How are Saturdays in the park?
May 7, 2010 11:25 AM   Subscribe

Sweeping ChicagoFilter.

I made a touch decision recently, and I'm going to SAIC in Chicago for grad school. I've never been. I didn't even get to visit before I had to decide. I've lived in or round Fort Worth, Texas my whole life. A large city, but not an urban center in the way Chicago is.

So, I wanna know everything I need to know. These are only the questions I can think of, which is probably a severely limiting factor:

What are good neighborhoods to live in near downtown (SAIC is there)?
What's it like having small dogs?
What is the parking situation? Do you rent a space like in other places? How much?
Is it practical to bring my car and my motorcycle? If not, which?
What, in general, can't I miss? Food?

One specific thing I wanna know is what shows/documentaries about food specifically, but also about Chicago in general are there?
posted by cmoj to Travel & Transportation around Chicago, IL (25 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe more like medium dogs... a daschund/minpin and a corgy/chihuahua.
posted by cmoj at 11:31 AM on May 7, 2010

It's super fucking cold in the winter. Seriously. Cold like you've never experienced. Invest in a quality winter coat.
posted by nitsuj at 11:36 AM on May 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

Check Please is the Chicago food show you're looking for.
posted by nitsuj at 11:39 AM on May 7, 2010

Living here 38 years. What is your rent budget?
There are many dog parks/beaches to enjoy if that is the related question you are seeking
Parking? SUCKS and expensive. Some apartments offer parking with the rent otherwise separate charge. Most garages (say Millenium park) have early bird specials during the week of $14 (in by 9am out by 7) otherwise say hello to $24 and up.
Motorcycle will only do you good in the spring/summer/fall. Winter--forget it. It's useless. Plus with a mortorcylce how are you going to do errands? I would go with car.

Food? Depends on what you like. We love Cafe Barbareeba for tapas but it's $$$. A lot of good ethnic places. I just cant' think of one off the top of my head. Pizza--you can't go wrong with 99% of places.
posted by stormpooper at 11:44 AM on May 7, 2010

I too am from Texas. Before I moved here, I lived mostly in/near Austin (except for college in another part of the south). I also moved here for graduate school.

In response to your specific questions:

South Loop, Streeterville, River North, River West, West Loop, Greektown, are all close to SAIC but will be (not surprisingly) more expensive. Wicker Park, Bucktown, Lakeview, University Village/Little Italy are a little farther away and not as expensive. All are totally accessible by public transit (that means the El. There are also buses, but those take longer the farther out you live.)

Available but expensive in all of these places. Most big apartment buildings will charge you an additional fee to rent a parking space (expect upwards of $150/month); if you're lucky, you might find an apartment in a three-flat that has parking the alley behind the building. You don't really need a car, though, and your motorcycle will be of limited use 8 months of the year because of the cold (because, yeah, it's really effing cold here in the winter). If you must have one, I'd bring the car because it'll come in handy in the winter when you don't want to walk to the grocery store because it's too cold. But plan to take public transit to school.

I have a Jack Russell. We live mere blocks west of the Loop in an apartment building. It is not hard to live here with dogs, but don't get another one -- it's hard enough to find an apartment that will take two dogs (they exist, never fear, and it's good that yours are smaller, I just have friends who have had hellacious times finding apartments that will take three dogs). So never fear on the dog front. Invest in some doggie coats for them for the cold winter months.

As for "can't miss" stuff, there's a lot of awesome stuff to do/see/eat in Chicago, but half the fun is finding the out-of-the-way stuff for yourself. I'll let others chime in on their personal musts.
posted by devinemissk at 11:47 AM on May 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding a good coat. And hat, scarf, and gloves/mittens. And boots. And thick socks. And a sun lamp if you think you're susceptible to SAD.

Public transportation in Chicago is great; you can get most places without driving. You will likely not need a car unless you plan to leave the city often, or will be hauling around a lot of stuff. Bring the motorcycle only if you absolutely can't bear to part with it, because it's less necessary than the car.

