Erica: The first time I saw Claire, my cohort and soon-to-be successor, was during my second year and her first. Quite frankly, her hair is hard to miss. I was waiting outside of Max P. during O-week, and she was in running gear, piling her hair on the top of her head. She claims it is the only run she ever went on that year.
Rush, a mutual friend, introduced us sometime late in fall quarter. She had just started dating a basketball player. Rush set us up since I, too, had dated a basketball player at the beginning of my first year. Clearly, we had a lot in common. Rush, as usual, was quick to judge, but this time he was right. Since then, we've become best friends. Now, in my final quarter as writer of Get a Life, I pass the torch to Claire.
As Claire and I settled into our red vinyl booth at the Motel Bar, we were amused by the opening page of the menu, which read like an introduction. "It is our pleasure to welcome you to Motel. We hope you will enjoy your accommodations as well as the food, service, and, of course, the cocktails. Speaking of cocktails, many of our drinks have interesting myths/stories/lies (choose your adjective of choice) surrounding them..."
Appropriately enough, an indie rock cover of Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" spilled out of the bar's sound system. The Motel Bar serves classic cocktails: Rob Roys, Sidecars, Gin Rickeys, Harvey Wallbangers. Claire asked the waitress to recommend a weaker one, and the waitress warned that they really had no such thing. Fine. A Mojito for me and a Singapore Sling (gin, grenadine, lime, pineapple juice, Cointreau, bitter, B&B, club soda) for her. We'd just have to fight it out over the food.
Claire: The menu consists of roughly five pages of drinks and one page of food hidden in the very back, titled "Motel Room Service Menu." Either because we're greedy, or because we wanted to sample the most food possible, we decided to order several dishes and split them.
My only request (or rather, demand) was that we get the french-fried potatoes with three sauces. I am a french fry connoisseur. We may be few and far between, but we know what's important: dimension, level of crisp vs. level of sogginess, amount of salt...the list goes on.
Though there was no mistaking these fries for drive-thru fare, they still managed to garner a strong stamp of approval. The skin was left on (normally a faux pas in my book), their girth was comparable to that of a Tootsie Roll, and the ratio of soggy to crispy fries was about 50:50. Sauces included ketchup (a no-questions-asked must-have for every french fry scenario), a truffled aioli in which there was very fresh (and very abundant) garlic, and a thick gravy which tasted as if it had been scooped directly off a plate of mashed potatoes.
Since I had been so stringent with my fries policy, I nodded agreeably when Erica suggested the petit grilled American cheese sandwich and tomato soup. Well, let me just say that tomato soup has major possibilities, particularly when infused with fresh Parmesan à la The Motel Bar. The soup made for more than just a good dipping sauce for the grilled cheese; it was delightful on its own as well. The circular grilled cheese sandwiches had their crusts cut off, a poignant reminder of what room service should be about: the service.
The Motel Bar is nostalgic for the days before college-age alcoholics started coming up with events such as "Golf Pros and Tennis Hoes" to satisfy their craving for middle-of-the-week debauchery. As Erica and I watched the bartender toast to "drunk Mondays" with several patrons who looked like they ought to be home resting for an early Tuesday on the trading floor, we suddenly realized we were witnessing one of the hallmarks of our 20s. We were getting older but not acting older. We were paying more for our drinks than we would at Jimmy's, but we could only feel so grown up when someone was still cutting the crust off of our sandwiches.
The Motel Bar
Address: 600 West Chicago Avenue
Phone: (312) 822-9200
Via CTA: CTA bus #55 Garfield Westbound to Garfield. Transfer to Red Line toward Howard to State/Lake. Transfer to Brown Line to Chicago. Walk half mile west on Chicago Avenue to 600 West Building.
Via car: Lake Shore Drive North. Turn left onto Chicago Avenue. The Motel Bar is on the right, in the same building as Japonais.