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Image: Barack Obama
Pablo Martinez Monsivais  /  AP
President Barack Obama waves as he leaves from celebrating his birthday at the graham elliot restaurant in Chicago on Wednesday.
NBC, msnbc.com and news services
updated 8/5/2010 5:10:59 AM ET 2010-08-05T09:10:59

Alone on his 49th birthday, President Barack Obama fled the empty White House mansion for a more intimate celebration with longtime friends in his Chicago hometown, including Oprah Winfrey.

Obama has been living a bachelor's life for the past few days with first lady Michelle Obama and daughter Sasha visiting Spain and daughter Malia spending the month away at an undisclosed camp.

Before leaving Washington on Wednesday afternoon with the family dog, Bo, Obama got a couple of presents he didn't have to unwrap and which the White House described as being the highlight of his day: telephone calls from the women in his life.

Michelle Obama and Sasha phoned in their happy birthday wishes, followed by a lunchtime call from Malia.

"Needless to say ... both those calls were the highlights of his day," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters who traveled with Obama aboard Air Force One.

Obama's Secret Service detail got him a present, though Gibbs would describe it only as "heartfelt."

Neighbors line street
As the presidential motorcade pulled closer to his house in Hyde Park, neighbors lined the street to welcome him home with waves and signs, including "Happy 49th Birthday President Barack Obama" and "Happy Birthday Mr. President."

Neighbor Judy Harmon told the Chicago Tribune she was looking forward to Obama's visit, saying, "It's nice to have the president home," especially on his birthday.

Donning a dark suit and white dress shirt, Obama continued his birthday celebration over a leisurely dinner with friends, spending more than three hours at the graham elliot restaurant in Chicago's River North neighborhood. On its website, the eatery highlights its flair for "juxtaposing four-star cuisine with humor."

Outside the restaurant, a crowd of about 75 waited behind a tellow police tape barrier, cheering as the president walked out, NBC News reported.

His dinner companions included Winfrey and her friend, Gayle King, plus longtime Obama friends Eric Whitaker, Marty Nesbitt and Valerie Jarrett, also a senior White House adviser and fellow Chicagoan.

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Obama spent the night at his own home as a large dispatch of Chicago police officers added to the security efforts in his neighborhood, Chicago's NBC 5 reported.

Obama's birthday — though a year short of the milestone 5-0 — also was viewed in this election year as a prime fundraising opportunity for Democrats, who fear losing their hold on both houses of Congress come November. E-mails, house parties and other forms of outreach sought to capitalize on Obama's big day.

Mrs. Obama even joined the act, asking supporters to sign an e-mail birthday card being distributed by Organizing for America, Obama's political organization. More than 1.2 million people had signed it as of Wednesday morning.

The Republican Party marked the occasion with a new website offering 11 different e-cards people can send to Obama, including ones mocking the ethics problems of Democratic Reps. Charles Rangel of New York and Maxine Waters of California, and noting key Democratic election losses in Virginia, New Jersey and Massachusetts.

Obama planned to help out with the money-raising on Thursday by headlining separate events in Chicago for the Democratic Party and Alexi Giannoulias, the Democrat eyeing the Senate seat Obama gave up to become president.

The president spoke earlier Wednesday at an AFL-CIO meeting in Washington and joked about his disappointment at not getting a birthday cake from his "good friends" in the labor movement. A cake apparently had been planned, according to union president Richard Trumka, but the Secret Service nixed the idea, he said.

Obama said he'd have a talk with the agents then joked, "They're probably eating it right now."

NBC News and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

Video: Obama turns 49 with Mrs. Obama, kids away

  1. Transcript of: Obama turns 49 with Mrs. Obama, kids away

    LESTER HOLT, anchor: hometown of Chicago tonight . It's his 49th birthday, but it's kind of an unusual one. His family is nowhere in sight. NBC News White House correspondent Savannah Guthrie is traveling with the president and joins us from the Windy City tonight. Savannah , good evening.

    SAVANNAH GUTHRIE reporting: Good evening, Lester . Well, the president is here in Chicago for some Democratic Party fundraising and an event at a Ford plant tomorrow, but he will have a birthday dinner with friends tonight. No family around, though. Daughter Malia is at summer sleep-away camp, and the first lady and daughter Sasha are on a lavish trip to Spain . The president flying solo tonight, heading to Chicago to spend his 49th birthday as a bachelor with only first dog Bo to keep him company. Mr. Obama did get a serenade from winners of Citizen Medals he handed out at the White House today.

    Group of People: Happy birthday to you .

    GUTHRIE: But the union group he addressed earlier in the day did not let him eat cake.

    President BARACK OBAMA: Little disappointed there wasn't a cake, though. I'm going to have to talk to Secret Service about that.

    Unidentified Man: You got to talk to those guys because they nixed the cake.

    Pres. OBAMA: Yeah, yeah. They're probably eating it right now.

    Man: They are.

    GUTHRIE: Right now Mrs. Obama and younger daughter Sasha are a world away, on a five-day mother-daughter vacation with a group of friends in the coastal resort town of Marbella , Spain . The family is staying at the luxury Ritz-Carlton retreat Villa Padierna , which features five restaurants, a spa and private beach, all the amenities expected of a five-star hotel favored by celebrities, including privacy.

    Ms. KATE MAXWELL (Conde Nast Traveler): So we understand the Obamas have booked 30 rooms. Suites go up to $6500 a night, so they're looking at a pretty hefty bill at the end of the four days they're going to spend there.

    GUTHRIE: The Obamas will pay their own way, but the cost of Mrs. Obama 's traveling staff and security detail will be borne by American taxpayers. And the money she spends will boost the Spanish economy, something the White House declined to get into today.

    Mr. ROBERT GIBBS (White House Press Secretary): She is a private citizen, and is the mother of a daughter on a -- on a private trip.

    GUTHRIE: A European vacation for a first lady is not unprecedented, nor is sniping about it.

    Ms. MYRA GUTIN (First Lady Historian): Jacqueline Kennedy was criticized for going to Greece and to Italy , so certainly Michelle Obama -- the criticism of Michelle Obama would not be a first.

    GUTHRIE: Well, the first family also plans to spend a weekend in the Gulf Coast this month as well as spend 10 days on Martha's Vineyard . And we can report tonight that the president got two calls today. Mrs. Obama and Sasha called from Spain , and Malia , who's on that summer camp sleep-away camp for a few weeks, gets just one call during that time at camp. She saved it for today, called her father to wish him happy birthday , Lester .

    HOLT: Great. That was a great

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