How does that work?
City living inspires a lot of WTFs (chief among them: What did Daley just say? But that's a question for another time). These explanations of prominent urban curiosities should satisfy your need-to-know urges.
With all the out-in-the-open sex going on there, How does Boystown bathhouse Steamworks stay legal?
There’s a good chance you’ve noticed a mysterious, industrial-looking facade in Boystown. Steamworks (3246 N Halsted St, 773-929-6080, steamworksonline.com) is a 25,000-square-foot gay club, open 24/7, whose amenities include 90 private rooms for sexual hookups, hot tubs and saunas, workout equipment and TVs that screen porn. How do they get away with it? “We’re legal because we’re listed as a gay men’s health club, spa and gym, first,” explains Nirmalpal Sachdev, Steamworks’ general manager. “[But] we’re listed as a private men’s facility. It’s behind closed doors and men have to gain membership to get in.” It’s given some leeway from the city, Sachdev says, because it offers safer-sex education, has an open-door policy for gay-outreach nonprofits, and provides STD testing. According to 23rd District commander Kathleen Boehmer, the men’s club isn’t a concern. “They have a…license and they’ve been inspected and found in full compliance as recently as July 14. We don’t get many complaints on them.” Setting the bar higher than its competitors probably helps, too. Sachdev says Steamworks’ well-designed space and rigorous cleaning schedule makes it “the Barneys of bathhouses.” —Erin Ensign
How is the grass at Pritzker Pavilion drained and dried?
“Millennium Park sits on a concrete floor [above the parking garages] that’s angled toward the drainage system,” says Millennium Park’s Neal Speers. “Between the concrete and your feet, there are about 12 inches of topsoil and about two feet of sand, which levels out the field.” The sand is what makes the Great Lawn dry much quicker than an ordinary lawn. “Water moves through sand about twice as fast as it does through soil, so within four to six hours of a hard rain, the Great Lawn can be totally dry,” Speers says.—Christina Couch
How is Oak Street Beachstro assembled each summer?
If constructing your IKEA bookcase made you want to jab an Allen wrench in your eye, just imagine following the directions to put together a restaurant. “Everything is numbered and labeled, so it’s almost like a gigantic jigsaw puzzle,” says Anthony Priola, chef and co-owner of the Beachstro (1001 N Lake Shore Dr, 312-915-4100, oakstreetbeachstro.com). It takes about 14 days to build the 300-seat restaurant on the beach, starting with the inside kitchen pieces. Once the 53-square-foot mobile kitchen is in place, Priola’s crew attaches refrigeration and interior components, including electrical systems, bathrooms and plumbing. After that, it’s just details. “Literally every table, every chair, the entire bar, the outside modular pieces, everything comes from four 50-foot trailers we store in the off-season out in Barrington Hills,” Priola explains. To give the outside a Caribbean feel, Priola imports 67 giant palms, most of which will be donated to the city’s parks and indoor spaces such as Navy Pier when the season ends on Sunday 27. “We have a rare opportunity to physically redesign our restaurant every summer,” he says. “We change it a little bit every year.”—Christina Couch
How does the United Center create that perfectly smooth ice for Blackhawks games?
United Center (1901 W Madison St, 312-455-4500) general manager Jim Koehler is particularly proud of the fact that the lines and logos on the Blackhawks’ home ice are hand-painted. That’s interesting and everything, but we’re more intrigued by the Zamboni parade. To make the ice for Toews and company, the stadium crew first freezes the concrete floor by bringing it down to 13 degrees via an expansive refrigeration system that runs beneath it. Then they spray water on it to create, as Koehler says, “a slippery sidewalk.” Next they put down four spray coats of white powder ice paint, seal it with another thin layer of ice, then chalk the template for the rink and seal it again. The painters hand-paint the ice, and it’s sealed again. Then they bring out the firehose and let it loose on the ice overnight, until it’s about a half-inch thick. That’s when the Zambonis, those big, misting squeegee trucks, come out and roll back and forth until the ice is an inch thick. “Some people think it’s a foot or two thick,” Koehler says. “But you don’t need that much ice.” And what happens when the Bulls need to play on it? The Center lays down 550 sheets of ice-decking material to insulate the floor, and lays the court on top of that. The ice stays there until the end of the season—even when the circus comes to town this winter.—Jonathan Messinger
How do they keep the eternal flame in Daley Plaza lit?
“It’s not unlike how a stove at home works,” notes Kevin Smith, spokesman for the Public Building Commission of Chicago. “The eternal flame is hooked up to a low-intensity natural gas line that connects into the Daley Center (50 W Washington St). Generally, the flame survives through thick and thin, but when it does go out, someone from the engineering staff will go out with a lighter and bring it back to life.” Because the eternal flame uses only a small amount of gas and releases any excess into an open space (unlike, say your kitchen), Smith says there’s no danger of accidentally setting something on fire. “Pigeons always huddle around it for warmth,” he says. “It’s totally safe.” —Christina Couch
How do restaurants book reservations? Most hot spots only seem to have tables open too early or too late.
When restaurants tell you they only have tables open at 6pm or 10pm, they’re telling the truth. Or at least a half truth. The table you’re requesting may not necessarily be booked by another party at the prime time of 7pm, but it very well may be blocked by the restaurant. Restaurants often need to turn over a table twice per night to earn a profit, and seating people at 6pm, and then again at 8pm, is their best chance at doing so. Of course, 6:15pm and 8:15pm work, too—restaurants typically want to stagger the times they let people sit down, lest the kitchen get pummeled with everybody’s orders at the same time. —David Tamarkin
How are those giant skyscraper-constructing tower cranes put together?
“Think of it as a bunch of 20-foot-long bolted-together pieces…or giant LEGOS,” explains general superintendent Ross Nasca of Smithfield Properties, developers of several Chicago high-rises. After casting the bottom part in a concrete foundation, a service crane stacks the first 200 or so vertical feet of a typical “hammerhead” tower crane. But as the building goes up, so must the crane, which is why it’s designed to “jump” itself. This engineering marvel is actually quite simple, according to Nasca. “There’s what’s called a ‘climbing collar’ that wraps around the tower,” he says. “It has a large jack, similar to the hoist used by a car mechanic.” Here’s how it works: The crane trolleys up a fresh 20-foot section, sets it on a roll-out tray on the climbing collar, and then goes back to the ground to fetch another one to hold on the end as a counterweight. Workers crack the fist-sized bolts on an existing section and a piston pushes down, which hoists the top of the tower up. The workers slide the piece from the tray into place, bolt it down and the collar is raised to start the process all over again. —Rod O’Connor