All about Chicago - help me maximize my trip
July 13, 2004 11:52 AM   Subscribe

I'm going to CHICAGO in mid-August. I'll be there strictly for entertainment purposes only, so anything is possible. I've never been to Chicago (which is why I'm going) and would love to hear what some of you think are the best things to do, the best places to visit, and the best places to eat. What are the best places to have a beer(s) and see a band? Can I safely rely on public transportation or should I rent a car? How hard is it to get Cubs tickets (they have a home series against the Dodgers that week). Thanks!
posted by Witty to Travel & Transportation around Chicago, IL (38 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Do not rent a car. You can go anywhere via public transportation, and safely. Also, give us some personal demographics, how adventourous, etc...
posted by repoman at 12:03 PM on July 13, 2004

I can't speak as a native, but during my week spent there in 1999, the highlight for me was the surprisingly hilarious performance at Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind. Then again, I spent a day and a half of that trip split between the toilet and the sink, evacuating my body from both ends, so YMMV, as always.
posted by Ufez Jones at 12:04 PM on July 13, 2004

Ed Debevics is an interesting place to grab a burger. Parking downtown is like $20+ a day for the garages, but I've found the train and cabs are the best way to get around. Unlike some towns where you have to physically go *do* something in order to enjoy yourself, Chicago is a beautiful city that will give you a great deal of enjoyment just by walking around. I'm not sure what the dates are for the Taste of Chicago, which will get you good and fat on the best foodstuff the town has to offer, so check that out. Grant Park is where you'll find the Buckingham Fountain (aka the fountain from 'Married with Children'). And the Sears Tower is obligatory fun.

I've never been to Navy Pier, but it has quite a deal going on as well. I've seen shows at the House of Blues and the Aragon Ballroom, and both were great. Schubas also has a lot of great acts.
posted by Hankins at 12:08 PM on July 13, 2004

Cubs tickets are not hard to get, scalping is legal there (take one step off the sidewalk, please) and you will encounter many brokers on your walk through Wrigleyville to the park. Cost will depend on whether it's a day or night game, whether it's weekday or weekend, whether the cubs are in contention, who is the visiting team, etc.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 12:08 PM on July 13, 2004

Also, forget about Cubs tickets. Impossible. You would probably have a better time watching the game from one of the bars in Wrigleyville. It's a pretty lively scene during and after a Cubs game...if you are into that kind of thing.
posted by repoman at 12:13 PM on July 13, 2004

Check out a Second City show if you dig comedy.
posted by badstone at 12:14 PM on July 13, 2004

Response by poster: Also, give us some personal demographics, how adventourous, etc...

I'm up for anything. I'm even willing to venture outside the city a bit, if necessary.

You can go anywhere via public transportation, and safely.

Just to be clear... I wasn't worried so much about my personal, physical safety as much as I was referring to my ability to "safely" rely on the services available to get me just about anywhere I want to go. But it's nice to know that I won't be in any danger either.

posted by Witty at 12:16 PM on July 13, 2004

If they're playing when you're there, you have to go see Poi Dog Pondering, and and sample some old-school Chicago house music somewhere. Poi is my favorite band of all time, and their Chicago shows attract a lot of fervent area fans. I only get to see them once or twice a year since I live in Texas, but it's always worth it.
posted by pomegranate at 12:19 PM on July 13, 2004

you should only rent a car if you're going to the suburbs. really. chicago is a very walkable city; all the fun visitor stuff is easily accessible by the CTA (trains and bus) and cabs are abundant, not terribly expensive and usually good about not taking some wacky drive-up-the-fare route. the CTA is not hard to parse and the guys in the booths at the stations are generally helpful; even the busdrivers will usually help you figure out where to get off.

the view from the hancock surpasses the view from the sears tower and if you go up to the bar (the view in the women's rest room is the best), it's free. (the bar is overpriced and the service is always bad, but the view is spectacular).

the city has some great wine bars; even the new york times has taken to praising our retaurants; and in mid-august, you can catch the air show (best viewed from a boat); the annual latin music festival; the outdoor film festival; and the dance lessons in the park

august is really hot and humid in chicago, although it will cool off near the lake and when the sun goes down.

i can talk about chicago all day and then some, but it's hard for me to recommend places/things without knowing a little more what your tastes are; and i have no information about cubs tickets (i go once a year when my cousin with the season tickets decides not to use them for a particular game).

i know several people who love griffin's for a beer and a band, but i prefer the empty bottle. both are casual, comfortable and crowded on weekends. griffin's is in a more happening part of town; empty bottle is a bit further off the path.

schuba's is also fabulous for music and does a good brunch. i highly recommend smut n eggs as a chicago tradition. but the best breakfast in town is the bongo room (expect to wait on the weekends).

