Food Feature: Somewhere into the Rainbo

Out of the cornfields and into the grid, low-octane celebrity stalking in Chicago

I bet you're looking for the bottle shop. It's right down the street, our waitress announced.

"You mean, you don't have anything to drink?"

"BYOB," she replied with canned Lisa-Loeb-cum-Natalie-Imbruglia cheer.

I looked at Michael. The laid-back Italian eatery — an Eats with gourmet sauce — suddenly became much more laid-back than I had expected.

"You want to run down there?" he asked me.

"Well, not by myself," I said. "You might never see me again. It's been four years since I've been to Chicago."

"Oh, I'd see you again. How lost can you get on a grid?"

I thought about it for a moment.

"Come with me anyway," I answered.

We shuffled out and headed down the Cobbtown street in the balmy late-summer night. After about a block, Michael stopped and took a gander at my outfit — thigh-high, paint-splattered cutoff khakis, fitted plaid short sleeve button-down, glossy dress oxfords with no socks.

"What were you thinking with that outfit?"

"Forgot my other shoes. And socks. Is it too much?"

"You'll be lucky to make it back to the apartment alive." We walked briskly to the gritty, steel-caged sundries shop. It made the old Dottie's on Memorial Drive look like a "Leave It to Beaver" soundstage.

I stopped next to Michael. "What are we going to pick up?"

"You mean, besides communicable diseases?"

"Well, that too," I said. "Really though."

"40 of OE?"

I rolled my eyes. Michael strolled inside.

The store did not surprise me. It had all the character of your standard inner-city wino shop. In the fridge stood chilled, pleading longnecks of Bull, Olde English, Beast, Delerium Tremons, Miller — Delerium Tremons?

Michael pointed out the clammy, clay-colored clay bottles. "Isn't that some kind of wacked-out Belgian ale? Do the homies drink that stuff up here?"

I shrugged. "I wonder how it goes with Cardinale sauce."

Michael reached into the cooler for two bottles. "One way to find out," he said.

We raced back to find our plates of pasta sitting at our table.

The waitron walked over to us. "Delerium! That stuff is supposed to give ya convulsions and the shakes, ya know."

"Sounds like the start of a great night," I said.

We didn't bother finishing the pasta. Instead we found our way to a bar called the Rainbo Club over in nearby Wicker Park. We trooped across town on foot, and I received several catcalls for my gratuitous display of leg.

Turn-of-the-century single-family Victorians stood in formation on the earnestly straight boulevard as we made our way down the sidewalk. Each and every front porch appeared to have the same elderly babushka sitting in a lawn chair.

"Hey, what's with the old women all sitting on their porches?" I asked Michael.

"I think that this is a big Polish or Russian working-class district," he said. We pressed on through the distinctly Midwestern urban frontier. The Rainbo Club finally materialized before us beneath the glow of its vertical neon sign. I could see there never was a "w".

"This place is a freak scene," Michael assured me. We burst inside to take down the teeming crowd.

Except there was no crowd. The bar was utterly vacant and quiet. Not a single pair of shoes graced the checkered linoleum floor. A few hardened veterans clung to their barstools. Along one dark-stained wall, semicircular red vinyl lounge booths sat empty. Art-damaged collectibles installations cluttered window boxes along the front of the room. If John Gotti had gone MFA, this is how he might have designed his favorite restaurant.

"Yeah, this place looks like a real madhouse," I said.

"I've been here before," Michael explained. "It's a late crowd. We're early. The bus pulls up around 11," he euphemized.

We descended upon one of the lounge booths and settled in with drinks.

"Apparently a lot of the indie rockers hang out here," Michael said. I glanced around. Unless geriatric Rascal racers and Comp Lit PhDs led the Chitown Scene, his hypothesis did not appear credible. Then again, Chicago was home to such mongrel indie-rock hellions as Clark-Kentian ex-Cocktail Archer Prewitt.

"You don't say," I replied.

"Seriously. See that photo booth over there? That's where Liz Phair shot the cover photo for Exile in Guyville."

Hmmm. A blottofest with Liz Phair wouldn't be a bad night's work.

"Well, we'll have our own album cover by the end of the night, governor," I said.

Sure enough, after several rounds the time arrived for the Great Photo Booth Experiment. We crawled into the black-and-white camera box, bent on showing Liz Phair how they did it in the Deep South. Yeah, that's right. These two Southern boys were going to take candid modeling into a new dimension.

My unshaven chin. Michael's flared nostril. My bare Michelin. The sole of Michael's Converse.

Needless to say, our booth visit birthed a noble, catastrophic failure. Virile young deviants could continue their ogling at Exile in comfort, knowing that they wouldn't be subjected to a competing extreme close-up of my gut. As for the two of us ...

"Hey, isn't that John McIntyre from Tortoise who just came in, with that Japanese band Guitar Wolf?" Michael asked.

"Time for another round," I said. "The bus just pulled up."

Mr. Sutton can be found in Atlanta trolling Ponce from Eats to Green's in khaki cut-offs and glossy oxfords with no socks. travel@creativeloafing.com??

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