Where in Chicago can someone get in a bit of trouble?
July 7, 2009 12:46 PM   Subscribe

Where do young adults (late teens, early 20s) "hang out" in Chicago?

I'm asking trying to find a setting for a piece of fiction. While I'm familiar with Chicago geography I'm not familiar with any "hang out" spots for the younger set.

I'm specifically looking for areas that might be full of carousing, perhaps some disorderly behavior, but not often full blown violence, just the type of trouble people of that age tend to get into when drinking (either too much of legal age, or perhaps underage), etc. but not specifically a bar row; something that would also bring about the under 21 set.

For example, growing up in my much smaller city we had a road called "The strip" where on weekend nights teens would get together, hang out, sneak drinks, etc. Much like the activities witnessed in the movie Dazed and Confused.

In my story a character in his mid-teens is moving to the Chicago area in summer. Need a locale where he could interact with others his age and older, sometimes encountering "regulars" there, and getting in a bit of trouble.

Yes, I could create one that is completely fictional, but I am hoping to utilize real Chicago landmarks and areas whenever possible.
posted by arniec to Human Relations (40 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Have you chosen a particular neighborhood in the city? There are many, many places that could qualify as "the strip" in large city.
posted by :-) at 12:52 PM on July 7, 2009

Seconding the "neighborhood" elaboration. Kids from Winnetka hang out in way different places than kids from Joliet.
posted by hal_c_on at 1:08 PM on July 7, 2009

Chicago is known for its street fairs in the summer where there's a good deal of cruising, etc. Someone always seems to get arrested at Taste of Chicago for bringing a gun. The fairs usually last 1 weekend.

Also, the beach has its share of regulars and is over-crowded during the summer. Maybe North Ave. beach or the Belmont rocks or Hollywood beach.
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 1:18 PM on July 7, 2009

The beach is working well as a suggestion. Mixed types of people, crowded. Thank you for that.

As for neighborhoods, I had initially considered The Loop, but Lincoln Park area, Brigton Park, or Chicago Lawn/West Lawn would be good.
posted by arniec at 1:23 PM on July 7, 2009

When I was there, all the kids seemed to be in Wicker Park or in East Lakeview. This was all college kids who hadn't lived in the city their whole lives and didn't really know any better places to go.
Boystown (East Lakeview) gets pretty boisterous, I'm assuming. Not like I joined in. There's some regulars there too, that I noticed for the almost-year I lived there.
Wicker Park seemed kind of boring to me, just a bunch of clothes stores as far as I saw.
posted by lhude sing cuccu at 1:24 PM on July 7, 2009

I spent many weekend nights at the Metro in college (and at the Fireside Bowl), both of which were all-ages and usually had only a $5 cover. Lots of 17-23ish-year-olds there and the accompanying drama. This was around 2000-2001. Not sure if that helps, but it's one data point, anyway.

Many young wannabe punks and street kids and wannabe street kids in the Belmont area then, but it seems to have cleaned up a lot (as of 2007, anyway).

Chicago is full of places to get into trouble.
posted by fiercecupcake at 1:24 PM on July 7, 2009

The mall. You'd be amazed a the trouble people from the suburbs get into at the mall (also where all the social politics, drama, gossip, etc. goes on).

Woodfield: upper middle-class, white kids from Schaumburg.
Ford City: Latino and African American kids on the South Side.
Harlem-Irving Plaza: Latino and Eastern European Immigrants.
Old Orchard/Northbrook/Renaissance Place: affluent malls on the North Shore.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:42 PM on July 7, 2009

Belmont on Saturday nights is always a madhouse. Very hip with the queer community and also young artist types. Wrigleyville is a good bet if your character needs to brush shoulders and trade insults with preps and jocks. The Golden Triangle (also known as the Viagra Triangle) on Rush Street is packed with bars and clubs, many of them catering to silver-haired bankers and ladies in search of a sugar daddy (or a free drink), but walk toward Michigan and you'll leave behind the moneyed set and come across a dozen clubs (located underground - nice detail for your writing) blaring music and offering free shots to ladies if they simply step inside. Young crowds there, a sort of Eurotrash vibe.
posted by artemisia at 1:43 PM on July 7, 2009

70% of metro Chicago is suburbs of shocking geographical sprawl, and those kids hang out in malls.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 1:43 PM on July 7, 2009

artemisia... Can you be more specific? Not only sounds like a great setting but also a good Saturday night out!
posted by arniec at 1:46 PM on July 7, 2009

P.S. Fireside Bowl would be perfect, but it has completely changed and yuppified since the early 2000s... no more punk to be had there (says the bf, who used to play shows there regularly). So, if you're setting your story in the present moment, I'd advise against it.
posted by artemisia at 1:47 PM on July 7, 2009

Arniec -- more specific in regard to which option?