um, let's see. rick bayless' restaurant is not worth the inevitable wait (Chilpancingo around the corner is better food and never too crowded) and que rico on southport just north of belmont has the best texmex in the city.
posted by crush-onastick at 12:20 PM on July 13, 2004

Beer: The Map Room, 1949 N. Hoyne.; Goose Island B.C., 1800 N. Clybourn.
posted by sixpack at 12:36 PM on July 13, 2004

que rico north of belmont

Unless they have moved, I thought they were north of Diversey on Southport. Watch out for their margaritas. Tasty and wicked. The Bucktown/Wicker Park area of the
city is a pretty cool place to hang, eat, drink, walk, etc.
Ukranian Village is also worth a look for a mix of people and culture, although gentrifying pretty quickly.

Stay away from the Suburbs, nothing to see there...move along. For the tourist set, an architectural cruise along the river is worth the ride.
posted by repoman at 12:39 PM on July 13, 2004

repo, you're right. my mistake, north of diversey.
posted by crush-onastick at 12:43 PM on July 13, 2004

Art Institute is free on Tuesdays.
posted by ao4047 at 12:46 PM on July 13, 2004

I second the architecture boat cruise - very cool.
posted by jalexei at 12:50 PM on July 13, 2004

Response by poster: i can talk about chicago all day and then some, but it's hard for me to recommend places/things without knowing a little more what your tastes are...

I hate to be "the guy that loves everything", but in a way, that's true. With my culinary background and general passion for food (RIP Jeff Smith), it's impossible not to be turned on by any kind of restaurant idea. The Taste of Chicago festival happened in June ('til July 4th), too bad. So I dig anything and everything from an awesome burger and onion rings, to killer Italian fare, to Polish brats, to fois gras and truffles. I love Asian cuisine, Indian and Latin cuisines, American... I really do love it all.

Music is kind of the same way. I'm not really into trance or much along those lines, but I can go see a heavy, sweaty rock show one night (throwing some cheap-shot elbows here and there) and chill out with a liquor buzz in a darkened jazz club the next (not that either is part of my normal routine of course). I love the percussion and rhythms, the pace and the flair of Latin music (although I can't salsa to save my life). I like my country music with a splash of humor, so if there's a group that fits that bill, then line up the longnecks and let's have at it.

I dig all kinds of art. I won't really turn down an exhibition because it's "not the art I'm into". If I don't like it, fine. But I wouldn't consider it a waste of my time. I'm not into clogging myself (or spinal piercing for that matter), but if clogging were a Chicago tradition, then I'd want to check it out. You know what I mean. I'm not looking to reproduce my life in D.C., in Chicago. I'd like to make the most of my week there by doing anything Chicago, but I know I can't do it all. I welcome any ideas and suggestions because if you care enough to respond to this thread, then I know the idea is worth consideration. So far, so good.

I've checked lots of websites for ideas. But to me, AskMe is as good a resource as any.
posted by Witty at 12:53 PM on July 13, 2004

Go check out Frank Lloyd Wright's Home and Studio if you are into architecture.
posted by trbrts at 12:55 PM on July 13, 2004

The Museum of Science and Industry should not be missed. Really.
posted by ewagoner at 1:02 PM on July 13, 2004

all the museums are free on free tuesdays. artic stays open late with jazz in their courtyard on thursday nights.

taste of chicago is not worth the crowd, so don't sweat missing it.

i find chicago a remarkably malleable city--if you're the sports bar, hippie band, beer crowd, you can find that that's what chicago does best. if you're the wine bar, tie-required restaurant type, you can easily convince yourself that that is the true chicago. if you want fine art, outsider art, local art, you can discover a surprisingly vibrant community of weirdos throwing paint on things. there's even still a goth scene that isn't stagnant. the mag mile and parts of river north are all hard rock cafe and the tourist bus.

you will unfortunately miss the bughouse square debates, but the city is covered with small historic markers to just this sort of local history, which is why i recommend taking the city on foot.

personally, i find the vic, the music box, the aragon
, and the chicago theatre to be quintessential chicago experiences.
posted by crush-onastick at 1:15 PM on July 13, 2004

liquor buzz in a darkened jazz club

Nothing fits this bill better than the Green Mill on N. Broadway.
posted by repoman at 1:17 PM on July 13, 2004

The best bar in the city was Tuman's. Now I dunno; Marie's Rip Tide is open until 4am, so that's nice, although I never go there myself. I kinda like Delilah's, on Lincoln, but it's loud. The Map Room, mentioned above, is good, and I have a soft spot for the Ten Cat (3931 N. Ashland).

