goodbye tour, weekend two brought me to Chicago for two shows. Since Ryan and Angela were also attending this weekend’s shows, I chose a hotel close to theirs since we were sharing a car. They were staying at the Hyatt Regency O’hare, which is where they flew in. I chose the Aloft Hotel a “vision”of W hotels a few blocks away.

After weekend one, in New York where I stayed in a run of the mill, cookie cutter like, however clean Holiday Inn, the Aloft was a welcome change of pace from the typical blah hotel.

My room with one king-sized bed was reasonably priced at 78Aloft signdollars a night not including Chicago’s recently crowned king of highest travel taxes in the US of about $10.30 a day. I booked directly through the Aloft hotels site since it bested’s price by ten dollars. The Aloft O’hare built in 2006 has a modern interior that feels very fresh. If you are familiar with Ikea’s minimalist designs, much of the decor and finish at Aloft is very similar. My room was nice and clean and had a form follows function layout. The bedroom bedking -ized bed was comfortable and had two smaller and one large down pillow. The room featured a very nice 47″ plasma/LCD hanging on the wall perfectly mounted for viewing while laying on the bed. There was a nice wood feature built into the wall that doubled as a desk and a partial cover of the AC/heater unit for the room. Between those was a couch which seemed a bit oddly placed but I ended up using more than I wall wood

The climate controls were mounted on the wall with a temperature setting rather than the typical fan hi/lo, hot/cold settings usually found on the climate control unit. The bathroom was really cool but lacks a bathtub so if you are one that takes a bath you may want to steer clear. I found the shower very spacious and really liked the touch of having one side of it a frosted window that faced out into the bedroom and used natural light from the room’s exterior window to allow more light in. BathroomAnother cool touch is rather than sample-sized soap and shampoo conditioner combos, they have wall mounted pumps in the shower to use as much or as little as you need. A face scrub, bar of hand soap, and lotion was also provided in sample size to cover those needs. I commented to Ryan and Angela in the halls at one point that this felt like something one would expect to find in Las Vegas and they agreed.

The lobby had a nice bar and plenty of interior and exteriorwxyz lobby seating. Some of the patio seats were even around fire bowls and there was a fire place inside. There was also a free pool table, bag toss outside in the porch area,  and several board games on various tables through out the lobby for impromptu pick up games of connect 4 and other classics. A feature I liked were a couple of touch screen monitors near the front desk that allowed for quick and easy access to airline check in, boarding pass printing and flight status, flight status was also provided on a nice large LCD monitor in a corner. There is a snack type pantry that is always open. Grab what you want and have the front desk scan it to add to your bill. The final touch I liked was the times square like news ticker that wrapped around one of the walls providing news updates.lobby 2

If I had anything negative to say about Aloft it would be location. Unless you are staying in the O’hare area it’s pretty out of the way  from downtown Chicago being about 25 miles one way from downtown Chicago. Add in perpetually heavy Chicago area traffic and this lead to making sure to add about an extra thirty minutes to each trip into town, which is where we spent most of our time. Parking is also a bit of a sore spot, it’s twenty dollars a day, about as much as I was paying for my rental Fusion. On this particular weekend the lot always had plenty of spaces which made me feel as if this was just another traveler’s tax that was really unneeded. It was also a pain having to go to the front desk every time I wanted to leave to get my ticket validated thus allowing in and out privileges. Had I not billed parking to my room, it would have cost thirteen dollars every time I came and went. Perhaps I am just spoiled by free parking every where you go here in KC? There is just little to no free parking in Chicago, that’s a bigger city for you. I highly recommend staying at an Aloft hotel, I certainly will be seeking them out when I travel out of town in the future.

As for the weekend in Chicago? I had a blast. Flying in on time via Southwest airlines to Midway airport Friday morning I quickly picked up my rental Ford Fusion from Thrifty at a super rate thanks to of less than $25 dollars a day and was on my way. During my May trip to Chicago, I rented a Ford Focus, having driven two Ford vehicles for a couple of days now I can say I am pretty impressed with them. It takes quite a bit for me to say this being raised in a GM household and a died in the wool Honda fan/owner over the last dozen or so years.

donutsI did as I typically did once out of the lameness that is car rental paperwork and punched in the closest corporate chain doughnut shop (AKA Dunkin’ Donuts) into my phone/gps/modern geek’s swiss army knife and grabbed some breakfast. Running out to the hotel, I checked in and then quickly made my way to the Aragon ballroom to do some “NIN Gating” or as most call it wait in line.

