Introduce us to Chicago
July 21, 2015 6:50 PM   Subscribe

We’ve never been to Chicago, but we’re moving there. A reconnaissance trip is in order! I’m looking for some pointers on what to do, where to go--and possibly also how to find an apartment.

My partner and I have never been to Chicago, but for professional reasons we’ll be moving there in the short- and long-term. (She’s moving this fall, I'm staying put to finish grad school and following later.) We’re planning a weeklong trip in early August to explore the city, get a feel for neighbourhoods we might want to live in, and put out some early apartment finding feelers for the fall.

My question is twofold:
1. Where and what should we explore? What are Chicago’s best parts? We want to have a great first impression, since the plan is already to stay there long term.

We’re particularly interested in three neighbourhoods where we might like to live: Ravenswood, Andersonville, and Roger’s Park. We'll be staying in Roger's Park. Some things we like and would be interested in: Learning the public transit system. Walking in interesting urban areas. Eating at cheap and delicious hole-in-the-wall restaurants. Swimming at beaches and relaxing in parks. Having a beer at a friendly bar—even better if it’s a friendly lesbian/gay/queer bar.

Stuff we’re already aware of includes lots of awesome architecture to check out (and that the boat tours are good), the fact that Lake Michigan is there (but can we swim in it?), clubs and stuff in Boystown (not sure if it'll be our thing but we'll check it out), lots of art galleries and museums (we're definitely planning to check out the MCA and maybe the Field Museum).

2. What are the best ways to search for an apartment in Chicago? Previous AskMe questions about Chicago apartment hunting seem to indicate that newspapers and ads on the street are the best place to look… is that still true in 2015? We’re already looking at Craigslist, is there another online spot we should be checking?

She’s hoping to rent a place for November, so we think we’re going to be a bit too early to actually find a place on this trip, but we want to get a feel for things. Are we right about the dates? Could we find a November lease in August?

Our biggest criteria for location are proximity to Union Pacific/North Line Metra stops, neighbourhood walkability, and affordable rent. Suburbs won’t work for us, since we like cities and don’t drive. If there are places other than Ravenswood, Andersonville and Roger’s Park that we should be checking out, that would be great to know too.
posted by snorkmaiden to Travel & Transportation around Chicago, IL (17 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
What week are you going? The super fun, overly-crowded, very gay-friendly Market Days is happening Aug 8-9. Depending on your tolerance for street festivals, you should either definitely plan to hit it or definitely plan to steer clear.
posted by roger ackroyd at 8:35 PM on July 21, 2015

Best answer: Hi! I was you 18 months ago. We relocated from another big city and now live on the border of Ravenswood and Andersonville. We love it here, so sorry in advance for the looong response!

I assume you've thought of this, given that you mentioned the UP-N line in your question, but where (in terms of neighborhood) will your partner be working? As Chicago is so large, commute times can be a serious issue. Mr. Cimton works in Evanston and I work in the Loop, so we are very happy we inadvertently ended up a 10 minute walk from the UP-N Metra and CTA Brown line. We both have co-workers a mile or two south and/or west of us with much less pleasant commutes, so don't underestimate the value of convenient CTA and Metra stations.

There are so many good cheap / hole in the wall restaurants around here and in Chicago more broadly. If you're going to be exploring Andersonville and Ravenswood, some of our favorite places are:
Taste of Lebanon (Lebanese)
Takos Koreanos (Mexican/Korean fusion)
Sunshine Cafe (home-style Japanese food)
Taqueria El Asadero (a taco place technically in Lincoln Square, but walkable from Andersonville)
I'm pretty sure that all of those places are cash only and BYOB, so bring your cash and your beer with you.

Bars! We like The Bad Apple and The Hopleaf, but there are loads of good places in the area. If you like brunch, try a weekday brunch at the Over Easy Cafe. There are long lines on the weekend, but it's easy to get in on weekdays!

You can totally swim in the lake. Or, at least I have. You can also rent kayaks and go kayaking!

