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Chicagoans embrace — and drink to — a hometown political icon

It’s not even noon yet and Rodney Alex is already drinking.

In moderation, of course, and in honor of Obama’s big day.

And this isn’t just any grape. It’s the Barboursville Vineyard Reserve Cabernet Franc 2006 from Virginia. Through his distribution networks, Alex, owner of the Juicy Wine Company in Chicago, had learned that this is the vintage that will be served at tonight’s inaugural reception for Barack Obama.

Alex, whose maternal grandparents were descendents of slaves in North Carolina, sees history today — and a sense of obligation.

“[The swearing in] makes me more alert,” he says. “I feel like I need to stand on my toes being a black male and being from Chicago. When people see me outside of Chicago they see Barack Obama and they see Chicago. I’ve got to represent that in public.”

During the campaign, he says his mother told him to be on his best behavior, lest he scare people off.

Now Alex is embracing the victory with a splash of vino and his patented Obama Burger: “8 ounces of Kobe beef, reflecting Obama’s pan-Asian upbringing.” He’s surrounded by regular customers and fellow volunteers from the Obama campaign.

“It’s amazing. I believe that not only is he our first African-American president, but more importantly, I believe he is a transcendent political figure,” Alex said.

When it comes to spirits, Alex isn’t alone. At the Lizard Lounge in Lakeview there are Land-O-Lincoln Tinis and Barack O-Bombs. Wash that down with InaugurAles and red, white and blue Jell-O shots at Piece in Wicker Park.

All across the city, inauguration parties are happening. At the Landmark Century Centre Cinema movie theater, a live broadcast of the swearing-in was playing on a big screen.