I’m sad that Margaret and I won’t be able to make our annual wintertime trip to Chicago this year. It had become a tradition of our marriage. But Chicago requires travelers from Indiana to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival, making the trip impractical. Even if we did go, our unwillingness to eat inside a restaurant would make avoiding hunger challenging.
We used to go every December to enjoy Christkindlmarkt, take in a show, and finish our Christmas shopping. Then Margaret took a job where December is the busy season, and we started going in January as a way of relaxing after the holidays.
Chicago is not a popular destination in the cold and snowy months, which is why we go then. We get such great deals on hotel rooms! Last year we stayed in the gorgeous Palmer House for what it would normally cost at a suburban box hotel.
Light on the Millennium Park Christmas tree Canon PowerShot S95 2018
After Margaret and I got married we started making long-weekend trips four times a year. One of them was always in December, and we always spent that trip in downtown Chicago. Tourists don’t visit Chicago as often during the cold months, so we always got a deal on a hotel room. Chicago is lively in December, with Christkindlmarkt in Daley Plaza, ice skating in Millennium Park, and holiday shows in many of the theaters. It was the trip I looked forward to most each year.
We didn’t go last year because Margaret changed jobs and she can’t get away — December is the busy season where she works. It’s the big reason we’re not going this year, too. But COVID-19 complicates it even more. We’ve done some traveling during this pandemic, but always in weather that allows most of our activities to be outside. In December, everything about Chicago drives you inside!
I made this photo in Millennium Park at their giant Christmas tree. My trusty Canon PowerShot S95 did a pretty good job here. The tip of the big bulb is blown out, but with shallow depth of field it pleasingly rendered the tree’s other lights.
I had a lot of good photographic luck on our early-January trip to Chicago. So much so that I’m still sharing photographs from the trip in late March! I made these crossing the Chicago River at both Jackson Street and Adams Street. On Adams Street, we were walking to our breakfast at Lou Mitchell’s; on Jackson Street, we were on our way back. It was the end of our trip; driving home followed breakfast. I had Kodak T-Max 400 in my Olympus XA, and I hoped to finish it before we got back to our parking garage. I failed, but it was fun trying. I’m usually careful not to waste shots when shooting film, but on this walk I photographed freely. It was a lot more fun that way!
Driving across the Chicago Skyway Bridge Olympus XA Kodak T-Max 400 2020
I barely slept the last night we were in Chicago. So I handed my car keys to Margaret. It gave me this lovely opportunity to photograph the Chicago Skyway Bridge while we were crossing it.
This bridge, built in 1958, carries the Chicago Skyway, also known as I-90, across the Calumet River. At the end of the Skyway, eastbound, is Indiana. This is a toll bridge, but thanks to my EZPass transponder I have no idea what the charge is. I just add some money to my account before we go and let the EZPass pay the toll.
It was midmorning Monday. Traffic was light. For a moment, it looked like we had this busy bridge all to ourselves.
Inside the Palmer House Hilton Olympus XA Film Washi D 2020
Because I never take notes as I shoot rolls of film, once in a while I get an image back that I can’t place. I shot this whole roll of Film Washi D in Chicago, so it’s narrowed down that much. But I couldn’t remember whether I shot this inside the Cadillac Palace Theatre or the Palmer House Hilton. Peristent Googling turned up images that confirm this as the Palmer House.
Whichever it is, the Film Washi D did a nice job in the available light, delivering good tones in the marble. I like how the light falls off, giving this scene an air of mystery.
The fine folks at Analogue Wonderland gave me this roll of film in exchange for this mention. Film Washi films go in and out of stock at Analogue Wonderland; see their entire selection here.
Route 66 begins — or ends, depending on your perspective — in Chicago, in the Loop. Two key landmark sites remain on old Route 66 in downtown Chicago. Both are restaurants with glorious neon signs: The Berghoff and Lou Mitchell’s.
First, some history about where old 66 ran in Chicago. When it was new in 1926, it began/ended at Jackson St. at Michigan Ave. In 1937, that terminus moved east two blocks to Lake Shore Drive. In 1955, Jackson St. was made one way eastbound at Michigan Ave. Westbound Route 66 moved north on Michigan Ave. for one block, and then onto one-way-west Adams St. So it remained until Illinois decommissioned its portion of Route 66 in about 1977. (Signs came down on the rest of the route state by state through 1985.)
The Berghoff’s roots trace to about 1870 when German immigrant Herman Berghoff came to America and began brewing beer in Indiana. He moved to Chicago in 1893 and opened his beer hall’s doors in 1898. With Prohibition he converted the place to a restaurant. After Prohibition, the Berghoff won Chicago’s first ever liquor license and beer was back. The Berghoff has been at 17 W. Adams St. for all these years.
My first experience with The Berghoff was in 1983, as a junior in high school. All of us who learned the German language — ich spreche immer noch genug Deutsch mich verstanden zu machen — made a field trip to Chicago. We capped the day with dinner at the Berghoff. It was the nicest restaurant I’d ever visited — and this blue-collar kid was not prepared for Chicago restaurant prices. The least-expensive meal on the menu was beef tips in gravy with potatoes. That and an insultingly thin tip tapped me out.
I visited it for a second time on a business trip in 2018 with a few of the engineers who worked for me. We stopped in here for dinner and a beer after our business was done. We lived a little higher on the hog than I did in 1983, especially since we could all expense our meals.
My wife and I had our Chicago getaway weekend in January. A bartender at the Palmer House Hilton, where we stayed, recommended a place called Lou Mitchell’s for breakfast the next morning. It’s on Jackson St., about a mile and a quarter west of Route 66’s beginning. You cross the Chicago River on the way.
Compared to The Berghoff, Lou Mitchell’s is a Johnny-come-lately to the scene, opening in 1923. That predates Route 66 by three years. But the restaurant plays up its Route 66 heritage, even posting a replica of an original Route 66 sign on a lamp post outside.
Our breakfast at Lou Mitchell’s was a wild ride. We were greeted with a donut hole as we entered — which neither of us took, as both of us must follow gluten-free diets. There was a small box of Milk Duds for my wife, too.
Our chatty, entertaining waitress at one point sat down next to me in our booth and talked with us for several minutes. She revealed that she’d worked at Lou Mitchell’s since the early 1990s! She also marveled in mock frustration at the rest of our dietary restrictions — my wife is allergic to egg whites, making breakfast a challenge. I have to avoid onions, garlic, and beans, which thankfully isn’t challenging at breakfast time.
I ordered the gluten-free pancakes and two scrambled eggs. While we waited, our waitress brought each of us a plate with a prune and an orange slice. What the heck; down they went.
I regretted it when breakfast came. The two pancakes looked to be a foot in diamater. The mass of eggs was as big as of both of my fists together. I couldn’t eat it all — and let me tell you, I can put away vast quantities of food. Our waitress told us that Lou Mitchell’s serves nothing but double-yolk eggs. I can’t imagine how they manage that! Then she revealed that when you order two eggs Lou Mitchell’s serves you four or five.
It’s a point of personal pride that I eat all of the food served me, but I just couldn’t manage it at Lou Mitchell’s. I left about half a fist’s worth of eggs and half of the pancakes behind.
May the Berghoff and Lou Mitchell’s prosper for many years to come. Being able to enjoy landmark places like these on Route 66 in Chicago or beyond is what makes following the Mother Road rewarding.