Greetings from the Royal Wedding !

My invitation to the Royal Wedding got lost in the post and did not arrive until Tuesday afternoon. I really had to scurry to get my plane tickets, hotel reservations (The Ritz), and my morning suit with top hat.  It was nothing short of a miracle, but I got everything together and arrived in London yesterday.  Everything went as planned, it was a beautiful day and I was snapping photos like a mad man, after all, this was a once in a lifetime event.  I didn’t get that photo of William and Kate kissing because I was behind a woman with an extra large hat.  Darn!  But I will be at Buckingham Palace later today for the big shindig.  I will be sure to tell you all about it.  Cheers.

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My Favorite Things

Just because I love to compile a list of My Favorite Things, I’m rarely mistaken for Oprah.  Be forewarned, I am not going to give the readers of this blog anything free, except for my advice, which is priceless.  After years of painstaking research I have assembled this list–granted, it’s not ALL of my favorite things since that would preclude any future updates.  Also, I reserve the right to change the list at any time as my opinions tend to vacillate.  I should point out that if you are hoping to get your business on my list, I am easily influenced by freebies, gift cards, 2-for-1 specials, and wanton flattery.

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BEST PIZZA: RENALDI’S  With little fanfare, this neighborhood pizzeria on Broadway near Diversey produces a divine thin crust pizza with the creamiest mozzarella this side of Napoli.  There are many other worthy contenders, but until I taste them all, I’m sticking with Renaldi’s.
BEST COFFEE: PEET’S  From a simple coffee house in Berkeley, CA (my alma mater) about 40 years ago,  this small chain has spread its flavorful beans across the country.  I love a coffee bean that has been roasted within a few seconds of its life and nobody does it better than Peet’s.   I admit some cafes (Intelligentsia) have better ambience, but screw ambience, I am there to drink strong coffee not have a Zen moment.  Peet’s is on North Ave & Sheffield.
BEST CORNED BEEF SANDWICH: MANNY’S COFFEE SHOP  You probably ask yourself, “who would go to a coffee shop for corned beef?” and that is a valid question.  But Manny’s is a coffee shop in name only, it is really an emporium of delicious food like Grandma used to make, depending of course on whom your Grandma was.  As long as you are tasting their corned beef, get a potato pancake and a dish of kishke and gravy–if you don’t know what that is, better not to ask.
BEST CHINESE RESTAURANT: LAO SZE CHUAN  This place is always busy.  Located in that Chinatown mall on Archer Ave, the atmosphere is extremely friendly, and the menu is longer than George Bush’s list of blunders.  The food is first rate.  I should point out that my favorite Chinese dish is actually the Walnut Shrimp from another Chinatown restaurant, Evergreen.  It’s not on the menu, so you need to request it–they will immediately think you are a regular or have a cousin in Hong Kong.
BEST HOTEL BAR: BERNARD’S BAR AT THE ELYSIAN HOTEL  I am far from an expert on this subject, but I was there recently and it’s dark, quiet, romantic, and they serve liquor–everything a bar should be.  This elegant hotel is on Walton near State, and this bar is a great place to chill if you’re in the Gold Coast / N. Michigan Ave area and want to get away from the pickpockets and cell phone snatchers for a little while.
BEST COMEDY GROUP: IMPROV SHAKESPEARE & COOK COUNTY SOCIAL CLUB  Ladies and gentlemen, we have a tie.  Both these groups are borderline comic geniuses and their shows are different but equally funny.  They perform at iO Theater on Clark by Wrigley Field.  If I told you how and why they are so funny, it would spoil the joke–just go see them.
BEST PLACE TO SEE A MOVIE: GRANT PARK   Okay, it’s not even a movie theater, but during the summer they show old films outdoors for 20,000 people picnic-style, and it’s an incredible scene surrounded by the flickering lights of the Chicago skyline.  It’s one of the joys of summer in Chicago, and I hope recent budget cuts don’t slash this unique activity–do you hear that, Rahm?

BEST SECRET PASSAGEWAY: THE CHICAGO PEDWAY  Underneath the bustling streets of Chicago’s Loop is a little-known network of tunnels connecting dozens of commercial and government buildings, and various subway stations.  In the winter it’s a warm haven from the inclement weather, and in the hotter months, it’s a cool respite from the sweltering streets.   In the Pedway, one finds shops, cafes, public art, live music, but rarely a crowd.  Pedway maps are available and advisable, as some people have been known to wander beneath the city streets for weeks in search of a way out.

