Today’s departure morning left us temporarily homeless. AirBnB checkout was 10 and our Amtrak 352 to Ann Arbor didn’t leave till 1:25. Fortunately, an Amtrak business class ticket provides wonderful shelter in the Metropolitan Lounge, missing only free beer to make it a thoroughly satisfying experience. But that time of morning, we were looking more for breakfast than beer. After coffee and a donut from Stan’s next door to consume while we finished packing, we were off. One stop on the green line north then 8 more on the 151 Sheridan bus west and we were there. The Metropolitan Lounge gives a place to park, for free, all your luggage. Freed of all but our computer bearing backpacks, we were off in search of. The venerable Lou Mitchell’s, a block south on Clinton then a block east on van Buren, was our destination http://www.loumitchells.com/. A classic, full service, we got everything and it’s all good place, diner, it’s been in business at the same location since 1923, at the start of route 66, and has attracted its share of politicians and celebrities. As it came into view, I could almost taste my corned beef hash with two over easy eggs splashed with hot sauce.
But the place was eerily quiet. A COVID victim? The liberal posted hours of operation on the door – 6 AM-2 PM – came with the sad caveat: closed Monday and Tuesday. So we turned to Yelp, which told us “Little Toasted” was serving breakfast nearby a 4 minute walk east on van Buren. As we approached, it became familiar. The jaunty “LT” script was on the side of the Chase Bank blue glass skyscraper that housed it on the ground level.
We’d tried to get into it last October during height of COVID and it was closed. We remained wary as we approached, but saw at least one person eating in the big open courtyard next to the sunken railroad yard, and the glass doors, helpfully labeled to indicate which glass panel was actually a door, let us into the big room with the big angled bar, at which were seated the Mexican owner and two helpers. He assured us they were serving breakfast, led us to our seats, and pointed out the 2 QRs, one for food, one for drinks. The had a burrito and avocado toast, which both sounded tasty, plus would whip up a bloody Mary for me and a couple mimosas for sweetheart, even though neither were on their cocktail menu, which featured fancier items.
The place is actually a snazzy bar, catering more to a lunch, after work, and early evening crowd. But they did breakfast just fine. We found it all delightful, and tarried to drink in the ambience. The sun was out, the thermometer hadn’t yet reached 80, and there was a slight breeze, salsa music playing in the background, but not too stirring to nudge a mellow mood. We learned from the owner he had just recently reopened, and had hopes for more business as people started to come back to work. At its pre-COVID height, the Chase Bank building hosted more than 7,000 employees in a typical day. Now, there were barely 100.
Getting ready to hit the road, it was time to visit their facilities. Perhaps we were catching a glimpse of the future. There were 3 individual units, each asexual, of course. Rooms were spacious. The sink in one corner was appointed with modern soaring curved stainless fixtures, operated with a wave of the hand, dispensing into a deep rectangular stainless steel sink. Then came the proof of how much the management cared for its patrons: each toilet had a CoCo bidet seat http://www.biolifetechnologies.com/ Europeans had often pointed to absence of such items from the American bathroom as proof of their own cultural superiority. Having had one in our own home for the past couple of years, I see their point. The CoCo bidet has numerous controls which I punched one after the other trying to flush the toilet, without success. Finally, I saw a gleaming panel above the toilet on the wall, about the size of a cafeteria tray, that turned out to be a rocker switch upon which any light tap led to a flush.
Clean is nice, and as a physician I applaud pursuit of that state. But in our COVID insanity, I submit that the trait of cleanliness has been elevated to a secular holy virtue, with laud for those who strive to attain it and disdain for the unclean who fall short, or worse, don’t even try. For it was in the lobby of the Chase Bank building that I saw a modern day altar to the holy virtue of cleanliness, specifically the rite of hand washing. There, just across from the 3 individual bathrooms, was a long rectangular deep stainless steel sink appointed with four sets of the same gleaming curved fixtures that adorned each sink in the individual bathrooms. It was not hard to envision future patrons stepping up, beginning their ritual with a casual hand wave past the sensor, like a sign of the cross, collecting the soap, then rubbing hands rhythmically together, perhaps with ”pop goes the weasel” in their head to assure proper duration, all in full public view to others who might even be applauding, just as the Pharisees prayed in the open so as to be seen for their devoutness. Then maybe they’ll go back in the bar, have another drink and some dirty food, then go back and do it again. If they hang around long enough, maybe they’ll get to use the CoCo. I didn’t see a Chicago Board of Health seal of approval anywhere around the place, but the owners should seek one. Anything you can do to get a leg up in this competitive market.