Wear Your Crown in Chi-Town

by Gaby Felknor

When celebrating a twenty-first birthday I recommend making it as lavish as possible. After all, that is the quintessential year that all American youths are conditioned to pine for, isn’t it? From then on, in our society, birthdays become all “hush hush,” and aging usually isn’t something to get excited about. That is, except for the special birthdays that occur every ten years, end in a zero and come with increasingly more wrinkles and cellulite. Speaking as a seasoned 22-year-old I can attest that my last birthday was a little more drab than fab in comparison to my twenty-first, nonetheless, I refuse to pass up an opportunity to celebrate with family and friends and I encourage you all to do the same.*

When my friend told me about her plans to celebrate her 21st in Chicago, I was thrilled at the prospects of a night out in the windy city. I love Madison, but sometimes a girl needs a slightly bigger playground, you know?

Her birthday could not have gone more perfectly, so I decided to share it with you all as inspiration for others celebrating summer birthdays whether in our Capital city or beyond.

1. Cheers to carbs!

Beginning your night with a nice big dinner is key, and who doesn’t love a free dinner on their birthday? (But I would suggest staying away from all ethnic food that may not sit well for the birthday girl or boy later that evening). Our group chose Italian, and filled our stomachs with huge, tasty pasta dishes and Pinot Grigio from Mia Francesca’s on Clark Street.** There is a time and place for salads and diets, but a birthday is never one of them.

2. Follow your Impulses

While it’s good to have a plan for the night, fun should always come before function. Feel free to stop on a whim for a drink, especially in a city like Chicago where you’re constantly surrounded by great restaurants and bars. We stopped at Cesar’s Home of the Killer Margaritas, a few blocks down on Clark. The name alone was an indicator that it would be a good choice, and on a warm summer night in the city, nothing beats a strawberry marg.

3. Find a Festival

The best part about summer nights is that there’s always something going on outdoors whether it’s a festival, concert, etc. Our weekend happened to coincide with Pride Fest in Chicago’s highly stylish and eclectic Northalsted. This area is known for its trendy boutiques, chic apartments and an acclaimed farmers market. And of course, who could forget to mention the abundance of rainbow awnings and light posts? The notorious cover band Wedding Banned was performing (picture Adam Sandler in The Wedding Singer but times four, and with longer mullets and Fu Manchu’s). We all sang along to classic hits like Guns and Roses “Sweet Child of Mine,” and Eddie Money’s “Take Me Home Tonight,” dresses swinging and beers spilling but loving every minute.

4. Sipping under the stars

The concert ended around 11 o’clock and it was time to hit the town, so we took the birthday girl to Dark Horse on Sheffield. As we all know from our nights at the Terrace, nothing beats a summer evening under the stars. So, I definitely advise finding bars with outdoor seating (and it’s a perfect time to take a break from your heels). Dark Horse’s back patio was charming and intimate with a few wrought-iron tables, an outdoor bar, and vine covered stone walls.

And the best way to end a birthday? Late night birthday cake.

*But definitely live it up on your twenty-first! Nothing beats the day that your driver’s license miraculously becomes your ticket to a whole new nightlife, as you step before the bouncer grinning and clad in a tiara and “birthday girl” sash.

** Part of the Francesca’s restaurant chain, which includes Francesca’s Al Lago in our very own downtown Madison.