Things to do in Chicago
May 23, 2005 7:48 AM   Subscribe

My wife and I are heading to Chicago sometime between June 2nd - June 5th to celebrate our anniversary. Chi-town pals, help us find some cool things to do/places to eat!

We're definitely checking out the Body Worlds exhibit at the Musuem of Science and Industry, but I'm looking for recommendations for good restaurants, places to shop, concerts/shows, and other things to do while we're there. We like art, music, and all kinds of food - we're not really into touristy-type stuff, though. Give me some insider "can't miss" things to do in the City of Big Shoulders!
posted by sluggo to Travel & Transportation around Chicago, IL (33 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Kraftwerk will be playing at the Riviera Theatre on the 4th.
posted by zsazsa at 7:53 AM on May 23, 2005

While direceted at "kid friendly" stuff, this thread is great for what-to-do-in-Chicago ideas.
posted by Mid at 8:06 AM on May 23, 2005

Whenever I'm in Chicago, I make a point to see a performance of "Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind".
posted by bryanzera at 8:18 AM on May 23, 2005

Many people rush into Heaven on Seven to get their Cajun fix. They have a ginormous selection of hot sauces at each table, and some nice microbrews from Nawlens. Coco Pazzo is a great rustic Italian place, romantic, too.

You can also check out Metromix for more Chicago goodness. I second bryanzera's post about TMLMtBGB.
posted by Merdryn at 8:21 AM on May 23, 2005

Oh, and if you and your missus want to get a little sloshed in a nice restaurant, go to Russian Tea Time. Excellent Russian food, "flights" of flavored Vodka (pick your flavors from dozens of in-house selections)... It's quite an experience, and a great place. :) Tea service isn't all that great, but the food is wonderful, and you'd be hard pressed to spend more than $40 for the two of you (it's cheap!). Really quite excellent; maybe some other readers will chime in if they've been there.
posted by Merdryn at 8:25 AM on May 23, 2005 [1 favorite]

Check out Irazu in Wicker Park for awesome Costa Rican food.
posted by smich at 8:31 AM on May 23, 2005

If you like a great steak, try Morton's
posted by stevejensen at 8:46 AM on May 23, 2005

Dang, I'm not even the second person to recommend TMLMTBGB. Ah well.

You should take a look at the Chicago Reader, the main local alt-weekly, to see what's going on while you're in town.
posted by Johnny Assay at 8:50 AM on May 23, 2005

Whoa, Kraftwerk!

The Eat Feed podcast had a recent feature on culinary Chicago.
posted by sagwalla at 8:56 AM on May 23, 2005

You'll be in town for the June First Friday and the Museum of Contemporary Art, which are a fun way to see the museum.

I really like the randolph street tasting room for wine and nibbles and Cafe Matou for food. if you don't want to wait in line for Topolambopo/Frontera Grill (and i think there's no reason on earth why anyone should bother), I highly recommend Ixcapulzalco on N Milwaukee or Chilpancingo on W Ontario (a view the folks at chowhound agree with--they also recommend Emilio's, which I agree with, prefering the one in Streeterville to the one in Lincoln Park. Half-price bottles of wine on Mondays!). sugar dessert bar is phenomenal. go early if you want to avoid trhe scenesters.

it may be touristy, but the architectural boat tour is much fun.
posted by crush-onastick at 9:12 AM on May 23, 2005

Response by poster: Wow - there are some amazing suggestions here. Thanks for all the help so far (and keep 'em coming). This might turn out to be a longer stay than I was planning for...
posted by sluggo at 9:36 AM on May 23, 2005

You definitely want to spend some time downtown at museums, Michigan Avenue, etc., but I would also try to head out to some cool neighborhoods.

Two fun ones are Hyde Park and Lincoln Square. Hyde Park is on the South Side, is the home of the University of Chicago, and has tons of cool architecture and bookstores. Check out Robey House (Frank Lloyd Wright) and the bookstores on 57th Street, in particular. Hyde Park is a little tough to get to: you'll need a car or you'll need to take the Metra or the bus.

Lincoln Square is an old German neighborhood on the North Side. Take the Brown Line El to Western Ave. Cool old German-speaking restaurants, neat shops and cafes, etc.

Lots of other neighborhoods to explore -- I'm sure others have favorites. Also, I'm told that the architecture boat cruise that the Architecture Society puts on is awesome.
posted by Mid at 9:54 AM on May 23, 2005

Man I miss Chicago. The Reader is an excellent recommendation from Johnny Assay. See what's going on at the moment.

