Shirley Reminisces About the Old Town Year That Was


That was the year that was. It's over, let it be.

The Christmas tree is down. The ornaments are packed away. 2010 is over. But before I close the book and, as the song says let it be, I'd like to mark some milestones and share a few Old Town memories of the year that was.

And the Winners Are:

Come January, people (inclding me), start thinking about awards. There are the Golden Globes, the People's Choice, the New York Film Critics, the Oscars, etc. Well, I have a few awards of my own I'd like to pass out--I'll call them "Oldies"--to Old Town's Achieving People.


Topping my list of "Oldies" winners is the incredible Candace Jordan. Just take a look at some ofher accomplishments. As Vice-President of the Joffrey Ballet's Women's Board, she co-created Couture and Cocktails, a fundraiser that brought in nearly one million dollars for the company. That's just for openers. She went on to co-chair a fundraiser for Chef Art Smith's Common Threads, a cooking program for Chicago's underprivileged children. She has now raised $1.3 million for that group. She will co-chair the event again this year at Soldier Field. Impressed? There's more. A founding member of the Inaugural Women's Board for the Ronald McDonald House Charities, she co-chaired Macy's 2010 Glamorama, the proceeds of which went to the Ronald McDonald House Charities. This year's gala doubled ticket sales from the previous year. Candace will chair the event in 2011. She also helped raise funds for construction of the world's largest Ronald McDonald House being built right here in Chicago. It is scheduled to open in 2012. She spent countless hours volunteering for the Development Board of PAWS Service Club, and she works on the Parkways Foundation. She is on the steering committee that introduced ballroom dance programs to the Chicago Public Schools. Whew! Is it any wonder that she was named Woman with a Heart for Chicago's Hearts-a-Bluhm campaign and that she was honored as a woman of the year for her philanthropic activities by both Today's Chicago Woman and Chicago Magazine?

Steve Weiss is another 2010 "Oldies" winner. If you don't know Steve, let me introduce you. Steve, his wife Lucy, and their daughter Isabel live in what is arguably the most recognized house in Old Town--the little yellow house on the corner of Menomonee and North Park. It is a "kit" house, built from lumber that survived the Great Chicago Fire. He says that on some days, when the wind is right, he can smell the burnt wood from 1871. Imagine!!!! Steve is a media mogul who is very involved in social networking and new media. he is an owner of Zacuto USA, a manufacturer of digital accessories. Zacuto's product line has grown to over 250 items, making Steve a trendsetter in the industry. An internationally known filmmaker and leader in the indie film community, Steve recently won an Emmy for outstanding achievement in an informational series with his film The Great Camera Shootout of 2010 (a sequel is in the works for 2011) Old Town is very proud of Steve.

Our literary light, Tom Payne, published a ground-breaking book this past year--The Template of Time: Our Destiny Decoded, and for that, he too wins an "Oldie". Of his oeuvre Tom wrote: Sprinkled throughout the Bible are these curious little time patterns that are like pieces of a puzzle. When they are put together, they form a grid upon which history unfolds with a consistency and specificity that rules out the possibility that this is the result of chance. I call that grid The Template of Time. If you haven't read this fascinating study, it is available in local bookstars and online through Amazon.

And in all immodesty, I report that I (Shirley) have been commissioned to write a "hidden history" of Old Town by the History Press out of South Carolina for their local history series. So, is it okay if I take an "Oldie", too? The book, tentatively titled Our Old Town: A Magical History Tour, will be composed of a series of short stories tied together by location, time, trends, and people--mostly people. Chapters include "Way Up Yonder in the Cabbage Patch" (the settlement of Old Town in the 1840s by German immigrants); "The Saloon and the Saloon Keeper" (the role of the saloon in Old Town history); "Hollywood by the Lake"( when Chicago and Old Town were the center of the movie industry); "Old Town and the Great Chicago Fire" (how the fire affected Old Town); "From Resting Place to Recreation Space" (the transformation of Lincoln Park from cemetery to park); "Wells Street, That Swell Street" (when Wells Street between North Avenue and Division was the go-to place for entertainment); "Movers and Shakers" (Old Town's most famous and interesting inhabitants); and "The Shady Ladies of Old Town" (the brothels of Crilly Court). The book is scheduled for early summer 2011 release.

