Imagine you are getting old…but that once you recall being young in the beautiful city of Chicago, and having quite the night life with your friends. You went to see bands at the best music venue in the city. It was the most intimate space with great sound, easily accessible by the Western bus. It was the Empty Bottle and you saw many great bands play there. So many great bands that naming them would make the youngsters of today writhe in jealousy before eventually dying of boredom from length of your list. But for highlights, let’s just say you saw Bow Wow Wow (and Annabella still wasn’t looking very old), Moonshine Willy (repeatedly), the Demolition Dollrods(wearing only Saran wrap and mouse masks, with a few slices of individually wrapped cheese preventing them from incurring indecent exposure charges) and one time- you even saw your own daughter’s band play there. There were many other special moments too, but just say that there was a time when Huber Bock was sold for $1 and the night air was full of music and the bartenders that currently are employed there were very much in diapers. I am that old person who once haunted the Empty Bottle with my small cache of friends, one of whom will not stop texting me names of bands we saw there over the years since I just decided to pick his brain about it.
So when local literary food magazine Graze announced their All Chili Considered event to take place there on December 21st midday, how could an old person resist? For once I’d hit the Empty Bottle and be home before 2AM. I wrangled up my fellow Empty Bottle dinosaur food appreciatin’ friend Tracie, and we hobbled over, after a quick cider and burger across the street at Lockdown just in case the chili was sparse. There were 8 professional cooks and 8 homecooks represented at All Chili Considered. For entertainment there were a handful of readings, some chef interviews by the hostesses of Chewing the Fat Louisa Chu and Monica Eng, some MCing by the publishers of Graze Brian Solem and Cyndi Fecher and live music from the band Sewing Needle.
We entered from the not corner door, because that’s how it’s been for years, my friend reminded me. This was proof that memory loss had already begun. My brain had frozen time so that a bouncer was positioned just inside the graffitied door of 1993. But it was 2014 as we strolled the familiar worn hardwood floors and sampled the chili like returning royalty, giving the Heartland Café’s traditional ,yet vegan chili our blessings just as we bestowed them upon Yusho’s Asian inspired chili which involved lime zest and soy sauce among a number of other mouth watering ingredients.
As we perused and sampled chili, people were recognized and befriended while we enjoyed a PBR, the Huber Bock of today. Before the band began, we crouched in the confession tent and drew a random question to answer for Graze’s archives. My question was good; What is the most embarrassing dinner date you recall? I’m not sure what I said exactly, because while I described how a culinary school chef once tried to woo me with seafood and garlic-and then make out- a large cheering squad of drunk people outside the tent egged me on with their helpful advice and lighting suggestions. Tracie drew an even better question; What do you think about people who consider themselves foodies? She had a nice long rant about it while I held her lighting source and wished the question had been mine to dice up. I would have said this: To call oneself a foodie is to insult all humans, because food is enjoyed by most of mankind, and in saying that you are especially qualified to enjoy food, you are disqualifying everyone else by default. I have always advocated for a better term, a term that admits you are maybe more of an adventurous eater, or perhaps less discriminating than all of mankind since you are equally willing to put cow intestines and okra in your mouth. Not too long ago a Facebook entreaty of mine about the word garnered some suggestions, mostly from really good cooks or adventure eaters like myself who have felt the shame of saying ‘foodie’ out loud. Here is a short list of the suggestions: snackulist, gastronome, noshmologist, smakosz, foodologist, gourmand.
I wish the judges at the chili event had had a chance to weigh in on our alternative ‘foodie’ label as well as the winning chili. Just before local food specialists and noshmologists Martha Bayne, Julia Thiel and Anthony Todd cast their votes on the best chili of the mid-afternoon, Tracie and I were called away by mid-life duties. Before we swept out of the ancestral music hall of our young adulthood, I verified that some of the bathroom graffiti of recollection was still visible. This side project, though by no means chili related, caused me to forgot to cast my vote as I exited. Although Tracie assured me she at least had voted on our behalf. On the way out, Tracie told me she was sure she caught a look in the young bartender’s eye of pity, one that seemed to contemplate the improbability of crusty old folks attending such an event. We laughed the whole way home, after a quick stop to ogle at the exorbitant prices of the Amish grocery health store across the street. I was in bed well before midnight and I’m sure that bartender was forging some great memories at that evening’s show after they had turned out the foodologists to let the young music fans back on their home turf.
A partial list of the bands my friend Bryan just texted me in the past hour that we ‘may’ have seen there, meaning he saw them there and is threatening to dig up his records: Goblins, Bow Wow Wow, Demolition Dollrods, Moonshine Willy,Tortoise, Sea and Cake, Frontier Upper Crust, Mono Men, Makers, Lord High Fixers, the Drags, Flaming Lips, Mountain Goats, Thee Headcoatees, the Monkeywrench, New Rob Robbies, Silkworm, Gastr del Sol, the Donnas, Vandemark Five, Five Style, Jale, the Inhalants, Gaunt, New Bomb Turks, Mo Tucker, John S. Hall.