I think Craigslist is really the way to go for apartment hunting, at least until you've lived here for a while. (At which point word of mouth also becomes useful.) My impression is that even the small mom-and-pop landlords advertise on Craigslist now. It's probably too early to find an apartment for November. Not impossible, as some large management companies may know of vacancies this far in advance, but still tricky. I think you'll start to find November listings in early/mid-September.

Anyway! Obviously, I love Chicago and this part of the city, so feel free to send me a message if you have questions about the city, the neighborhoods, or relocating more generally.
posted by cimton at 8:53 PM on July 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Ah, one last thing--YMMV, but along with seeing the sights and museums, it might be fun to plan an everyday sort of day. When we first visited to look for apartments, we intentionally spent a day just wandering around, going to the grocery store, eating lunch in a park, riding the bus, getting coffee, and hanging out. That day, more than anything else, made me really excited to live here.
posted by cimton at 9:03 PM on July 21, 2015

Andersonville is the most queer friendly on your list. It's chicago's 2nd gay neighborhood. Only downside is 10-15 minute walk to the El, which is not ideal in winter. Nearby Edgewater is more accessible and affordable, still walkae to Aville. I recommend living within easy reach of school and work otherwise commutes can take an hour each way. I found some of my best chicago apartments simply by walking the streets I wanted to live on and looking for rent signs. It's a common landlord practice. Some of these are not listed online. It's a surprisingly fruitful method and you get the added bonus of experiencing your future streets by foot. Devote several days to it. Definitely try out some north side beaches in August. They are super fun and summer is rare so if you enjoy it there is a definite beach culture.
posted by nologo at 9:03 PM on July 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Figure out the best transit stop for you, then only look at places within a 5 minute walk. You'll thank me when it's 0 degrees out. Be advised that the Metra is really only convenient if you work around the Ogilvy station downtown. It's not as versatile as the El but it's also a lot faster.

The beaches in Rogers Park are great - pleasant, quiet, and you can "swim". But they stop you at about 4 feet deep.

The area around the Jarvis red line is nice too, you might like it.
posted by bleep at 11:03 PM on July 21, 2015

Chicago is an amazing place, full of food and culture and art.

Architecture is taken very seriously there. When you get there, take the architecture boat tour (tix at Related, if you set an Apple TV to WTTW for the PBS app, you can get a ton of good local content. Chicago Tonight is like the PBS Newshour, but for Chicago. Geoffrey Baer has a bunch of shows on Chicago architecture, too. He's really great.

It's a great place! I grew up in the burbs. I loathe them more each time I go back to see family, but I love Chicago more each time I visit.
posted by persona au gratin at 1:37 AM on July 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I live in the Ravenswood/Lincoln Square area. I love it so much. It is the best. It has amazing thai food (Opart! Sticky Rice! Spoon!), filipino food (Isla Filipina!), vietnamese food, fun fancier restaurants (Gather! Mixteco! Spacca Napoli!), lots of other deliciousness and also awesome dessert-y options (Margie's! Amy's Candy Bar!). It also has a great public library, a wonderful independent book store (The Book Cellar!), lots of coffee shops and some good grocery stores (Harvesttime! Marianos). It has the glorious CTA brown line (so quiet! so scenic!) and of course the Ravenswood Metra stop. It also has Horner park, which is a really nice loop, and River park which is lovely as well.
posted by pie_seven at 4:58 AM on July 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

Hooray, welcome to Chicago!

Here is a map that includes many cheap, delicious hole-in-the-wall restaurants for you to check out, as well as a few fancier options and food-and-drink-related resources. I can personally hella vouch for Khan BBQ in Rogers Park and Sunshine Cafe in Andersonville.

You can get in the lake but it's sort of too shallow to swim unless you go way the heck out. Foster Beach is nice and not far from Andersonville. And I agree with pie_seven that Ravenswood/Lincoln Square is pretty awesome. Gene's Sausage Shop has a rooftop patio that is [100 emoji] and is right down the block from the Book Cellar if you wanna grab a book and chill on a roof with a beer.
posted by torridly at 6:56 AM on July 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the great suggestions so far!

