Learning the Chicago L
June 18, 2008 7:08 PM   Subscribe

I am planning a trip to Chicago this weekend, and my goal is to learn the L by picking fun stops across the city (my husband and I are ex-New Yorkers who love mass transit.) What are some suggestions for fun places to shop/eat/sight-see that are close to L stops? Our starting point is Diversey and N Clark, but we hope to cover a lot of territory. Please include descriptions about your recommendations and (of course) the nearest L station name.
posted by elgalan207 to Travel & Transportation around Chicago, IL (26 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Addison & Sheffield is right next to Wrigley Field, and full of bars/restaurants (red Line)

North/Milwaukee is in the heart of wicker park neighbor, full of music venues/restaurants, neat little stores, and insufferable hipsters (Blue Line)

FWIW...I wouldnt take the Green, just because there are very few stops that are not a tad dangerous.

Cermack stop, south on the Red Line will take you to Chinatown

on all, there is tons to do within a few blocks of the stop

hope that helps!

posted by timsteil at 7:13 PM on June 18, 2008


TransitChicago has system maps, schedules etc. Plus I think there an info number.
posted by timsteil at 7:20 PM on June 18, 2008

The Green Line is sketchy, but should be fine in the day. The 2 Green Line stops not to be missed are Conservatory/Central Park drive, where you can go to the oldest indoor botanical gardens in the US at Garfield Park (again, daytime only). The other notable Green stop is 35th-Bronzeville, where you can walk around the modernist campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Two of my favorite bars in Chicago are off of the Western/Milwaukee Blue Line stop. The Green Eye, which is literally underneath the station, and The Map Room, which is about 1/2 mile east down Armitage. Green Eye is a nice place to grab a drink, and The Map Room is one of the finest beer bars in the world. Especially if you like Belgian beer. No food at either, btw.
posted by hwyengr at 7:24 PM on June 18, 2008

If it's helpful to you while planning, here are the addresses of all the rail stations.

And hey, don't knock the Green. It takes me from vaguely near my house to vaguely near a Target. And (!) to the Loop. Oh, the versatility...
posted by phunniemee at 7:25 PM on June 18, 2008

Go to the Matchbox just off Grand on the blue line. A tiny, narrow local bar, with a nice-ish restaurant just behind it. Take the green line to IIT and see the new Rem Koolhaas building (although don't fall for the CTA's "take the green line to the Museum of Science and Industry" routine. Take the red line to Garfield/55th and take the bus. Do not take the green line to Garfield.)

Get off the blue line at Western and have a drink at the Green Eye, right underneath (there's also a nice coffee shop next door). Ride the brown line past Belmont, or the pink line down to Pilsen and see what actual neighborhoods in Chicago look like.

Part of the problem with Chicago is that a lot of the really interesting things (or at least the things I love) aren't that close to any L stop, and usually require a walk or bus ride of some distance.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 7:27 PM on June 18, 2008

Take the Red Line to Lawrence and walk to Broadway to go to the Green Mill, or even better, catch the Sunday night poetry slam with Mark Smith (so what!).
posted by scblackman at 7:29 PM on June 18, 2008

Oh, and note that Garfield Park and Garfield/55th are two totally different locations. The Garfield Park Conservatory is excellent. Hope that clears things up.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 7:29 PM on June 18, 2008

If you're interested in college campuses, the Garfield/55th stop (Green) takes you within a mile of the University of Chicago campus, which is awesome.
posted by phunniemee at 7:33 PM on June 18, 2008

This should be exactly what you're looking for and provide infinite possibilities:

2nding timsteil: Wrigleyville, Chinatown and Wicker Park are all awesome.

If you have time, a trip up north on the purple to Evanston might be fun, it's kinda a ivy league college-townish (Northwestern is there). Try the Davis, Foster or Dempster stops.

Downtown is also fabulous (Obviously).

Have fun!
posted by jkl345 at 7:38 PM on June 18, 2008

I guess you could head over to Maxwell Street, though I hear they done gentrified all the life out of it. Still, you might somehow commune with the spirits and ghosts of the blues there.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:54 PM on June 18, 2008

When I ride the red line I take it from one end (the northern Howard stop) to downtown.

