It is important to get away from the trade show for a minute, a few hours, or if possible, an afternoon. When I travel to other cities for shows, I try to do at least one local thing. For me, this means something that is not touristy and not in the central downtown district or right near the show location. And usually for me, it involves eating.
City of Neighborhoods
Chicago is often called a city of neighborhoods. Each small area used to be dominated by one ethnic group or another. You can still find ethnic neighborhoods, they are just not as concentrated as they used to be. Get out into the neighborhoods. This is where you will find the real Chicago. I’m coming up on my 14th year as a citizen of Chicago. I actually live in the city in one of these storied neighborhoods. All of the places I’m recommending are places I enjoy. I am not getting any consideration from them for the recommendation.
If you are attending a show at McCormick Place, Chicago’s Chinatown neighborhood is within walking distance for most people. It’s a fifteen minute walk. There are some great Chinese-American restaurants there and cool fun shopping. I recommend you check out Three Happiness Restaurant (https://www.yelp.com/biz/three-happiness-original-restaurant-chicago)
Downtown aka The Loop
If you are staying in the Loop (Chicago’s downtown) or your show is there, you can walk to a few different neighborhoods depending on where you are staying. If you are Michigan Ave at the Marriott or the Inter Continental, you can walk to River North in 15 minutes. I would recommend checking out the Green Door Tavern. It’s one of the oldest taverns in Chicago and I feel it has real Chicago Charm. The building is actually sinking into the notoriously unstable Chicago dirt. So, the door itself is at a very odd angle (http://www.greendoorchicago.com/).
If you are in the West part of the Loop near Willis Tower (aka Sears Tower) you have to go to Greek town! It’s also about a 15 minute walk. While there check out the few specialty shops and then head over to The Greek Islands (http://www.greekislands.net/) for a great meal!
Taking the “L”
I’ve noticed that many things in this article so far have quotation marks around them. That’s because in Chicago most things have their real name and then the name we call things. The “L”, “EL”, Elevated train or CTA is one of those quintessential Chicago things. And for my money, one of the best ways to see the neighborhoods.
From McCormick Place
McCormick place seems to be unnecessarily inconvenient to get to. It’s a 15 minute walk to the nearest train station or a 5- 10 minute bus ride. Even though the train is called The El (short for elevated) not all lines are above ground at all stops. So, don’t let that throw you off. If there isn’t a major Cubs Game, jump on the Red Line heading TOWARD HOWARD. This will take you toward downtown and then underground. Just stick with it! When you come back out from underground you will be at the Fullerton Stop; go a few more stops to Addison. You’ll have a great view of Wrigley Field right from the train platform. Check out the Cubs store and get your picture in front of the iconic marquee. After you soak up all your sports you can walk east to East Wrigleyville also known as Boystown. It’s Chicago’s gay neighborhood. If that’s not your scene don’t be put off. It’s an amazing neighborhood. While there go to the Chicago Diner (http://www.veggiediner.com/) Yes, it’s a vegetarian diner and if you didn’t know that and where just feed the food you would never guess it! It’s SO GOOD.
From the Loop
From the loop you can grab a train to almost anywhere. I would recommend getting on the Brown line toward Kimball. There is something about the Brown Line that seems quaint to me for some reason. I don’t know if it’s because they use smaller trains, that the brown line is never underground, or that out toward the end of the line, it is actually at street level like a street car or trolley but I find the Brown Line to be less hustle and bustle than the other lines. On the Brown Line get off at Western and walk 1 block Northeast to Lincoln Square. The whole neighborhood has become known as Lincoln Square but the actual square is just Northeast of the station. There you will find some cool shops and the Chicago Brauhaus (http://chicagobrauhaus.com/). If you like giant portions of German food, this is the place! Also on the weekend there is a live band and polka dancing. After dinner or lunch at the Brauhaus walk Southeast on Lincoln (it’s one of Chicago’s diagonal streets). In a few block you will come to the Davis Movie theater, a great old theater that has been around since the twenties and the Old Town School of Folk Music. The Old Town School often has concerts of folk and traditional music so check out the schedule (https://www.oldtownschool.org/ ).
Even though Chicago is still the country’s third biggest city, it’s not hard to drive in. If you are bringing your car or you want to hop in a cab or ride share service to really get away from it all, your options are endless.
From McCormick Place
If you have a car or are paying a fair you don’t want to just drive all over the place. I would recommend heading over to the Bridgeport Neighborhood. If you have heard of the Chicago South Side Irish, this is one of the places to find them. You will also find the home of the Chicago White Sox there. And any trip to Bridgeport would be remiss without stopping at Schaller’s Pump. They are so old school they don’t even have a website but check out Yelp for info (https://www.yelp.com/biz/schallers-pump-chicago). If you miss eating in your Gramma’s kitchen, Schaller’s is the place for you.
From the Loop
If you have your car with you and you are heading out of town or are up for a super fun adventure I have one for you. I call it, three parts of the world in 1 day! For exact directions use Google maps or something. Here is a thumbnail sketch of the plan. Head North out of the Loop on Lake Shore drive. Admire the amazing view of the lake and get off at Lawrence Ave. You will be in Uptown. Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood was the Harlem of 1920’s Chicago. It was where our Black Renaissance took place. On the corner of Broadway and Lawrence you will both the Green Mill, a historic bar and jazz club (http://greenmilljazz.com/) and Demara, (http://www.demeraethiopian.com/) an excellent Ethiopian restaurant. Head north on Broadway to Argyle street. There you will find Chicago’s Vietnamese neighborhood. Go to Tank Noodle at the corner of Broadway and Argyle (https://www.tank-noodle.com) and check out the shops on Argyle and along Broadway. In just a few blocks you can travel from 1920’s Chicago, to Ethiopia, and then to Vietnam!
All Work and No Play…
You know the old saying about all work and no play making “Jack a dull boy.” I think it’s a bit more than that. All work: standing on hard floors under artificial light just isn’t good for you. You need to get outside. So, I hope my little guide of a few things you can do in Chicago is a help. If you have any questions, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org