My partner's commute is northbound and definitely via Metra. It'd be nice to be somewhere that has good El accessibility as well, but we're prioritizing a Metra stop exactly because of the whole walking in the cold makes your commute suck thing.
posted by snorkmaiden at 7:04 AM on July 22, 2015

Also don't discount our buses. They aren't as fast as the trains, obvously, but they'll make up for a distant El station in a pinch. If you're living near the Ravenswood Metra, for example (WHICH I RECOMMEND HIGHLY), you'll be near the Damen, Lawrence, Foster, and Clark buses. All of those buses will get you to other neighborhoods and to various El stations. The Clark bus is even 24 hours.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 7:27 AM on July 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: (also through some amazing quirk don't tell anyone shhhhhh the apartments that are between the Metra and Ashland Avenue, around Lawrence and Foster, haven't gotten overpriced or bulldozered for mcmansions yet. Good deals to be had in that little nook.)
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 7:30 AM on July 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

I live Rogers Park and LOVE it here. Great beaches, as others have mentioned; super multicultural (my grocery store, Devon market, sells nopales & smoked eel steps from each other; I've found uncured olives and fresh [green] chickpeas there too); and a really nice community feel (eg, check out the Artists of the Wall, a community mural at Loyola Beach that just had its annual collaborative re-creation). I initially moved here sight-unseen & location-unknown, and I feel like I won the lottery -- it is SUCH a great place!

That said, I now have neighborhood envy after reading the other answers....
posted by Westringia F. at 8:42 AM on July 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

The folks on /r/chicago are pretty happy to help out with questions about visiting or moving to Chicago. They've assembled a pretty decent wiki to help with your first questions. There's also a really good guide on finding an apartment.
posted by JoeZydeco at 9:37 AM on July 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Agree on the Ravenswood location! My partner and I live in the vicinity of Winnemac Park (which is lovely), and we absolutely love it there. I agree with everything that cimton and pie_seven said about the general area, the restaurants and other businesses, and the proximity to transit (hi neighbors!).

Re: lesbian/gay/queer-friendly establishments - Andersonville is pretty gay overall, so I'd recommend walking up and down Clark street through Andersonville just to take in the atmosphere and browse the businesses. Any given bar or restaurant will be either gay-oriented or gay-friendly. Heads up - the Taste of Andersonville Dinner Crawl is happening August 12th, which will involve lots of delicious food but also some crowds.

Chicago in general is light on lesbian bars, but here are some establishments in the area for which the clientele is more likely than average to include queer women:

Joie de Vine, which is a lesbian-owned wine bar a few blocks off the main drag in Andersonville.

Farragut's in Andersonville, which I've never actually visited but which always seems to be full of queer women when I walk by.

Spyners, which is a lesbian-owned dive bar in Lincoln Square. I'm noting it here chiefly because they host karaoke Thursday-Saturday, if that's something you are into. I haven't really been when singing isn't happening, but on karaoke nights the clientele seems pretty evenly split between probably-not-gay neighborhood corner bar folks and happy queer people.

Talking about Chicago is one of my favorite things to do - if you want to do more of it, please feel free to memail me!
posted by treefort at 10:13 AM on July 22, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Seconding everything treefort said. Ravenswood is nicely nestled between Lincoln Square and Andersonville so you get the best of both worlds. In my experience, there been a serious lesbian exodus from Andersonville since the rent started going up/strollers started multiplying. Many of them seem to have settled in Ravenswood.

Treefort has hit the major lesbian hotspots in the area, but there's also Lizard's Liquid Lounge. I've never been there but people seem to like it.
posted by Lieber Frau at 10:59 AM on July 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

Who knew I had so many MeFite neighbors?? We've lived in Ravenswood (near Winnemac Park) since 2008. It is wonderful and you will love it here, largely because we are equidistant from Lincoln Square and Andersonville - so double the fun and half the rent. We pay way below market rent thanks to finding our place via ads on the street, but CL can work too. Welcome to Chicago!!
posted by goodbyewaffles at 4:36 PM on July 22, 2015 [3 favorites]

I haven't seen anyone else mention it, but Padmapper has worked pretty well for me when it comes to finding apartments, especially once I knew which neighborhoods/intersections I wanted to live in/near.
posted by protocoach at 7:58 PM on July 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

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