Jazzin’ at the Shedd

On Wednesdays in the summer, the Shedd Aquarium hosts an event called “Jazzin’ at the Shedd” and it is just what it sounds like.  A jazz band performs while you explore the many levels of the aquarium.  When the weather cooperates, these bands play outside on the terrace.  Thanks to the rain that never ends in 2019, we had to experience the music indoors.

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The John G. Shedd Aquarium opened its doors to the public on May 30, 1930.  It operates as an aquarium and museum of aquatic life.  It provides educational services to the public and conducts scientific research to further support and protect marine wildlife.  It is hard to find someone who has lived in Chicago (or its suburbs) and has not visited the Shedd Aquarium at some point in their lives.  Along with the Planetarium and the Field Museum, the Aquarium is part of what is now known as the “museum campus”.

From 5:00 – 10:00 pm on these select dates, the museum is closed to the public for this private event.  For the price of admission ($20 for Chicago residents, $25 for Non-residents, Free to Members), guests have access to the full aquarium as well as the live music playing that night.  The Jazzin’ season will run through August and a list of performers can be found here.

With this being a special event, and a weeknight, the aquarium was not crowded.  At all.  We were able to get right up to the glass at each exhibit without waiting.

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The five-hour admission is more of an “open house” format.  Come late, leave early.  Whatever works with your schedule.  A couple of things to keep in mind:

  • Food and drinks are served, however, they are an additional cost to the night.

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  • Some exhibits close early. We decided to eat at a restaurant instead of the event.  Due to our late arrival, we missed the chance to visit the Oceanarium (it closed at 7:45 pm).
  • Another bonus that comes with admission is that you can view the Wednesday night Navy Pier fireworks from the terrace. For an additional $20, you can even reserve a spot on a Shoreline cruise to get you even closer to the display.

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I have made many trips here with my kids that it was nice to explore the marine life on my own.  Additionally, there were very few children present that night.  This is not advertised as an “adults only” event but only a handful of couples brought their kids.  Not that I have anything against kids, but aren’t “date nights” and excuse to get away from your own for a few hours?

Sometimes date-nights can be on a weeknight.  Break up your week with a little Jazz and an ocean of fish!

Heritage Corridor Ale Trail – Miskatonic Brewing Company

The Heritage Corridor Ale Trail is a multi-county pub crawl that covers craft breweries in Cook, DuPage, and Will Counties.  There are a couple of bonus breweries off the beaten path down near Starved Rock as well.  The Ale Trail creates a Passport every May and challenges the beer connoisseur to visit as many establishments (26 at last count) as possible by December 31.

First, the Passport is completely digital this year.  In the past, it was a booklet that you would have to remember to bring with you.  The brewery would then give you a sticker with a purchase.  Now, it is an app where you “check in” at each location (with the purchase of a beverage).  “Checking in” requires a 4-digit code that the brewer will give you upon purchase.  Some breweries just have the “check in”, while others might offer a bonus.

Copy

Second – there are prizes!  If you hit ten different breweries, you will receive a “Certified Beer Explorer” Pint Glass.  If you visit 20 different locations, you will receive a “Master Beer Explorer” Barrell Bag.  Not sure what this is but I want one.

Our first stop along the Ale Trail was Miskatonic Brewing Company in Darien, IL.  Miskatonic opened its doors to the public in 2015.  In an article about the brewery, published in 2017, Brewery Manager Josh Mowry explains that the company name Miskatonic is “a fictional place out of the stories by a long-dead author named H.P. Lovecraft”.  One of my favorite things about this establishment is its logo.  Mowry goes on to describe this creation: “Lovecraft liked to write about things that seemed normal, until it got very, very weird. Our Victorian lady (we call her Cecilia) starts off normal, but by the time your eyes take in the whole silhouette, everything gets weird.”  How uniquely weird is this?

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The interior itself is pretty great for hanging out.  The main room is darker, with high top tables and come cool graffiti on the wall.

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They also have a smaller, well-lit room on the side with regular tables.  There are board games available for fun and you are welcome to either bring food in with you or order food from a local restaurant.

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You can also take a tour of the brewery and there is a Groupon available for that.  My friend, Ruta, had a Groupon with her that night for $15.00 for 2 flights of five 5-ounce pours.  Not sure how often that one pops up, but you should be on the look-out for it in the future.  Ordering a flight is my favorite way of drinking at a brewery.  Some beer descriptions sound good on paper, but the flavors don’t always translate into the actual taste of the ale.  I have also been pleasantly surprised by a sample that I would not normally order.

