Chicago Style Italian Beef

Today we’re examining Chicago Style Italian Beef including the history, the ingredients and most importantly where to get it. In the past we’ve broken down Chicago Deep Dish Pizza and it is probably more involved than you might think.

Chicago Style Italian Beef History

We’re not sure why we Chicagoans have such a hard time with history and getting stories straight. Who started the Great Chicago Fire of 1871? Where did we get our Chicago Nicknames? Italian Beef also has some debatable origins. Here are a handful of the most recognized theories.

  1. 1925 a company by the name of Scala’s Original Beef and Sausage Company started in Chicago. (Spoiler alert: it still does operate and supplies many Chicago restaurants with their meat for beef sandwiches). According to them the Italian Beef was introduced at weddings and banquets. The roasted beef was sliced thing and served on bread to help “stretch” the food to feed the many guests. It was, needless to say, a very popular item and the rest is history.
  2. Then there is the story of an Italian immigrant working in the Chicago Stock Yards in the early 1900s. (The stock yards were Chicago’s meat-packing district, and Chicago led the world in meat packing back then). The worker would take home the less desirable cuts of meat that the company sold and according to the story made literally the same exact thing that is served today: roast the beef in Italian spices and broth, slice it, serve on Italian bread. This one seems a bit far-fetched, but we love it.
  3. And while perhaps not the inventory of Italian Beef sandwiches we do have to tip our caps to Al Ferreri and his sister and brother-in-law, Frances and Chris Pacelli. Why? Because that trio is responsible for opening Al’s Beef in 1938. The restaurant is still open today and has expanded quite a bit. In fact there is one in Dubai now!

Regardless of who invented the Chicago Style Italian Beef when we know this much – it’s dang good. Let’s take a closer look at the ingredients used to make these sandwiches.

Chicago Style Italian Beef Ingredients

Al’s Beef Chicago Style Italian Sausage. Don’t you tell us this doesn’t make you hungry.

We like this part the best. So often we don’t know what were eating. A Chicago Style Italian Beef? Easy, it’s meat, bread, juice and maybe some peppers, right? Not so fast…

The meat used to make an Italian Beef sandwich is beef. Typically it’s one of three different cuts of meat: sirloin rear, bottom round or top round. Bottom Round is by far the most popular which if you look at the graphic below it would be a 32 lb. cut of beef just above the shank on the outside of the steer’s hind legs.

Study and remember these cuts the next time you are shopping for beef in the grocery store.                                                                                                                        Source: Yzmo at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)

Most likely the cut used in Italian Beef is going to be from the Bottom Round because it’s lean and it’s the cheapest cut. However the meat isn’t as tender as some of the other cuts. To make the meat soft and delicious it’s roasted at a medium heat in a garlicky broth infused with Italian spices such as oregano. This style of roasting in a liquid is called a wet roast. Depending on the exact style of cut and how long the beef is roasted you could lose almost half of the weight during the cooking process. Yikes!

Once the beef is cooked it’s then sliced thin in a deli slicer and returned to it’s broth to cook some more before being served to you on an Italian roll with your choice of peppers – either sweet or hot.

You’re going to get your choice – sweet or hot peppers. Of course you could opt for neither, but if you take one or the other here is what you’re getting:

  • Sweet Peppers – the pepper is actually called the Friggitello, but you might here it in the streets called “Golden Greek”. We (Americans) will often times confuse this with a peperoncini – THIS IS NOT a peperoncini. Oh, and often times if you order sweet peppers on your Italian Beef you could get simply cooked green bell peppers, which is OK too.
  • Hot Peppers – Mmm. This is where it’s at! When you order hot peppers on your Chicago Style Italian Beef you aren’t simply going to get a couple of whole peppers thrown on there. You’re going to get a hot relish of pickled vegetables that INCLUDE peppers called Giardiniera. (Pronounced: JAR – DIH – NAIR – AH) This HOT style relish is a Chicago thing and we’ll often times add sport peppers to kick it up a notch. The remaining vegetables include carrots, celery, cauliflower, serrano peppers and gherkins. There can be an entire post on Giardiniera – which is a good idea…

Some places you can have them throw cheese on top, typically melted mozzarella. We’ve had it. It’s not bad – actually it’s quite good. However, there is just something that feels “right” about not getting cheese. No one is going to look at you crazy if you order a cheesy beef though.

And when you order you are definitely going to be asked “Wet or Dry?” This can throw a first-timer off. You might be wondering, “wait…what? it’s a sandwich..” Here is what you need to know to properly answer:

  • Wet: The beef gets pulled from the broth with tongs and is immediately put onto the Italian roll – most of the juices are soaked into the bread.
  • Dry: The beef gets pulled from the broth and the server gives the beef a chance to dry off. Most of the juices drip back into the pot and don’t make it to your bread.
  • Dipped: This is a thing. Beef sandwich is made and then with the tongs the ENTIRE sandwich is dipped into the broth. 100 out 100 in the flavor department, 100 out of 100 in the very soggy, kind of hard to eat department too.

Where to get Chicago Style Italian Beef

Johnnie’s Beef (Courtesy of TripAdvisor)

There are so many great places for Italian Beef in Chicago. We couldn’t possibly list them all. We’ll do our best to provide our favorites. If we forgot a place on this list add it to the comments section. In no particular order…

Al’s Beef – Many locations, one of the originals founded in 1938

Mr. Beef on Orleans – Another one of the originals – classic.

Johnnie’s Beef – One of our favorites – located just west of Chicago. Yum.

Portillo’s – A Chicagoland favorite – has a large menu of other foods too and many locations across the city.

Jay’s Beef – This place serves awesome beef sandwiches and is located in Wicker Park. So we like it. A lot.

Enjoy your Chicago Style Italian Beef sandwiches!

Chicago Neighborhood Guide: Lincoln Park

Lincoln Park really does have it all. Plenty of unique boutique shops, restaurants galore, a thriving nightlife, miles of park along Lake Michigan, North Ave Beach, Lincoln Park Zoo, a Nature Museum and more. It’s why we offer a Free 2 hour Guided Tour of Lincoln Park.

