The Taste of Chicago is going on right now in Grant Park, and it’s a very nice summer food event, and our favorite way to combine sunburn and jerk chicken. And as much as we’re a rah-rah “Go Chicago” kinda blog, the fact is that these days the Taste is only a “taste portion” of what it once was.
Back before the economy ate itself and “good enough” became good enough for city hall, the Taste ran for ten days leading up to the Fourth of July. In 2004, 3.59 million people went to the Taste. Last year it was 1.1 million. In 2005 there were more than 70 restaurants. This year, just 37. It was so big and interesting that The New York Times’ food critics used to review the Taste of Chicago. And for some reason the Taste doesn’t end on the Fourth of July anymore because… well, who knows. Maybe it interferes with someone’s summer vacation at DCASE.
Two million people used to show up for the Taste’s own fireworks show on the third of July. It was so huge that local TV newscasts across the country would show clips of it. Getty Images would use it for stock photos used all around the world. Now, the Taste piggybacks on the regularly Wednesday/Saturday Navy Pier fireworks that happen all year round, because that’s “good enough.”
Today the third largest city in America doesn’t have its own Fourth of July fireworks event. Not even a city Independence Day parade. It’s why we cringe every time Mayor Rahm Emanuel blurts out his pithy line “Chicago is the most American of American cities.” Sorry, Rahm. An American flag lapel pin just isn’t “good enough.”
So enjoy these few pictures we managed to scrounge up of the 2004 Taste of Chicago. A time when the equivalent of the entire population of the city of Los Angeles came to Chicago to taste our food, ride our carnival rides, and collect bags of free laundry soap, toilet paper, and toothpaste samples. This year, it’s only San Jose showing up.