Belmont has really lively street life in the warm months; I knew somebody in the Belmont Burlesque Revue (which is BYOB, by the way, and ostensibly for adults but it doesn't card or anything, so your teen could sneak some in and drink without a problem), and I used to go occasionally. When the show would let out, I'd always be surprised to find people hanging out on the sidewalk, all the way from the theater to the 7-11 a few blocks away (where we'd purchase our BYO liquids for the show).

Alternatively, you could consider the places on the "Underage Chicago" list compiled by people on Yelp -- detailed reviews of bars etc. where underage Chicagoans can slip on in and have a good time.
posted by artemisia at 1:54 PM on July 7, 2009

artemisia: P.S. Fireside Bowl would be perfect, but it has completely changed and yuppified since the early 2000s... no more punk to be had there (says the bf, who used to play shows there regularly). So, if you're setting your story in the present moment, I'd advise against it.

Fireside Bowl has stopped having shows, period. They're now just a trashy bowling alley.

On topic: I think it might depend on what sort of characters you want to feature. artemisia gives a good run-down of some youth-y areas, and since there are a lot of them here in Chicago you might find it helpful to narrow by demographic: Wicker Park/Bucktown is mostly indie/hipster kids, Lincoln Park/Old Town is Whole Foods-loving yuppies, Belmont/East Lakeview is hipsters/LGBT, Wrigleyville is jocks/sports bar people, Viagra Triangle is upper middle class yuppies. Also of note: these are all, for the most part, predominantly white neighborhoods, so if you wanted your characters to be (or be confronted by) black/hispanic/Asian/etc. characters, you might have to look at Pilsen, Hyde Park, etc.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:37 PM on July 7, 2009

Punkin' Donuts? Is that still there?
posted by The Straightener at 2:50 PM on July 7, 2009

I used to go to Fireside back in the day for shows but they don't have shows anymore. If your story takes place in the 90s it would work though. The Mutiny (on Western & Fullerton), nearby has punk shows now but I assume you're supposed to be 21. It all depends on what sort of people you want your characters to react to. In the summer they could be hanging out on the street, under the el or something.
posted by Bunglegirl at 2:55 PM on July 7, 2009

Depends on the social circle, but yeah, Clark and Belmont for the alternateens. Always has been, always will be. Berlin (dance), Sheffield's (jock), Sidetrack (gay), Clarke's (straight-edge), plus a million other places to hang out.

I'm surprised nobody mentioned Wrigleyville and Clark and Addison in particular: that's definitely the number one destination for suburbanite kids looking for a night in The Big City, and there are more bars than ever happy to ignore one's ID.
posted by eamondaly at 3:03 PM on July 7, 2009

Recently we stopped by a Thai/Sushi restaurant on Grand near Racine that was packed to the gills at 10;00 PM Saturday night with a 1/2 hour wait for a table at least. The place is ordinary and it seemed odd to be so crowded, but I needed to pee so we went in. The reason the place was so crowded was it is a BYOB restaurant and all the kids were underage with bottles of liquor, buying mixers. These were well off kids, spending lots of money on sushi to keep up appearances of eating in a restaurant.

My daughter used to frequent a hookah bar/smoking lounge on Milwaukee Ave senior year in high school.

Boys still play pool, I hear.
posted by readery at 3:13 PM on July 7, 2009

My kids used to go to the open mic nights at the old Old Town School on Armitage.
posted by nax at 3:19 PM on July 7, 2009

"The Loop", Roscoe Village, Wicker Park. Belmont is very popular.
posted by 6:1 at 6:10 PM on July 7, 2009

There are a few 24 hour restaurant on the South Side called Huck Finn Donuts (known by the young 'uns as simply "Huck") where many young kids hang out in the early a.m. after drinking. Sometimes, under 21s (who haven't been drinking) meet up with older friends who have been. People get donuts and coffee and talk until all hours of the morning. It's also a place where you can run into other "neighborhood kids" that maybe you haven't seen in awhile. Kids may or may not have been out cruising Archer Avenue earlier in the evening.

a good cross section of reviews of Huck

Huck Finn website

I should also mention that this really only a place a South siders would have heard of or frequented.

Good luck!
posted by Hop123 at 7:23 PM on July 7, 2009

Straightener: the Punkin Donuts is still there but so very much no longer Punkin. The Alley is still just next door, though.