A much-deserved "Oldie" goes to our favorite prima ballerina, Caroline Baldwin, who is now a featured dancer with the Royal Danish Ballet in Copenhagen. During the past season, Caroline danced feature roles in the company's production of Sleeping Beauty. Danish dance critic, Eva Kristup, praised Caroline in the Copenhagen Report. She wrote, Caroline made a strong debut as a fairy and as a young Lilac Fairy in the third act divertissement. To add to Caroline's holiday joy, the Queen of Denmark was in the audience to view her triumphal debut. La-di-dah!

And an "Oldie" to Jeff Weaver, Music Director at Walter Payton College Prep High School and his Sounds of Sweetness. This internationally acclaimed men's choral group was much in demand in 2010. In addition to the many other gigs they performed, they sang the national anthem for the Cubs at Wrigley Field; for the Bears at Soldier Field; for the Bulls at the United Center; for the White Sox at U. S. Cellular, and for the Blackhawks at the United Center. (By-the-by, they sang in D.C., New York, and Beijing in 2009. Just thought I'd throw that in.) Congrats, guys.

"Oldies" to favorite Old Town restaurants Perennial and Twin Anchors. Both were awarded the prestigious Bib Gourmand by the noted hotel and restaurant reviewer Michelin Guide. Bib Gourmand is awarded to restaurants judged to offer very good food at very good value. So, take a bow Rob Katz and Kevin Boehme (Perennial) and Paul Tuzi and Gina Manrique (Twin Anchors). I should mention that the Katz and Boehme restaurant, Boka, just across the Old Town border on Halsted Street, got a Michelin Star.

Another Opening, Another Show

Our little neighborhood saw the arrival of some popular eateries in 2010. HomeMade Pizza opened its doors at 1651 N. Wells. Of their outstanding product, acclaimed chef Grant Achatz (Alinea) said that his last meal on earth would be oysters and pearls from Thomas Keller; his own homemade tagliatelle with shaved white truffles and butter; and pizza from HomeMade Pizza Company. How about that for an accolade?

Chipotle moved into Piper's Alley and became one of Old Town's go-to food places. Neighbors flocked in to try the popular burritos; crispy and soft tacos filled with beef or chicken; guacamole; and their signature Chipotle Salad.

Benchmark took over 1510 N. Wells and became "one singular sensation" with lines forming down the block from day one. Owned by the 4-Corners Tavern Group, Benchmark is a combination sports bar and night club with a really HUGE viewing area. Oh yes, they serve food, too.

Kelwin's settled in the former Josephine Boutique on Wells Street and offered up fudge, ice cream, and other sinfully delicious sweet treats. Good thing the 'hood has plenty of fitness establishments where folks can go sweat off the calories.

Everybody's favorite Twin Anchors expanded with a new operation, Twin Anchors' Catering. Fans can now throw a party and have Twin Anchor's fabulous ribs, chicken, and more delivered right to their doors. The Twin also introduced a new barbecue sauce called "Prohibition" sauce because it is hot, hot, hot! But, good, good, good. Try it.

If you haven't visited these new places, come on down--or up--or whichever way you need to come and bring your appetites.

Last Call for an Old Town Friend

In 2010, we had to say good-bye to our friend, Larry Taylor. Those of you who knew him were as shocked and saddened as I at his passing. How many times do we walk past Catering/Chocolate at 1712 N. Wells and expect to see Larry sitting in the window. He was there when Cobey Catering moved in; he was there when the shop became Catering/Chocolate; and he was there all the time in between, until October of 2010. And then, he wasn't. Larry left us on October 24. He was fifty years old. I have my special memories of him. He always told me the best cheese to buy, the best French butter, the best balsamic, the best jams--the best of everything. Every time he made a recommendation, I'd taste it and exclaim, "Oh My God!" and then, I'd buy it. I also loved going in to gossip with him about what was going on in the neighborhood. No one could dish the dirt quite like Larry. Others will miss his impish smile, his sense of humor, his devotion to his little Chihuahua, and even his addiction to "junk food". All "those foolish things" will remind us of him. Jay Shindler said it best, "We will miss our friend".

And so, good-bye to all that. Time now to turn the page.

But now the days are short, I'm in the autumn of the year. And now I think of my life as vintage wine from fine old kegs--from the brim to the dregs--it poured sweet and clear. It was a very good year.





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