Monday, January 4, 2010

Chucklebowl: The Champagne of New Year's Eve in Chicago

Sometimes I think the reason I moved back to Chicago from Amsterdam was so I could eat pizza cut into squares. It's a quintessentially Chicagoan thing that makes me think of sleepover parties and watching marathons of horror flicks like "Friday the 13th." And pop to accompany the pizza, of course. I'll admit that when I left Chicago the first time, for college, I dropped the word "pop" like a hot potato. In New York it simply wasn't cool to say "pop," and saying it immediately pegged me for a Chicagoan in a sea of East Coasters. I still don't say "pop" (I say soda), but when the opportunity to gorge on pizza squares presents itself I don't hesitate to partake in the ritual.

Overdosing on pizza squares was one of the joys of my New Year's Eve, which I spent at the Chucklebowl held at Lincoln Square Lanes. What was delightful about this evening was the simple fun that recalled the days of youth with hazy nostalgia. A bit of raunchy comedy from Lincoln Lodge comedians, a bit of bowling, too much pizza to mention, cool tunes from the 1970s and 80s, and the conspicuously missing air of pretension. The evening cost $25, not $75, and I'm sure the folks at the Chucklebowl had way more fun than those pre-fab evenings of buffet and champagne toasts. We were served bottles of Miller High Life for our toast, who can top that?

We arrived around 8:30 pm and when my friend from New York arrived the first thing she noted was the ambiance. The wood paneling, the female bartender with the 1980s feathered hair, the semicircular bar that hasn't been updated in over two decades. "Oh my god, this is so trashy," she noted with a smile. I knew by the end of the evening she would be singing praises about the experience, which she did. We drank pop and ate greasy-but-good pizza from Jake's that made me feel like finding a sleeping bag. We bowled and pretended we cared who won. We watched a comedy show in which a woman dressed as a cat spit milk over a guy's face in the attempt to make him laugh and spit out his water. We sang the words to "Carwash" and drank our Miller High Lifes, the champagne of beers, with pride. We enjoyed the kitschy atmosphere, the vintage videos flickering with images of B-rate actresses and bowling footage, and the crowd who was not looking to be seen but just to kick back and ring in the New Year in laid-back fashion.

Perhaps what was great about the evening is that it recalled childhood, rather than the adult world. Garrison Keillor explains it well: "I'm not much interested in the adult world anymore. As children we see the world clearly, and then spend the rest of our lives trying to figure out what we saw."

In praise of the "ordinary life" that Keillor advocates, I highly recommend the retro Lincoln Square Lanes. Cheap drinks and manual scoring gets you in the mood for cool kicks. A taste of the pre-gentrification life never tasted so good.

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