Billy Goat Tavern under Michigan Ave. is always a trip if you're into CHEEZBORGER, CHEEZBORGER along with a shot of rye.

Absolutely, without a doubt, treat yourself to one of the greatest breakfasts in the world (and they have the British and French newspaper reviews to 'prove' it) at Lou Mitchell's, across the street and down a block from the train station downtown (on W. Wabash, I believe). Man, I have never had eggs fried so perfectly, without an excess spot of grease. Homemade bread, the fried potatos, the sausage... been around for at least 80 years and it's breakfast nirvana. Don't confuse it with the chain you'll see around town... Mitchell's (without the Lou). Being Greek, they're cousins of Lou, and serve a fine breakfast. Just not quite the same. Expect a line, but you get fresh donut holes while you wait, and the ladies get milk duds (don't ask).

Gino's East off of Michigan Avenue made one of the best pizzas around. Not the full deep dish, but not as thin as NY style. With crust to die for. You can a sheet of homemade sausage that's layered on under the cheese in a big, solid disc. If you like fondue (from appetizer through dessert) and want someplace super romantic, Gejas Cafe on the near north side is superb. Had a wonderful Valentine's Day dinner there.

A good alternative for old-style beef gorging if you can't get into Morton's (and this M is the original) is The Chop House. Amazing prime rib. Find a Harold's Fried Chicken shack. Shove your money through the bullet-proof glass and receive something Colonel Sanders could only dream of. Just make sure to get both hot sauce and bbq sauce on it. And eath the white bread. If you want to blow the doors off your tastebuds, Charlie Trotter's is still It. Seriously. World wide it's a virtual Mecca for chefs who are into deconstructe cuisine. He hasn't gone the molecular route, but he does experiment. My tastes tend towards the 'classic' (fitting Harold's Fried Chicken shack in next to Al Pappagallo in Bologna and Fauchon in Paris), and yet I loved both meals I had there. Remarkable and unforgettable. Make sure the credit card can handle it, though.

Have a couple martinis up at the bar on the top floor of the Hancock building. Enjoy the view.

It's been a decade since I've been to Chicago, but I can't imagine the Checkerboard isn't still pumping out blues in the same grungy dive Muddy Waters played in. I remember one of my first nights in Chicago... it was Orientation Week. Went there with some other Freshmen. Ended up being me and two girls at 2:30 in the morning, unable to get a cab to pick us up. So we got a ride home in a huge Lincoln from one of James Cotton's illegitimate sons (if he was telling the truth). There are more upscale places downtown if you're sketchy about the neighborhood. Like the Kingston Mines or Buddy Guy's Legends. Double Door is a great little club for live music. Just check to see in the Reader what's playing.

All of these are in fact 'tourist' things, but they're truly worth it. You could always hit Hyde Park and the U of Chicago and look for the mushroom cloud sculpture over the location of the world's first sustained thermonuclear chain reaction... tr romantic. Elsewhere on campus, Ex Libris is considered by many to be one of the best book stores in the world. While you're down there, stop by 53rd and Harper Court and go into Maravilla's for a steak burrito (get guac and sour cream in it). Trust me.

John Barleycorn and The Red Lion were great pubs. Probably still are. For drinking, not eating (British pub, after all;)

Damn, my memory is already failing me. I need to get back to refresh it. Oh, I tool a quick look at that Eat Feed page... definitely try Gino's East over Giordanos. No comparison. Oh crap. Looking for an address, I discovered that the Checkerboard is closed and done. Ahhh, that sucks. Buddy Guy's is pricey but has great music. Kingston Mines tend to get kind of a chic crowd for blues, but that includs some old-time rock stars as well. Plus it's the only one open till like 4 in the morning.
posted by the_savage_mind at 10:02 AM on May 23, 2005 [1 favorite]

Charlie Trotter's is the pinacle of Chicago fine dining (and one of the best 5 or 10 restaurants in the country). Allow several hours and several hundred dollars, but it is worth it. (Compares to: Jean Georges, French Laundry, etc.)

Of the big cultural institutions, I'd say that the Aquarium and the Art Institute are can't-miss -- world class in every respect. The planetarium, natural history museum, and the Museum of Science and Industry (already on your list, I see) are, in my view, skippable.

While not on any national lists, the zoo is really well done, a great way to spend an hour or two punctuating an afternoon in Lincoln Park.