The easy part is deciding to visit Lincoln Park. The hard part is deciding on how long to stay and what exactly you should do. Let’s assume you have 1 full day to spend in Lincoln Park, here is what you should do.

Breakfast or Brunch?

breakfastLP

Orange Contemporary Brunch

First things first you’re going to need to get come food in your belly because you have a big day planned. If you’re visiting on a weekday we suggest stopping Orange Contemporary Brunch (2413 N Clark St) which is open everyday of the week at 8am. Make sure to try their orange peel coffee and a pancake flight. If you’re visiting on the weekends and want to try a special menu for brunch stop by Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba (2024 N Halsted St) which serves a Spanish-inspired sweet and savory brunch menu starting at 9am on Saturday and Sunday. Our favorite is the Breakfast Paella which serves 2-3 people.

Get your shop on.

Regardless of where you fill up to start the day you’re next stop is going to be the Chicago Landmark Armitage-Halsted District. This is the center of the main shopping corridor in Lincoln Park. If you find yourself on Clark Street for breakfast make sure to stop in Aaron’s Apothecary (2338 N Clark St) and check out their fantastic selection of high-end candles & skin care. Estheticians are waiting to help you with any questions and make sure you leave with the right product.

Once you’re at the intersection of Armitage & Halsted you’re just a short walk to many of our favorite shops. Just west on Armitage is a great little stationary and gift shop – All She Wrote (825 W Armitage Ave). Just north on Halsted is a very unique place specializing in one-of-a-kind fragrances. Aroma Workshop (2050 N. Halstead Street) offers their guests an opportunity to create their very own fragrance with workshops and classes. Check their schedule and make an appointment or walk-in and see how it works. Continuing up Halsted you will not only be walking along one of Chicago’s most beautiful retail streets but you will come across a wide variety of shops as well. Groshek Art Gallery (2136 N Halsted St), Read It & Eat (2142 N Halsted St), & Calvin Tran (2154 N Halsted St) all line the west side of the street.

But don’t just take our word for it, explore the area on foot and pop into all the wonderful shops that line the streets. Soon you will have worked up a hunger and if you’re still in the Armitage-Halsted District then you’re going to have lots of options.

Lunch in Lincoln Park

Butcher & The Burger

Butcher & The Burger

Let’s assume that you’re still in the vicinity, here are the best walkable options.

Cheaper/Fast Eats

Affordable Sit Down

  • Pasta Palazzo – Handmade pastas and tasty sangria – need we say more?
  • Athenian Room – Greek sit down with a patio and BYOB policy.

Mid-Range

  • Summer House Santa Monica – This LEYE takes you to California ..in Lincoln Park.
  • Chez Moi – Serving French classics in a casual atmosphere with outdoor seating.

Mid Afternoon in Lincoln Park

Are you full? We hope so. Time work off some of those calories you ate and probably drank. And luckily there is just the activity to do that. Free Chicago Walking Tours has a Lincoln Park tour at 2pm that will start near the intersection of Armitage & Halsted. This is the perfect way to really see Lincoln Park.

Your guide will share with you the history of Chicago & Lincoln Park while winding your way way east through one of the most beautiful residential neighborhoods in Chicago and concluding the tour with a stroll through the Alfred Caldwell Lilly Pool and leaving you just steps from the Lincoln Park Conservatory & Lincoln Park Zoo – both free!

From there you will not want to miss grabbing a drink, and maybe an appetizer, at one of Chicago’s best rooftop bars – The J. Parker. Opening their doors at 5pm during the week and 11:30am on the weekends this place is a DO NOT MISS when the sky is clear. Enjoy amazing views of Lincoln Park and the Chicago skyline from the north – a perspective you do not get with rooftops in the Loop and River North.

After a couple of drinks it’s time to head back to your hotel and get ready for the night. There is still a lot of left to do.

Dinner

Pizza

  • Pequods – Our favorite deep dish pizza. If you haven’t had deep dish and you want to then go here. Please.
  • Chicago Pizza & Oven Grinder Co – Unique potpie-style pizzas served upside down. Always a wait so you know it’s good.

Lincoln Park Specialties

  • Twin Anchors – The best ribs in Chicago. No reservations, expect to wait.
  • The Barrelhouse Flat – Arguable the best bar in Lincoln Park with a small dinner menu. Make sure you visit their upstairs.
  • Social Table – Learn how to cook and meet others at this communal dining spot in Lincoln Park.

Our Favorites for Special Occassion

  • Riccardo Trattoria – delicious regional Italian cuisine in an intimate setting.
  • Intro – the hottest chef’s rotate every 3 months making sure your dinners are never the same.
  • North Pond – Michelin-starred with romantic setting overlooking the Chicago skyline.

And finally, after your dinner it’s time for dancing. And there is no single place we’d rather get our groove on than the world famous blues club Kingston Mines (2548 N Halsted St). This place opens at 7pm every single day (and has for 40+ year) and goes until 4am. Cover to get in is $12 during the week and $15 on the weekend – but is well worth the price. The music is unbelievable. The musicians are the most talented blues musicians in the city. We absolutely love this place.

 

Chicago Nicknames

Chicago has a number of well known nicknames such as The Windy City and Second City.   But where exactly did these nicknames come from and what do they mean? We’ll take a look at their origins and dive into a little Chicago history along the way.

Where did ‘Chicago’ come from?

Great question. Chicago is actually a version of a word spoken by the Miami and Illinois tribes to describe a wild leek (a vegetable that belongs in the onion and garlic families) that grew in and around the mouth of what is now the Chicago River. The local tribes called this plant “shikaakwa” – which translates to “stinky onion.” The early explorers that trekked through Chicago in the early 1600s weren’t fluent in the native language and over the course of the next hundred or so odd year “shikaakwa” became “Chicago.” So, technically, our beautiful city is named after a stinky onion-type vegetable that grew here 350 years ago.