For apartments/neighborhoods: what is your price range, how far are you willing to commute, are you willing to live with roommates, what do you like to do in your spare time, do you identify with either yuppies or hipsters? A little more info might help us pick out a good neighborhood for you.
posted by Metroid Baby at 11:49 AM on May 7, 2010

The closer you are to downtown, the more expensive housing and parking are going to be. Parking is also going to be a lot harder than in neighborhoods a bit further from downtown. If I were you, I'd check out Northside neighborhoods like Lincoln Square, Ravenswood, parts of Uptown and Rogers Park, and Edgewater. They're further from downtown, but situated near the red and brown lines on the El, so you can get downtown fairly quickly. There's also more free and available parking, if you do bring your car and/or motorcycle. Plus your rent will be much cheaper (at least a couple hundred per month less) for more space.
I own a car in the city, and while it's a necessity for me since I work in the burbs, it is expensive. A city sticker is $75, and plates are about the same price. If you live in a neighborhood with permit parking, your parking sticker will be more expensive, but it'll be easier to park. Your insurance will probably be more expensive, and gas is about $3.25/gal right now. Street parking is free where I live, and I usually can find a spot pretty easily. Metered parking in my hood is $1.25/hr with a two hour max; downtown garage parking starts at $10-12, and meters are about $5ish per hour. Parking tickets start at $50, and you have to be vigilant about watching for signs and keeping track of time, because you will get ticketed. Fines double if not paid in 10ish days, I believe. The one upside of having a car is that when it's -15 in January with a bitter lake wind, I am warm. However, if I had a job in the city, I'd give up my car in a second.
I don't own dogs, but I have friends with dogs and it's not too much of a problem to find a landlord. It's easier if you have cats, but there are perfectly nice places that will rent to you if you have smaller dogs. I don't pay a pet deposit for my cats, but my landlord also doesn't allow dogs, so I don't know if you'd have a deposit.
Overall, I love the city. I moved here from VA 2.5 years ago, having only visited once, and I really enjoy it. Memail me for more info--I'm at work and should probably get back to that!
posted by catwoman429 at 11:55 AM on May 7, 2010

Neighborhoods: I don't know much about downtown specifically, but I gather that anywhere close to the loop is going to be expensive and not very spacious. Many students choose to live on the south side (Hyde Park) or the north side (Andersonville) and take the train.

Dogs: Lots of people have them. Like, lots. I don't think you'll have an issue finding a place that accepts them.

Parking: Depends completely on where you live. Downtown, you'll probably end up paying for a monthly parking space, and that can run in the $100+/month range. In more residential areas, parking is by permit, or just typical find-a-spot street parking.

Car/motorcycle: Car is certainly more practical. The riding season here is late April - early October, so the motorcycle would be more for sanity and recreation. Like stormpooper said, you won't be running errands in the winter.

Food: Yeah. I'm sure there are whole threads about that, and I'm not the best person to ask. Feel free to email me with any specific questions or follow-ups.
posted by lholladay at 11:55 AM on May 7, 2010

Neighborhoods - don't limit yourself to downtown. It can be a little sterile sometimes. I would say think a little (or a lot) North or South of the loop. There are some great neighborhoods here.

It tends to be easier to get a lease with smaller dogs. I have found Chicago to be a dog city, but there are a lot of folks complaining about finding a landlord who will allow them.

Parking is expensive and scarce in some places. The closer you get to the lake or downtown, the worse it is. In my neighborhood (Boystown or East Lakeview) I have driven for 45 minutes to find street parking. The farther into the North and West neighborhoods you go, the better it gets - but it can still be a problem in pockets here and there.

I sold my car and truck when I moved here in 2000 and everything has been fine. If you get rid of them, try to find housing off of the red, blue, or brown lines (train) or any of the 24 hour bus lines that terminate downtown (like the 151 Sheridan).

