Cold weather not a problem for Chicago golfers

by Jon Cohn

If you are a hard-core golfer stuck in the throes of long Chicago winters, there is no need to worry.

It’s not necessary to plan trips to warm exotic locations to play your favorite game. You can put the plane ticket away, cancel hotel reservations and killer greens fees and tell your golf buddies, you’re saving money  and staying home this winter.

Plenty of indoor golf options have opened in Chicago’s  downtown. Oftentimes just a stone’s throw from where you work or live.

Among the options are indoor facilities such as Play 18  Chicago, 17 N. Wabash, TopGolf Swing Suites, 900 N. Michigan Ave., My Chicago Golf, 707 N. Milwaukee Ave., Catalyst Golf Performance, 440 LaSalle St. (in the Chicago Stock  Exchange building), Five Iron Golf Chicago, 609 N. Dear- born and in the neighborhood, Th e Lakeshore Fitness Club. 

All offer the unique option of playing golf indoors and include a variety of league and game play competitions.

The new indoor golf facilities use high-level technology.  You will hear terms such as “Trackman Launch Analysis,” “Quintac Ball Roll Analysis” and “Immersive Golf  Technology.” Not sure what they all mean (I had a bad sophomore year geometry class flashback just writing those words) but all are designed to fi ne tune the avid golfers game and give optimal realism in play.

With the improvements in video technology and virtual reality, golfers can now “play’’ 50 of the greatest golf courses in the world indoors, and all with the sound of snow plows and shovels hovering just outside. A new day hath dawned for winter golf enthusiasts in New Eastside, which funnily enough is itself built on the site of Chicago’s first public golf course.  

Restaurant Week the ultimate test for New Year’s resolutions

by Jon Cohn

The challenge is on, and it won’t be easy.  The problem? This month features  Restaurant Week. 

One of Chicago’s most celebrated winter events is about to  kick off and it will provide the greatest of challenges to those  still  fighting to keep those resolutions of eating a little less and  watching their waistline.

Dangerous territory, indeed. If you do venture out, here is some basic information: 

More than 370 of Chicago’s  nest restaurants will participate in the 13th annual Restaurant Week from Jan. 24  to Feb. 9.  e event has grown every year and features a multitude of the eateries from downtown, nearby neighborhoods and the suburbs—all offering discounted meals that include some of their finest selections.

Special menus are concocted, new items offered and the friendly, service-with-a-smile atmosphere make up a truly tempting 17 days of potentially eating your way through the Chicago area.

Yes, those New Year’s resolutions will be severely tested.

Can they hold up under the pressure of some of last year’s favorites such as octopus at The Dawson, cauliflower soup at Baptiste and Bottle or chorizo-stuffed  dates at Avec Mediterranean Restaurant? The popular pork bellies at Enzo can rip apart New Year’s resolutions faster than Michael Phelps cuts through water.

New restaurants will be fighting for your attention, including Pizzeria Portfolio on the riverfront; Tzuco in River North featuring a unique take on Mexican food; Cebu, a Filipino restaurant in Wicker Park; and Galit, a new Lincoln Park eatery specializing in Israeli food.

Bottom line? It will take some real fork discipline and a little mental toughness to not overindulge. I think they call that  the Chicago Way. For more information, go to ChooseChicago.com

John Cohn is a New Eastside resident.  

THIS ONE COULD GET A LITTLE TRICKY

by Jon Cohn

If this month’s topic was a gymnastic event, the judges would give it a degree of difficulty rating in the high 9s. 

Figuring out the best way to talk politics with friends or family members during the holidays may be a near herculean task. It’s like a female gymnast fighting desperately to regain her balance as she leans perilously close to falling off the beam—first leaning too much to the left, then too much to the right.

But having no particular fear of heights, or touchy topics, we take on the task.

Let’s start with an area of agreement.

It’s a volatile and controversial political time. There are some strongly divided views of our country and how it is being handled. Heated discussions on the topic have caused bad blood between otherwise friendly compatriots.

Often, because of our natural aversion of conflict, we stay silent. When friends and family get together, they will discuss everything from movies to music and birthdays to sports. But politics? A little too dangerous. Call it the “stay away—danger ahead” zone.

I suggest a break from the norm. 

I think now more than ever we need to be talking about these things. What’s happening in this country and around the world is tremendously significant. Volatile, dangerous and controversial, yes.  But, not things to ignore or not discuss.

We need to be informed. We need to hear other sides of the issue. We need to keep discussion lines open. And somehow, we need to deal with opposing views and come to common ground and understanding.

