“I haven’t been to Hooters in forever!”
This was not something I expected to say anytime soon — nor ever, really — but there I was, riding the 80 bus east on Irving Park, scouring Google Maps with my husband, looking for a place to eat.
It was a chilly April Saturday, and earlier that morning we’d decided to finally get back into an old game we used to play before the pandemic.
The game does not involve Hooters Girls.
But it does involve dice.
On a printout of the CTA train lines closest to our apartment, we’ve numbered stops we want to visit 2-12. We then roll a set of dice to see where we’ll spend the day in Chicago. On this particular Saturday, we rolled for the Red Line’s Chicago stop.
This dice game is great. It creates a space for us to simply explore the city. No agenda. No must-see. It’s like bowling with bumper lanes on. The game gives us parameters, a starting point with the end goal of having a good day, but puts zero pressure on us to do something “memorable,” which of course means we’ll find something memorable to do because that’s how life works.
My favorite example is from the day we rolled for the brown line Wellington stop in 2018. Part of our rules for the game is that we try to leave by 10 am and stay out until 10 pm. (That’s a long day and we’re not sticklers, but it allows enough room for us to get bored in an area — and boredom is when the “memorable” magic begins.) That Wellington day, it was getting late, and we were looping DePaul’s campus on the way to a dive bar for a bite to eat. Passing the campus’ McGrath-Phillips Arena, we noticed lots of people filing inside, so we decided to take a look.
The women’s volleyball team was playing in ten minutes and tickets were only $5. It was senior night. Did we want to attend?
Did we ever. We bought two tickets, slid into the bleachers beside some kindly, doting grandparents from Skokie, and became rabid, foaming-at-the-mouth Blue Demons fans for one night and one night only. It’s one of my favorite Chicago memories. I don’t even remember if DePaul won.
That’s the point. Spontaneity is the name of the game! (Technically, we call it “The 10 to 10” because of the timeframe goal, but you get it.) My husband and I are Ohio ex-pats who have lived in Chicago for nearly a decade. I wouldn’t say we’ve fallen into a rut, but you know how it goes after living in one place for a while. You get into your routine. Your pandemic-inspired radius is smaller. And/or you only go do major and/or unconventional things when visitors come to town with starry-eyes and a hankering for deep dish.
But one can only visit Pequod’s and Divvy the Lake Shore and point to Nighthawks at the Art Institute so many times with out-of-towners before falling into a well-worn script.
“Yes, don’t get it with ketchup. Haha.”
“Yes, Al Capone sat here. Haha.”
“Yes, it will always be Sears Tower to us. Haha.”
Back to Hooters. When we play this game, we don’t look at the map of the area we’re heading to until we get on the bus or train. Then we search near the stop. We’ve done super-touristy activities we normally wouldn’t do (e.g., the TILT 360). We’ve done obscure activities (e.g., the surgical science museum, where I learned humans used army ants to suture wounds before some hero invented stitches). Mostly we wander.
We prefer to pick activities that are not things we would do any other time. Like going to Hooters. To be honest, I normally wouldn’t offer this as a suggestion. I was enticed by the Google Map listing that said it was the “Original Hooters” and that sent the history-nerd quadrant of my brain into a tizzy because OMG did you know Hooters started in Chicago??
It did not.
It started in Florida, which makes a lot more sense.
Some clever marketer called the one on Wells the Original Hooters because it is the original Chicago location. It opened in 1993. By the time I learned this, however, I could not take back the request without disappointing my husband, who suddenly now craved hot wings real bad!
I acquiesced because, well, why not, but also because I discovered that though not the OG, it is the Haunted Hooters (so named by another clever marketer, no doubt). The building on Wells, where scantily clad servers slap sauced-up chicken onto sticky laminate tables, supposedly has a ghost or two.
Do these ghosts wear flattering orange booty shorts with panty hose? We may never know. Only hope.
After wings, we walked around the River North neighborhood, visiting several of the numerous art galleries nearby and resting in Washington Square Park for a bit. The park has genuine history — it’s the oldest existing small park in the city — and it has a great view of The Newberry Library.
From a perfectly positioned bench, my husband and I made up voices for the curious pigeons, debated what kind of person is most likely to leave their dog unleashed (conclusion: hippie women and agro dudes), and discussed our favorite books after learning that the Newberry Library Award is so named because of the very institution across from us. The Newberry Library is free and open to the public and currently has an exhibit of artifacts about the historic routes taken to traverse the U.S.
Next, our own journey took us to the modern promised land. A cupcake shop called Sprinkles, where we got a treat from the Cupcake ATM, as well as some milk and cookies from the counter inside. The 900 North Michigan Shops are nearby. Millennial-chic seating (golds, whites, mauves) on the second level was the ideal spot to post up and actually eat the goodies.
As our adventure came to a close, we decided to end the night at Headquarters. This was a date, was it not? On our walk over, we first hit up the Wilson store, where they encourage you to bounce the basketballs and throw the footballs in the store to break them in. There was a Wilson Castaway volleyball for sale (signs of another clever marketer). I guess we can say we saw a cultural icon during this round of the game?
A miracle happened at Headquarters: No one was playing NBA Jam and, as Pippen and Grant of course, we got to rock the nasty gym socks off some lesser doubles while waiting for our to-go order from GT Prime Steakhouse. Right around 10 pm, we finished the night eating filet mignon in sweatpants at our dining room table.
Just when I thought the day couldn’t get any better, I accidentally dropped the lemon garnish on the floor beside me. After picking it up, my hands were sticky and my napkin sacrificed to the rouge citrus slice.
My husband began to get up and fetch me another one. “Wait!” I exclaimed. “I have something.”
I’d been carrying something in my purse since our hot wings “brunch.” I reached into the bag and slid it out: a single packet of wet naps, printed with a beaming Hooters owl logo. The original.