When I moved here, the best thing I ever did was learn the street system. Chicago was planned on a grid with the x/y axis downtown at State and Madison (I think it is Madison) - this means that if you know the system you are rarely if ever lost - 3200 N is Belmont, 4400 N is Montrose, 2400 W is Western, etc. So if you tell me that I am going to 2388 W Belmont, I know that I am the block before Western on Belmont. If you tell me I am going to 3201 N Western, I know I am looking for the block just north of Belmont on Western. It really is nice.
posted by Tchad at 11:59 AM on May 7, 2010

The parking situation varies by neighborhood. If you want to live close to the Art Institute, you're likely going to have parking issues, but, inversely (conversely?) you won't need to use a car as often. Generally speaking, the places with difficult parking are the places where public transit is particularly rich and convenient. You could go cold turkey and sell your car, you could learn to live with the parking hassles/cost, or you could find a less-dense neighborhood -- I know people who have gone down each of those paths with success.

As for food, some the classic local delicacies are Chicago-style hot dogs (try Hot Doug's, Gold Coast Dogs and Portillo's), deep dish pizza (try Lou Malnati's) and Italian beef sandwiches (try Mr. Beef and Portillo's). You've gotta try those once you're here, but I'd encourage you to branch out into the neighborhoods and explore the diversity of Chicago food options. One fun thing to do is to try a different ethnic cuisine each day of the week.

You might find EveryBlock useful in getting a general vibe for what's happening in a particular neighborhood -- or a particular block, once you get to that point. (Disclaimer: I work for the site.)

Oh, and here's the definitive Chicago documentary. ;-)
posted by adrian_h at 12:07 PM on May 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Nthing Tchad on learning the Grid! (and the el line too for that matter) Just beware of the "crooked streets" (Elton/Milwaukee/Ogden etc) that run diagonally. You will feel like you are going straight north or south, but actually taking yourself way off course.

as far as looking for places etc, the Reader has boatloads of listings for jobs, apts, shares, and all the entertainment/club stuff as well.

as far as absolute necessities: A Cubs hat, a Blackhawks hat, a Daley bumpersticker, and a coupla six albums from Bloodshot Records. You'll get along just fine.

Good luck, and welcome to civilization.
posted by timsteil at 12:26 PM on May 7, 2010

argh...the Reader
posted by timsteil at 12:27 PM on May 7, 2010

Man, I love this place.

My rent budget is part of what I'm trying to figure out, but cheap is good. A small place is okay with me, and I prefer to live alone.

I'd thought about ditching the car all together and this thread is pushing me in that direction.
posted by cmoj at 12:30 PM on May 7, 2010

Oh, and, being an art student, I guess I'm more aligned with the hipsters, as long as we're not necessarily talking the ray-bans and Pabst crowd.
posted by cmoj at 12:34 PM on May 7, 2010

I moved to Chicago in the 90s and ditched my car after six months. I don't miss having one. I use a car-sharing service (Zipcar—there's also I-Go) for big grocery runs, Target runs, trips to Ikea, etc. If you live near the Blue, Red, or Brown Lines, it'll be easy for you to get to school from there. If you're comfortable riding a bike in the city, I strongly recommend getting one. You can get around quickly, and Chicago is pretty bike-friendly.

There are a lot of dog parks in Chicago. Finding apartments that allow dogs can be tricky, but it's far from impossible.

If you consider yourself "more aligned with the hipsters," you might like living near the Blue Line. Some neighborhoods to check out: Wicker Park (tho it's gotten expensive), Humboldt Park, Logan Square/Avondale, Ukrainian Village.
posted by smich at 12:39 PM on May 7, 2010

Winter Having lived in Texas your whole life, you have no idea how to survive the winter here, but you'll learn because it's not as cold as people say and we don't get much snow. You will miss the sun (assuming you're not like me and fucking relieved to be free of its overbearing omnipresence). I moved between Texas and Chicago for much of my life, and every time I switched I forgot how awful the sun and heat in Texas were and forgot how to wear my damn coat. You won't be able to buy a sufficient coat in Texas, unless you get lucky at a surplus store. You will need a coat (I have an overcoat and an undercoat)--a hood helps keep the wind off your neck. You will need gloves, preferably long ones which cover your wrists and extend up past your cuff. Thinsulate or wool liners are also nice. You will need a scarf and you will need to learn how to wrap it over your face, not just jauntily around the outside of your coat. You should get a hat, too. And waterproof boots with nonslip soles. But really, you live in extreme heat now; extreme cold is just the same thing the other direction.