So this Thanksgiving?  Don’t be afraid to get into it a bit with Uncle George, Aunt Martha or crazy cousin Clyde. Feel free to fire up the old discussion grill and have at it. Just remember to keep it civil. No matter how heated it gets, understand you’re still family and you’re still friends.

It requires a tough exterior, no doubt, but ignoring the topics can be just as dangerous.

Man, do these kids have it good at the playground

By Jon Cohn

I recently checked out the Maggie Daley Park kids playground. Oh, to be young again!

The playground of my day was a couple of chain swings, maybe a teeter-totter (remember those things?) and a really COOL  jungle gym. 

Fast forward some 50 years and welcome to today’s state-of-the-art playground.

At Maggie Daley Park, visitors can start with the watering hole, a special play area for 2-5 year olds. Adjacent to this is a separate area dedicated to swings, which includes three old-school, strap-in swings and one grand luxury swing, complete with big bucket seats and extra leg room.

Decked out with two giant climbing tree-house towers and a beautiful wooden suspension bridge, the main area really has the ‘wow’ factor that made me want to just climb on in, but I didn’t because I was over the age limit.  Connected to the tree-house towers are two gigantic winding slides that I would have loved as a young kid. Suddenly my old jungle gym didn’t seem so cool.

I was dubious about a four-pronged metal slide I spied. I’m not sure what metal bars were all about, but it sure would be very painful for any fully formed adult male to slide down and so I didn’t try it.

Just when I thought the playground tour was over, I stumbled across a pirate-ship area, really cool nest swings (think giant baskets where two can ride), and an enchanted forest.    

Yes, an enchanted forest, complete with winding paths, cool trees, mini statues, a maze of mirrors and more slides. They just don’t make playgrounds like they used to.

The grass, mud and wood chip flooring we had in our playgrounds has been replaced by a comfy and colorful soft, spongy surface.

I’m not sure I would say today’s kids are soft but the surface they walk on sure is.

Keep it on the down low, but I may go back when it’s a little dark and not many people are around. I just might climb up that tower and go head first diving down that giant winding slide.

Forever young.

The votes are in and the best month of the year is … September

(Published Aug. 31, 2019)

By Jon Cohn

In an unofficial tabulation of informal voting done by this column—with apologies to runner-ups May, November and December—the month of September has won Best in Show as the overall most enjoyable month of the year.

If you are reading this column in the month of publication, you’re living the good life (at least we hope so).

Why does September deserve the top month nod?

There’s the consistently pleasant, if not gorgeous, weather. Throw in Labor Day weekend, Jazzfest, baseball playoffs, start of the football season and the fact that summer tourists have mostly left the city streets—and you have a winning combination. Did we mention the beautiful weather?

September radiates like the smiling bride walking down the aisle, as beautiful in the beginning as she is at the end.

The minor dissent (there’s one in every crowd) could come from school-aged children who equate September with the whole back-to-school thing. Admittedly, that could be put a damper on the celebration.

But we press on.

Another key takeaway is the reminder that summer is not over. Not by a longshot. Remember, the gorgeous weather we experience now is payback for the lousy April and May weather. Soak it up and enjoy.

If you feel the season went by way too quickly and you didn’t get to all the things you wanted to do, fear not. There’s still time to hack away at the summer wish list.

If you didn’t get to that Wisconsin weekend getaway, a boat ride, a ball game, the Navy Pier excursion, the beach visit, a camping trip, cookout or any of the other myriad of summer activities, there is still time.

But don’t wait too long. Halloween candy was just spotted at your local grocery store.

Some friendly (and not so friendly) reminders for the Air and Water Show

(Published July 31, 2019)

By Jon Cohn

One of the Midwest’s great summer events descends upon the city as the Chicago Air and Water Show rears it’s noisy, but exciting, head on Aug. 17 and 18. 

Huge crowds are expected and the Chicago beachfront will be packed, which could present some interesting challenges. So, as a long-time veteran of the spectator wars at the Air and Water Show, we present some crucial “don’t forgets.”

  • Don’t forget to get there early. More than two million people attended last year, so there will be battles for prime viewing locations. For an up close and personal experience, North Avenue Beach is perfect, but prepare to be squished in among a throng of fellow viewers.

Great viewing locations exist along Oak Street, Ohio Street and Fullerton Avenue beaches. My secret spot is the long line of elevated steps between Ohio and Oak streets, offering a great view and it’s a little less crowded.

