The rink lies below, glistening in the sun. There is no ice there yet. That will come shortly. Already the Zamboni's have been dropped, literally, off the truck. On this morning, a cold wind blows. Looking at the stands for 41,000, you wonder how will those people survive this cold.
But Steve Alexander is happy. In the warmth of his rooftop club and the field across the street, his patrions will be able to knosh on cider, pizza and coffee inside, taking in the game as the weather allows on the rooftop deck. His arms wide, he says he is ready for the Winter Classic.
A veteran of the Greektown restaurant scene, Alexander says the rooftop gig has been the best place to work ever. He glides over to a wall, his speech is rapid and his excitement is viral, “here are pictures from the 1970's with the owner,” he says. He hardly allows a moment to examine the photos on the wall before racing elsewhere, the food is usually prepared outside in the summer he explains, talking rapidly.
“But, in January that won't be possible,” he explains, as he shows off the kitchen where the chili, mac and cheese and other winter favs will appear. “The staff is excited,” he explains, racing to the roof along a rear stair.
At the top of the stair, downtown glistens in the distance and an el train rumbles beneath us. Alexander is on the other side of the roof. Talking about what his guests will be seeing. Wrigley Field, frozen in snow and ice lies across the street and below. A rink runs from first to third base. It is quiet. A moment that is frozen.
Alexander is quiet for a moment, then his boots begin crushing the snow, “it will be 45 F here this weekend and this stuff will all melt,” he predicts. “Come here and look at this,” he is bursting with enthusiasm. Another kitchen, this is the summer kitchen. “And, we'll hang televisions from these poles too.”
Alexander rushes down a stairwell. Gasping to catch him, the sub-zero air is stinging my lungs. Alexander is a huge sports fan. At first, he says he doesn't understand hockey, but as he talks, he goes into a long discussion of the effects of constant hits on the player's body. He talks about Chicago Blackhawk players and Chris Chelios, the kid from the hood who did good.
“His parents were mall walkers and stopped by mom and dad's stand in the mall,” he explains. The old Greeks liked to talk to each other and grab a bite. They'd talk about their kid in the hockey league, Chris. Chelios, I explain, was assigned to the AAA Grand Rapids Griffins for conditioning. He might not play on New Year's Day. “Oh, too bad.” For a moment, Alexander is reflective.
He begins to talk again about the Cubs and the blessing of the business having this extra day of business. The city council had just approved the sale of tickets by the rooftops at its previous session. Although he had sold out, Alexander explained that prior to the approval, everything was tentative.
The poor economy is having its effect here too. Although Alexander has sold out, he says that some of the rooftops had tickets on the 20th. Tickets up here cost $300.00 USD each. For that the rooftop clubhouse Alexander runs opens an hour before the game till an hour after the game. All the food and beverage is provided.
The effort to be ready is exhausting. Alexander fields calls during the interview from supplier after supplier, arranging for the delivery of food, beer, soft drinks and other supplies. “Excuse me,” he apologizes, “I have to take this.” It is non-stop and there are more than ten days to go yet.
He says the rooftops host parties during concerts too, but that the view is terrible and it is by invitation of the owner (no income) for friends and clients. “We had to take the weather into consideration,” he says. He looks at the stands across the street. “People will be freezing if they stay outside long in this weather. They'll probably be going up (to the roof top view) and down (to the warmth of the clubhouse) a lot,” he predicts.
The building, originally a three-flat, was gutted to the walls. A similar project is occurring immediately next door. Inside, the walls are brick and mortar. Large windows keep the noise of the el train out, while pictures from Cubs history adorn the walls. Basically several floors of restaurants with bleachers on the top deck, only one apartment survives, on the first floor. And NO, you may not invite yourself up to the deck if you rent the apartment.
In the early days of Wrigley Field, the owners and tenants came up on the roof with lawn chairs and grills. Television gave the rooftops their romance, showing the rooftops and their occupants. It is a romance the National Hockey League hopes to capture. A little snow, some pictures of the rooftops with some cold people on them, and the ivy. You can see it now, in your minds eye.
Outdoor hockey at this level is about romance. The romance of a game played on ice. The romance of professional players, returning to their roots. It is a romance of the neighborhood kid, scoring the game winning goal or making the glove save at a critical moment-- at least in his head.