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Restaurants & Bars 12

Guide Books Part Deaux (dreadfully long)

Vital Information | Dec 12, 200111:20 PM

I've been surrounded of late by old guide books. On the radiator behind me, on the sliding board that comes out of the desk, in piles on the floor, intermingling with actual work. I want to write about them, but I have not quite figured out what to say.

Let me get this out of the way, Rene, since I seem to have just about every guide book/food book on Chicago, I surely have the Rohde's Good but Cheap Chicago Resturant Book. You are more than welcome to borrow it in exchange for bringing either some Lem's ribs or Ramova chili to Oak Park.

Good but Cheap was chowhound back when computers were still programed with FORTRAN. A lot of the places we talk about today are mentioned in this book. For instance Hamburger King, subject of a recent write up by me is described, "not for gourmets, but amogst greasy spoons, it has no peers." Manny's is listed as one of their favorites. Rene would be happy to know that several Hungarian places are mentioned including Magyar Czardar. In addition, a lot of places that we should talk about: Hackney's, Maller Building Coffee Shop, Svea, Frances' are written up. Because the emphasis is on cheap classics, this book seems to have a bit more relevance than other old books.

For a different set of resturant ideas, there is Captive City, a 1969 expose, reporting "the startling truth about Chicago." An "anti-social registrar" of mobsters comes with as an appendix. For each outfit member, you get his "frequents". As you may imagine, many Cicero, Elmwood Park, and Melrose Park spas frequented. Tom's Steakhouse, noted in chowhound last week, also made Captive Chicago.

Not only do I have Dennis McCarthy's Great Chicago Bar Guide (1978), but I have the 1986 revision. Perhaps because older is always has more value, I like the first version better. In the second book, he shows more scholastic pretentions, with various mini-essays, including this warning on saftey, "Be Cool." I like the fact that in the first edition, he names the propietors of the bars, so if you want a free drink, you know who to ask. You also learn that Otto's Beer House is run by someone named Stellatello (and that contray to what I alway's tell Ms. VI, Scottie Pippen has no relationship to Pippin's Tavern). The earlier book is also just plain more interesting. There are write-ups of the Midget Bar and the Deaf Club and a great sounding pool hall at 4100 N. Lincoln (area sound familiar).

Another bar book I have is Dr. Nigh Life's Chicago. Rick Kogan's paen to his own drinking prowess. The conversational alter ego thing between Rick and Dr. Night Life grates, and the book rekes of insiderness. Mostly, I like the chapter where Rick get's utterly plastered with Irwin Shaw. It was a better world when our famous authors and hack newspapermen could actually drink the reported 11 jack daniels, 2 bottles of wine, and 2 navy groggs each.

A book that's all together mundane, but extremely well done is Chicago Magazine's 1983 "Guide to Chicago". The book is very Rene like in that they go nearly business by business in some neighborhoods, describing resturants, bars, and shops. Moreover, they do not limit themselves to the standard tourist paths. Bridgeport/Canaryville, Pilsen, Albany Park, Uptown, all get mentioned. Anne Spiselman, my favorite resturant critic, acted as principal writer/researcher for the book. Her hand is evident in the many obscure ethnic resturants listed. Oh, for a revision!

Jory Graham's Chicago: an extraordinary guide (1967)was mentioned by someone in my last posting. I dug around and I realized I had that too. There are several resturant listings, but not a lot of character in the reviews. I do like the fact that you learn that the Shanghai resurant at 406 S. Clark is really a filipino place. Also, there are listings for "Men's Grill's" at Wiebolts and Carson's, something you will not find in latter guide books.

I've got so many more I could write about. There's Ian Flemming's (yes the Bond guy) bit on Chicago as part of his "thrilling cities" around the world tour (ca. early 60's) and Vittles and Vice, a summary of near north hot spots from ten years earlier. Kup's Chicago (1962), covers plenty of chow, with extensive reporting on Fritzels. Nice to know he was already an icon in 62. A Sherman Kaplan collection (1983) gives no resturant a rating below 16/20 rating and has Ann Sather and Le Francis tied for the best places. I mentioned before that the earliest Chicago food book I own is John Drury's Dining in Chicago (1937). The only resturant I can find in that book that still exists today is Berghoff. It's interesting to note, that in 1937, Chicago was already known for its ethnic resturants. His reviews span the globe, noting that Arabian, , Japanese, Turkish and Mexican places had established themselves in Chicago along with Chinese, French, Italian and Jewish places. Drury also reviews the counter at Walgreens.

Finally, let me add a couple of other interesting books. These books are of menu reproductions not of resturant reviews. One is the Menu Guide to Chicago from 1977. The other is Chicago Magazine's 100 Menu's from 1986. What was eaten at a particular time is more interesting than what someone said about what was eaten at a particilar time. The Chicago Magazine book has special appeal because 1986 was smack dab in the middle of the nouvelle cusine explosion, so you have such forgotten gems as Jimmy's Place duck sausage with raspberry vinegar sauce. What really vexes me, however, is that the menu for Nick's Fishmarket includes steak ala Nick the Greek, an item no longer carried at Nicks. For years I have wanted to know what his was, but have yet to find an answer.

I hope some of you got a kick out of this book report on books. The libary never closes at vital information.

Good night


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