For the record, I never see crowds of "kids" in the Loop, unless they are walking to (or from) Union Station. Sometimes they'll be shopping on State Street, but I never see them hanging out there and we never did at that age.
posted by crush-onastick at 8:14 PM on July 7, 2009

Perhaps this is too generic, but the hipster kids are all at the intersection of Damen/Division/North. At least this was so circa 2004-2005. Mostly bars, so not so good for the under 21 set, but the kids in the know will just get off at the Damen stop and go to house parties anyway. In fact, summer nights could be spent drunkenly biking from house party to house party, consuming booze and drugs, without once entering a bar. Picture balconies stuffed to the brim and people stumbling around on rooftops.

Along those lines, it would be great to write a story set on 4th of July in Chicago. Everyone goes to Indiana and buys illegal fireworks. The neighborhood fireworks are spectacular; they totally trump the official ones. Any rooftop, you've got 360 degrees of fireworks throughout the city. People are wasted and everything is exploding!

For a different sort of kid, Wrigleyville after a Cubs game. My little sister, who goes to a big state college in Florida, said it reminded her of that. It is a frat street party, all along Clark Street. And I personally think trouble/violence is a lot more likely with that crowd than the Wicker Park kids ('cause indie rock boys are sort of weenies). This American Life had a piece about Wiener's Circle that should give you an idea of the uglier/weirder side of the whole Chad and Trixie culture.
posted by thewrongparty at 8:23 PM on July 7, 2009

Huh. I left Chicago in 1993 but it sounds like everything's pretty much the same. Interesting.
posted by tangerine at 9:29 PM on July 7, 2009

I always thought Damen/North/Milwaukee was entirely photogenic, in a dirty way. When I first moved to Chicago I fell in love with that intersection because I thought it was the "ideal" big city neighborhood intersection. The el practically runs right through it (over it, actually) and there's a little diner underneath the tracks. There's so much on those 6 corners, too. The Double Door, an ugly but quintessential hipster concert venue with lots of music posters covering the entrance. A couple bars, a taco/hot dog stand.... There's a lot of potential young people "stuff" to get into over there. That's my vote.
posted by smeater44 at 10:29 PM on July 7, 2009

Great stuff here, thank you!

My main character is hispanic, so would that provide any locales? He encounters a number of white antagonists, but he himself is hispanic.

And artisma, I was referring to the underground (literally, not like as in speakeasy) clubs. Are they techno-music blaring, punk, rock with live bands, etc?
posted by arniec at 6:54 AM on July 8, 2009

Also, what streets divide the "golden triangle" off Rush?
posted by arniec at 7:03 AM on July 8, 2009

the golden/viagara triangle is bounded by chicago, rush, and state. i don't think it would be very believable for an under-21 guy to go there and have much fun, but that's just me.

two bars that come to mind that fit your description are delilah's (on lincoln) and the aforementioned mutiny (which bills itself as a socialist bar). both are punk flavored, but delilah's might be a little less willing to bend the rules to allow in a minor unless someone knew the (probably mohawked and definitely tatted) doorman.

i grew up in the western suburbs, but spent a ton of time in the city. note that, in local parlance, if you're from the suburbs and you say you're "going downtown," that means that you're going to chicago (any part of it); if you live in the city and you say the same, it means you're going to the loop/streeterville area. fun in my town on the weekends was drinking in peoples' basements or driving around.

when i was in high school (mid 90s) we'd come into the city to the clark and belmont area -- the alley, punkin' donuts, and the like. we'd go to shows at the metro, the vic, the aragon, the riviera, fireside, etc. it is not the same now with those places as it was then, though you will always see groups of punky 13 year olds at the alley.

about 4 or 5 years ago, suburban kids followed the hipsters to wicker park (the damen/milwaukee/north intersection as the epicenter). it's still sort of that way, but man has the neighborhood been yuppified (even worse than anyone could have imagined, i think, with the higher-end boutiques, clubby lounges, and insane real estate). on the other hand, though, i notice a lot more panhandling/loitering vagabond-looking hippy kids sprawled across the sidewalks now than i did when i lived there (about 7 years ago). the artists, musicians, hipsters, and poseurs started moving out of that area when it was getting really expensive and started taking over logan square with a vengeance. the suburban-kids-on-a-saturday-night will follow, but not yet -- there isn't yet a good outdoor epicenter with a dense concentration of nonbar businesses at which to congregate like there is at belmont or wicker park, and you can still get in a little trouble depending on where you find yourself (read: like with gangs and stuff).

for a setting, i'd look into the trend where people turn their apartments/lofts into underground clubs. this has been going on for a while (though fairly quietly), but it seems like there has been a huge uptick in the popularity of these places in the past two years or so. they get popular, then get shut down by the city for lack of permits, etc. places like the (now defunct, i believe) AV aerie come to mind.
posted by penchant at 7:53 AM on July 8, 2009

(sorry, when i say "the suburban kids followed the hipsters to wicker park" i mean the ones just coming in for the day, not to live there.)
posted by penchant at 7:55 AM on July 8, 2009

(a 20-something, with friends who range down to just-passed underage)

The Loop is not a hang-out place. The Loop is where you work, or you go shopping at H&M or bring your family when they visit to pass the day. Maybe you go there for fireworks or Lolla or some other fun event/show. But it's not a place to hang out, really.

