Dear ESB -
I know it's last minute but I'm going to Chicago this weekend and the last time I went was over 5 years ago with my frat-tastic and very cheap college boyfriend (read: all we did was eat pizza and go to some weird Dave and Buster's style bar).
Do you know anyone who could give me some tips on the best places to eat/drink/be merry? Or would you be willing to put it out to your readers?
Just call me A MIRACLE WORKER.
Actually, Hillary is the miracle worker. (Remember Hillary? She's the one who overshared her wedding over here.) She's a graphic designer, obvs, and she lives on the north side with her very cool husband and a cat.
Here is Hillary's Guide to Chicago:
Chicago is a city of neighborhoods. I realize that most cities are, but they are really distinct here (like, segregation distinct). In my opinion, there's little reason to spend time downtown, aside from going to museums. You'll probably want to hang out on the north or west sides. As an ESB reader, my guess is that you'll prefer the following neighborhoods: Logan Square, Wicker Park / Ukrainian Village and Andersonville. There are other great places to hang out (West Loop, West Town, Ravenswood/Lincoln Square, pockets of Lakeview, Pilsen), but these are the areas where I spend the most time.
Chicago is on a grid system. Getting a brief understanding of how the streets are set up will help you get oriented. The train system here is the CTA (Chicago Transit Authority), but is also referred to as the "el" (which stands for elevated). The trains are fairly easy to understand. You'll probably only ride on the blueline (Wicker Park/Ukrainian Village and Logan Square), redline (Lakeview, Andersonville) and/or brownline (Lakeview, Lincoln Square) – all of which can be caught downtown.
Things are changing here a ton right now. It seems like a bunch of new stuff has popped up in the past year (and there's a lot of new stuff on the horizon). I'm actually suggesting a few places I haven't been because they've been so hot. Fellow Chicagoans, please chime in!
Stay at Longman & Eagle (in Logan Square) if you can. Otherwise, there's a new hotel in Lakeview that looks nice called Hotel Lincoln. There's another new hotel which I just heard about called Acme Hotel Company (which is downtown, in River North).
(Longman & Eagle)
Art and architecture are some of the best things Chicago has going for it. The new(ish) modern wing at the Art Institute is pretty special and there's an exhibit I want to check out right now about a local architecture firm, Studio Gang. The MCA is fun and managable. If you are really into architecture, the Architecture Foundation's boat tour is popular. You could also take a trip out to Oak Park to see the Frank Lloyd Wright Home & Studio and/or head down to IIT to see the student center by Rem Koolhaus and the other buildings by Mies van der Rohe.
Millennium Park is pretty slick – it's fun to just walk around all the different areas and the big installation art there is pretty great, even if it's a bit touristy.
If you'd rather listen to music, I'd check what's happening on Oh My Rockness. If you don't know anything specific, and just want to hear live music, I'd check out the Empty Bottle – it's my favorite venue. If you want to check out comedy (it IS Chicago)… I'm sorry, I'm not much help. Live comedy kind of scares me. I saw Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind once and really liked it. Or you could check out Second City.
If you are sportier or more outdoorsy, you could try any of the following: kayak the river (fun but kind of gross); bike/walk the lakeshore path; get drunk at Wrigley; hang out in one of many many parks; go to the beach.
Man, there are SO many good places to eat and drink in Chicago. There is no way I could cover everything worth covering. I think people sort of find their niche. Mine centers around beer. There are tons of fancy-pants cocktail bars in Chicago but my husband is a beer blogger so we frequent breweries and beer bars. Here are some of MY top suggestions of places to eat and drink broken down by neighborhood (this list is SO not inclusive)...
Logan Square / Avondale:
Gaslight Coffee Roasters – this place is new and I actually haven't been there during the day (it soft-opened last Saturday) but I went to an after-hours party there Friday and it was pretty slick.
Lula – Probably my favorite restaurant in Chicago, totally classic.
Hot Doug's – A classic Chicago dog is pretty great and you can get it anywhere, but might as well get it here along with an antelope sausage and some duck fat fries.
Kuma's – Great great burgers.
Longman & Eagle – Great drinks but better for drinking AND eating b/c the bar space isn't big.
Revolution Brewing – One of our many many local breweries.
