Chicago’s affluent downtown neighborhood of River North is not without pockets of underdevelopment. There’s the unsold penthouse at Trump Tower. The old siren of a firehouse on Franklin ever tempting developers dining across the street at Gene & Georgetti. Or those concrete highrise sarcophagi along Grand that fall a couple dozen stories short of maximizing every last air right.
But most glaring: that mostly barren block of Orleans between Huron and Erie. With its two surface lots, a shuttered recording studio and late-night Mr. Beef stand, this is River North’s “Valley of Asphalt.”
And with a redundant literary nod, it’s overseen by not one, but two larger-than-life visages: two immense advertisements of Clive Owen* hawking British vodka while separated by no more than 70 feet of blacktop and a Mr. Beef roofline.
One of the Clive Owi looks north up Orleans. The other south. There, night and day, they keep a non-sober vigil over the anus end of the River North entertainment district. With two-foot-tall eyes, they seemingly see all, but are probably just locked in a Narcissistic staredown.
To be fair, the Owi possess a good face. The Cary Grant hairline, clefted chin and eyes so cerulean as to have made book learning feel unneeded. So powerful is the Owi gaze that to step between them is to risk being torn asunder by their competing tractor beams of charisma. With one’s hypnotized top half ripped and flipped over the Mr. Beef and your nether bits and pieces whipped in the peckish direction of Erie.
But the Owi should be careful. They would not be the first celebrities to befall misfortune in these parts. Consider pro basketball player Antoine Walker, who lived in a townhome two blocks away on Huron where in 2007 he was ambushed, duck taped and then relieved of a Mercedes Benz, briefcase of jewelry and more than $10,000 in cash.
Then two years ago Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro was accused of slipping a Mickey to a woman met at the Crescendo night club on Ontario. Or the bodyguard of former Chicago Bear Tank Johnson’s who was shot outside the Ice Bar night club (later a.k.a. the Highball Lounge on Clark near Superior).
And befitting one of the more macabre applications of the term “entertainment district,” River North was once home to public hangings at Hubbard and Dearborn, with 86 men perishing on the gallows for all to see from 1887 to 1927.
So mighty staring Owi— Do not let the area’s yuppie veneer throw you. Danger stalks the Valley of Asphalt. Do not blink. Do not think. And by all means lay off the cheap British vodka.
*British actor Clive Owen is known for such movies as Steve Martin’s remake of “The Pink Panther” and “The International.”
SkitSketchJeff is Jeff Burdick, who is a resident of River North thanks to an extremely lucrative blogging career.
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