Chicago is the home to an exceptionally vibrant live theater and comedy scene. In addition to the big names (Second City, Steppenwolf) there are hundreds of other theaters and performance spaces doing interesting things on any particular weekend evening.
posted by MattD at 10:05 AM on May 23, 2005

For food, I'll second Heaven on Seven. Warning, the original one in the Garland building, at Washington and Wabash on the seventh floor, natch, does not take credit cards, but the gumbo is sublime. The one at Rush and Ohio is bigger, but the food is just as good. I believe they've opened one in Wrigleyville too, perhaps on Clark?

And The Ditty Bops are playing Martyr's on the third. Take the brown line to Paulina and walk north, well, northwest, on Lincoln a couple of blocks. I'll be standing right in front of Amanda - if you hate the show, I'll buy you a consolation beer or three.
posted by OneOliveShort at 10:11 AM on May 23, 2005

Oh, the_savage_mind wrote: Gino's East off of Michigan Avenue...

Great recommendation, but they moved. They are now over in the cluster of touristy restaurants over by Ontario and Wells - great pizza (as are Pizzeria Uno and Due near Ontario and Rush) - Chicago is sick with good pizza places.

Second City used to (and I can't imagine they stopped) allow stand-bys in free for the improv at about 1 am, filling in the seats of those who left at intermission. Frequently, famous alums stop by to pitch in.

Have fun.
posted by OneOliveShort at 10:22 AM on May 23, 2005

Unfortunately, the Art Institute is uninstalling the Chagall windows for some construction, but you can see the Chagall mosaic at the Bank One plaza. Also, AIC is free on Tuesdays. And you'll be just a quick walk from Millenium Park, which really does have a pretty garden (i don't know why they picked that awful picture) and nice view of the lake.

Again, touristy, but Navy Pier has an interesting museum of stained and beveled glass. The Shakespeare Theatre is also at Navy Pier and it's world-class. (Aria, one of the recommended nearby restaurants, however, is not worth the cost.)

Two of the largest Tiffany dome ceilings are right next door to each other at the State street Marshall Field's (the shopping is also better at the State St Field's) and the Chicago Cultural Center.

And I second having a martini at the horrendous bar at the Hancock over paying to go to either the observation deck at the Hancock or the Sears Tower. The Hancock has a better view and I just really like the bar, despite it's being horrendous. The Hancock is also right by the Looking Glass Theatre housed in the Water Tower Waterworks. The June production is the Hillbily Antigone. I've not yet been disappointed in the Lookinglass, but I haven't been to more than 2 shows there.

also, there are rumblings of a meet-up that week (front runner appears to be the 2nd at delilah's). also, first fridays are kinetic upstairs at the bottom lounge (harsh electro, EBM and powernoise--3206 N. Wilton, $3 cover)
posted by crush-onastick at 10:25 AM on May 23, 2005

Food: Devon Avenue for Indian food, Argyle (Argyle stop on the red line) for Vietnamese food (I'm fond of Pho 777, Tank Noodle, and Hai Yen, myself), Lincoln Square for German food, and come to my 'hood (Andersonville) for some Belgian beer at the Hopleaf.

Touristy stuff that is still really cool: Architectural tours, particularly of Graceland Cemetery; drinks at the Top of the Cock (don't pay to go to the observatory - the best view of the city is in the women's bathroom in the Signature Room bar anyway); and I like Millennium park, or at least the foot bridge part. I like it's still fun to wander around the Mag Mile and State St., too.

You could check out the Museum of Surgical Science or The Labor Trail for a look at the history of Chicago workers.

I second the Museum of Contemporary Art and also suggest the Art Institute. And yes, theater! You'll be around for the extended showing of Red Moon Theater's The Cabinet, which was awesome and would make a nice follow up to the Graceland Cemetary tour.

My very favorite thing to do in Chicago, however, is pick a neighborhood, find a bar with outdoor seating, and have some beers and just look around. Chicagoans seem to go a little apeshit once it finally gets warm so early June is a great time to come to the city.
posted by jennyb at 10:26 AM on May 23, 2005

Unfortunately, the Art Institute is uninstalling the Chagall windows for some construction

I cannot even tell you how many afternoons I spent under the glow of those windows, especially the year I lived within walking distance. Spiritual.

Hey, can any Chi-town folks remind me the name of the liquor store up on Clybourne... the one that's like a city block in size? It's next to... is it the Goose Island Brewery?