The Windy City

The most famous of our nicknames is The Windy City. A lot of visitors assume that the nickname comes from the intense winds that can blow off the shores of Lake Michigan and catch you off guard as the wind sweeps around the buildings in the Loop. Many have lost their hats, glasses and umbrellas over the years. But this isn’t why we’re The Windy City.

There are rich debates actually as to the origins of the nickname. The top two competing theories deal with a city rivalry with Cincinnati that dates back to the 1840s through 1870s as Chicago and Cincy competed for the title of largest meatpacking city in America. Cincinnati held the title, along with the nickname Porkopolis, until the mid 1860s when Chicago took over as the leading pork packer. Chicago decided to take their same nickname, Porkopolis, as well. This city rivalry spilled over to the baseball diamond when Chicago introduced a team named the White Stockings specifically to beat the Cincinnati Red Stockings. Headlines as early as April 20, 1876 proclaimed Chicago as “The Windy City.”

The other leading theory was Chicago’s politicians and lobbyists effectively blowing “hot air” while vying for the right to host the Columbian Exposition of 1893, more commonly known then as the World’s Fair. This was a bitter content with many big cities such as New York, Washington D.C. & St. Louis all wanting to host the fair. Many figured that New York City would win. Chicago had sent many people out to the east coast to speak and market Chicago as the best city. In the end Chicago did win, hosted the Columbian Exposition of 1893 and in the process might have established the folks from Chicago “Windy” with all of their talking they did.

Second City

There are again a couple of competing explanations as to why Chicago is labeled the Second City. A 1950s book written by New Yorker Magazine writer Abbott J. Liebling titled Chicago: The Second City appears to have solidified the nickname and tied it to our ranking as second best, largely due to population, to New York City. However, that wasn’t the first time the nickname had been used when comparing Chicago to New York City. Second City was a popular term to describe Chicago when we were competing head-to-head with New York City for the rights to host the Columbian Exposition in 1893. Chicago & NYC were the two finalists. We all know how this turned out.

By the way, Chicago is no longer the 2nd largest city in the USA anymore. We’re actually 3rd now behind New York City (8.1M residents) & Los Angeles (3.7M residents). Chicago has 2.7M residents.

There’s another theory of where the nickname came from that we like a little better. Chicago had an opportunity after The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 to rebuild a city with a blank canvas. And we took full advantage. In the decades following the fire Chicago experienced the most explosive growth of any city in the history of the world. We pioneered sky scraping, introduced the world to modern retailing practices & created on of the greatest cities on earth. The city you’re visiting today is in fact the Second City.

City of Big Shoulders

This nickname is taken directly from the famous poem by Carl Sandberg titled Chicago published in 1914. The nickname appear in the 5th line and is likely a reference to how Chicago, in the 1850s and 1860s, literally jacked the entire city up 4-14ft creating a world beneath the main street level. After The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 the city was rebuilt properly with several levels. You can see the cars driving below Wacker drive from the north side of the Chicago River at the Du Sable Bridge. Most of the maintenance, garbage and deliveries to all of the buildings take place below the main level which is why you will not notice alleys in the Loop. No need for them.

Other Chicago Nicknames

City on the Make – based on the title of an essay by Nelson Algren published in 1951 that describes a 120 year history in Chicago rife with gansters, hustlers and corrupt politicians.

City in a Garden – based on our city motto, Urbs en Horto, which is Latin for City in a Garden.

The City that Works – famous quote by then Mayor Richard J. Daley

The Third Coast – referencing the shore along Lake Michigan

City by the Lake – self explanatory – we are …a city….by …the lake (Lake Michigan)

Do you have any nicknames you like to use for Chicago? Share them with us in the comment section.

 

 

 

Chicago Hostels

You might not have known, but there are a number of great budget-friendy Chicago hostel options in the hippest neighborhoods.

Don’t assume either that because it’s a hostel you are going to share a bunk bed and a bathroom with a stranger. Almost all of the Chicago hostels today offer private rooms and private bathrooms to travelers not wanting the shared experience. We’ve picked some of our favorites in Chicago – make sure you check them out.

Pro Tip: If you’re interested in staying in a hostel we recommend that you contact the hostel directly vs booking through a 3rd party. You’re almost sure to get the best rate and you will really get a feel for the place by speaking with an employee.

Wrigley Hostel – Cubs and baseball fans you’ll hit a home run if you stay here. Sorry, that was a bad pun. Seriously though, this hostel is less than 1,000 ft from the friendly confines of Wrigley Field – home of the Chicago Cubs Major League Baseball team. Wrigleyville is probably Chicago’s most active bar and restaurant neighborhood. Besides the Cubs connection this hostel prides itself on the variety of activities they host from trivia night, to pub crawls to movie nights. Dorm rooms start at $30 and private rooms start at $99.

IHSP Chicago – IHSP Chicago is located in Wicker Park. Do we need to say more? Wicker Park has all the latest and greatest shopping, bars, restaurants and clubs. If that wasn’t enough the hostel provides an unbelievably large list of amenities and activities including free coffee and tea all day, a 24-hr roof-deck with grilling and music, free lockers and luggage storage & free breakfast. Shared rooms start at $35 a night.

Urban Holiday Lofts – This is a pretty swanky hostel located in the popular Bucktown neighborhood steps away from the North Avenue/Milwaukee/Damen intersection which is awesome because from there you can get to almost any part of the city via public transportation (both the blue line and plenty of bus routes run from that intersection). The amenities are pretty extensive and include free breakfast, free wifi, free transportation to the hostel via the CTA and they also have on-site laundry. Dorm style rooms start at $26 while private rooms start at $53.

Holiday Jones – This Chicago hostel is going to get our award for best name. Not sure exactly why, but we love the name Holiday Jones. This is a cousin or a sister or some sort of relative to Urban Holiday Lofts except located a mile south in Wicker Park off the very bumping Division Street. The amenities are pretty extensive and include free breakfast, free wifi, free transportation to the hostel via the CTA and they also have on-site laundry. Dorm rooms start around $40 and private beds start around $90.