Tour

In addition to the tour, Miskatonic hosts events throughout the year.  Draft releases, music, trivia, and food trucks can all be found on their calendar.

So download your Passport and start working your way towards a prize.  You might find a new watering hole or beverage you like along the way!

Flight Club

Flight Club, which opened in May 2018, is not your neighborhood bar to go and throw darts for the night.  It is two-story bar and restaurant that caters exclusively to playing darts.  It is a concept they call “social darts” and it is fast becoming a must-do for small groups and/or date nights.

Social darts starts with the actual playing area called an “oche” (rhymes with hockey).  Each oche can hold up to 20 people.  Not seat, hold.  It can maybe seat 8-10.  It has the dart board, space for food and drink, and three throwing lines (rookie, regular, and pro).

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Everything is high-tech.  The boards are actually cork but they have instant scoring and technology to track your throws and to show instant replays (generally shown when someone wins or “checks out”).  There is an easy-to-use interface to choose your game and input the names of your players.  And it doesn’t matter what order you put them in, the order of throwers changes with each game.  Also, be prepared to take a selfie with you player name.  And it is not being taken from an attractive angle either.

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The cost to play is $15-$22 for 30 minutes and $30-$40 for 60 minutes.  The difference depends on if you are coming in during peak times.  They recommend making a reservation if you have 6 or more in your party.  Right now, they have 5 different games to choose from.  We kept it simple and played the 180 game a couple of times.  Everyone starts with 180 points and each throw brings that number down depending on where your darts land.  And you have to get to zero without going over.  We then played one fun game of Snakes and Ladders (their version of the children’s board game Chutes and Ladders)

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I enjoy throwing darts, however, I am wildly inconsistent.  Every once in awhile I will get lucky and actually hit the number I was aiming for.  In our final game of the night we played a round of 180. One of our players, Diane, had checked out but three of us still had a turn in this round.  The other two guys busted and I got lucky and hit my number on my first throw and checked out as well.  So, then it went into a tie-breaker where Diane and I went head-to-head with only 60 points to play down from.  She went first and on her first throw she nailed a triple 20 and checked out.  WHO DOES THAT?  Obviously, not me.  True story.

Flight Club also functions as a restaurant if you would prefer to eat before or after playing darts.  But you can also order food to be brought to your oche.  We tried the mini poke tacos, al pastor skewers, and two flatbread pizzas (chicken sausage and four cheese) from the sharables menu.  It was all very good.

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Shareables

I’m sure versions of this concept will be opening up in other cities and suburbs but, until it does, try to work this one into your schedule the next time you are in the city.  (You Tube video courtesy of Flight Club)

WNDR Museum

The WNDR Museum opened in September 2018 as a “pop-up” (temporary) exhibit but its popularity here in Chicago has earned it a permanent location in the West Loop.  It is described on its website as an “experiential” museum meaning it is “involved in or based on experience and observation”.  This could not be more true.  Lights, sounds, and mirrors all combine to provide a platform where science meets art.

Full disclosure, my SO for the day was my favorite oldest child.  He has wanted to check out this museum since it opened, and I wanted to write about it, so he jumped at the chance to let me pay for him 😊 The ironic thing about our pairing is that, this is a very Instagram-friendly activity and you couldn’t find two people more averse to having their picture taken than the two of us.

Some of the exhibits in the museum were hands-on interactive, like this light bulb wall:

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Don’t be fooled into thinking this place is just for kids.  There were exhibits and activities for all ages.  They have an optical illusion room that is still mind-boggling to me when I look at the pictures.  We were only standing a couple of feet away from each other!

Optical Illusion room

Let’s not forget about the science part of it.  Each exhibit had an educational aspect to it, some more appealing than others depending on your interest.

Clouds

Be careful though.  There is a 100% chance that the child in you will come out at some point.  My 23 year-old and I got into a balloon fight with an 8 year old (we totally won, just sayin’).

Balloons

By far our favorite exhibit was the floor that lit up when you walked, or danced, across it.  The video below doesn’t do it justice and we honestly could have spent an hour watching the colors dance.  It was so pretty.

In an effort to maintain its presence in Chicago, the museum will close periodically to refresh its exhibits.  One such update will take place the entire month of April 2019.  This doesn’t mean it will be completely new each time it reopens.  They will continue to evaluate which experiences people respond to the most and keep those while replacing less popular ones.  One crowd favorite that will most likely make the cut each time is the infinity mirror room by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama.  My pictures did not even do this one justice.  It absolutely needs to be experienced.