And OneOliveShort is so right about the Steppenwold (founded by Gary Sinise, home to John Malkovich and many other top acting luminaries) and other theatres.. Chicago's live acting scene is truly first-rate.

A neat variation on Second City might be checking out Off-Off Campus, the U of C improv group that has a heritage stretching back to the Compass players: Mike Nichols, Elaine May, Paul Sills (all three founded Second City), Ed Asner and Alan Arkin. Probably will not match the guffaws quotient of SC, but you will likely not find a ubergeekier improv group anywhere. If you go, do me a favor... when they ask for some recommendation from the audience, try to work in 'Sufism'. How can you go wrong when previous shows have been named Euripides, You Pay For 'Em, You're a Dead Man, Charlie Brown, and Innocence Lost, Paradise Found?
posted by the_savage_mind at 11:19 AM on May 23, 2005

Sam's wine and spirits.
posted by crush-onastick at 11:21 AM on May 23, 2005

Off-Off campus's season is done for the year.

If you like jazz, check out the Velvet Lounge at 22nd and Indiana. Amazing Free Jazz (the musical style, not the price - it costs like ten dollars to get in).

If you are in Hyde Park, go to the Seminary Coopbookstore, which is in the basement of the seminary on University at 58th. Do not come to Hyde Park looking for nightlife.

The Museum of Science and Industry has a cool exhibit about the human body, with "slices" of a cadaver on display. Creepy. Also I love the coal mine ride.

I recommend the Museum of Contemporary art as well, and in fact I would pick it over the Art Institute or the MSI.
I've never been to the field musuem. The Shedd Aquarium is amazing, really really amazing if you like aquariums, but also quite expensive.

Do Not under any circumstances go to Millenium Park to see the Bean sculpture or the Magnificent Mile to shop (it is permissable to walk around a bit by the river). These are tourist-traps of the highest order.

TMLMTBGB is hereby fourthed. Or whatever.
posted by mai at 11:38 AM on May 23, 2005

Ha ha I should have read your whole question. You know about the body works exhibit. But do go on the coal mine ride while you are there.
posted by mai at 11:40 AM on May 23, 2005

Oh and if you are in the HP and need a place to eat, I would like to recommend Dixie Kitchen at 52nd and Lake Park.
posted by mai at 11:42 AM on May 23, 2005

the velvet lounge is being torn down. as far as i know, although they have an offer for a new venue, they don't yet have the funds to move.

as an alternative, the green mill in uptown is still popular, which makes it very crowded and hard to get a drink, but open until nearly dawn and books good acts. (have a cab company phone number in your cell phone)
posted by crush-onastick at 12:01 PM on May 23, 2005

mai, thanks for the correction. I meant Seminary Coop and said Ex Libris. Gah.
posted by the_savage_mind at 12:51 PM on May 23, 2005

Speaking as an (occasional) anthropologist, don't miss the Field Museum. It's part and parcel of a lovely walk around the Grant Park/lake front area. You can also hit the Adler Planetarium right off the side.
posted by the_savage_mind at 12:54 PM on May 23, 2005

The big theatre news in town right now is "Wicked," at the Oriental Theatre. Tickets are hard to come by, but if you're staying at a major hotel have the concierge call for you - theater box offices often have deals with concierges where they'll sell great seats not available to the public. It's a good show, too, with some great songs and an awesome performance by Stephanie Block as Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West.

Some folks have raved about Charlie Trotter's, but if you're up for an all-out dining experience like that, there's also Tru, which the Tribune food critic recently gave the nod to as better than Trotter's in a side-by-side comparison article. (Though actually the food press these days is all about how the brand new Alinea may now be the best restaurant in the whole country, but last I heard they're booked for the rest of the year already.)

For less pricey, but excellent classic French food, I like Brasserie Jo down in the River North area, or up in Lakeview there's a little place called La Creperie that I always enjoy. (It's across the street from the Landmark Century movie theater, which mainly shows artsy, independent films.) Or for Mexican, Rick Bayless's two restaurants, Frontera Grill and Topolobampo are both nationally renowned.