Here's what I have done that I recommend, in order by L stop north to south:

Howard -- not much
Jarvis -- again, not much
Morse -- if you walk to the northern exit and look to your left you'll find the Heartland Cafe, a wonderfully marxist restaurant with a liberal-anarchist general store and healthy food.
Loyola -- the college campus is here, but not much worth hanging out at
Granville -- immediately to your right as you exit the station is Gino's North, my favorite haunt. The air conditioning unit will drip on you as you walk in the door, there's always some kind of $2 drink special, and the pizza (my favorite in the city) is cooked (forever) by a 90 year old woman named peggy in the kitchen. Not at all related to Gino's East
Thorndale...Bryn Mawr...Berwyn -- never gotten off here
Argyle -- Vietnamese food everywhere. I've only had (and can recommend) "Tank Noodle" on the southeast corner of the intersection due west of the L stop. It's a fun neighborhood and the restaurants have an odd naming convention of Pho 333, Pho 444, Pho 555, etc.
Lawrence -- a few music theaters (Aragon ballroom, for example)
Wilson...Sheridan -- not much
Addison -- Wrigleyville, with tons and tons of bars and Wrigley Field (go cubs go!)
Belmont -- restaurants, bars, shops, and things to do as far as they eye can see
Fullerton -- I enjoy Clarke's, a diner right beneath this stop (or is that at Belmont?)
North/Clybourn -- lots of shops here, but of the Crate & Barrel variety. If you were traveling by car it is fun to drive north on clybourn to see how many miles and miles of retail shops stretch along this area
Clark/Division -- nada mucho
Chicago/State -- right at the top (and just a hair west) of the Magnificent Mile. It's worth getting off here and walking east to Michigan Avenue, down Michigan Ave, and then west again on Grand to the Grand/State red line stop just so you can feel like you've seen what all the tourist have seen
Grand/State -- just a hair north of the river, near the house of blues and some annoying construction on State. Easy L stop to notice because it looks like shit right now
Lake/State You're in the loop now...to much to describe. This stop will connect you to the elevated trains that make up the downtown loop
Washington...Monroe...Jackson all in the loop. You're talking everything from Old Navy to our main library to the Gene Siskel film center, etc. etc.
Roosevelt you can walk east of this towards the lake to hit up the Field Museum, Adler Planetarium, or Shedd Aquarium. All of which are awesome.
South of that the red line lets you off on bridges over the interstate. If there is much to do, I don't know of it.

"not much" only means I don't know of much. The great thing about Chicago is that there is tons, you just have to get out and explore it.

If you are using google maps you can click on "use public transporation" to plan routes using the L and bus system.

Good luck!
posted by ztdavis at 8:16 PM on June 18, 2008 [2 favorites]

Maxwell street may not be the blues haven it used to be, but sunday mornings on canal the market still exists in one form or another. It's more of a gigantic hispanic flea market now. As far as blue line goes I'd actually recommend the division or damen stops over western. It's easier to get to some fun stores and whatnot without too much of a hike or bus transfers (I find it's usually hard to get the hang of bus routes in a city you don't live in). Gentrified as hell, but personally kind of enjoy that as I get to see some interesting design. From the division stop you can either head west on division or northwest on milwaukee to reach damen and north.

You could also check out old town, accessible by the sedgewick stop on brown or the clark/division stop on red. The full force of it exists primarily down wells, so east of sedgewick, west of clark/division, south both times.

Finally if you're going to hit up wrigleyville, I'd start from belmont and work my way north up clark or halsted rather than heading straight to addison. The latter's going to get you through boystown, the former through raucous drinking.
posted by Teira at 8:24 PM on June 18, 2008

Oh and the post on top of me mentioned the loyola stop on red. If you get off there and take the 151 bus west you'll go through the little india district. some great food down there.
posted by Teira at 8:25 PM on June 18, 2008

Teira is right, where Devon and Western meet is like a little slice of India.

sorry, I don't do busses
posted by ztdavis at 8:40 PM on June 18, 2008

Get off the red line at Belmont and check out some of the great counter culture stores in the area.
posted by intoxicate at 8:55 PM on June 18, 2008

Lawrence -- a few music theaters (Aragon ballroom, for example) [on the Red Line]

the Green Mill is at this stop, but it can be dodgy if you're not confident of your ability to dodge muggers later at night.
posted by RedEmma at 9:48 PM on June 18, 2008

The Green Mill is a must stop, and yes, it's a bit sketchy, but you'll see not only the Aragon Ballroom (which is open) but the Uptown Theater, which is not (which is a tragedy.) Oh, and the station you come out of on that stop was a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed building that they ripped the second floor off of in order to make the stop. Plus there are a lot of vacant tracks that run nearby the platform and don't seem to go anywhere, left over from railroad lines that used to run through.

used to wait at that stop every day
posted by davejay at 11:01 PM on June 18, 2008

Brown Line:

Chicago Avenue: Art galleries and bistros galore. A definite must.
Sedgwick: Old town residential neighborhood; nice walks, but nothing you're not going to see off the Red Line betw Fullerton and Armitage.
speaking of Armitage: Red & Brown double up from Armitage to Belmont. You can only get off Brown (no Red) at Armitage and Wellington. Again, nice residential walks, some interesting independent shops.
Southport: The bottom edge of a nice residential and shopping area. Closest stop (?) to the Music Box Theater. There's a Julius Meinl coffee shop near here too (not that familiar with the area, so correct me, fellow Chicagoans)
next 6 stops: more nice walking neighborhoods. There's a nice seafood restaurant practically underneath the Montrose stop, and the city's best boutique pizza at Rockwell (Pizza Art). In this set, definitely get off at Western and check out Lincoln Square. This is the old German neighborhood. You want to find Lincoln Avenue between Lawrence and Leland. It's full of really nice mom-and-pops (with a couple of jarring-note chains like Potbelly). Go into Merz Pharmacy, a fully stocked homeopathic pharmacy. Have a pastry at Cafe Selmarie.
Personally I don't think the Brown Line past Rockwell is all that interesting unless you're really into checking out Chicago neighborhoods. But hey, might as well go all the way to the end.

