Now that you are all nearing the end of final paper deadlines, it’s time to take advantage of your much freer schedule by enjoying some of Chicago’s best. Seeing all of the neighborhoods and prioritizing the sites you want to visit and the food you want to eat can be slightly daunting so, for those that need a bit of guidance, here of some of MAPHCentral’s favorite places and things to do in Chicago.
If you have a car and it’s not too cold, going out to the Morton Arboretum is fantastic. It is a great place to walk and feel like you are not in a city and take photographs. If you want to stay in town and do something going to the Julius Meinl on Southport then up to see an old movie at the Music Box Theatre is splendid. Julius Meinl has great coffee, tea and pastries.
For holiday cheer, I love going to the Christkindlmarket and walking around the various stalls while drinking gluwein and getting little paper packets of spiced almonds and pretending I live in a German Christmas village.
For a burger and fries, I like The Grafton in Lincoln Square where you can get curry gravy for your chips and on Sundays there is an Irish bothy band that plays traditional music. However, the best pub in Chicago is the Duke of Perth. It feels the most authentic and there are fish and chip nights and cottage pie.
Speaking of authentic if you want real buckwheat crepes filled with savory stews in an authentic French atmosphere then you want to go to La Creperie on Clark. The Boeuf Bourguinon crepe is excellent and they are close to the Landmark Century Theatre which shows lots of foreign and independent films so you can make an evening of it.
For the best (pricey but really good) cocktail in a speakeasy, meets David Lynch film, meets Wedgewood vase atmosphere you want The Violet Hour and it is nice enough to take your Mom, Aunt, sister etc. and give her a Chicago experience.
(More of MAPHCentral’s favorite things after the jump…)
When I have time off I like to thrift shop. I like the Salvation Army at 509 N Union (about 3 blocks from the Grand blue line stop) for its ‘antique boutique’ on the second floor, which is full of weird beauty. The two best thrift store chains in Chicago for clothes are the Unique Thrifts (go on a 50% off day) and the Village Discount Centers (I recommend the one on Roscoe (between Damen and Western) which is close to a pretty nice, low key bar called the Village Tap for washing your hands and drinking beer post-thrifting). I should add, though, that my favorite thrift stores are cheap, not clean and do not have changing rooms. If chaos, bizarre organizational choices and a general dirtiness aren’t what you like when buying clothes, then this is probably not something you want to do with your vacation …
Perhaps instead, though, you might like to take advantage of not having to get up early in the morning and go out and see a rock show. The Empty Bottle (Western near Augusta) has some good stuff coming up in December. And something about the strange coziness of The Hideout (Wabansia, sort of in back of the Home Depot on North Ave.) is perfect in December. You should go there even if you’re not sure what any of the shows are exactly. Keep an eye out for their famous soup and bread nights.
Or if grubby rock clubs are also not for you, perhaps you want to eat actually delicious pizza. My favorite pizza in Chicago is at Pizza D.O.C. on Lawrence. Coalfire on Grand is a close second. Small thin pizzas cooked in wood- (Pizza D.O.C.) or coal-fired (Coalfire) ovens. Holiday pizza. What could be better? Better might be if you wanted to spend some cash you really shouldn’t spend and went to Nightwood in Pilsen. Not pizza. But delicious.
My final winter break recommendation is to go to the lakefront as often as possible, especially on cold, stormy days when Lake Michigan shows you why there are so many shipwrecks under the cold waters of the Great Lakes. The Point is of course the best place on the lake. but since you guys have all been there, why not go north, maybe to Montrose Beach, which puts you conveniently close to a bird sanctuary on the lakefront that encountered at the right moment makes the city feel very very far away. And, best part, all these things are accessible by public transit from Hyde Park.
It’s hard to narrow down my favorite places to eat in Chicago, but if you’re in the mood for Indian Food, Standard India (on Belmont right off the red line stop) is awesome. Pay $17 and get an unlimited spread of their best dishes (including bottomless samosas) and a free shot of mango lassi at the end of the meal. If you’re looking for something a bit trendier, Hot Chocolate is slowly becoming famous thanks to Mindy Segal, the owner and awesome pastry chef, and her incredible ability to incorporate chocolate into just about any dish.