The Freehand – The location of this part hotel part hostel (whatever that exactly means) is really sweet – right dead smack in the middle of the River North neighborhood you are surrounded by some of Chicago’s best restaurants and bars and steps from the famous Magnificent Mile. There 24-hr front desk and multi-lingual staff make checking into this place a breeze. The prices for a shared coed room start around $50/night and if you want to go full-on private hotel room the prices start at around $150/night.

Chicago Parthenon Hostel – Where are our Greektown lovers at? Well, this place is for you.     Set in the heart of Chicago’s Greektown. This hostel is small and cozier than some of the others in Chicago but still offers many of the same amenities that you would receive there including free breakfast, on-site bar and restaurant, a kitchen & laundry. Dorm style beds start around $30/night and private rooms start around $60/night.

The Getaway Hostel – The folks at Getaway are re-writing the house rules. Located in the iconic and trendy Lincoln Park neighborhood this hostel welcomes all guests and makes sure you will have a great time with free breakfast, hosted pub crawls, a 24/7 kitchen and a BYOB policy. Shared rooms start around $24/night and private rooms start around $75/night.

HI Chicago Hostel – This is the largest hostel in Chicago. They run non-stop 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. HI Chicago Hostel is located in the south loop just a couple of blocks from the Harold Washington Library Center and has access to plenty of public transportation. No age minimums or restrictions and this hostel will do a great job of making sure that you see the city sights with a variety of activities and programs offered through the hostel. Dorm rooms start at $34 and private rooms start at $119.

 

 

 

 

Chicago Pizza

Pizza. Arguably America’s favorite food. There is a really funny quote about pizza that says when pizza is good, it’s great – but when its bad it’s still pretty darn good. In a 2015 survey by gluten-free crust purveyor Smart Flour Foods and the Center for Generational Kinetics, more than 6 million adults said they would give up sex for a year before they’d stop eating pizza. Hahah – wow.

Pizza History

Pizza gained popularity in the late 1940s after US troops stationed in Italy brought the concept back to the States. Over the last 70+ years pizza has taken on many different looks and feels courtesy of different regions of the USA creating their version of the pizza. Today the pizza industry in the United States is an estimated $37B – yes, that is a B, as in Billions.

Regardless of where you are eating your pizza there are some general differences between American pizza and traditional Italian pizza. The most notable difference is the ingredients use to make the dough. In the US we use fat in our dough – typically a vegetable oil or shortening (in some cases olive oil). The amount of oil or shortening will vary depending on the style of pizza. For instance a New York Style pizza will use a very little amount of oil while a thick-crust Chicago Deep Dish pizza will use quite a bit. Another difference is the actual flour that we use here. Often times the dough will have a high gluten level – think of a dough that would be used to make a bagel. The high gluten percentage allows the pizza dough to be stretched to the max creating an uber thin crust.

Chicago Style Pizza

Giordano's

Giordano’s

Believe it or not Chicago has 3 distinct styles of pizza. Chicago Deep Dish is by far the most popular. You’ve probably had the other two and may not have known you were even eating a Chicago-style pizza. The other two styles are Chicago Stuffed and Chicago Thin Crust.

Chicago Deep Dish has a bit of a controversial beginning in that no one really knows for certain who or where the pizza came from – for certain. The most common theory is that Pizzeria Uno in 1943 invented the pizza. Whether or not that is in fact the truth is not important – the stuff is good regardless.

Kind of exactly how the name sounds the biggest difference with the Chicago Deep Dish pizza is the depth of the crust. The pizza is baked in a high-wall steel pan, similar to how you would bake a cake. The crust itself isn’t very thick but there is a “wall” of crust along the outer edge. The pan is almost always lined with an oil that gives the bottom and side crusts a “fried” effect making it crispy. It’s common to order your pizza “well done” or “extra crispy” when getting deep dish.

The layering of the remaining ingredients is a bit unique as well. Often times the first layer to be put onto of the bottom crust is the cheese – most common is mozzarella. The next set of ingredients are the toppings that you have ordered and finally the sauce is poured over as the last layer.

For those ordering to-go or delivery you might end up with an uncut pie. Don’t worry though, this was intentional. The pizza is specifically left uncut to prevent the juices from seeping into the crust and creating a soggy pizza. You don’t want that.

Chicago Stuffed Pizza is the deep dish pizza’s stunt double. It’s very easy to mistake the stuffed pizza for the deep dish pizza.

These pizzas were invented in the 1970’s by a couple of pizza chains that began tweaking their recipes and styles of the deep dish pizza. Inspired by a traditional Italian Easter pie the pizza chefs created the Chicago Stuffed pizza.

The easiest way to think about the difference is this:

  1. The ingredient layer is more dense than traditional deep dish pizza
  2. On top of the tomato sauce (which is the last layer of deep dish pizza) is another layer of dough that is pressed (or connected to) the side crust. Creating a sort of pie. And just like pies the cooks will poke holes in the top layer of dough to allow the pizza to steam and prevent an unfortunately explosion in the kitchen!

You would think that would be really easy to identify, right? The stuffed pizza has a top layer of dough, the deep dish pizza has a top layer of sauce. Not so fast. More times than not pizza sauce is ladled over the top layer of crust and making it nearly impossible for the amateur to tell the difference.

Chicago Thin Crust doesn’t get the attention of the deep dish or stuffed pizza, but please – do not overlook this version. As the name implies the crust on this pizza is quite thin but is strong. And by strong we mean that it can hold quite the amount of topping without “bending” and there is a crunch when you bite into the pizza. This is much different than the popular New York style pizza which has flimsy dough and it curled in your hand and eaten like a taco. The cut of the pizza – in squares – is a also a giveaway you’re eating Chicago Thin Crust and not a version of New York which is served in large triangles.

Where to eat Chicago Pizza?

This is the hardest part, trying to help someone figure out where to eat their pizza. Fortunately you really can’t go wrong no matter where you go. If you can eat at all the places then by all means do so!

Lou Malnati’s (deep dish)

Pequod’s Pizzeria (deep dish)

Gino’s East (deep dish)

Pizzeria Uno (deep dish)

Giordano’s (stuffed)

Rosati’s (thin crust)

Pizano’s Pizza (thin crust)

The Art of Pizza (deep dish)

What places did we miss that should be included on this list?