Neighborhood: The School is easy to get to (all transit leads to the Loop), so you needn't confine yourself to living in the same neighborhood as the school. I lived in Bucktown with a fellow in the MFA program at SAIC and it was no big deal for him. There's no reason not to look at stuff around The School, but there's no real need to.

Car: I have never owned a car when I've lived in Chicago. You really won't need it, even though it gets cold waiting for the bus and learning how to manage the time when you rely on public transportation is a bit of a mental shift. When last I was in Dallas, for a wedding, the hotel was about 1/6th of a mile from the rehearsal dinner, but I didn't know that. I asked the front desk to bring my rental car up and then asked for directions, and immediately canceled the request for my car and walked around the corner to the restaurant. Absolutely every single person I met at the wedding said to me "Oh, my! You're the girl who walked!. It was like Duane's Depressed.. The CTA/RTA has a pretty good (though not without quirks) trip planner, so you can figure out the bus routes as well as the simpler el, and for the routes I use most often, the Bus Tracker is pretty accurate. If you learn the grid, there's no reason to fear getting on a bus.

Everything else: has some good Chicago recommendation threads, but you'll want to come to a meet-up and get the skinny in person. We have them every month and oftentimes more!
posted by crush-onastick at 12:46 PM on May 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Heh, I moved from Chicago to Fort Worth almost exactly two years ago. I'd only lived in Chicago for a few years, but here's my advice:

For food in Chicago, there's is no better resource than LTHForum. I know I've brought them up many times on this site, but it's simply the best resource on food in Chicago there could possibly be.

As somebody said above, learning the street grid is crucial. I learned all the major (and most of the minor) cross streets and it meant I was never lost in the city. See this Wikipedia entry for lots of good info.

Learn the L system too. Go to the Transit Chicago site and familiarize yourself with the lines and schedules, especially the ones that are going between the SAIC and wherever you end up living.

Unless you really can't part with it, ditch the car. I had a car when I was there and it was mostly just a pain in the ass to deal with. The L will get you almost anywhere you want, and buses cover the rest. For rare times when you might need to haul something, you can get a Zipcar or I-Go car. Parking is ridiculously expensive and hard to find.

Don't even try to live near downtown. It's not worth the cost. The "nicer" neighborhoods away from downtown are expensive as heck too, especially compared to Fort Worth, but not as bad as downtown. I don't know what your living situation is, but I found a roommate on Craigslist who was in Boystown in Lakeview, a great neighborhood, but the place itself was a dump so it was super cheap ($450/month). Since I was single and all I needed for a living area was somewhere to sleep, I didn't care how crappy the place was. It's hard to say how often you'd be able to find something like that, but Craigslist isnt a bad place to look, as long as you're careful. If you're adventurous, don't be afraid of the South Side either. I rented a room between Chinatown and Comiskey for a while and it was perfectly fine and super cheap ($300/month!!).

As somebody said above, winters are brutal. The year I left, it seems like it snowed for 5 months straight. And when it's not snowing, that only means it's super fucking cold and with the wind your face will feel like it's been jabbed by thousands of sharp needles.