AragonIf you follow me on twitter you can tell I was bored out of my skull. Chicago fans, they are not the friendly chatty types I typically encounter (or was it me?). Just a bunch of pent up glare throwing folk. No biggie for me, just makes the line wait longer once my phone battery dies, which is pretty quick in these situations. Once into the venue I enjoyed the show. Being that I am a NIN super fan and have seen them live about 18 times now for me to review the show would be biased. Thus… I will give you a set list and say it was nice seeing La Mer, Gone, Still, & Banged and Blown Through live again. The tease of potentially playing the entire 1994 EP Broken live similar to The Downward Spiral being played in it’s entirety at last week’s hot, but amazing Webster Hall show, was a major tease. I really enjoyed seeing the opener, Mew live. Prior to the tour, I was aware they existed but had never listened to any of their material. Taking a crash course on it the last several weeks leading up to the tour, I have fallen in love with their 2006 release, “And the Glass Handed Kites”. Unfortunately, the Chicago NIN fans did not take to Mew but were still polite enough to clap for them between songs and at the end of their set.

Nine Inch Nails Set list August 28, 2009 Aragon Ballroom

March of the Pigs
Something I Can Never Have
The Frail
The Wretched
Terrible Lie
Head Down
Banged and Blown Through
Gave Up
La Mer
The Fragile
Non Entity
Gone, Still
Lights in the Sky
The Downward Spiral
Letting You
Down in It
Gone, Still
Atmosphere w/ Peter Murphy (Joy Division Cover)
Dead Souls w/ Peter Murphy (Joy Division Cover)
Kick in the Eye w/ Peter Murphy (Bauhaus Cover)
Hand That Feeds
Head Like a Hole

White CastleAfter the show, I was hungry so I pulled my trusty (now charging in the car) phone/gps out and punched in a request for some corporate chain food action. This time I was on the hunt for burgers (AKA White Castle) driving through on my way back to the hotel by the time I got back, I was thirsty and hungry yet satisfied all the same from the high of the show.

On Saturday’s cool autumn weather morning, Ryan and Angela came into town. They caught the shuttle to their hotel and I swung by to pick them up since it was too early for them to check in. I did a quick search on google maps and found a local place called The Original Pancake House to grab some breakfast. From this moment on Saturday save breakfast was a locals only eateries dining wise.

Thanks to the trusty GPS guiding us to the bustling Original Pancake House, we headed in and were seated within about 10 pancakehouseminutes. The  Original Pancake House was a popping little place that obviously has a very loyal, very local crowd. We looked and felt out of place. It’s shabby chic interior features a Christmas tree year around in the middle of the dinning room with model trains running around it. Part of it felt as if I had walked into someone’s house and their grandma would be by to serve me at any moment. I ordered the french toast which was so so. It seems I have been spoiled here at home by the amazing french toast at The Blue Bird Bistro. Due to them, I have my french toast bar set very, very high.

Heading back to the hotel I dropped Ryan and Angela off so that they could check in and catch a quick nap. I did the same and also plotted course for one of Anthony Bourdain’s 13 places to eat before you die Hot Doug’s. Local note Oklahoma Joe’s is listed at number 13 on Mr. Bourdain’s list.

hot_dougsRegrouping we set off for Hot Doug’s thinking that getting there about an hour or so before closing time would help avoid their notorious line. We would soon find ourselves sadly mistaken. Pulling up to Hot Doug’s, which is kind of in the middle of nowhere and only does lunch hours from 10:30am-4pm Monday through Saturday, we thought we had arrived at the Aragon for that night’s Nine Inch Nails show. The line stretched half way down the block. Being concerned that they would close the door at 4 and leave those in line shut out we were apprehensive about jumping in line knowing we had the NIN show toHotDougslogo_medium attend. After checking with some friendly locals in line, our fears were set aside when we were informed that the line is closed at 4 and all those waiting will be served. After waiting in line for close to an hour and a half it was our time to experience the finest most amazing “encased meat” meal I dare say I may ever have.

Hot Doug’s, which was already well known and established garnered further attention for taking on a ridiculous Chicago law that once banned the selling of Foie Gras in Chicago. They served a Foie Gras sausage and fries that were fried in duck fat after the law went into effect. This lead to Hot Doug’s owner Doug Sohn getting fined prior to the ridiculous law being overturned. The whole story can be found on HotDoug’s wikipedia page. I ordered both once illegal eats and a traditional or classic dog with all of the typical 0411-HotDougsChicago toppings. I can say comfortably that eating at Hot Doug’s changed my entire view point on sausages and encased meats. I am in love with the current culinary trend of making simple foods amazing with how they are topped, made, or mixed with higher end fare. Hot Doug’s doesn’t make their dogs and sausages in store. Where they excel is in the quality of their toppings and the pairings used on them. For some local KC examples of simple foods gone high end check out Blanc Burgers + Bottles for burgers or a more extreme example the Justus Drugstore in Smithville. If you go to Chicago it is a must that you make a trip to Hot Doug’s.

