My Sweet Home Chicago: Gene Wagendorf III
Name: Gene Wagendorf III
How long have you lived in Chicago? A gentleman never asks, a lady never tells.
What neighborhood do you call home? Why did you decide this was the right place for you?
I live on the border of Portage Park and Jefferson Park, the two most boring neighborhoods
in the city. That being said, there’s virtually no crime and I’m right off of the Blue Line. I don’t think this area is right for me at all though. Bored cops with no one to chase makes me public enemy number one as I stumble home from the train station. Ever been frisked by the same cop twice? I have. And I wasn’t even holding.
What brought you to Chicago? What keeps you here?
Well, my parents were living in Chicago when they engaged in the one magical incident of
fornication that created me. In 26 years (oops, I gave it away) I haven’t found another city I’d
rather live in. Grand Rapids is nice, but too tiny, too slow. New York has plenty of things to
do, but really, not much that I can’t find here (and certainly nothing I can’t find cleaner here), There’s a reason Chicagoans put up with the outrageous cost of living (talking to a friend from Seattle about what kind of home he could be living in back home for the rent he pays here was, well, depressing). Chicago is an incredible community. People are friendly, energized, exciting. Everyone has designs drawn on the future, but not in a cut-throat, whorey Los Angeles way. Anything you’re into, Chicago has it.
What’s your favorite free (or super cheap) activity in Chicago?
Indoors, it’s got to be Monday nights at the Empty Bottle. No cover, cheap beer, great music
and a pool table. Outdoors, the list is too long. I like drinking outside. Berger Park, Jackson
Park, Promontory Point, Stearns Quarry, Gomper’s Park… these are all wonderful places to
discreetly imbibe in the summer.
Favorite off-the-beaten path spot:
The Leadway Bar and Gallery up on Foster and Damen has nothing around it, but is a great
little spot that’s worth the trek. Caldwell Woods is another great outdoor spot to relax where no one will bother you. Oh, and if I can con a friend into driving the Olde Western Avenue Historic District in Blue Island is pretty great.
Favorite deep dish locale:
Pequod’s. Garlic, mushroom, spinach. Maybe sausage. Maybe.
Favorite local store or restaurant:
Hagen’s Fish Market on Montrose and Central They’ll smoke your fish (why does that sound
so dirty?). Didn’t score a big catch? You’re ok. Plenty of fresh options, great spicy popcorn shrimp and amazing hush puppies. This is the closest in Chicago you’ll get to ocean fresh
anything. I’m not really a big seafood guy, but Hagen’s is like nothing else. And it’s cheap!
Favorite local celebrity or the one you want to meet most:
I grabbed Billy Corgan’s ass once. I have the picture. He didn’t look happy. Haven’t washed
that hand since.
Lovejoy. Ever since I was a kid I’ve always wanted to live on Lovejoy.
Silliest thing you’ve noticed about Chicagoans:
Cubs fandom. It’s such a sad form of masochism. Come on people. Have some civic pride. If
you keep filling that dump of a ballpark the team will never get better. And cut it out with the Bartman and the goat and the odd Harry Caray love. And the shitty bars. And that stupid, stupid W flag.
Advice you would give to someone moving to Chicago?
Prepare to fall in love. Over and over and over again.
Advice you would give to someone visiting Chicago?
If the pub you walk into looks Irish-themed, be skeptical. There are real Irish bars in Chicago. Stay away from these cookie-cutter establishments. Oh, and steer clear of 86th.
If you were gone for 5 years and came back, what’s the first thing you would do?
Stop at La Pasadita for steak tacos, bar hop through Ukrainian Village until I ended up at the
Empty Bottle, hoping the whole time that the Bitter Tears were playing. When the bar closed
I’d head to the lake for some late night/early morning drinking with friends. End at Tweet or
Bongo Room for breakfast.