The Best Chicago Museums

There are no shortages of museums in Chicago. According to Trip Advisor there are 98 of them in fact. Locals who have spent their entire lives in Chicago will probably never make it to even half of them. So how the heck can you narrow the best museums? Our museum experts have picked the best museum from a handful of categories.

Chicago Art Museums

We’ll start with the easiest category. Hands down, the best art museum in the Windy City is the Art Institute of Chicago. To be honest, it is one of the best in the world. Trip Advisor has repeatedly lavished awards on it, such as Best Museum, and a Top Ten Traveler’s Choice Award. It is clear to see why. The museum features permanent collections that include the world’s masters, such as Monet, Da Vinci, Van Gogh, Manet, and Rembrandt, just to name a few. “American Gothic” makes its home here, and from ancient to contemporary, practically every school is represented. The Thorne Rooms are one unique feature of the Institute that entice both young and old. Perfectly to scale, these miniature rooms each reflect a different time period. Together, the Rooms constitute a dollhouse that is like no other. An interesting note, Illinois author Marianne Malone has written best-selling children’s fiction based on the Thorne Rooms. If you have little ones, have them read the book before their visit.

Runner up: And if for some reason you can’t get to the Art Institute, try the Museum of Contemporary Art. It too, is fantastic, and free tours are given daily. And we like free.

Websitehttp://www.artic.edu

Hours: Open daily 10:30am–5:00pm, Thursdays until 8:00pm

Cost: $25 adults, $19 students or seniors, FREE for Children under 14 and Illinois residents on Thursdays

Real Good News: The Art Institute of Chicago is included in the Chicago CityPass which saves you up to 53% off regular priced admission.

Chicago Science Museums

Source: Shedd Aquarium

Source: Shedd Aquarium

If you’re a science lover, Chicago has much to offer in the way of museums. A place that really wows is the Shedd Aquarium. One of the largest inland aquariums in the world, the Shedd has over 30,000 animals—fresh water, marine, and even terrestrial. That means that in addition to getting an up-close view of sharks, sea lions, and octopi, you’ll also see some animals that dwell on the ground, like monkeys, frogs, and iguanas. The Aquarium offers all kinds of tours, from basic admission to small group “behind the scene” tours that are phenomenal. You’ll see where expert veterinarians and trainers care for our aquatic friends. And what care it is—the freshest of seafood from all over the world comes to Chicago to be served in the finest restaurants… and at the Shedd. But you can’t get it at the cafeteria. It’s for the aquarium’s permanent residents! You can however, enjoy some of Chicago’s finest Jazz here. Every Wednesday (begins June 22) in the summer “Jazzin’ at the Shedd” features popular Jazz artists, dinner, and cocktails on their spacious veranda, plus a great view of the fireworks that start at dusk. Before it gets dark though, take in the awesome architectural show that is the outside of the Shedd Aquarium.

Runner up: Another great science museum is in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood, so if you are more for physics and trains than dolphins and coral, visit the Museum of Science & Industry instead – or heck, visit both!

Websitehttp://www.sheddaquarium.org

Hours: Open daily 9:00am–5:00pm, Weekends open until 6:00pm

Cost: There are so many ticketing options (group size, what do you want to see, buy in advance). The cheapest option starts at $37.95 for adults and $28.95 for children by purchasing tickets online.

Real Good News: The Art Institute of Chicago is included in the Chicago CityPass which saves you up to 53% off regular priced admission.

Chicago History Museums

Sharing a campus with the Shedd Aquarium and the Adler Planetarium is the Field Museum of Natural History. It is another Windy City Gem. You’ll marvel at colossal “Sue”, prominently displayed on its main floor. She is the most well-preserved and complete Tyrannosaurus Rex ever discovered. The children’s area, where the little ones can excavate finds of their own is a big draw. Through the museum’s partnership with University of Chicago Paleontologist Paul Sereno (once voted one of the world’s most beautiful people by People Magazine) the dinosaur exhibits are as fun as they are educational. The Museum frequently hosts temporary exhibits (a recent one on Haitian Voodoo was a real crowd-pleaser) that are as interesting as their permanent offerings. The Museum building itself is extraordinary—it is often rented for large affairs due to its beauty. Come in the warm months and you can have a lovely picnic on the adjoining lawn, fly a kite, or watch as children roll down the small hills at the front of the building.

Runner up: If you’re interested in cultural as opposed to natural history, you may want to visit the Chicago History Museum. Though it is quite a bit smaller, it’s chockfull of interesting facts on America’s Second City.

Websitehttps://www.fieldmuseum.org

Hours: Open daily 9:00am–5:00pm, except Christmas day. Last admission is 4pm.

Cost:  Adults $38, students & seniors $32, Children (3-11) $26

Real Good News: The Art Institute of Chicago is included in the Chicago CityPass which saves you up to 53% off regular priced admission.

Chicago Children’s Museums

Source: Chicago Children's Museum

Source: Chicago Children’s Museum

As if Navy Pier weren’t enough of a playground, with its huge ferris wheel, funhouse, and stage, the Chicago Children’s Museum is housed on its second through fourth floors. While you might wish to take the stairs, tykes usually prefer to climb up through the burlap-netted maze. A family with young one’s could easily spend the whole day at this museum, which is completely hands-on. It features an extensive water exhibit (be sure to don one of the raincoats provided) as well as a miniature grocery store entirely manned by its short-in-stature visitors. In one room, glass boxes adorn the walls with games and toys of yesteryear that will have parents waxing nostalgic. There are also plenty of child-friendly dining and shopping options on the first floor of the Pier, from sit-down restaurants to McDonalds, and a great ice cream shop. Don’t miss the Build-a-Bear Workshop either.

Runner up: For those who like a less crowded, lower-key experience, The Kohl Children’s Museum in nearby Glenview is equally splendid.