If you’re just in the mood for a drink, the beer selections at The Bluebird (a few doors down from Hot Chocolate on Damen) and Bangers & Lace (Division Street, right off the Division blue line stop) are two of my favorite go-to places. The Bluebird has a little fireplace in the back and their front room is cozy and full of exposed brick walls. Bangers & Lace is really laid back and also very cozy this time of year. Plus, both places have incredible small plate options if your “just drinks” night turns into “I need some food.”
As far as places to see, this time of year I love just walking down Michigan Avenue to ogle at the holiday window displays. I know it might seem a bit touristy and commercial, but since I, for one, can’t afford the ridiculous prices on that street, it feels good to have something to do up there that’s free this time of year. Plus, they do the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival through the end of January, so it turns into somewhat of a winter wonderland at night when there’s snow on the ground. From there, you can wander over to the Museum of Contemporary Art, which is always fantastic. Their gift shop is great this time of year for finding little interesting, one-of-a-kind gifts for family or friends (and it’s actually affordable).
Cafe Lula in Logan Square is fancy and has a glass bar and a piano in it that no one will ever play probably, but the late afternoon light hits it just so while you’re eating lunch. People in Chicago freagin love brunch, and if you’re like them, this is the place for you. Somewhat expensive, but good if you want to celebrate something or treat yourself or go on a fancy date, like all the kids are doing. There are really nice people at the bar, who are dedicated to making innovative cocktails before your very eyes. And if you go there alone for several nights in a row, they might give you a free glass of wine (not because you look lonely…but I’m assuming because I looked so cool sitting there…).
The Happy Village is a nice Ukrainian Village bar. Their picturesque beer garden is closed, but you could always go there and chill at their white tile bar, which makes you think you’re drinking in a Turkish bathhouse (although I’ve never been to such a place, but instead, just the Happy Village). Bonus: there’s ping pong in the back!
I also really like The Charleston. I only went there once, about a week ago, but it has a good beer selection and a homey, yet lively, wooden interior. Another Bucktown bar, Danny’s, has a Wednesday poetry reading series that has been going on for a while and is pretty fun. Keep an eye out for less classy bar suggestions in a future blog post: The Dive Bar Challenge.
Movie theaters exist!
The Green Mill is a fun jazz place in Uptown, of which people like to say “It hasn’t been redecorated since Al Capone used to go there! Lolz!” While that’s probably not true it still looks pretty1920′sed out inside, especially if you go there for Gypsy jazz (Wednesdays, I think).
Favorite Can’t Miss Secret Amazing thing: The Bloomingdale Trail
Favorite Can’t Miss Secret Museum that’s Really Obvious: Mexican Art Museum (with Lunch at Nuevo Leon)
Favorite Coffee Place: Noble Tree
Favorite Italian Restaurant: Caro Mio
Favorite Dive: Happy Village
Favorite Not Dive: Gilt Bar
Favorite Pizza: Coal Fire Pizza
Favorite Burger: DMK Burger Bar
Favorite Encased Meats: Hot Doug’s (seriously, it’s not even close)
Favorite Ice Cream: Margies Candy Shop
Favorite Pub: The Duke of Perth
Favorite Sandwich Shop: Murray’s
Favorite Museum: Columbia Museum of Contemporary Photography
Favorite Store: Goorin’s Hat Shop (Wicker Park)
Favorite Drink: Sasarac at Whistler
Favorite French: Bistro Campagne
Favorite Brunch: Longman and Eagle
Favorite Ethiopian: Ethiopian Diamond
Favorite place to sweaty dance: Kerryman
Favorite Unintentionally Trashy Place: The Roof (at The Wit)
Favorite Purposefully Trashy Place: The Weiner Circle
Favorite Place to Drink a Beer: The Charleston
Favorite Place to Drink a Glass of Wine: Telegraph