FAVORITE OLD BUILDING: THE ROOKERY  Burnham, Root, and Frank Lloyd Wright collaborated on a building that after 120 years still has that WOW factor every time you walk in the skylit lobby with the floating staircase.  At the corner of LaSalle and Adams, this office building is an homage to transcendent architecture, something sorely lacking in so much modern design.

FAVORITE NEW BUILDING: 333 WACKER  An elegantly curved building perfectly suited to its location at the bend of the Chicago River.  This building gives me hope for modern architecture, something I never feel when looking at one of Mies van der Rohe’s “less is more” minimalist structures.  Check it out at sunset from the Franklin St Bridge or the Merchandise Mart.

BEST DIVE UNDER MICHIGAN AVENUE: BILLY GOAT TAVERN  I suspect this is the ONLY bar/restaurant under Michigan Avenue, so there isn’t a lot of competition in this category.  The legendary hamburgers are only so-so, but this place is truly a Chicago legend.  Made famous in an old John Belushi sketch on Saturday Night Live, it has been a favorite watering hole for Chicago journalists for decades, and now a Mecca for people seeking a one-of-a-kind Chicago experience.

All photos by Alan Klehr

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Beauty in Strange Places

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My cousin owns a car repair facility in the SW suburbs and I was out there the other day doing photography for his web site.  As I was packing up my equipment it dawned on me that there were some photo opportunities that I had overlooked.  The mundane tools which actually make this facility tick seemed to offer  so much more in terms of photographic possibilities than the other subjects I had photographed.  I took a leisurely walk around the garage and was overwhelmed by the simple beauty amid the toolboxes and grease.  For me, this was a lesson in seeing the obvious.

All photos by Alan Klehr…my web site

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Food, Glorious Food…Chicago Style

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Over the past few decades, Chicago has become a food Mecca.  No, not just for deep dish pizza, juicy prime steaks, and hot dogs (no ketchup!!!), but for some of the most inventive and earth-shaking cuisine this side of the Left Bank.  When did this local preoccupation with gourmet food begin?  That would be difficult to say, but Charlie Trotter and his Lincoln Park eatery helped to put Chicago foodies on the map more than 20 years ago.  Rick Bayless of Frontera Grill, Jean Joho of Everest, and Rick Tramonto of TRU all have done their part to raise the culinary bar.  Today there are new luminaries on the haute cuisine horizon, among them Michelin-starred Grant Achatz with his soon-to-be-opened Next, and Homaro Cantu of Moto.  And one must not forget “Top Chef” winner Stephanie Izard and her tremendously popular Girl and the Goat restaurant on West Randolph Street.  Included here is a small sampling of my food, drink and chef photography–I love shooting food, as Federal Law demands that the food not be served to the public, so it’s mandatory that the photographer eats it without delay.

All photographs by Alan Klehr

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Christkindlmarket Chicago: The Tradition Continues

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For those who rarely venture into the Loop during the holiday season, these photos are for you.  Since 1997, the city has been sponsoring Christkindlmarket in Daley Plaza.  This outdoor market which features German crafts, jewelry, clothing, toys and lots of food attracts over a half million people from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve.  Inspired by the Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg, Germany, which began in 1545, the Chicago version stays true to its European roots.  In fact, most of the vendors actually travel from Germany to work the booths, or at least are German-speaking.  Appropriate winter food is also available, including wurst, sauerkraut, potato pancakes, lots of pastries, and German beer and traditional “Glühwein”, a hot spiced wine that is served around the holidays.  The market closes tomorrow, but these photos might arouse your curiosity enough to visit next winter.

Photos by Alan Klehr / Photos-Chicago

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Warm Memories of Summer

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It’s going to snow tomorrow.  Nothing unusual about that…it’s winter, it’s Chicago…but that doesn’t mean I’m happy about it.  Do not go gently into that cold season.  I thought I’d post some photos of Chicago in a warmer frame of mind just to brace me against the north wind. Layers. Lots of layers. These words will stay with me until late April when I will be more concerned with staying dry rather than keeping my body core temperature above 80 degrees.  For more photos of Chicago in all seasons, visit Photos-Chicago.