Websitehttp://www.chicagochildrensmuseum.org

Hours: Open daily 9:00am–5:00pm, Thursdays open until 8:00pm

Cost:  Children & Adults $14, Seniors $13, Children under 1yr old FREE. There are a variety of discounts and specials available. Make sure to visit their Plan your Visit page for details.

Free Chicago Museums

No way we can do this post without mentioning the best free museums in the city.

Chicago is a city whose large and thriving Mexican population is manifested in its food and art. The Pilsen neighborhood is the epicenter of this community. In it lies one of the largest collections of Mexican art in the country, at the National Museum of Mexican Art. With over 9,000 pieces housed in a spacious and modern facility, it’s a shock that this museum is free to the public. Yet since its inception in 1987, the Museum has remained true to its mission of bringing Mexican art and culture to the masses “sin fronteras” (without borders). In addition to the fine art that is part of the collection, you can also see a host of cultural and entertainment events here, from dance performances to speeches. Some say that the gift shop offers such unique and authentic wares that it is an exhibit itself. When you’re finished at the museum, be sure to stay in the neighborhood and enjoy delicious, reasonably priced Mexican food, along with some tequila or a margarita that will having you screaming for “uno mas”!

Runner up: If you can’t make it to the NMMA, the University of Chicago’s Oriental Museum is another outstanding free cultural venue that has the additional benefit of featuring an entombed body!

Websitehttp://www.nationalmuseumofmexicanart.org

Hours: Tuesday – Sunday 10:00am – 5:00pm. Closed Mondays and on major holidays.

Cost:  Free!

Chicago Planetary & Observatory Museums

Source: Adler Planetarium

Source: Adler Planetarium

Ok, maybe we lied earlier – this is probably the easiest category to pick our favorite in because there is really only one!

If you want to stare into space from Chicago, head straight for the Adler Planetarium, where the “star” is the Doane Observatory. Here, the telescope allows viewers to see planets that are trillions of miles away. Visitor’s come to experience this as well as the phenomenal IMAX theater at the planetarium, which also presents some thrilling footage of the universe. Another draw of the Adler Planetarium is its extensive collection. From scientific instruments of historical significance, to paintings, photographs, and books, even the most advanced researchers will not be disappointed. For those who can’t get to the Adler, neighboring Evanston has a formidable competitor. Northwestern University’s Dearborn Observatory has an 18.5 inch refracting telescope that is open to the public.

Websitehttp://www.adlerplanetarium.org

Hours: Open daily 9:30am–4:00pm, weekends open until 4:30pm

Cost:  General admission for adults start at $12 and $8 for children. (Note: these prices do not include any shows which are pretty cool)

Real Good News: The Art Institute of Chicago is included in the Chicago CityPass which saves you up to 53% off regular priced admission.

Chicago Specialty Museums

The Pullman Museum and Historic District is a designated National Historic Site that is as much a neighborhood as it is a museum. The district on the south side of Chicago features buildings such as the Arcade, the Clock Tower, the Market, and row homes. It is a tribute to Pullman’s influence on American industry, showing how manufacturing generated large and thriving communities. The row homes are actual former residences of people that were employed at the Pullman textile mill and other facilities. Period furniture and architecture is expertly preserved. The library features books on the history of the area and blueprints that were integral to its construction. Visiting this extensive historic site will take all day or more. If you can’t make it down to the south side to experience it, you might want to visit the Museum of Contemporay Photography instead. This is a top-notch specialty museum located right in the loop. Best of all, it’s free!

So there you have it – our curated museum list to help plan your next visit. If you think that we should have included different museums let our guests know by leaving a comment below!

 

 

 

 

2016 Millennium Park Summer Movie Schedule

Starting in June and running through the end of August you will be able to enjoy 12 different movies for FREE in Millennium Park on their giant 40ft screen. You can sit back and relax from a seat in the Jay Pritzker Pavillon or breakout the blanket and bottle wine (it’s OK to do so!) and chill out on the lawn.

If you plan on bringing kids just double check the movie that is being shown as there are several ‘R’ rated films.

Each movie starts at 6:30pm every Tuesday. Mark your calendars…

Tuesday, June 21 – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (PG-13)

Tuesday, June 28 – Soul Food (R)

Tuesday, July 5 – A League of Their Own (PG)

Tuesday, July 12 – Thelma & Louise (R)

Tuesday, July 19 (Double Feature!) – Moonstruck (PG) & Silence of the Lambs (R)

Tuesday, July 26 – Kartemquin Films 50th Anniversary Celebration

Tuesday, August 2 – West Side Story (Unrated)

Tuesday, August 9 – Grease (PG-13)

Tuesday, August 16 – Finding Nemo (G)

Tuesday, August 23 – Purple Rain (PG)

Tuesday, August 30 – People’s Choice (Movie goers will vote)

Have fun and we hope to see you out there!

 

Best Chicago Speakeasies

Everyone likes to be in on a secret. It’s an exhilarating feeling – you’re special, knowing something your coworkers, family or friends don’t. It’s even more exciting knowing a city’s secrets, and trust us when we say Chicago has plenty. Our Free Chicago Walking Tours are loaded with them. When most people think of a night out in Chicago they think of well known areas like River North and Gold Coast–perfectly fine choices no doubt, but what they don’t know is that Chicago has some of the best hidden bars in the country. You can find speakeasies in the strangest locations throughout the city. It’s also a great way to explore new neighborhoods in Chicago. Keep reading to see which bars you cannot miss out on while in Chicago!

Violet Hour

1520 N. Damen, Chicago, IL (Wicker Park)

original_TVH_JohnHerndon__CassandraStadnicki

Source: The Violet Hour

Perhaps one of the most famous bars in the city, The Violet Hour may also be one of the classiest. Located in the bumping and trendy Wicker Park neighborhood, The Violet Hour will make you feel like one of Chicago’s elite. The Violet Hour has no door, sign or light. If you’re not careful you will walk right past the door which is typically painted over and a part of a larger mural that covers then entire front of the building. After ten minutes a bouncer will take you into a waiting room– a sign that you’re in. You must adhere to the strict dress code, never order anything that you’d drink at a frat party and refrain from using your phone.