For restaurants, it depends on what you're after. You could zip through the listings at Metromix to see what's around -- since you can limit your search by neighborhood, you can find places that are near where you're going to be.

Another worthwhile resource is the Chicago Reader.
posted by aramaic at 1:17 PM on July 13, 2004

One of my most vivid memories of visiting Chicago (as a kid) is Human Body Slices at the Museum of Science and Industry. (on preview, ditto, ewagoner)

"The sections were prepared in the 1940's from a man and woman who died of natural causes. Their bodies were frozen and cut into 1/2-inch sections with a power saw. The sections are preserved in a solution of chloral hydrate, glycerin, potassium acetate and water.

Always seemed like an edgy kind of city after that.
posted by grateful at 1:17 PM on July 13, 2004

A friendly note: bear in mind that despite how cold the winters can be, August in Chicago can be little-old-lady-killing hot and humid - something a lot of visitors neither expect nor handle well. Plan to be someplace cool in the mid-afternoons... The Chicago lakefront runs for miles and miles and is parkland the vast majority of that distance. Wherever you are head east and you'll eventually come to a cooler spot (along with about twelve million other people, but hey, it's a big lake...)
posted by JollyWanker at 1:27 PM on July 13, 2004

Whenever wifey and I trek up I-65 to the Windy City, we always stay as close to the Miracle Mile (Michigan Ave) as possible. You can get good hotels for under $100/night as long as there is not some high demand event going on. Lots of good restaurants, bars, shopping, and other attractions. Close to the Lake, Navy Pier (which I have never been too), and the Museum of Modern Art (great if you like Modern Art, hilarious if you don't), etc. You will pay $25/day to park a car - if you don't want to drive it - and you won't need it. If you want the classic Chicago pizza experience go to Geno's East - but be prepared to wait. The Redhead piano bar is a nice hang out if you don't want loud music. Just about any restaraunt in this area is good, esp. the one's off the beaten path. Man this makes me want to go back there...
posted by internal at 1:28 PM on July 13, 2004

witty: this cta trip planner is great for finding your way around anyplace in the city of chicago. the buses and the el are extremely reliable and on time. much nicer than taking a car and sitting in traffic or not going where you wanted to go because you can't find parking.

i would highly recommend going to something at grant park or checking out the new frank gehry-designed jay pritzker pavilion. here is a list of some activities going on during the summer.
good luck and have fun.
posted by alicila at 1:29 PM on July 13, 2004

The aquarium has a new exhibit that is out of this world. I also second Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind - if you go there, there are several bars along Clark (one block from Ashland) that are great - Hopleaf and Simon's.
posted by agregoli at 1:37 PM on July 13, 2004

The Navy Pier is a ball for people watching, special events, surprises, or just sitting out on deck and smoking a cigar. I recommend it. As far as bars are concerned, I don't actually know the name of my favorite Chicago bar, but it has a humongous beer selection, and a big neon sign out front that says "Stop and Drink." The first time I saw that sign, I did what it told me. I wasn't sorry.
posted by Faze at 1:43 PM on July 13, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks folks! I've got a *free* room at the Ritz, wherever that is exactly in relation to everything else, for 5 nights - a deal I just couldn't pass up (plus discounts on all of the amenities). So I'm good to go on that front. Augusts in D.C. are probably somewhat comparable to Chicago's in terms of heat and humidity, but I'll be sure to be prepared anyway.

Wow, there's so much stuff to consider... which is great. It will make planning out the day that much easier and fulfilling. I've always heard such great things about Chicago, so I look forward to this opportunity. I appreciate everyone's input.
posted by Witty at 1:47 PM on July 13, 2004

This will probably repeat what others have said, but...

Cubs tickets can always be found. If you're going solo, go straight to the box office first -- you never know what "day of" tickets will appear. If not, scalping isn't difficult. I lived there for four years while in undergrad, and even my poor, 19 year-old self never went to Wrigley and didn't get in. After the game, grab a beer at the Cubby Bear, or Murphys.

Check out Second City (see the main company if possible), or Too Much Light. The theater scene as a whole is great in the city. Also, Oprah and Jerry Springer tape in Chicago. A Springer taping is pretty racuos.

For all that's wrong with the world, check out the American Doll Store off Michigan Avenue. Watch children pay $20 to have their doll's hair professionally styled.

Cafe Iberico has some of the best Spanish food in the city. Stop in for Tapas and sangria. Hungry for a burger? Poke your head into the Billy Goat Tavern -- home of the Cubs billy goat curse, as well as the inspiration for the SNL "no pepsi" sketch. Reasonable minds will differ on what's the best Chicago pizza. Uno's? Ginos? Eat 'em all, then decide!

