Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Where Do I Watch My Team At?

For those fans of college and pro football whose teams are not named the Chicago Bears and conference is not named the Big Ten, finding the game on television can be a pain. Where should you go?

Fortunately for the football-displaced in the Windy City, there are options available, but you have to search.

"Bars throughout the city of Chicago choose a tie with a college and pro team," one anonymous bartender at the Houndstooth Saloon in Wrigleyville. "There's no real tie to them (University of Alabama) but we wanted to do an SEC team."

The Crimson Tide bar has been in its current location for about a year but has been open in Chicag for five years. It is adorned with the Crimson Tide championship banner from 2010 and immediately noticeable with the crimson and white sign. The name of the bar is so unique because it is actually named after the famous houndstooth hat that legendary Bama Head Coach Bear Bryant would wear on the sidelines during games.

There are plenty other bars around Chicago just in case Alabama happens to not be the team you root for. O'Malleys West in Lincoln Park is a Michigan State bar and McGee's, also in LP and just steps from the DePaul University campus, is an Ohio State bar. McDunna's (1505 W. Fullerton) is a Nebraska Cornhuskers bar that is always packed on gamedays.

Although these bars are the places to be during the season, what happens when football is not on the big screen? Some places struggle for business in the offseason between January and late August.

The Houndstooth Saloon bartender did mention the advantage of the bar being located in Wrigleyville, saying "all during baseball season (with the Cubs), that's a big draw."

The site meetup.com is also a very useful tool in finding where to watch certain teams play at. The website promises to "help groups of people with shared interests plan meetings and form offline clubs in local communities around the world."

Although football season is still seven months away, it is not too early to stake out bars for next year so you can root on your favorite team. No more worries about not being able to find them on TV at home.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Chicago: A Sneakerhead's Paradise?

What is a sneakerhead to do in Chicago?

Better question: what is a sneakerhead?

The answer is actually quite simple. A sneakerhead is someone who loves sneakers and needs to have the latest and greatest in “kicks”. They are sometimes known to spend their rent money on a nice new pair of Nikes.

The obsession runs deep.

But where do sneakerheads go to get their fix in the city of Chicago? And where would the aspiring go if they are not familiar with the area? The Windy City does not have the same reputation for sneakers that New York or Los Angeles does.

Fear not though, there are plenty local shops in the area out to prove that the Foot Lockers and Finish Lines of the world cannot satisfy your true need for great footwear.

“People want something they can’t get elsewhere,” David Rasool Robinson, the manager and photographer of Saint Alfred, commented. “They don’t want a bunch of other people with that [the same sneakers as them].”

The Wicker Park (1531 N. Milwaukee Ave.) sneaker store has been open since 2005 and is their only location. What the store lacks in physical size, it makes up for in sneakers that are exclusive and shirts that are off the wall. A review of Saint Alfred on the website Yelp describes it as “Probably the best sneaker store in Chicago… maybe not for the average consumer but for the pure ‘sneakerhead’.”

Another store that gets a lot of buzz in the city is Akin Chicago. There are two locations, in University Village (1313 S. Halsted St.) and Lincoln Park (2350 N. Clark St.) just minutes from the DePaul University campus.

“New York’s got their game on, west coast has their game on, but Chicago is keeping up with them, it’s growing rapidly,” John Nguyen said. “I don’t know how it is out in New York or L.A. or any other city versus Chicago. But everyone here is kind of like a family you know.”

Nguyen, the owner of the Akin Chicago Lincoln Park location, is doing his best to reach out to the community near the school. The store offers 20 percent off to DePaul University students and he said that the DePaul basketball team frequents the store.

What both Robinson and Nguyen agree on are the advantages to going to smaller and more local stores as compared to going to the bigger chains that are nationwide.
“People, especially sneakerheads, they don’t like going to corporate stores,” Nguyen admitted. “They like to support the local business, the ‘mom and pop’ stores, [it’s] more personable.”

Robinson and Nguyen also let it be known that they stick to the local theme not just by what they sell, but also by using local designers in creating apparel.

“[In-house designers] makes it that much more of a representative of the city,” Robinson said. “Chicago is rich with talent.”

There are many more local sneaker stores in the city, and one wonders if there is ever rivalry or slander to steal customers away from those other stores? Not according to the store employees.

“The biggest misconception is that it’s a competition,” Robinson conceded, saying that it would do not only the stores, but also the city a disservice. “If there is any competition,it's to make the city better.”

So if there is a sneaker that you want but cant find, go to one of these stores. Can’t find them there? They will be more than happy to point you in the direction of another great store for “sneakerheads”.