What you need to know: No reservations. No use of cell phones inside. No baseball hats. No reservations, first come first serve. No ‘O’ bombs or jaeger bombs or any kind of bombs. No Budweiser.

What you need to try: Frites and aioli for a snack and wash it down with their version of a Manhattan – appropriately called Brooklyn.

 

Booze Box

823 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL (West Loop)

003_cousindaniel_boozebox__3612-4-1024x681

Source:Sushi Dokku

Many people have heard of the restaurant Sushi Dokku in West Loop. It’s located in the arguably the hottest restaurant “district” in Chicago today. Sushi Dokku has neighbors with names such as Au Cheval, the Girl and the Goat and The Publican. Randolph Street is a gem amongst the restaurant and bar world of Chicago. But we digress. We’re talking about Booze Box here, the bar in the basement of Sushi Dokku that many that have dined there don’t know about. You have to walk 10 yards south to an alley behind Sushi Dokku where you will see a lonely bright red sign– the entrance to Booze Box. The atmosphere and what they are serving is just as unique as their entrance. Japanese street food, cold draft sake and a rotation of DJs spinning next to the guests at the bar all make a visit here worthwhile.

What you need to know: Booze Box is open only on the weekends – Thursday, Friday & Saturday – starting at 6pm.

What you need to try: Chill Gin Mojito

East Room

2354 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL (Logan Square)

eastroom

Source: Yelp

To be fair– East Room isn’t a speakeasy all the time. They open their doors to the main street when there is a special event or concert, but all other days you can only get in through the back door. The first time we went there it took us 20 minutes to find the place. Your phone will be telling you you’re standing right in front of it but you won’t see a soul near you. Everyone will be across the street at all the other bars lined up pretty in a row. But don’t give up! Just walk to the back alley until you see a strong looking man leaned up to the wall. He is your way into the second floor– a mix of cheap drinks, good music and wooden benches for good conversation.

What you need to know: Cash only! So, you know…bring cash or someone that has cash.

What you need to try: BYO-Vinyl. Yes, Bring Your Own Vinyl, as in records – East Chicago crowd-sources their music on Mondays.

 

3 Dots and a Dash

435 N Clark St, Chicago, IL (River North)

threedots

Source: Facebook

Consider this a new-age speakeasy. A new-age tiki-lounge-inspired speakeasy. This place is far from your traditional prohibition-era underground hush hush place. It’s still more well known than the other bars, but 3 Dots and a Dash is one of the funnest speakeasies in town. It boasts a Polynesian type theme complete with mini umbrellas in the drinks and almost any type of rum you could possibly dream of. You’ll often see large 21st birthday parties, bachelorette parties and groups of bar crawlers. This is a great speakeasy to have a drink at before hitting the clubs in the area.

What you need to know: It’s tricky to find. Walk up Clark St, then head east on Hubbard and go north up the alley. On your left (west) will be a small hanging sign that says “3 Dots and a Dash” – congratulations, you have arrived.

What you need to try: For those in a large group or with plenty of disposable income – or both, you definitely should order the “Treasure Chest” – a $400 cocktail that is served in a actual treasure chest on bamboo shoots carried in by a couple of waiters. Smoke (dry ice) billows out, the drink is lit up and the waiter pops a bottle of Dom Perignon and pours it into the concoction. Everyone at the table gets a giant straw and has at it.

Door No. 3

1572 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL (Wicker Park)

door3

Source: Facebook

Another speakeasy located in Wicker Park, Door No. 3 puts you in the mood with a secret entrance in the alley behind the Damen Blue Line stop. What makes Door No. 3 special is the live music. The DJs are skilled spinners that know how to keep people dancing and keep the party going. The interior isn’t shabby either with sexy leather furniture and blue lighting perfect for a chill, relaxed date night. It is also a go to destination to kick off a night of bar hopping in Wicker Park.

What you need to know: There is no food served here. They have a small vending machine   in the corner to satisfy your hunger. They aren’t known for any fancy cocktails either. Hipster beers like PBR and Tecate are available as well as your traditional mixed drinks.

 

Room 13

3222 N Sheffield Ave, Chicago, IL (Lakeview/Wrigleyville)

room13

Source: Old Chicago Inn

No questions about this one – Room 13 is definitely a speakeasy. Or maybe it should be a “speak hard” because it’s not easy to get into. Get it? Ha.

Located a half a mile south of Wrigley field like many speakeasies Room 13 is a part of another business: The Old Chicago Inn Bed & Breakfast. This place has all the markings of a speakeasy. Garden unit, check. Classic American cocktails, check. Dress code, check. Oh, and you seriously need to work to get in.

There are 3 options and only 3 options to get into this place:

  1. Stay at the Inn and you will receive an invite
  2. Buy a membership (aka become a member)
  3. Be a guest of a member

Mic drop. That’s it. If you are not fitting into one of those buckets you will not get in.

What you need to know: This place is seriously awesome.

What you need to try: Their cocktail flight. Reserved exclusively for guests of the Inn simply add the “Speakeasy Flight” to your reservation and you will receive a flight of 4 cocktails while the bartender explains the history of each drink. Cost is $55 for two people.

The Office

955 W Fulton Market, Chicago, IL (West Loop)

office

Source: Yelp

Ah yes, The Office. This will be sort of a good news – bad news situation. Let’s start with the bad news. This is another really tough one to get into. The good news? It’s underneath one of our favorite bars in the city which you can get into (if you have a reservation): The Aviary.

The Office is a 14-seat VIP speakeasy located beneath The Aviary. The bar features drinks and food that you will not find on The Aviary’s menu. If you’re a commoner just having drinks and food upstairs you might notice people going in and out of The Office and wonder – how do I get in? Well…you need to be invited. The staff at The Aviary invite guests to The Office. That’s it. Good luck!

What you need to know: If you have made it inside The Office and have to use the bathroom you’ll take a key from the bar, use the “commoners” restroom and get back inside The Office using the key.  And it’s not exactly cheap either. $20+ cocktails, $30+ appetizers, Make sure you bring your wallet!

