"Here's to summer," my wife said, and we clinked glasses, sitting outside Friday night at Lula Cafe on Kedzie Avenue.
I don't think she was being ironic, even though it was about 65 degrees outside and the sun was setting fast. Besides, she was toasty warm with the lap rug the restaurant had given her when she arrived. I waved mine off, comfortable in a light jacket.
We were on our way to a party, and figured we'd have dinner first. It was a nostalgic visit for us—we lived at Logan and Mozart from 1990 to 1993, and had only been back a few times, certainly not since the area started to hop a bit. One of the reasons I remember moving away was because the place was so quiet, almost suburban, ironically enough.
I had only been to Lula once—breakfast with Rahm Emanuel, believe it or not—and was happy to try it again with far more pleasant company.
When we first walked up to the restaurant, I caught sight of two men wrapped in the gray blankets, and for one vertiginous second I thought I was witnessing some heretofore unimagined new hipster fashion. We were after all in the up-and-coming Logan Square neighborhood. They looked like survivors from a maritime disaster.
Then I noticed other blankets folded neatly on the backs of chairs, awaiting diners, and I realized this was something the restaurant is doing for the comfort of its patrons on cool evenings. Which impressed me because, in a lifetime of dining out, I had never before encountered the practice. A big improvement over heat lamps. There was something charming about it.
I did worry, when I thought to remark upon this here, that outdoor cafe blankets might be a long-established aspect of city life, and by admitting I was unfamiliar with them, I would be revealing a damning lapse in my life experience, a jarring cluelessness, like George Will admitting he had never worn blue jeans.
But other diners seemed pleasantly surprised as well.
"Oooh, blankets!" exclaimed a young woman in a fringed leather jacket that might have been stripped off the corpse of Neil Young, except that it was brand new.
Anyway, not the most earth-shattering observation, but it's 11 p.m. and, besides, one of the bedrock convictions of this blog is that small wonders should not go unremarked upon. I did consider the hygienic aspects of the blankets. Do they launder them after each use? At the end of the day? Once a week? Never?
I should have asked. But I pushed such thoughts aside. I wasn't touching one, so what did it matter?
Dinner, incidentally, was quite good. We split a generous appetizer of bruschetta with marinated baby kale, smoked pecans, shaved onion, beets and whipped goat cheese on excellent, complicated bread. I had a plate of spicy spaghetti with bacon, and Edie, a bowl of risotto which, she felt, erred on the side of baby food, with an over-pungent cheese they should have warned her about in red letters on the menu. But not so unpleasant as to make her complain, or send it back, or not be willing to return. Service was brisk, friendly and efficient. The blankets, our waiter said, were a new addition, introduced about two years ago.