Tickets for the museum are $32 per person.  You have to schedule your entry as this helps avoid a traffic jam once you are in there.  You should also expect to spend at least an hour there.  There is also no onsite parking and street parking is very limited.

One last picture before you go, this exhibit was made with STRAWS.  Using plastic without destroying the planet.

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Chicago Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra

Not from Chicago?  Google “orchestra near me” for your local concerts.

I will be totally honest with you, spending a Sunday afternoon listening to a symphony orchestra play classical music is not top on my list.  I was not raised with an appreciation of the Fine Arts, but I find myself open to experiencing them more as I get older.  We attended a concert this past Sunday because our friend, Amy, was asked to sub in with the CMSO for this performance.  So, it gave us an opportunity to see her play, and it provided me with an activity somewhat out of my comfort zone to share with you.

The CMSO was founded in 1921 and currently performs their concerts at the Gottlieb Concert Hall in the Joy Faith Knapp Music Center in Chicago.  The orchestra’s current musical director and conductor is Russell Vinick.

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The concert on Sunday, February 17 was called “Coming and Going” and was described as “An American’s impression of a visit to Paris and a Czech composer’s salute to his time in America”.  It featured the music of Desby, Gershwin, and Dvorak.

Program cover

Tickets were only $18 and the concert lasted about 2 hours (including an intermission).  My SO said there was a good amount of food available during the intermission as well.  The next performance takes place on May 19 and features the music of Strauss and Beethoven.

Oh, and I can’t finish this story without a picture of our friend Amy playing the trumpet in this concert.

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Day Drinking – Chicago Ale Fest – Winter Edition

Did you miss the winter edition?  Mark your calendars: the summer edition will take place on June 1, 2019.

Chicago Ale Fest is a bi-annual event that takes place every winter and summer.  This year the winter one took place on Saturday, February 2 at Lacuna Artist Lofts.

Like many other beer festivals, there were more vendors than you could visit in one afternoon.  Majority of them were local craft breweries, but there were a good number of out-of-state options to try as well.  Sours were trending this year (not my thing but my son loves them).

There are two entry times to choose from: 12:00-3:00 pm (with a 1 hour early entry option) and 6:00-9:00 pm (also with a 1 hour early entry option).  We chose the earlier session (with the extra hour).  The cost for 4 hours was around $70 but you know your girl found this on Groupon and only paid $44 (with a 20% promo code).  I love a deal!

With the entry fee you get a signature tasting glass and they also gave you a lanyard with a punch card attached.  The vendors were supposed to mark off a beer every time you received a pour.  As you can see from my pic below, no one was particularly diligent in marking your card (‘cause you know I did not just have one).  It was way too busy for that.

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Quite a few vendors also had “treasures” available.  We collected logo stickers, coasters, koozies, and bottle openers.  The most interesting one was the Grapefruit IPA chapstick.  Well, that, and the bottle opener with the roach clip.

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A handful of food trucks were in the parking lot to fill all of your buzz-fueled hunger needs.  The beef skewer from Chicago Culinary Kitchen and the pork on naan from The Roaming Hog were delicious.

Food trucks 1

Food trucks 2

The location changes each time and the 2019 Winter Edition was held at the Lacuna Artist Lofts in the Pilsen neighborhood.  Once the world’s largest macaroni factory, the Loft is now home to some offices and retail spaces for painters, photographers, sculptors, clothing designers, and other creative minds.  This was a really cool space and below is a picture of one of the rooms (there were 3 or 4 rooms total):

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The Summer Edition will be taking place on June 1 at Butler Field in Grant Park.  This event is already available on Groupon.  The Winter Edition was available on Goldstar so I am assuming you will find the Summer Edition on there eventually.

A Girl’s Gotta Eat – First Bites Bash and Chicago Restaurant Week

Not from Chicago?  Restaurant week is a national event.  To find out when your city is hosting theirs, click here.

First Bites Bash is the kick-off event to Chicago Restaurant Week.  It is a one-night celebration of food and the local chefs that make our city/state a foodie paradise.  This year (2019), the event was held at the Field Museum of Natural History.  More than 70 chefs and restaurants were represented this year.  Tasting portions, from savory to sweet and everything in between, were available.

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Tickets for the event were $125.00.  This covered all the food you could taste in three hours along with the various beverages offered.  Stella Artois, Don Julio, and Josh Wines were just a few of the liquor vendors there.  And these were not tasting portions, they were full pours.  The bash is also a fundraiser and this year’s recipient was Pilot Light, which is a non-profit that helps children make healthier choices through food education.

In addition to delicious tasting food, presentation was well-thought out for a few of the chefs.  And if you watch as many food shows and I do, or even if you only watch one show, you know that presentation is one of the key things contestants are judged on.

