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Single in Chicago: An Unnervingly Genial Love Story

By Caroline O'Donovan in Arts & Entertainment on Jul 8, 2012 7:00PM

I suppose, looking back, we should have known when she ordered a Sex on the Roof.

Stephanie Rosenbloom, author of the egregious New York Times travel piece “Single in Chicago,” and I have a lot in common. We’re both single. We’re both women. We both have an amateur interest in architecture. We both like rooftop bars.

I’ve travelled with friends, with family, and as a couple, but never alone, so I have to give Rosenbloom some props. I’ve also never written for the New York Times. I also feel fairly confident in saying that I’ve never used the word Swoosh!—if it can be called that—in a piece of published writing.

Rosenbloom gets a few things right about Chicago. She mentions the beaches, and oh, how I hate it when people back east don’t believe me about our beaches. It was widely agreed upon by friends that one of the few other things Rosenbloom did right was go to Filter cafe. She’s also right in saying that Chicago requires a little planning, something visitors from New York love to be shocked by. What I don’t understand is how, armed with this knowledge, Rosenbloom ends up first in the Gold Coast and then, inexplicably for a person attempting to avoid tourist traps, at Pops For Champagne. You know who always wants to go to Pops? My aunt. From Connecticut.

What’s funny about the general reaction to this piece is that Rosenbloom is actually saying mostly good things about the city of Chicago. She likes the architecture and the people and one bar. Still, that Second City mentality kicks in, and we’re pissed. In this city, are compliments from a New Yorker automatically insults?

Maybe what incites our anger is the way Rosenbloom holds New York, and the meat-packing district in particular, as the standard for all that is holy. Maybe it’s because she calls Marina Towers “corncobs” but the bean “Cloud Gate.” Maybe it’s because for blues music she suggests The House of Blues. Maybe the New York Times style section is actually just trying to kill us.

At first, before I realized she didn’t go to any neighborhood outside the Loop besides Wicker Park, I was mad about the exclusion of the entire south side of the city. On the second and third read, though, what I started to resent even more than the schmaltzy style-section writing (“I shivered. This time, it wasn’t because I was chilly. It was because the Windy City blew me away.”) was the condescending raving about how nice we all are.

We hold doors. We give directions. We use non sequiturs to equate go-go dancing with Midwesternness:

Still, I later wondered aloud to a man I met why a lounge with fire pits, a 12-foot-wide HDTV monitor, and million-dollar views felt it also needed to throw in a couple of dancers in panties.

“Are you visiting from New York?” he asked.

I nodded.

“It’s the Midwest,” he said. “Welcome.”

It’s true that Chicago is more relaxed than New York; it’s one of the things I love about living here. But to gaze down from the top floor of the Wit on this obscenely segregated metropolis with a sky-rocketing crime rate and gush about our “unnerving” geniality is borderline offensive. Doesn’t anyone remember what Tina Fey meant when she called this a “real city”?

So maybe it’s not Stephanie Rosenbloom’s fault that she never left a four block radius from Water Tower Place. That’s what Tina told her to do. We have to admit that there are plenty of people who live in Chicago whose lives largely involve taking cabs to the Pump Room. Lives in which visiting Wicker Park counts as an excursion. Who knows, maybe there are even people out there who believe that the Loop is “a constellation of theater, nightlife and shopping.”

There’s nothing we can do for those people, but that doesn’t mean we’re helpless. One thing I did learn about my city from Rosenbloom’s article was that there are a myriad of services available to visitors to help prevent this problem. So if you’re upset by this fluff-piece-to-end-all-fluff-pieces, maybe you should sign up to be an InstaGreeter and give tours of your neighborhood. I, for one, would much prefer the next New York Times travel writer that visits our city to be a little less surprised that we’re allowed to have not one but two “major works” of art in our art museum. If they asked nicely, I might even take them to the Intuit museum.

“Not that I don’t love my hometown, but a little hospitality wouldn’t hurt.”