Window shop down Michigan Ave. Or State Street.

Pick up the Chicago Reader when you get to town. See what's playing. Brew & View at the Vic was always a good time.

Finally, I believe the CTA sells discounted passes at their airport terminal. One-Day, Three-Day, and Weekly passes. It'll most likely be cheaper than if you bought individual fares.
posted by herc at 2:26 PM on July 13, 2004

I see mentions of Grant Park and music festivals, but not of the Grant Park Music Festival, currently in its 70th season and just about to move, this Friday, to its new home in the Gehry designed Pritzker Pavilion.

Nominally a classical festival, it plays a wide range of orchestral music from Broadway to Britten. This year there seems to be a lot of Corigliano. Two programs a week, each given twice (unless there is a conflict or something else that modifies the schedule): Wed/Fri and Sat/Sun. The best part is that it's all free (subscribers do pay and get the best seats up front, but no subscription is necessary to see and hear).
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 2:37 PM on July 13, 2004

Yes. yes. yes. yes. yes. yes. yes.

I agree with eveything that has been said here. Chicago is a great city to have a few days in (in the right 6 months of the year). To reiterate what others have said:

map room. empty bottle. Gino's (though I prefer Giordano's which is a local chain). Billy Goat Tavern. Architectural Boat Cruise.

Billy Goat is hard to find, however, and many tourists never get there despite looking. Go to Michigan Avenue and the Lake. On the north-west side, which is in front of the wrigley building (white with green windows like a pack-a-wrigley's gum), you'll see some shady stairs that go down below street level. Take 'em. Bill Goat is around the corner from the bottom of the stairs. There's a sign and a small door. Best. Cheseburger. Ever.
posted by zpousman at 2:46 PM on July 13, 2004

One more thing. If you can charter a boat and get out on the lake, the view of the skyline is amazing. Something you will not forget. Staying at the Ritz-Carlton ? That's just unfair! Have a great time.
posted by repoman at 4:03 PM on July 13, 2004

For beer, I doubt one can do better than the Hop Leaf. This bar has a fantastic selection, which includes Delerium Tremens on tap.
posted by funkbrain at 4:30 PM on July 13, 2004

Navy Pier is best avoided - no one who actually lives here ever visits the place. This isn't a condemnation, exactly, but you should know that the place caters primarily to tourists. Every major city has its Navy Pier, you know?

The Hop Leaf is just around the corner from me and really is an excellent place to grab an authentic Belgian pint. A bit expensive and upwardly mobile, but it's really excellent stuff that they serve up. And it's steps away from Too Much Light - another excellent suggestion that's already been made.

Looking through the posts above, it seems people are urging you to sticking around the north side and the loop. Most guidebooks would advise you similarly. Do yourself a favor and get out into the neighborhoods that make chicago what it is. See Pullman, Logan Square, Pilsen and Hyde Park. Grab lunch in Greektown, Chinatown (yes, we have one too) or Little Village.
posted by aladfar at 5:13 PM on July 13, 2004

I second everything in this thread, but be sure to hang around my old neighborhood, Lincoln Park (photos | map), and visit the zoo (it's free!) Wonderful architecture and just a pleasant place to spend a day.
posted by PrinceValium at 5:20 PM on July 13, 2004

If you like ribs I highly recommend the Exchequer The sears tower is over priced as is the observation deck at the Hancock building but the Signature Room is fun with unbelievable views. If the food is a bit too pricey at least go for a drink in the bar. Also, as PrinceValium said the LP zoo is great and free.
posted by arse_hat at 12:23 AM on July 14, 2004

If the timing is right, don't forget to catch MeFi's own KevinSkomsvold in action.
posted by dg at 3:13 AM on July 14, 2004

Third the Architecture Cruise -- take the one run by the Chicago Architectural Foundation, it's better -- or one of their great walking tours.

I also third the Billy Goat Tavern.

My favorite bar in Chicago is the Prodigal Son -- how can you resist the allure of "free bacon night" on Wednesdays?

For a great lunch near the Art Institute, check out the Berghoff. Chicago institution serving German food and their own (good) beer. The Stand Up Bar next door to the sit-down restaurant is a great place for a quick sandwich or brat and a beer.

And it's just a quiet little neighborhood French/Moroccan restaurant, but I really like Rick's Cafe. Great food and super-friendly personal service.

It's certainly not the greatest museum I've ever been to, but I always visit the Museum of Contemporary Art. (It's the one just off Michigan Ave that looks like it was designed by Albert Speer.) It's always fun, nicely laid out, and has interesting shows.

And I don't usually like Lonely Planet guidebooks, but their Chicago guide is really really good.
posted by Vidiot at 8:10 AM on July 15, 2004

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