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As I mentioned in the first paragraph, sweets were available as well.  Mini portions of cheesecake, donuts, and ice cream sandwiches were there to tempt your sweet tooth.  There was also a chocolate fountain with a variety of foods for dipping.

Chicago Restaurant Week, now in its 12th year, is an annual event that actually takes place over the course of two weeks and involves some of the best restaurants in Chicago and the suburbs.  Participating restaurants put together a special “prix-fixe” menu for their location featuring some of their best dishes.  Prix-fixe means a set price for a complete meal.   Restaurants are challenged to provide a multi-course (usually 3-4 courses) dining experience for under $50 (some locations are more expensive).  Because you are getting a full meal for a discounted price, the portions are smaller.  This year (2019), Chicago Restaurant Week runs from January 25 through February 8.

One of the great things about the prix-fixe menu dining experience is sharing.  My SO and I decided to try a restaurant in the city that we had never been to before called Somerset.  They offered 4 different options for an appetizer, 3 different salads, 4 main courses, and 3 desserts to choose from. So, between the two of us we were able to try 8 different dishes.  You can see the list of all participating restaurants, and filter them by location, here.  Use this as an opportunity to try a place you have never been to before.  Or maybe a place that just opened.  Or a cuisine you want to try but are afraid to invest a whole dish on.  So many reasons to take advantage of Restaurant Week.

Happy dining!

Below is a list of the First Bites Bash participating restaurants and what they were serving that night:

First Bites Bash menu

Day Drinking – Koval Distillery

(Not from Chicago?  Google “distillery tour near me”)

Not every distillery tour is the same.  The process is very similar, but the result is very different from one brand to another.  Plus, this was a great way to spend a cold, snowy afternoon.

Established in 2008, Koval is the first distillery within the Chicago city limits since the Prohibition era.  The tour takes place in a small storefront in the Ravenswood neighborhood with the actual production facility about a mile up the road.  One of the things I learned on the tour is that Koval is the largest organic distillery in Illinois (maybe the US?  I was trying to pay attention and take notes at the same time).  One aspect of organic distilling is the use of organic barley.  This is more expensive, however, they are also using local farmers as their suppliers.  Another quality that makes the whiskey organic is the use of virgin oak casks.  They purchase all of their barrels built and charred from scratch.  This prevents the spirit from coming into contact with any non-organic material.  You would think this would result in a surplus of barrels, however, they can be sold for re-use.  Besides other distilleries (that don’t require virgin casks), they also sell them to breweries who produce bourbon-barrel aged ales.  Additionally, the average consumer can purchase a used one for their home décor needs for the small price of $150.00.

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While walking us through the distillation process, we learned that Koval’s signature style is to only use the “heart”, or the middle process of the distillation, in their spirits.  The full distillation process produces what are known as the “head”, “heart”, and “tails”.  I could not even begin to describe these stages or at what point these are cut.  This link explains it perfectly and in simple terms.

Equipment

Now, what would a distillery tour be without a tasting or two (or three)?  Whiskey is not the only spirit produced at Koval.  They also bottle and sell gins, brandys, and other flavored liqueurs.  Our first tasting was of their single barrel bourbon whiskey.  110 proof.  Boom.  Now I’ve got that warm toasty feeling inside.  The second tasting was of their new cranberry gin liqueur.  I do not like gin, but I tried it anyway.  The cranberry flavor was definitely present, but it did not overpower the gin itself.  Our third, and final, tasting was a personal choice.  I chose the peach brandy.  I regret my choice only because I heard, after the fact, that the ginger liqueur was a big hit.  This is their second best seller after the single barrel bourbon  whiskey (the regular version, not the 110 proof).

Tasters

Liqueurs

The tour, should you decide to take it, is only $10 per person.  You can also find this activity on Groupon.  This one is limited to Sundays at either 2:00 pm or 4:00 pm.  They have an option for a group of two ($19) or four ($35).  The bonus is that you get to leave with a souvenir shot glass.

CHEERS!

Point Blank Shooting Range (Hodgkins)

This company has multiple locations in Illinois and other states as well.

The first thing I want to mention is that I do not own a gun.  I don’t have a desire to own one.  I do not have a FOID (Firearm Owners Identification) card.  I have just always wanted to learn to shoot a gun.  Knowledge is power – or so they say.