(Hot Doug's courtesy of Todd Markle)
Andersonville / Uptown:
Hopleaf – This is a very popular Belgian bar – classic Belgian and new American beers alongside mussels and some great sandwiches.
Coffee Studio – Great coffee bar (owned by 2 alums of my graduate design program).
Tweet – One of my favorite places for brunch – good vibe and great breakfast cocktails.
Lincoln Square / North Center:
City Provisions – Cleetus (the owner and head chef) is amazing. Go here on Sunday for brunch or to buy food out of deli case or off shelves.
Fountainhead – Great beer bar with excellent roof (food = meh).
Tiny Lounge – Cool little cocktail bar – gets super crowded at night on the weekends; good food.
Intelligentsia – One of the biggest coffee brands in the city, the downtown location is hip (but doesn't have a ton of seating).
XOCO – Rick Bayless's taqueria. Good for lunch if you are downtown.
Pastoral – Great sandwiches or picnic basket-type meals to go. Also great place to pick up wine or foodstuffs to take home with you.
Watershed – One of the only bars downtown that I frequent. Everything here is from around the Great Lakes region. Bluegrass on Thursdays.
(Chicago-style pizza courtesy of Time Out Chicago)
Lakeview / Lincoln Park:
Bowtruss – Another new coffee place. I haven't been to the location but I'm currently drinking my buddy Max's collaboration blend.
Heritage Bicycles – and general store and coffee house…
FishBar – I love this place – I've had so many good experiences here. It's cool and casual and has a great staff.
Pequod's – My husband's favorite pizza in the city.
Gingerman and Sheffield's – If you end up at Wrigley, these are the only bars to go to nearby that aren't frightening. Good beer bars.
Delilah's and Local Option – 2 bars in this preppy area that don't feel like they belong here. Delilah's is a whisky bar, Local Option a beer destination – but both are kind of punk rock (at least in my estimation).
Piece – Pizzeria and microbrewery – more of a sports bar but really good pizza.
Big Star and Antique Taco – The former has amazing food but I've had crappy service there; the latter I've never actually been to but heard good things.
Map Room – Classic Chicago beer bar.
Small Bar – Another (smaller) beer bar that I think has been revamped a ton since I was last in (have met the owner a few times).
West Loop / West Side:
Girl and the Goat – one of the most talked about Chicago restaurants (Stephanie Izard won Top Chef). I hate hyped places but this lived up to everything I had heard.
Haymarket – Chicago brewery kind of sports bar(ish) but the beer is good.
(Girl and the Goat by Anna Knott courtesy of Chicago Magazine)
Maria's Packaged Goods – Another hip beer bar (in Bridgeport).
Pleasant House Bakery – This awesome savory pie place is near Maria's in Bridgeport.
Simone's – ANOTHER hip beer bar (in Pilsen).
Downtown is full of large chain stores. If you are from a tiny tiny town, this may be fabulous for you. The sales tax is HIGH but there's a huge selection. We have all of those cheap-but-trendy stores like Forever 21, Zara, Topshop, H&M, etc. Check out Michigan Avenue and State Street. If you are looking more for fancy name-brand stuff, you'll want to do the Gold Coast area around Oak Street. I think the best area for boutique shopping is Bucktown (Damen between Webster and North, maybe – and then down Milwaukee). Penelope's is my favorite boutique (on Division in Uk Village). Haberdash for great for men (River North).
Akira is a local chain here. Dovetail looks awesome but I haven't been yet. We have a Madewell in the 'burbs and the 2nd BHLDN shop in the US.
Home stores (new + vintage):
Scout, Brimfield, Post 27, Broadway & Edgewater antique malls (right near each other), Orange Moon, Roost, Jayson H&G, Wooly Mammoth (these two new places look good but I haven't been yet: Roadtrip and Caza).
Foursided, Marguerite Gardens, Hazel, Haymaker, Art Effect, Martyn George...
I find the eat.shop guides, now renamed Rather, to be highly reliable.
My friend Jess wrote the Chicago design*sponge guide.
For a laugh before you come, check out #SOYEAHDUH (a Chicago GIF blog)
Image at top: Millennium Park's Crown Fountain via A AS Architecture
I know the city guides are sorta taking over the blog. BUT YOU GUYS KEEP ASKING FOR THEM. (p.s. Email me if you want to write up Barcelona or Paris.)