Just on another note-- my father used to do this in unfamiliar cities. He would take a given line to the end and then walk back to his starting point. As long as you keep the L in sight, you won't get lost. On the red and brown lines you can do this (if you have the time and energy) without fearing for your safety.
posted by nax at 6:34 AM on June 19, 2008

If you're starting on Diversey and N Clark, you may want to consider including the 22 Clark, 36 Broadway (down clark or broadway respectively -- note that every 800 that you go up in addresses is about a mile usually, wihch helps in deciding if it's walkable), or 151 Sheridan bus (good if you're going towards North Ave beach, the zoo, and so on) in your travels.

From your starting point on Diversey/Clark, I'd walk up Clark (I think Broadway is a prettier walk but it takes longer) until Belmont, then turn and try out Ann Sather's for breakfast. It starts getting busy about 9:30 am, but earlier it's usually line-free (possible exception on Cubs game days). From there you can get on Belmont (red/brown line), and take some of the stops suggested. When you return, there's also Duke of Perth (clark and wellington approximately), which has good Scottish beer
posted by ejaned8 at 7:24 AM on June 19, 2008

To add to ztdavis' compendium of the Red Line:

Thorndale - walk one block west to Broadway. A block or so north is Ethiopian Diamond, delicious Ethiopian food. Or, a block south is Moody's - great burgers and one of the best outdoor dining spaces on the north side.

Argyle - Tank Noodle is good, but I love Pho 777 just east of the station for really delicious, really cheap food.

Grand/State - walk east, go south on Lower Michigan 2 blocks - and you're at the Billy Goat Tavern! Home of "cheeseborger cheeseborger! no fries, cheeps!" and MeFi meetups.

Just a warning, the Red Line is slow as molasses on weekends thanks to all the construction.
posted by misskaz at 7:24 AM on June 19, 2008

The Blue will take you to Oak Park, home of the best used record store ever and near to one of the best nightclubs ever. Oh, and some dude designed a lot of houses there too.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:38 AM on June 19, 2008

Regarding the red being slow on the weekends, it's also confusing as hell on the weekends, what with going elevated and whatnot. The subway stations between roosevelt and north/clybourne close and the red is moved along the brown line tracks. (seriously why do they do that when A) all the tourists are out and about and B) all the college students from the south loop are looking for somewhere to go?)
posted by Teira at 12:08 PM on June 19, 2008

just a quick note: the green line is not suitable for for accessing the university of chicago. most people take a bus from downtown.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 1:34 PM on June 19, 2008

Seconding the Damen Ave stop on the Blue Line. Check out Sultan's Market for my favorite falafel shop (and the kefta kebob sandwich, spicy). I'm hungry just thinking about it.

Piece is good for pizza and homebrewed beer

Oh, and seconding the abundance of insufferable hipsters at that stop.
posted by moitz at 3:58 PM on June 19, 2008

Don't forget about Evanston on the purple line. The Davis stop is cute downtown Evanston with its shopping, cafes and restaurants and Northwestern's beautiful campus right on the lake. There are some good restaurants and bars closer to the Dempster stop as well.

If you're a foodie at all, check out this google map from the folks at LTHForum, Chicago's best foodie forum. The map shows the locations of the award winners of their Best Neighborhood Restaurants Awards.

Some of my personal favorites are: La Unica, which has a Cuban style cafeteria in the back of a latin grocery store. It is walkable from the Loyola stop on the red line. Laschett's Inn has great german food and beer, but its a bit far from any El station. However, the Lincoln bus stops near it. If you find yourself missing the Jewish deli cafeterias found in NYC, check out Manny's, walkable from the Clinton stop on the blue line or the Roosevelt stop on the green and orange lines. Coalfire, near the Grand blue line stop, has excellent pizza cooked in a coal-fired oven and is BYOB. Finally, Hopleaf has an awesome Belgian beer selection and some of the best mussels and steak frites in the city. It is in Andersonville which is a really cute neighborhood with shopping, restaurants, bars, etc. and is walkable from the Berwyn red line stop. But yeah, take a look at that google map and just see what strikes your fancy.
posted by AceRock at 5:29 PM on June 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

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