That's all I can think of for now. I really loved Chicago, it's an awesome city and I think you're gonna have a blast.
posted by kmz at 12:52 PM on May 7, 2010

Good news. Most L lines stop close to SAIC. My advice: do not try to live downtown. It's ridiculously expensive and there's not much to do after 6 PM. Neighborhoods that are popular with SAIC grad students include:

Logan Square
Humboldt Park
Wicker Park and Ukrainian Village
Lincoln Square & Ravenswood
Rogers Park

I really like living close to the Brown Line for speed, convenience, and the neighborhoods one can access. (That's Lincoln Square & Ravenswood) The Red Line is great, too, although slower in my experience. (Edgewater/Andersonville)

Wicker Park/Ukrainian Village, Logan Square, and Pilsen are pretty much ground zero for art students. Both areas have cool galleries and happenings, but Wicker Park/Ukrainian Village are definitely hipster central whereas Pilsen and Logan Square are more grassroots.

Humboldt Park can be scary at night but has awesome stuff happening like the Midcoast Free School Collective. It's also featured in the mediocre bomb, Nothing like the Holidays, featuring a chagrined Alfred Molina.
posted by Lieber Frau at 2:03 PM on May 7, 2010

Yeah, don't plan on commuting to school in your car. If you live in certain neighborhoods and work/school in the loop, the trains and buses do a fine job.

Check out the high rises along the lakeshore for surprisingly inexpensive housing. Playing the neighborhood three-flat or apartment house game often doesn't pay. Shitty parking, crappy landlords, etc.

Most neighborhoods in the popular areas have restricted parking for residents only. In some areas, this works out to your advantage in that parking will be easier for you as a resident.

But rent will generally be more the closer to a train station you are. And ask the school what they recommend.

It's not all that cold out if you dress appropriately. It's not Fargo. The weather is moderated by the lake. You can endure quite nicely with some warm shoes, a long coat and gloves, hat and scarf. Long underwear and double socks for the really windy times. The downtown area is amazingly good at clearing the snow on the sidewalks. The neighborhoods not so much.

Depending on your schedule, there may be 0-4 days a year where it's in your best interest to just not leave the house.
posted by gjc at 2:15 PM on May 7, 2010

I fell like, as an art student, living downtown might be a bit sterile and not have the character to inspire you. I live off the blue line and find it much faster to get downtown than the red line. I've never had a car here and do most of my traveling year-round by bike (I'm not even a hard core bike-type person, honestly!). Groceries fit on my bike if I go to the store more often and you can always stop off at the store on your way home from school. If you desperately need a car for something there's zip car and I-Go. I use I-Go because those are the cars parked next to my building but have only needed it once.

In my experience, at least out near me, only about 1/3 or less apartments allow dogs. Two dogs makes it harder. I had to submit a photo and weight just to get my dog on my lease to be allowed to babysit it a few times a year. It gets worse if you want a newer or nicer place. You'll find a place but it might take longer and you might have to be less picky. Are you going to hire a dog walker? The only plus side to living near the Art Institute is being able to let your dogs out in-between classes.

You can pick up all your cold weather supplies people are mentioning here — they come out before it gets too cold and you'll have better choices than in the summer in Texas anyway. I've lived around here all of my life though so the cold is only really bad for me every few years. You'll survive.
posted by Bunglegirl at 2:20 PM on May 7, 2010

I used to live in Printers Row (which is near SAIC) and my apartment had a lot of dogowners. Apparently the draw was it was across the street from a large empty field where people walked their dogs. Not necessarily recommending it, Printers Row and the entire loop is a very dull neighborhood.
I would definitely not recommend Hyde Park.
And be warned about the moderating effect of the lake. Though the lake does warm things up, the rivers near SAIC add a lot of wind which makes things feel a lot cooler.
posted by earlsofsandwich at 5:59 PM on May 7, 2010

A suggestion: if you want to keep your car, live in Andersonville. Street parking isn't totally impossible to find (especially on Ashland), but you can also find a reasonably priced apartment (say, $1400/month for a 3BR split with two roommates or $900 for a studio) that might include a parking space or garage in the rent or have parking available for $50/month. You'd then take the red line from Argyle or Berwyn down to Jackson and walk two blocks over the SAIC. It'd be a 20-30 minute commute, but you'd read or listen to music and enjoy the fact that you won't be paying for parking downtown. Andersonville is a really delightful place to live, and definitely feels like its own little community--good food, nice people, interesting shops. I found it to be considerably more affordable than some of the neighborhoods closer to downtown, and didn't find the commute especially burdensome (I worked a few blocks north of SAIC when I lived there).
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:33 PM on May 7, 2010

