What's new and cool in Chicago?
March 31, 2024 8:26 AM   Subscribe

Going to Chicago this summer. I've spent a lot of time there but it will be my first time back in years! 7 years, to be precise. What's new?

I'm going to a wedding in Chicago this summer and thinking about making it into a longer trip. I traveled to Chicago yearly as a kid to visit family and then went to college there. So I know the city very well. I've seen all the sights, the famous and the less famous, as both a child and an adult: Sears Willis Sears and Hancock towers, river architecture cruise, I've eaten at Billy Goat Tavern and Gino's East and Giordano's and Lou's (there's always an hour wait for Uno/Due) and Portillo's and Harold's Chicken Shack and Hot Dougs (RIP) and New York Bagel & Bialy (the one on Dempster is a required family pilgrimage), Cloud Gate and Millennium Park, Mag Mile, MSI and Field and Shedd and Lincoln Park Zoo and the Botanic Garden, cycling on Lake Shore, Midsomer Fest, Navy Pier, Art Institute and Folk Art Museum, Cubs and Sox games, shows at Kingston Mines and Reggie's Rock Club, Second City and Improv Shakespeare... What I'm saying is I know Chicago very well. But the last time I was in Chicago was 2017.

What is new since then? What museums have opened up or revamped their galleries in the past 5-10 years? What new restaurants and bars and coffee shops and breweries is everyone talking about, and which live up to the hype? Are there new public art installations? New parks? New walking trails? Neighborhood main streets that have been revitalized with lots of new shops? New tall buildings with better observation decks than the two famous ones? Also are they still using that Ventra Card thing or is there a better way to ride the CTA now?
posted by capricorn to Travel & Transportation around Chicago, IL (11 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Also are they still using that Ventra Card thing or is there a better way to ride the CTA now?

If you have a smartphone with NFC (a.k.a tap to pay), you can use the app we all love to hate: Ventra App. You load a virtual card with money and wave it over the turnstile to enter. It also holds Metra fares if you're heading in and out of the suburbs.
posted by JoeZydeco at 9:20 AM on March 31

Response by poster: Thank you, that will be a lot more convenient but also...whaaaat? Metra?! They've gotten rid of the paper punch cards? I'm not sure I will recover.
posted by capricorn at 9:49 AM on March 31

You can still buy paper tickets, but from a vending machine or on the train (with a surcharge). They closed most of the station agent ticket windows except for downtown.

I'll let others chime in first but you're going to see a radically different city in places thanks to COVID. It's been slowly coming back in the last 1-2 years but we lost a lot of good places to the pandemic.
posted by JoeZydeco at 10:02 AM on March 31 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The 606 Trail may already have been open the last time you were in town, but it's grown so lovely in the intervening years. Love to walk it in both directions at twilight. Likewise, the Chicago Riverwalk has expanded exponentially and all sorts of fun spots for eating, drinking, and people-watching have opened along its length.
posted by merriment at 11:23 AM on March 31 [2 favorites]

Best answer: What's new? In terms of food:
  • tavern style has replaced deep dish as the primary Chicago pizza
  • the Bear tv show has pushed Italian Beef into the limelight - places like Johnnys and the OG Mr. Beef are destinations eateries to get a 'hot, sweet and juicy'.
  • or there's been a whole thing around noodles. Like Monteverde, Daisies, Osteria Langhe and just in terms of ramen there's Akahoshi Ramen, Ramen Wasabi and RAMEN-SAN.

posted by zenon at 2:42 PM on March 31

Best answer: The gentrification of West Loop and Fulton Market is also nearly completed. The anchor restaurants like Publican, Little Goat, and Next are now surrounded with more shops and eateries. Google moved in. Harpo left and it's now McDonald's HQ on Randolph. Apartment buildings are going up all over the place. Might be worth a stroll to see how the area has changed.

We now have "food halls", which are a hipster replacement for the old mall food court. Time Out at Fulton and Sangamon might be worth a visit. There's also Revival in the financial district (closed on weekends) and Catalog in the renovated/expanded lobby of the Willis Tower. Recess looks like fun but I've never been.
posted by JoeZydeco at 6:00 PM on March 31 [1 favorite]

Best answer: tavern style has replaced deep dish as the primary Chicago pizza

This has been true for decades upon decades upon decades - not just from 7 years ago until now.

606 trail is very cool as is the Riverwalk, but also areas of the river not downtown. There are more kayaking opportunities too. Some neighborhoods have changed a LOT (Andersonville, in particular, has gotten FAR more upscale and expensive, depends if that attracts or repels you, but there are a lot of fun shops to look at regardless).

Also, since the pandemic, downtown might feel weird to you, particularly during the day. It's coming back somewhat but it's a lot emptier in spots than it was before. And some train stops are vastly better and some vastly worse than before.

The dispensary scene is different, if you're interested in cannabis. I recommend Cannabist as a nice one that's easy and friendly and regularly gives discounts and sales.

The area around Wrigley might feel really upscale, looks-wise now!

Hmmm. I'm struggling to think of museum type stuff. Will ruminate. I want to go here, but haven't yet (it's by appointment): The Museum of Post Punk and Industrial Music
posted by tiny frying pan at 6:22 PM on March 31 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Museum of Illusions (opened in 2021) was one of my favorite activities in a recent trip to Chicago, I'm not usually into posing for photo type events at all, but the pictures were cooler than average because of the illusions and the employees were really friendly and gave advice about how to get the best pictures/would take them for you.

I also asked a question recently about stuff to do near Millennium Park and got a lot of great answers. I especially enjoyed the recommended Sweet Bean, a Taiwanese bakery. It looks like it also opened in 2021.
posted by Eyelash at 6:30 PM on March 31

Best answer: The Chicago Design Museum is great, though it's not that new.

If you like the New York Bagel & Bialy on Dempster, you'll love the one on Touhy. The staff are friendlier, the hours are longer, they have a wider selection, and they make sandwiches to order.
posted by likedoomsday at 7:04 PM on March 31

Response by poster: Thank you all!
My dad's from Skokie so it's Dempster or bust baybeeeeee
posted by capricorn at 8:14 AM on April 1

Do you bike? A lot of bike paths have been added/extended, including some nice routes along the North Branch of the river that run from roughly Roscoe Village/North Center up into Skokie and from there into Evanston. Think about renting bikes for day - you could hit the 606 this way too.
posted by Mid at 10:23 AM on April 1

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