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The Changing Color Palette of Pilsen

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 Chicago is often described as a city of neighborhoods.  The only problem is, people here can’t agree on too much else in regard to this subject; arguments abound over the actual number (probably over 200), their boundaries, their history, and even the proper name for the neighborhood.   What we all can agree on is that neighborhoods are constantly in flux.  One such community that is gradually changing its face is Pilsen, just southwest of the Loop.  This working-class area was inhabited by Polish and German immigrants in the mid-18th century, but soon Czechs moved in and named the area Pilsen after Plzeň, a large city in Czech Republic (think Pilsner beer).  In the mid-20th century, Latinos (mostly of Mexican origin) began populating Pilsen, and today they constitute a large majority of the local population.  Though this demographic has also been shifting: in recent years Pilsen has been discovered for its low rents, proximity to downtown, and its colorful life, and other ethnic groups have descended.  Numerous art galleries have sprouted and several popular non-Hispanic restaurants can be found.  One would not describe Pilsen as succumbing to gentrification, rather a slow evolution to a more diverse population.  What has not changed is the dynamic, colorful and energetic life one finds in this historic district.  The colorful nature of this neighborhood is reflected in its numerous murals, vibrantly painted buildings, authentic restaurants, diverse population, and even the “L” that runs through Pilsen is called the Pink Line.  Come by for a visit, be sure to bring your camera and your appetite.      Chicago Photos by Alan Klehr

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Chicago's Victorian Heritage

Mention Victorian architecture and one inevitably imagines the ornate “painted ladies” of San Francisco, or the countless grand homes and inns of Cape May, NJ–visions of multi-colored fantastical homes with grand porches and soaring turrets come to mind.  But the term really includes at least a half dozen different architectural styles from the late 19th century: Queen Anne, Romanesque Revival, Italianate, Gothic Revival, Beaux Arts, etc.  After the Great Fire of 1871, Chicago went on a building boom and thousands of houses, apartments and commercial buildings were constructed.  In spite of several bouts of urban renewal, a large percentage of these structures remain today and give Chicago a strong connection with its architectural past.  One can encounter blocks and blocks of Victorian-era homes in several areas–Lincoln Park, Old Town, Wicker Park, Hyde Park–but they are really scattered throughout the city.  These photos represent just a fraction of what an avid Victorian sleuth may find on their search for architectural treasures.  Photos by Alan Klehr

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Chicago’s Victorian Heritage

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Mention Victorian architecture and one inevitably imagines the ornate “painted ladies” of San Francisco, or the countless grand homes and inns of Cape May, NJ–visions of multi-colored fantastical homes with grand porches and soaring turrets come to mind.  But the term really includes at least a half dozen different architectural styles from the late 19th century: Queen Anne, Romanesque Revival, Italianate, Gothic Revival, Beaux Arts, etc.  After the Great Fire of 1871, Chicago went on a building boom and thousands of houses, apartments and commercial buildings were constructed.  In spite of several bouts of urban renewal, a large percentage of these structures remain today and give Chicago a strong connection with its architectural past.  One can encounter blocks and blocks of Victorian-era homes in several areas–Lincoln Park, Old Town, Wicker Park, Hyde Park–but they are really scattered throughout the city.  These photos represent just a fraction of what an avid Victorian sleuth may find on their search for architectural treasures.  Photos by Alan Klehr

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Exploring Goose Island

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How often do we walk past something on a regular basis but never take a second look?  I’m sure we can all think of someplace that falls in this category, and often it’s very close to home.  For me it was Goose Island.  Chicago’s only island, it is the area between the North Branch of the Chicago River on the west, and the North Branch Canal on the east.  It covers 160 acres and is only a couple miles northwest of downtown Chicago.  Being mostly a light industrial area,  I came here regularly only to visit my favorite camera store.
The other day a client requested some photos from Goose Island, and I was embarrassed to admit I had never taken a photo of this neighborhood.  To rectify this oversight, I returned here, camera in hand, and started exploring.  What I discovered was quite a revelation: fascinating historic buildings in various states of disrepair, views of two waterways, several bridges, picnic areas, kayakers, railroad tracks, parks, ComEd substation, and a few paranoid security guards.
But I was rewarded with more than the colorful photos I took, I learned an important lesson: a hidden treasure can be right under one’s nose if one chooses to look.
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