West Town, do or die. Try for a flat near the Grand or Chicago Blue Line stops. It's walking/biking distance to SAIC from that neighborhood. There's a dog park in the middle of the hood. The rents are pretty decent, and hipsters have not fully infected the area. Street parking is free. You'll also be glad that those stops are subways. There is nothing more miserable than waiting for a train on the elevated during winter. The wind rips right through you. My favoritest restaurant, West Town Tavern, is about four blocks west of the Chicago Blue Line Stop.

Avoid living in a bus only neighborhood at all costs. I moved to Ukranian Village/Humboldt Park my first year, and getting to school was a bear. It could take up to 1hr 45min to travel 4 miles.

Def go to Hot Doug's. Trust me on this one. The hot dogs are so good that they've been know to engender religious experiences. I once read an article in which Marco Pierre White raved about them. The Flying Saucer is great for sweet potato tofu hash, too.

I used to hang out at Gold Star an awful lot. The crowd has changed a bit, but the bartenders are still fiercely old school. Also, they dole out free popcorn, which is a godsend at 1 am. I always forget the name of the bar that's at six corners on Grand, but it's rad. It's across the street from Funky Buddha (which, in seven years, I never went to) and is painted red, white and green. There's a jar of hard boiled eggs on the counter and the bartender is probably older than your granddad. Also check out Marie's Riptide Lounge for after hours. There's a fiberoptic Christmas tree on perma display. If you play a song that Marie likes on the jukebox (usually Elvis or Johnny Cash), she'll sing along.

Hope that helps.
posted by kittenplease at 11:29 PM on May 7, 2010

I always forget the name of the bar that's at six corners on Grand, but it's rad.

I think you are referring to Emmit's Pub. Nice joint. Made a cameo in Ocean's Eleven.

kittenplease is right about the bus thing -- do your best to live within walking distance of an El line. I had grad school friends who lived in Humboldt Park who had to first walk half a mile to Division or Chicago Ave to catch the bus, which was always late, and which took FOREVER to get them to school. We're talking leaving an hour and a half before they needed to be anywhere, to travel all of 5 or so miles. It was fine when the weather was nice and they could bike, but during the winter (which is most of the academic year)? Egads. I turned down a great apartment in Ukrainian Village for just that reason--couldn't deal with having to walk to and wait for the #66 bus every day.

Definitely get a bike. Not only does Chicago have a lot of great bike paths, but if you're willing to ride short distances in awful weather, you can also bike to the bus or the El. You can put your bike on the front of the bus and, if it's not rush hour, you can take your bike on the El. A lot of El stops also have bike racks if you wanted to bike to the El and leave your bike there.
posted by devinemissk at 8:54 AM on May 8, 2010

I moved to Chicago for SAIC about 6 years ago, and stayed after I graduated. You'll find that most SAICers live in the Logan Square, Humboldt Park and Pilsen neighborhoods. The rent is cheap. Personally, I would not recommend Logan Square or Humboldt Park. They are kind of ugly and lots of crime. Pilsen is a lively Latino neighborhood, south of downtown. There is a large concentration of artists in all three hoods, so go there if you want some community. But, in my opinion, these are not the best places to live in Chicago. I have always lived near the lake and have been thankful for that bit of nature in an otherwise concrete and brick city. You don't want a long commute because I imagine you'll be wanting to spend a lot of time in your studio, and will be leaving late at night. I live in Edgewater now and work at SAIC. It's a 40 minute commute but kind of relaxing in the mornings. I use my car only on the weekends, but having a car is essential to finding all the neat places in Chicago.
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 1:52 PM on May 16, 2010

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