Trailing Barack Obama in Chicago harder than you'd think, says Adrian Brijbassi
Adrian BrijbassiCHICAGO — It was blazing hot Saturday - nearly 40C - and it was a great day to stay inside in the a/c, but Travel Editor Jim Byers would have a conniption if I spent the afternoon watching the Cubs and eating room service, (note to Adrian from the boss; you're damned right!) so, out to Navy Pier I went and then to the south side to look up the address of the most powerful man on earth.
When I got to Hyde Park, I had to ask, where is the guided Barack Obama tour? There is a bike tour but — as far as anyone I’ve spoken to knows — Chicago doesn’t have a walking tour devoted getting up close to the U.S. president's haunts. It seems to me like someone could probably make some money if they started one.
Despite his tumbling approval ratings, Obama remains hugely popular, inside and out of his own country. No matter how far his political popularity plummets, he will always be a monumental historic figure.
The fact that his formative years as a politician took place in Chicago makes America’s second-largest city the No. 1 spot for Obama fans, acolytes, historians and political wonks to visit. Among the many unique things about Obama is the fact he lived in a big city prior to reaching the White House. Recent American presidents have come from places like Crawford, Texas, and Little Rock, Arkansas — not spots on any traveller’s bucket list.
Although Ronald Reagan spent years in Los Angeles prior to residing in California’s capital, Sacramento, as governor, he was an established Hollywood star moving in exclusive circles. Obama, on the other hand, was a cool dude about town, working hard to cultivate an everyman demeanour while also trying to show he could stand apart as a leader. No easy feat, but he pulled it off.
For now, you’ll have to go with this ad-hoc list put together with the help of the Chicago Tribune and Timeout Chicago magazine. So, here’s a list of top 10 Barack Obama sites in the Windy City.
1. Spiaggio (980 North Michigan Ave.). The top-rated Italian restaurant in Chicago by many publications, Spiaggio remains a fave spot of Barack and Michelle. It’s where he celebrated his Nov. 4, 2008 victory that made him the first black president in U.S. history. www.spiaggiarestaurant.com
2. Trinity United Church of Christ (532 W. 95th St.). The Obamas were married here on Oct. 3, 1992. The church, though, is more famously known for being the place where Candidate Obama’s presidential campaign nearly derailed, thanks to inflammatory comments by Jeremiah Wright, the church’s reverend. www.tucc.org
3. The Chase Tower (10 S. Dearborn St.). This is where Barack met Michelle and a love story was sparked. He was a summer intern from Harvard and she was his mentor at the law firm of Sidley & Austin, which is now across the street at 1 S. Dearborn St.
4. Baskin-Robbins Hyde Park franchise (1400 E. 53rd St.). Outside of here, Barack first kissed Michelle, according to his autobiography, Audacity of Hope. Her kiss tasted like chocolate, he wrote. No word on whether the prez’s next book will be a Harlequin romance.
5. Hyde Park Hair Salon and Barber Shop (1464 E. 53rd St.). Perhaps young Barack got that first kiss because he was finely coiffed, thanks to his favourite barber at this spot just down the road from the Baskin-Robbins. www.hphschicago.com
6. University of Chicago Law School (1111 E. 60th St.). Obama taught law from 1993-2003, with several classes taking place in the Harry A. Bigelow lecture hall. www.law.uchicago.edu
7. The Obama home (5046 South Greenwood Ave.). The 6,199-square-foot mansion may not be the White House, but it’s still pretty swank. You can go into its neighbourhood and also see the nearby Kenwood Estates property that was part of a controversial property deal involving a Chicago businessman criticized for being unscrupulous. It’s easy to spot where the million-dollar Obama home is, just look for the Secret Service. Just don’t expect to get too close.
8. Valois (1518 E 53rd St). If Spiaggio is too pricey, then try this cafeteria-style spot where Obama used to frequent before he could afford to live in Kenwood. University professors and students eat here, as do many others in the area. www.valoisrestaurant.com9. U.S. Cellular Field (333 West 35th Street). Formerly New Comiskey Park, this major-league stadium is home to the White Sox, the president’s favourite baseball team. (The ballpark experience is probably better at Wrigley, though.) chicago.whitesox.mlb.com
10. Grant Park (901 S. Columbus Drive). On this public space, named after Ulysses S. Grant and referred to as “Chicago’s front yard”, Obama gave his rousing acceptance speech near midnight after beating Republican John McCain and winning the presidency.
Thanks, Adrian. Good stuff. Have a beer today on me. - Jim