As a top-heavy, bearded, Middle Eastern male, I don’t exactly fit the American Girl Place (111 E Chicago Ave, 877-247-5223) demographic. But from what I’ve heard, the AGP experience resonates with young ladies at a fever pitch of jubilation rarely inducible outside the world of pharmaceuticals. So, in need of some perkiness on a particularly dour afternoon, I think: Demographics be damned.
Most of the action takes place in the second-floor doll emporium, where girls can pick from a number of dolls (that will end up looking eerily like them), choose dolly outfits (equestrian, Irish dancer, etc.) and even minidolls for their dolls to play with while their human companions sleep. Completing this Freudian nightmare is a section of tween-size doll clothing and a doll salon where girls can force their dolly-doppelgängers into up-dos.
Feeling peckish after taking in all that wonderment, I saunter to the café, the perfect place for a man to share a meal with his doll. If you forget your doll at home, AGP offers loaners that sit in tiny high chairs. My doll (an icy Swede whom I name Chayanne) and I split a forgettable chicken salad. More memorable are the many judgmental glances she and I receive from fellow diners.
The two parties flanking Chayanne and me are celebrating what I can only assume to be rites of passage: birthdays, mono, first cell phones. A few adults seem to feel sorry for me, as if all the ladies at my table have left for girl talk in the bathroom. There is no need to pity me, though, as Chayanne and I are engaged in a fairly athletic pillow fight. How we laugh! My waiter behaves very professionally throughout, likely assuming I am either foreign or developmentally delayed.
Like the dessert trio (which included a pudding-ish “chocolate flower pot”), my experience at American Girl Place proves saccharine and unnecessary, while leaving me with a sneaking suspicion that I will pay for it later. If you can look past the pink-ribboned, frenetic girl-hysteria that fuels the operation, you’ll see daughters having their first cups of tea with mothers and grandmothers while holding dolls dressed for ice-skating and karate. For a moment, it’s possible to see this as a place of bounty and goodness. But when you get the bill, reality returns: Like many things we covet, the dreams peddled at American Girl Place are made of plastic, too expensive and meant for someone else.
Want to live like a tourist for a day? Click here for your chance to win a free pair of tickets to Chicago's hottest tourist attractions.