  • Don’t forget sunscreen. If it’s a hot day and you forgot your SPF 30 you will cook like a Fourth of July hot dog on a grill. A hat with a flap is also recommended.
  • Don’t forget to bring fluids (preferably water). Bring snacks, too, if you don’t want to wait in long lines for food.
  • Speaking of long lines, don’t forget to go to the bathroom before you head out. Washrooms are available along the route, but you might as well bring a book as the wait can be excruciating.

Don’t forget to bring a camera and binoculars. The up-close looks can be spectacular.

Don’t forget to keep an eye on your dog. The loud noises can freak out even the calmest of pets.

Don’t forget Friday is practice day. Many a downtowner has panicked thinking air raids or worse when the planes do their runs.

Don’t forget to duck when the Blue Angels or The Thunderbirds head your way in a screeching, loud, downward spiral. It’s a natural reaction, we all do it.

Finally, don’t forget to enjoy the show.

A good, long walk: Therapy for the soul

(Published June 30, 2019)

By Jon Cohn

Stress is something nearly everyone has to deal with. Thankfully, in this modern age, there are plenty of potential remedies available.

Varieties of yoga, mental meditation and restorative mindfulness practices (not sure what mindfulness is, but if it works, I am all for it) are just a few of the popular options for getting rid of stress.

But nothing works like a nice long walk to regenerate the spirit, get the blood flowing and cut through daily strife.

A walk offers great tension relief, heart health and can be mentally refreshing. Walking is easy on the body and fits around almost any schedule. There is no need to sign up for classes and there are no annual fees.

There are many wonderful potential walks in the nearby Lakeshore East vicinity—the Riverwalk, Michigan Avenue or any Chicago streets—where you can get your exercise and do some great people watching as well. Then there is also the quieter, more sublime beauty of Northerly Island or a morning beachfront stroll.

My favorite walk includes a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow—the best tacos in Chicago.

For this route, head to the lakefront and begin walking south. Stroll past the beauty of DuSable Harbor and Monroe Harbor, gazing quickly at illustrious Buckingham Fountain as you pass by. Then around the bend, toward Shedd Aquarium and the Adler Planetarium. Take a peek back for one of the most gorgeous views of the Chicago beachfront and skyline. But don’t stop there. Keep going as the path dead ends finally at Twelfth Street Beach.

There you will find some of the best tacos on the beachfront at Del Campos Tacos. Fresh, tasty and filling, they are a just reward for a great, long walk.

After the tacos, there could be a temptation to Uber home. No, no, no. You worked too hard for all this, and the walk back is just as invigorating as the walk there. 

Outdoor grilling: A guide to make sure we all get along

(Published on May 30, 2019)

By Jon Cohn

Summertime is upon us, and with it comes one of the great pleasures of the long days and warm weather: outdoor grilling.

That scrumptious smell of steak, burgers, chicken or fish cooking on the grill. Rubbing them all with your favorite sauces, maybe some grilled veggies and, of course, the sound of one’s favorite beverage popping open.

It all sounds great, and it usually is.

But there are some challenges, especially for those living in the city with shared grilling areas and much closer quarters than suburban backyard. This requires a little common courtesy and understanding with the neighbors.

For instance, those living in condo buildings with designated areas often find themselves in situations where the number of grillers is greater than the number of grills.

I have seen instances where more than the grill gets overheated.

Occasionally, the group cooking experience looks more like a rugby scrum, complete with pushing shoving, and a few far less-than-polite verbal jabs. People get caught up in the conflict and, tragically, the meat on the grill gets neglected. Never let this happen!

Cooking on your own balcony comes with its own challenges. Respecting nearby neighbors, keeping the area clean as possible and bring sound down to a minimum. And don’t sweep any excess off the balcony onto floors below. That is a huge condo no-no.

When it comes to safety, Chicago Fire Department Chief Walter Schroeder said it’s best to grill in the shared grilling facilities, but if a balcony must be used then an electric grill is best.

“Obviously charcoal grills are very dangerous on a balcony,” he said. “That’s not something that should be utilized in that type of an environment.”

He added propane grills are both dangerous and illegal in most apartments and condos with more than occupants in the whole building.

“It acts like a bomb if it should have a leak,” he said of propane tanks.

And no matter what sort of grill is used, Chief Schroeder said cooks need to remember some basic safety tips.