Wicker Park is "sold out" now. Too expensive. Too yuppy. Pilsen is a new epicenter for where young hipsters live (and this has caused some strife with the largely Hispanic population that lives there currently, worried they will be pushed out when the gentrification following this new batch of kids). However, lots of popular bars are still to be found in that area though if your kid is underaged, that's not of much help.

Lots of kids to be found around the Metro, down in Lakeview/Wrigley area. While Punkin' Donuts is no longer Punkin', there are still enough cool shops, restaurants, places to sit around/loiter, that it's a good destination for an underage group of kids looking to kill time.
posted by Windigo at 9:03 AM on July 8, 2009

I'd suggest Pilsen. Strong Hispanic population with hipsters moving in. There are often house parties and (illegal) loft parties in the area. There are few bars, at least in the area in which I lived, but there always seems to be plenty to do - coffee shops, art shows (in people's lofts, no carding for drinks), etc. I would often see teenagers roaming the streets on weekends/summer nights on their way to do something. Also, it was not at all abnormal to see people drinking on the streets. I live between the Loop and Viagra triangle now, and the underagers who I see only seem to be heading to the beach or shopping. If you need more specifics about Pilsen, let memail me.
posted by betty botter at 10:52 AM on July 8, 2009

Oh, one more thing that I meant to add: there is interesting friction between those who grew up in Pilsen (around ages 17-22, I'd say) and those hipster-types who are moving in. It's not uncommon to hear teens complaining about the hipsters "gentrifying" the neighborhood, or to see stickers on the back of stop signs that say "Yuppies out of Pilsen."
posted by betty botter at 10:55 AM on July 8, 2009


Great bit about the Pilsen neighborhood tension and very good for what I'm looking for. Can you be a bit clearer about "hipster"? Are they like the Starbucks-drinking beret-wearing goatee clad hipster or something else?
posted by arniec at 11:25 AM on July 8, 2009

think gutterpunk looking or retro-chic suburban escapees who may or may not be on the verge of dropping out of art school who ride refurbished bikes, get involved in anti-gentrification (paradox!) and somewhat naive anarchist street politics and work as bicycle messengers and restaurants where-ever they can get hired.
posted by RedEmma at 11:43 AM on July 8, 2009

this photographer clayton is based in chicago. I'm from la, but i've met him out here. There should be a location with a lot of those parties/places.
posted by mattsweaters at 6:49 PM on July 8, 2009

Yes, yes, yes, RedEmma. Great description. They ride refurbished fixed gear bikes.

Sure, Wicker Park (woops, messed up my intersections...) is sold out and probably has been so for two decades, but Logan Square & Humboldt Park haven't quite built up the concentration of bars, etc. to be a destination for night life, I think. When I lived in Logan Square, people tended to be like, "Yawn, Logan Square. I can afford to live here, but there's nothing to do..." (Maybe I'd just stopped hanging out with partiers, I dunno...)

But, I was wrong anyway. Pilsen is perfect. That is where your story takes place.

Pretty good pics of the neighborhood that kind of make me want to move there.
posted by thewrongparty at 8:53 PM on July 8, 2009

My friend describes Pilsen hipsters as the poorer kind, the Colombia College dropouts, arty-but not too smart, work at Starbucks for the benefits but wouldn't go there otherwise.
posted by SouthCNorthNY at 10:01 PM on July 8, 2009

pilsen, outer edges of bucktown, ukranian village for poorer hip types. i'm shocked that more people haven't mentioned logan square, i've wandered into crazy mexican prom like parties up there, just off the street.
posted by anthropomorphic at 4:16 AM on July 12, 2009

Those were probably crazy Puerto Rican prom-like parties, if it was Logan Square.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:18 AM on July 12, 2009

Question: in Pilsen would it be mostly White Sox or Cubs fans? A friend of mine questions the finding of Cubs fans in that area of the city
posted by arniec at 12:20 PM on July 12, 2009

Pilsen's on the south side, which (speaking in grossly broad terms) tends to be White Sox territory (Cubs are north side). It's in no way a hard and fast rule, though-- I know plenty of White Sox fans from the north side and plenty of Cubs fans from the south.
posted by shakespeherian at 3:53 PM on July 12, 2009

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