If you missed the Renegade Craft Fair when it was here in December 2017, you’re in luck, this touring curated craft fair is coming back to Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood the weekend of May 12 – 13, 2018. When I went in December, I had just finished my classwork for my Masters in English as well as the practicum hours for my Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) Certification. I was ready for a celebration, some fun, and of course a bit of retail therapy. Supporting artists never hurt anyone.
So, early one sunny, clear winter morning, we set out for the Bridgeport Art Center, where Renegade was being held. Because it is a touring fair, locations vary from show to show, even within a city. Visiting Bridgeport was also a reason for excitement for me, as the home of the Daley family, who had such an influence of Chicago and invented the Chicago political machine, I was curious to see where it all started. Bridgeport conjures up images of political wheelin’ and dealin’ in my mind. I expected the air to be different or something given its illustrious alumni.
The air wasn’t different, but as we made our way to the Bridgeport Art center, the contrast to the Chicago suburbs was noticeable; narrow streets lined with brick bungalows, cars jammed into the streets, wherever a parking space may exist, not matter how small. The Bridgeport Arts Center was built in 1911. Its history is primarily in manufacturing, but for many years, it was also the warehouse for the Spiegel Company. In the early 2000s artist started to occupy the space and have in one way or another ever since; including artists-in-residence, and a multi-use event space.
The fair had so many artisans it spanned two different areas of the Arts Center; the first floor in the corner, a well-lit area with lots of windows and wares; candles, shoes, purses, chocolate, pie, the list goes on and the fifth floor. Just outside the first floor, food trucks lined up to nourish weary shoppers. We took advantage of the high-top tables near the food truck to eat our slices of lemon meringue and chocolate bourbon pecan pies which we had gotten from Justice of the Pies, a Chicago pie company.
To get to the fifth floor, we walked outside the building, along the building’s old truck bay then followed signs once we got inside. The small size of the bays belied the building’s age. Trucks are much bigger now than they were 100 years ago. Once inside, we saw how the historical integrity of the space had been maintained; massive exposed beams, brick everywhere surrounded as we traversed the well-lit space passing by studios and encountering a massive table with plants.
We skipped the elevator and walked up the five flights of stairs. These too were original, seemingly made of pine, with wide, well-worn treads and extremely high risers. Occasionally we saw an old steel door that seemed like it would lead to a walk-in freezer.
The destination was worth the trek. The variety of wares was a bit overwhelming, so when I spied City Press Juice, that was my first stop. Nutrients would help me clear my brain and make a plan. As we perused aisle after aisle of artisan wares, we saw Christmas decorations, wood work, iron works, and more stationery. I was pleased to come upon Nourishing Notes, a Chicago stationery company from where I had bought JD a couple of Christmas presents a couple of years prior. It was fun telling him that this was the guy who had made his Christmas card that year!
After all of this shopping from which we had gotten chocolate ganache, a Christmas present for my mom, a letter press poster with fruit and vegetable seasonality, and the latest issue of “Driftless” magazine, a Midwest adventure magazine, we were hungry.
Eating in Bridgeport
As soon as we knew we were going to Bridgeport, we had started planning where we would eat lunch. There are so many options, Chicago fare – brats and dogs, Italian, American, Thai, the list goes on.
When JD saw that we would be near Strings Ramen, not only the best Ramen in Chicago, but some of the best in the country, he started lobbying for it. Despite its accolades, I was skeptical. I wanted something filling, something that reflected being in Daley’s home turf. But because part of travelling constitutes stepping out of my comfort zone and trying new things, I agreed to Strings.
Slurp Your Noodles
Strings is in Chicago’s Chinatown, only a few miles from the Bridgeport Art Center, and we easily found parking. However, we weren’t sure how much it was because, being in the heart of Chinatown, the signs weren’t bilingual and I don’t read Chinese. I think we ultimately paid $5 or so for parking.
The restaurant was crowded when we arrived and when I saw the steaming hot bowls on diners’ tables, and got my own bowl soon after, I knew that we had made the right choice. Ramen wasn’t square hunks of plastic-infused noodles wrapped in more plastic!
Ramen was a large bowl of hot, flavorful broth filled with long, light noodles and whatever else you choose, including beef, lobster, pork loin, an array of vegetables, and perhaps a hard-boiled egg. I let myself fall into the experience which was as immersive and satisfying to my insides as a hot shower is to my outside. However, perhaps the most satisfying thing about Ramen is that after all of my years of travel and eating many different types of food, I can underestimate a cuisine and still be completely surprised! That was a pleasant and eye-opening revelation.
As we ate and did new things that day, it occurred to me that the rabbit hole of Chicago, similar to that of the Internet is endless. One could spend days flitting from one activity and restaurant to another and still not see it all.
However, as tempted as I was to hunt down the bar where Chicago politicos used to hang out and check out the Chinese shopping complex across the street from our parking lot, those would have to wait. Adding one more thing to our excursion would have diluted the depth of experience and meaning of what we did that day. I’ve learned and firmly believe that sometimes, often, less is more.