So the final Nine Inch Nails show in Chicago ever… if that isn’t that tinged with hyperbole, I don’t know what is. If front man/NIN himself Trent Reznor is to be believed it’s true. Based on the performance and the emotion of it all at the end  it certainly did have a pretty heavy feeling of finality to it all. A recap of the set list is below. Highlights for me? I’m Afraid of Americans, Final Solution, & Right Where it Belongs v2.0 which they have rarely played.

Nine Inch Nails Set list August 29, 2009 Aragon Ballroom

The Beginning Of The End
March Of The Pigs
I’m Afraid Of Americans
Gave Up
La Mer
The Frail
I Do Not Want This
Gone, Still
Right Where It Belongs v2.0
The Way Out Is Through
Mr Self Destruct
The Good Soldier
Dead Souls
Reptile (with Peter Murphy)
Strange Kind Of Love / Bela Lugosi’s Dead – Bauhaus covers with Peter
Final Solution – Pere Ubu cover with Peter Murphy
The Hand That Feeds
Head Like A Hole

DSC09219Ryan and Angela recorded the entire show. It’s still hard to believe that there’s only five shows left for them to play (four by the time of this article will be published) and I will be attending my final two in a few short days out in LA.

After the show, we hit the town to grab a post-show meal. It was a brisk chili night, if my phone didn’t say it was August I would have sworn it was late October. The windy city was living up to it’s name as the wind wasn’t helping things on the temperature front. Making decisions with where to get some food, Angela had heard about this place called the Wiener’s Circle. Using my trusty phone/GPS we looked it up found the address and were quickly on our way to an experience unlike any other. The Wiener’s Circle is located in the area commonly referred to as Wrigleyville.It gets the name as it’s the immediate area surrounding the icon that is Wrigley field home of the Chicago Cubs. It’s an area that feels like Westport but on a bigger city scale due to block after block of crowded bars. It didn’t hurt that the Cubs had played earlier that night and a couple of clubs in the general area wereDSC09176 hosting so called after parties for the NIN show. Finding some amazingly close on-street parking we wandered over to the vibrant and busy Wiener’s Circle. By the time we left we had consumed 3 “char” dogs with some fries, been cursed at and yelled at, and experienced the “chocolate milkshake” first hand. This place was a site to behold, drunks milling around, employees that have a take no prisoners, nothing off limits approach yelling at the customers. This place would probably be slapped with an NC-17 if the MPAA were to have their say. Needless to say, I now have two must eats for future Chicago area visits. I highly recommend checking out the Wiener’s Circle, be sure to go some time after midnight or later for the full experience. The Wiener’s Circle is open until 5AM Just be sure to leave little ones or those with delicate egos and sensibilities behind, or you will regret it.

The Wieners CircleWe ended the evening at a local dance club that caters to the local goth crowd and was hosting one of the mentioned show after parties. The club was called Neo, yes like the Matrix. Neo has been around for 30 years so it was here well before the Wachowski films titular character from their trilogy. Neo was more or less a typical dance club that was filled with NIN fans and goths. There was even one guy acting like a local Vampire sheriff similar to Eric in season one of True Blood which was interesting/entertaining. Drinks weren’t too expensive considering where we were but it isn’t cheap to drink in this town. Chicago is either a town of pricey cover charges or they were capitalizing on those out of town by instituting such charges, I would conclude it to be a bit of both.NEO We had earlier stopped by a different goth club, that had (I kid you not) pretentious goths with a much pricier cover charge. I guess that’s a bigger city for you being able to cater to a group of people that, to the best of my knowledge, have nothing similar in this cow town. Chicago is a fun party place, with last call at 4:30am it’s easy to quickly make the following day wasted due to a hangover.

Sunday morning came too quickly and like that, the weekend was over. I had a final Chicago style dog at the airport from local favorite Superdawg that was pretty tasty. On my list of Chicago dogs I would break it down as follows: 1. Hot Doug’s 2. Superdawg 3.The Wiener’s Circle.

I had a great time in Chicago and the bar for my third and final “Wave goodbye” trip to Los Angeles has now been set pretty high.wavegoodbye2

by John Coovert

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