Also, check out what's playing at the Music Box Theatre, an old classic theater that shows artsy films, funky midnight shows, and classic films on weekend matinees. A great place to see a movie. (June 3 opens "The Nomi Song" about Klaus Nomi.)
posted by dnash at 1:33 PM on May 23, 2005

Carmine's on Rush St has amazing food, if you are willing to splurge for a three-figure bill. Really good wine and a decent bar, too. Live (decent) piano every night.
posted by copperbleu at 2:33 PM on May 23, 2005

In re: Alinea... it's got a somewhat similar philosophy to Trotter, but it goes further with the deconstructionist technique. A group of chefs who trained with the same chef that Alinea's owner did are pretty much dominating the food scene these days, although Fat Duck in England got the nod for best restaurant of the year from a lot of critics (also a proponent of 'molecular gastronomy', which has to be the least appetizing name for a food movement I've yet heard).

Still, the chef's chef seems to be Ferran Adria, who taught the Alinea's Achatz among others. Even Paul Bocuse is on board, declaiming Adria to be the most relevant and important chef today. Granted, for the average diner, that's all a lot of hot air. But I tell you this... I'm looking forward to trying his restaurant El Bulli next time I'm in Spain. He closes it down for six months a year to expiriment with the chefs for the next year's menu. Despite his Frankestein experimentation, he apparently has a deep reverance for traditional Mediterranean food (the best on earth for my tastes) and it shows through. There's a video clip of Anthony Bourdain interviewing him here.

I know it's luxury/excess, but since I generally eat incredibly simply, once in a while I'm happy to take advantage of the fact that the family business is food.

I'd forgotten Alinea was in Chicago. Would love to try it. If I can find someone to treat me to it, that is;)

I've had a fabulous meal at Carmine's in NYC a few years back. That one was also paid for by someone else. Food just tastes better when it's free. It tastes best when you steal it off someone else's plate.
posted by the_savage_mind at 2:41 PM on May 23, 2005

And OneOliveShort is so right about the Steppenwold (founded by Gary Sinise, home to John Malkovich and many other top acting luminaries) and other theatres.

In fact, John Malkovich is starring in a play (Lost Land) at the Steppenwolf as we speak; the end of the run is on the 5th. Tickets are exceedingly hard to come by, but if you're staying at a hotel with a concierge, see what he/she can do.

Also, Late Nite Catechism is a Chicago original; if you haven't seen it in any of its exported incarnations, I recommend it, especially if either one of you is a Catholic (lapsed or otherwise.)
posted by Johnny Assay at 4:16 PM on May 23, 2005

Best answer: I would very much suggest waking up on sunday morning and spending a couple of hours exploring Maxwell St Market - an immense flea market/ mexican smorgasbord that has some of the best mexican food in the city. Hand patted fresh tortillas, unbelievably good goat consomme, fresh churros, all sorts of stuff. It's well worth an hour or two. Hell, I'll go with you, I haven't been yet this year.

LTH Forum thread on Maxwell St
One Portland Visitors pictures of Maxwell St

should give you an idea of what to expect.

Harold's is a good suggestion; chicago's Chinatown is also fun. You might check out some Korean options, if you come from a place that doesn't have korean.

Manny's deli for corned beef; spectacular manhattans at the matchbox at Chicago and Milwaukee.

Chicago has some of the best Thai food I've ever had - doesn't compare breadth wise with the remarkable thai food in LA, but coming from Michigan, you could definitely have a good time, eating through the thai language menus at Spoon Thai, TAC Quick and Sticky Rice thai. Check out for one man's masterwork, an effor to translate all of the best Thai Language menus in Chicago.

There's much much more - a forum I'm involved in that has many more restaurant recos and the most dedicated bunch of ex-chowhound food crazies in town is LTH Forum.

posted by sfz at 6:43 PM on May 23, 2005 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: You guys have really outdone yourselves this time... It looks like i'll definitely be gaining a few pounds on this vacation. Thanks to everyone who replied!
posted by sluggo at 6:07 AM on May 24, 2005

I'm seconding Irazu in Wicker Park, it's cheap and so so good, and in case you do decide to go I believe it's cash only, just thought I'd give you a heads up.

And if in that neighborhood you can go browse at Myopic Books get some coffee at Earwax then maybe head to the Double Door or the Empty Bottle for some music, and then off to Rodan for some cocktails and appetizers or further up the street to Salud a tequilla bar with good eats, and then walk a few blocks to Hot Chocolate a new dessert bar open till 12pm on weekends.

This will give you a full days neighborhood adventure (if you add in all the lil boutique shopping as well) with every place completely walkable inbetween. Enjoy!
posted by mrs.pants at 2:21 PM on May 24, 2005

« Older Making a table?   |   Advice needed from those w/experience selling an... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.