We’d been going back and forth on doing the Architectural Boat Tour as the $50 price tag on the tickets would be our biggest cost of the holiday. Along the way we’d asked people what they would recommend in Chicago and almost always people would have the boat tour at the top of their list. We looked around online for discounts, where we found Groupon offered a discount ticket which would bring the price down the $30. Unfortunately after a little research online (mostly through r/Chicago) we found out that the best way to experience the tour was by going through the Chicago First Lady Cruise, which was partnered with the Chicago Architectural Foundation, and did not have a Groupon discount attached. We ummed and ahhed over the decision but once we saw that a part of the ticket price went back to the Chicago Architectural Foundation (CAF) we made our mind up to take the knock to our budgets.
The tour was well worth the hefty price tag and was far and away the most interesting thing we did while we were in Chicago. We were lucky to catch a sunny day for the tour as on occasion the wind would cut across the deck and straight through to our bones; I would have hated to know what it would have been like without the sun to warm us. We bought our tickets at the the kiosk down by the river and found a seat on the deck of the boat where the tour operator, a volunteer from the CAF, greeted people as they came on board. Below deck there was a bar where you can top up on coffee or bloody marys, but we kept our wallets firmly in our pockets after having just forked over 49 dollars each to be there. As soon as the boat departed our guide began to divest knowledge on the buildings which line the river. His knowledge and passion were obvious and it was easy to get caught up in the story that unfolded through his information. We learned about how the first explorers saw the potential in Chicago years before people first settled, how the river was reversed due to over pollution, and how different styles and periods of architecture built the city into what it is today. It was a thoroughly enjoyable tour, both in part because of the enthusiastic tour operator and because Chicago is, architecturally speaking, spectacular.
Later in the evening we met up with a few of Mari’s friends from High School at a restaurant called Maude’s. The drinks were expensive but tasty and I made my way through the menu as Mari caught up properly with faces she hadn’t seen in years. I offered a little conversation here and there but ultimately let them catch up with names and places that meant little to me. With a few cocktails behind us it was suggested we check out a bar where the drinks are a little cheaper and the bar is novel in the fact that smoking is still allowed inside the bar itself. Walking into the bar felt like walking through a portal in time as old Italian bar tenders with tight black t-shirts tucked into their blue jeans served American beer through a haze of cigarette smoke. We sipped Sam Adams (an abbreviation of Samuel Adams which is a brand of beer in the states) in the corner of the bar, watching the smoke billow up every time the door to the outside was opened. Apparently the bar can get away with breaking the smoking laws as they have an…. amicable relationship with cops who frequent the bar. After knocking back a couple more beers while chatting over bar stools, the sad but inevitable goodbyes began again and Mari watched her friends wander off back into the city to find their way home.