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How Swede it is on St. Patrick’s Day

Today’s newspaper column from The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.)

How Swede it is on St. Patrick’s Day

The WISCH LIST

March 17, 2012

Today, of course, is St. Patrick’s Day.

But since I expect everyone else to write about Guinness, Jameson and any number of other Irish drinks, I thought I’d go against the grain and introduce you to a Swedish one instead.

“Glögg?” Brian Yarka, the bartender at Simon’s Tavern in Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood, said last Sunday while shooting me a look that could have withered tree buds. “Seriously? You know it’s almost out of season, right?”

“I know it’s a winter drink,” I replied with a chuckle. “But, yes, glögg. I want to write about it.”

“What are you writing about next,” a Simon’s Tavern regular named Richard shot back from his barstool, “the Super Bowl?

And with that, I was welcomed to Simon’s Tavern (5210 N. Clark St.), a cozy bar that’s anchored the Swedish enclave of Andersonville since 1934. The place bills itself as “Your home for glögg in Chicago,” and much like the drink itself, both Bryan and Richard warmed up after giving my brother and I a good-natured hard time for ordering it just six days before St. Patrick’s Day.

Most commonly served around Christmastime – although Simon’s winter batch isn’t exhausted just yet – glögg is a traditional Swedish drink that dates back centuries. It’s served hot with a side of ginger snap cookies and made from a combination of port wine blended with aquavit (Swedish brandy), raisins, orange peel and other spices. The drink is delicious and worth a trip Simon’s itself, although it might be best to wait until June when you can sample its summertime cousin.

“A few years ago, we actually started making glögg slushies for Midsommarfest,” Yarka explained. “Now it outsells frozen margaritas and everything else. Actually, that’s something that no one has written about before. You should write about that.”

And so I am. Andersonville’s 47th Annual Midsommarfest Festival will be held June 9-10 on Clark Street between Foster and Catalpa avenues. I suggest marking your calendar, not only because of glögg slushies, but also because of everything else that Andersonville has to offer.

However, there’s no need to wait three months to visit the neighborhood, which is also a great springtime city destination.

The neighborhood

As a community, Andersonville’s roots extend all the way back to 19th century when immigrant Swedish farmers started moving into the area which was then a distant suburb of Chicago.

By 1910, Chicago’s city limits had crept far enough north to make it the world’s second largest Swedish city, trailing only Stockholm. And a that time, the center of all that was Swedish in Chicago was located in the neighborhood now known as Andersonville.

Back then, its business district, located on Clark Street between Foster and Bryn Mawr avenues, was filled with Johannsens, Sandburgs and Nilssons. Today, it’s still home to the Swedish-American Museum, as well Swedish institutions such as Wikstrom’s Gourmet Foods and Ann Sather’s diner.

However, Andersonville now also features other attractions such as Hopleaf Bar (offering the largest beer selection in Chicago) and Great Lake Pizza (offering the best pie in the nation, according to GQ magazine), as well as popular restaurants like Tapas Las Ramblas (Spanish) and Reza’s (Mediterranean).

The travel tips

Traveling to Andersonville is easy. From Kankakee, take I-57 North to I-90/I-94 Westbound and get off at Armitage Avenue, Exit 48A. Take a right on Armitage to Ashland Avenue, where you’ll turn left and and head north to Foster Avenue. At Foster, simply turn right to Clark Street and you’ll find yourself in the heart of the neighborhood.

Metered parking is plentiful in Andersonville ($3.50 for two hours), particularly on the side streets off of Clark.