As my dad and brother begrudgingly heaved an oversized television up the flight of stairs to my apartment during our first winter storm, I realized that this TV was part of the necessary stockpiling one must do for these intense Chicago winters. During the winter in this city, we seek the comforts of our cozy beds, a good book, a nice cup of tea, and some bad TV. The image of my three roommates and I huddled around a tiny set trying to make out Iron Chef concoctions on the Food Network is nothing short of moronic.
And so I was allowed to borrow a 27-inch, six-month replacement to help fill those nights when facing the relentless wind and ice for dinner is out of the questionnever mind the thought of trudging through a foot-and-a-half of freshly driven-on snow just to climb on an elliptical for an hour. But after cringing through the first three minutes of Fox's new sure-fire hit Who's Your Daddy?, with the aroma of my tea already starting to fade from honey-kissed to ho-hum in my mind, I began wondering how much of this shit reality TV I could really take.
Eventually, the cabin fever will get so bad that I will have to flee. Yes, it is decidedly so. The appeal of traipsing around our winter wonderland to boutique-shop or wait in a monstrous line for a concert at the Metro is pretty limited, though. The fact of the matter is that on those biting days, I want the warmth and comfort of my own room but in a different environmentno small request. Yet I'm unwilling to just wait for the god of time to unfailingly bring on warmer temperatures to make my escape.
Thanks to Extreme Makeover, I've learned that even a little face lift (or tummy tuck, or boob job...) can rejuvenate a worn-out setting, andas it turns outthe Greek god of time may be able to solve my little dilemma sooner than I thought, thanks to his namesake Wicker Park teahouse Aion.
Aion provides a sort of secret hideaway from blah weather and blah surroundings. As soon as the grocery-bought chamomile loses its jolt, you can head over to this little enclave to sample over 100 tea offerings ranging from basic greens, blacks, and whites to more exotic imports like a Golden Nepal from the Himalayas. The menu provides a thorough description of each of the selections (as well as the steeping times) and the wait staff will keep refilling your cup while you settle in with a magazine on a couch in a basement that looks more like a museum than a typical tearoom. The downstairs walls are weathered-looking and dotted with architectural drawings, while the lofty upstairs holds a small collection of antiques for sale. The sage shades and Greek undertones of the setting create an experience that is decidedly unprissy.
This, however, does not mean that Aion doesn't offer the high tea craved by the world's dietersthanks to its crumpets, scones, and general abundance of carbs. The lemon curd is so tempting that upon devouring the pastries, I had the sudden urge to dip cucumber sandwiches in the remnants just so I didn't leave any behind. The delicacies are delish, but the trick here is that you can get them any time of the day for only ten dollars. While other Chicago venues that offer high tea as a rule charge much more, Aion patrons can nibble on spicy tuna sandwiches and moist, fresh-made banana nut or blueberry scones-of-the-day in this subdued atmosphere knowing that they got a deal those antique-hunters only dream about.
Those with a taste for something more savory can choose from appetizers and salads like a six-dollar paté plate with caperberries, cornichons, pecorino peppercorn cheese, and ciabatta bread, or a three-dollar serving of "Forbidden Rice," which consists of China black rice with gorgonzola, walnuts, and pears. The sandwiches are heartier, mostly classics like turkey-and-Swiss done up with sprouts, avocado, and raspberry jalapeño jam. Just like that toasty bed on Sunday morning, Aion gives its customers little reason to ever want to leave.
But leave you must. And when you return home The Biggest Loser won't seem so unbearable. E! True Hollywood Story will appear more captivating. Rachael Ray and her horrendous tips on $40 a Day will feel less grating. To appreciate the winter comfort of slippers and reruns, sometimes you just need a fresh dose of "T" minus the "V."
Address: 2135 West Division Street
Phone: (773) 489-1534
Hours: Closed Monday; Tuesday-Thursday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Friday-Sunday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Via CTA: CTA bus #55 Garfield Westbound to Garfield. Transfer to Red Line towards Howard. Red Line to Clark/Division. Take CTA bus #70 Division Westbound to Division and Hoyne. Walk east on Division. Aion is on the right.
Via car: 90/94 West. Exit #49B Augusta Boulevard/Milwaukee Avenue. Turn right onto Milwaukee Avenue. Bear left onto West Division Street. Aion is on the left.