What you need to try: The level of attention you receive from the staff and bartenders is incredible here. Instead of ordering off the menu tell the bartender your favorite spirit and let them come up with something that will impress. And if you’re in mood the mood for desert order their ice cream sundae. OMG.

If you have the time give all of these spots a try while visiting. And let us know in the comment section how the night went. We look forward to hearing from you!

Chicago Neighborhood Guide: Andersonville

Getting to Andersonville

Andersonville is one of Chicago’s great neighborhoods.  Located on Chicago’s far north side, it is easily accessible by public transportation.  Using the city’s “L” train, take the Red Line to the Berwyn stop or the Bryn Mawr stop.  From either stop, it’s just a 10-minute walk west to downtown Andersonville.   You can also catch the #22 city bus, disembarking at any of the stops along Clark Street, between Foster Avenue, which borders Andersonville on its south end, and Edgewater Avenue, which borders Andersonville to the north.

If the weather cooperates, you can get around by bicycle.  Consider taking advantage of Divvy, Chicago’s bike share system.  There’s a station conveniently located at the intersection of Clark St. and Bryn Mawr Ave.  But don’t worry—When the weather isn’t bike-friendly, cabs are always plentiful.

Andersonville History

Andersonville dates back to the 1850s, when it was settled by Swedish immigrants.  There are still plenty of signs of Andersonville’s Swedish heritage.  Andersonville celebrates its Swedish roots with Midsommarfest, an annual summer street festival.  The south end of Andersonville is anchored by The Swedish American Museum and features several businesses with Swedish roots, like Svea Restaurant and The Swedish Bakery.  The Swedish Bakery makes some of the best pastries in the city, including an assortment of Swedish pastries.  Be warned that The Swedish Bakery is closed on Sundays!

Andersonville is home to one of the largest LGBT populations in Chicago.  It boasts several gay bars, including @mosphere, The Call, and Mary’s Attic.

Andersonville in 1 Day

If you only have one day to spend in Andersonville, consider these suggestions, all of which are located along Clark Street, Andersonville’s main drag.

Start your day on the north end of Andersonville, with breakfast at m. henry (5707 N. Clark St.).  This breakfast, lunch, and brunch spot is insanely popular.  If you want to enjoy a classic weekend brunch, arrive very early or face a 90-minute wait.

After breakfast, enjoy Andersonville’s shopping scene, which is refreshingly void of any big chain stores.  Just north of m. henry, you’ll find Gethsemane Garden Center (5739 N. Clark St.). Even if you’re not into gardening, you’ll enjoy its Wild Pansy Gift Shop.

andersonvilleshopping

Moving southwards on Clark Street, you’ll find a dizzying array of independently-owned home furnishings and antique shops, like Roost (5634 N. Clark St.) and Room Service (5438 N. Clark St.).  You’ll also find fabulous gourmet food and wine shops, like City Olive (5644 N. Clark St.) and In Fine Spirits (5418 N. Clark St.).  Fans of Italian food will enjoy Piatto Pronto (5624 N. Clark St), a grocery and deli carrying Italian imports and the biggest, most delicious, and best-priced deli sandwiches in the city.

If you’re in the mood for a sit-down lunch, stop by Big Jones (5347 N. Clark St.) for U.S. coastal southern cuisine. Start with a Pickle Tasting (a sampling of homemade pickles and home-baked Sally Lunn bread) and an order of fried green tomatoes.  For your main course, enjoy Big Jones’ award-winning fried chicken or an order of shrimp and grits.  Lunch is available Monday-Friday only.  If you come on a weekend, enjoy a Big Jones brunch from 9.am. – 3 p.m.

After lunch, enjoy a mani/pedi at 2×10 Nails (5414 N. Clark St.).  If that’s not your thing, while away the afternoon browsing more of Andersonville’s locally-owned shops.  Vinyl lovers will appreciate Borderline Music (5351 N. Clark St.).  Book lovers will enjoy Women & Children First, an independently-owned bookshop (5233 N. Clark St.) specializing in feminist and children’s books.  This shop is a gem if you’re looking for a gift, but aren’t sure what to buy.  Their sales staff makes excellent suggestions and complimentary gift-wrapping is offered.

No trip to Andersonville would be complete without a trip to Andersonville Galleria (5247 N. Clark St.), a retail building that houses 90+ tenants.  Its tenants are local artists and entrepreneurs, selling everything from jewelry, gourmet treats, unique homemade gifts, and more!

Care for a cocktail before dinner? Stop by Marty’s Martini Bar (1511 W. Balmoral Ave., just one block west of Clark St.) for an expertly-made cocktail.  Warning: Marty’s is small and extremely popular, so arrive early!

Andersonville has an enticing array of restaurant options.  For an upscale dinner that isn’t at all stuffy, choose Anteprima (5316 N. Clark St.).  Anteprima services seasonal Italian cuisine, complemented by a full bar.  The dinner menu features standouts like Arneis Braised Rabbit and Grilled Lamb Leg.  Anteprima emphasizes fresh, seasonal ingredients, so the menu changes often.

Free Chicago Walking Tours Andersonville Food

For a more casual dinner option, choose Jerry’s Sandwiches (5419 N. Clark St.)  Jerry’s Sandwiches features 100+ sandwich options and offers even more craft beer choices, many of which are made right in Chicago.

After dinner, head over to Mary’s Attic (5400 N. Clark St.), which is the 2nd floor of Hamburger Mary’s Restaurant. Mary’s Attic is a bar featuring an ever-changing menu of entertainment options, like live bands and MaryOke (karaoke).  Straight people are welcome at this establishment/gay bar.  Or if you’re in the mood for comedy, check out The pH Comedy Theater (1515 W. Berwyn, one block west of Clark St.).  This comedy theater offers a wide variety of comedy shows…improv, standup, sketch, and musical.  Its shows come “For the Family,” “PG13,” or “Adults Only.”  Check out their website www.whatisph.com for a schedule.

Andersonville…a fabulous neighborhood with something for everyone!