When I mentioned this to my cousin Chris, he immediately offered to go with us to a shooting range and to provide us with some basic safety training.  Chris has had his FOID card for 22 years.  He worked in a gun shop for 5 years.  He owns multiple guns and brought them all over for us to learn about.  So, he knows his sh*t.  Some of the key elements he taught us were how to properly hold a gun (and where to point it) when you first pick it up, how to load/unload the magazine (look at me talking shop here!), and most importantly, how to turn the safety on/off.

The handguns that Chris showed us were (clockwise from the top right): Springfield Armory model 1911 custom built .45 caliber, Colt Python. 357 caliber 6″ barrel, H&K model USP9  9mm caliber, Glock gen4 model 19  9mm caliber, Smith&Wesson model 22-a  .22long rifle cal., and a Sig Sauer model p239 .40 cal

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He also had a couple of rifles to show us (top to bottom): Daniel Defense model DDM4V7  5.56 NATO caliber and a Sig Sauer model MPX with red dot sight  9mm caliber.

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He’s a pretty cool guy to know.

Once we got to the shooting range, I was able to get in with my driver’s license as long as I was entering with someone who has a FOID card.  This location did not require that I be trained by someone on their staff, although they do offer that (and other classes) if you don’t have someone like I did to show you the basics.

Pricing varies by location.  The Hodgkins range charges $19.99 per hour for one shooting bay.  They allow two people in each bay, but you need to pay $7.99 for the second shooter.  They also have a date night package (seriously) on Friday nights for two shooters for only $16.99.  I guess the couple that shoots together stays together, right?

And then we got our Charlies Angels on.  I was nervous from the start because the guns we trained on were not loaded (naturally).  Was it going to be loud?  Was there going to be a recoil?  Yes and yes.  But I had an excellent teacher and he was right next to me the whole time.  He told me that, with the first round that I shot, I just needed to get used to it.  He had me aim for the X in the middle of the target’s chest.  Apparently, all I heard was “head shots”.  BAD.  ASS.

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Total honesty here – I was actually aiming for the X 😊

Every time we hung up or took down the paper target I could not stop picturing one of my favorite movie moments from Lethal Weapon.  Especially the scene with Mel Gibson starting at the 0:50 mark.  (YouTube video courtesy of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment).

Besides the human outline, they had many targets to choose from.  We didn’t use these, but you have to be a pretty good shot to play Battleship I would think.

Targets

To the disappointment of my cousin, I won’t be rushing out to get my FOID card anytime soon.  I didn’t hate it, it was just not for me.  My SO enjoyed it, however, and is planning on going again soon.  Here is a video of my SO shooting a gun and a rifle:

Ragnarock Axe Throwing

Can I “axe” you a question?  Do you have an “axe” to grind?  Do you have the “chops” to take on some target practice?

Axe throwing is trending as the latest date night/girls night/team building activity.  It is just what it sounds like, but with games.  My SO and I found a Groupon (naturally) for an axe throwing location in Chicago, however,  they are popping up all over the suburbs as well.

At Ragnarock Axe Throwing, you get a 90-minute session that includes training and some throwing competitions in a game-like setting.  The size of your group depends on how many people sign up in each time slot but they cap it off at 24 (split between two throwing bays).  Each bay has an “Axepert” (get it?) to instruct you in the proper way to stand, hold, and eventually, throw the 1.5 lb axe.

Our group had 9 people in it and each bay has two throwing spots so this does move along fairly quickly.  After the safety training portion, they take two people at a time to do some practice throws.  The hardest thing for me was getting it to stick.  I was basically on target with each throw, but I don’t think I was throwing it hard enough.  I need to go in angrier next time.

Once everyone was comfortable with how to hit the target, we were split up (within our own group), into two smaller groups.  The first game we played was TIMBER.  This is the axe throwing version of horse.  You went head-to-head with someone from the other team and, after two throws, whoever had less points got a letter.  The bullseye has number values within each ring.  Next, we played “21” where each team had to get enough point to total 21.  Exactly.  So getting that last number was challenging.

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After the last game (a version of “hangman”) we moved into the double-elimination head-to-head tournament with our small group.  Of course, they paired my SO and I against each other in the first round.  My shining moment was getting a bullseye in this round to move him into the losers bracket.  Making it count when it matters!

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It was also a requirement that you come up with a “punny” name for the competition.  As you can see from my name tag I was Mrs. Axehole.  My SO was just plain Axehole.

An extra bonus is that this location allows you to bring food and drink into the space.  Alcohol, however, is not permitted.  For some reason the city of Chicago doesn’t believe that drinking and axe throwing are a good combination.

This was also quite the core workout.  I was sore the next day.  But it was worth it.  So grab your significant other, and maybe some friends, and go get your lumberjack on!