“We want to make sure you’re practicing fire safety,” he said. “Don’t leave the grill unattended. Don’t leave it too close to the building. Don’t let children or pets around it. Sometime pets can knock it over. Really, those are all common sense practices, but sometimes we forget these things and get carried away.”

Beyond safety, downtown residents will want to remember courtesy, too—especially when using a shared space.

Some additional dos and don’ts to help prevent barbecuing courtyard anarchy:

Do come prepared, so when you get to the grill you are ready to go without delay.

Don’t hover over somebody who is doing their cooking while waiting for your turn.

Do offer to share your grill if there is room to spare.

Don’t forget to scrape and clean the grill when you are done. Ditto for the grilling utensils.

Do feel free to strike up conversation. Grilling can be a great way to make new friends.

Don’t talk so much you neglect the meat. Many wonderful cuts of beef have gone to over-charred heaven due to the griller flirting with a neighbor.

Do enjoy the experience and take in all the wonderful smells that bring joy to our olfactory senses.

With a dash of patience and a pinch of friendliness and common courtesy will make the outdoor grilling season more enjoyable for everyone.

The ups and downs of riding on elevators with dogs

(May 1, 2019)

By Jon Cohn

Let’s talk for a minute about man’s best friend. No, not the cell phone, but instead our beloved fine, furry, fluffy friends.

We all know dogs are part of the neighborhood scene in Chicago. Most love the idea. The unique connection of man and dog goes without saying. Who amongst us hasn’t reached out at times to pet a nearby stranger’s dog?

But, we have to be respectful of the fact that not everyone shares this close connection with dogs. Especially when it comes to riding the elevator.

So we offer some quick friendly reminders for dog owners when their beloved pets are joined by other passengers in a sometimes very-close-to-each-other elevator ride:

Try and keep your dog sitting, and as far from the other riders personal space as possible. If Mr. or Mrs.  Elevator Stranger asks about the dog or wants to pet it, be as open as you (and your dog) feel comfortable.

When the elevator door opens, and this requires a little reading of the body language of the other riders, let them go out first. Most will signal you with your dog to go first—but just in case, be ready to step back.

Of course no sniffing, barking or worse yet growling—from you or your pet. Those go without saying and are the trademarks of a well trained dog (or well trained owner).

The issue while insignificant to some, can, in fact,  be problematic for others.

“There are definitely a few people in our building who are terrified when they get on the elevator and there is a large dog, said Harbor Point resident Monica, who is not a dog owner. “Sometimes even the small dogs are afraid!”

Aqua building manager Alana said, “We have no written policy about dogs riding on elevators, and really in my years here we have had very few complaints.”

Bottom line, gang? We are all in this together. Strangers, often thrown together for a brief moment in time.

With a little common sense and basic respect we can all enjoy the ride down to the ground floor, and that includes man’s best friend.

First we learn to crawl, then we learn … to drink?

By Jon Cohn

I’m not sure how the great tradition of the “pub crawl” started.

I’m not even sure that Chicago is the home for these particular events, but based on the number of them coming up we might as well be.

For those not familiar with this unique concept, let’s loosely call it a form of recreation, socialization, physical exercise (remember, there is walking involved!), and of course drinking. The basic idea—and there have been many takes on this—is for groups of people to meet with a common theme and wander to various drinking establishment in the assigned area. One drink per location. A rule, not surprisingly, that is broken early and often.

As you can see from the description, the concept isn’t very complicated. The beauty in its simplicity.

Here’s the good part: Whether you are a veteran pub crawler or a novice looking for a new experience, there are plenty of opportunities to get in on the fun coming up later this month.

St. Patrick’s Day alone offers several opportunities.

Among your selections would be the Irish Stroll Pub Crawl in River North, the Wicker Park Bar Crawl, the Lincoln Park Bar Crawl, the Division Street Bar crawl, the Logan Square Bar crawl, and the Shamrock Crawl in Wrigleyville—again, all on St. Patrick’s Day. There’s no lack of opportunity to “get your crawl on” if you so desire.

Can’t make it St. Patrick’s Day but the idea still interest you? No worries. There are many more to come, such as the Cultural Crawl (drink and explore new neighborhoods) on April 13, The Office Trivia Bar crawl April 6, and the Cover Your Bases bar crawl in Wrigleyville on May 18.  September, October and Halloween bring on another barrage of potential pub crawl experiences.

Check out eventbrite.com/d/il–chicago/pub-crawl for more complete listings.

Final note: These pub crawls often start at 8 a.m.— yes a.m. — not a typo.  Pub crawls are apparently not for the faint of heart (or liver).

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