In Lincoln Park, collegians mix with freshly-minted lawyers and barrel-chested brokers, all come to sing their good fortune in beer gardens on the north side of Chicago, a short walk from miles of beautiful parks and the fabulous Lincoln Park Zoo. Just south is Old Town, a striking collision of rich and poor, and home of Chicago's two most celebrated theaters, Steppenwolf and Second City.
The flames of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 lapped at the borders of Lincoln Park, and burned no further than Fullerton Avenue. It was, then, a small community of Polish and German settlers near the northern boundaries of the city, named Lake Park for the swamplands (and cemeteries) that were drained by the lake, and re-named Lincoln Park for the slain president in 1865.
Back to that fire, though: refugees poured into the neighborhood for safety, and with their former homes in ashes, plenty of them decided to stay. Lots were sold to "worthy families," and it suddenly became a very fashionable place to live. With the arrival of the elevated train, a construction frenzy began. In fact, an estimated 60% of the buildings that currently stand in Lincoln Park date from the three decades after the fire. Cultural institutions emerged to match: for example, with the $10 purchase of a bear cub, the Lincoln Park Zoo opened to visitors in 1874, and DePaul University evolved from a small religious college to the center of life for the neighborhood, with strong academic and sports programs throughout much of the twentieth century. (Long-time basketball coach Ray Meyer introduced the concept of the skilled seven-footer to the sport when he recruited George Mikan in the 1940s.)
The area now known as Old Town was not so lucky in the Fire, but was spared the extensive damage of the city center. Today, its pre-fire history can be seen in the winding layout of the streets in the Old Town Triangle Historic District, and can be heard in the bells of St. Michael's Church, one of the few structures to stand in the path of the fire and survive. The neighborhood was hit hard by the urban flight of the 1950s, and many of those classic structures were converted into boarding houses that became affordable for beatniks: artists, folk musicians, actors, and others moved in and made Old Town into the counterculture capital of Chicago for the next two decades. Miles, Janis, Dylan, and Seeger played in and outside of the clubs in Old Town. It was where teens from staid neighborhoods (like Lincoln Park) came to feel the edge. Guitars! Long hair! Loitering! Old Town had it all.
Into this environment came the city's greatest comedic force, a group of ex-pats from Hyde Park who named their new theater The Second City, and reinvented American comedy. Years later, a similarly talented band of college actors arrived to establish Steppenwolf, who set the tone for the next two decades of dramatic theater.
The shocking violence of the 1968 Democratic Convention spelled the end of the hippie era in Old Town. Soon, property values were on the rise, and only the more financially successful countercultural outlets could stay in business. Today, you'll find a historic district and the new Chicago History Museum to guide you around, and you can split an amazing night at the theater with one of the trendy restaurants nearby. Old Town is divided, though: crumbling buildings sit on one side of North Avenue without ever much affecting a trip to Steppenwolf on the other side. Old Town is a neighborhood that knows the contradictions within its boundaries, and lives with them.
North Avenue Beach from Hancock Observatory
Lincoln Park, on the other hand, is oblivious. Most of the North Side wouldn't live in Lincoln Park if you paid them to do it, and most of Lincoln Park would refuse to live anywhere else, understanding other neighborhoods only as wastelands with poorly groomed people and an unacceptable shortage of Starbucks. Thanks to the presence of DePaul, Lincoln Park has a distinctly collegiate atmosphere, created not only by students but also by young professionals with fond memories of having been students within the last two decades. The weekend club scene in Lincoln Park will either offer an exhilarating trip back to your college years or a vision of hell on earth. That aside, Lincoln Park also has a row of shopping boutiques that is the envy of much of the rest of the city, and the taxes that churn through the local economy go to the well-maintained expanses of the eponymous park, the lakefront bike and jogging trails, and North Avenue Beach.
Also, to its credit, the Lincoln Park Zoo didn't rest on its laurels after it got that bear.
The CTA Red Line runs along Sheffield Avenue and stops at Fullerton in Lincoln Park and North/Clybourn at the edge of Old Town. The Brown Line, further west, connects with the Red Line at Fullerton, but also makes stops in Lincoln Park at Armitage and Diversey, and in Old Town at Sedgwick.
The Metra Union Pacific District Northwest Line and Union Pacific North Line both stop at the Clybourn station just across the Chicago River in Logan, from which you can catch the 73 Armitage bus into Lincoln Park.
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- 8 Halsted runs past Steppenwolf's front door in Old Town.
- 11 Lincoln is a slow bus, but it does run down Lincoln Park's key artery.
- 22 Clark runs all night north/south down Clark Street, from the Near North and through both Old Town and Lincoln Park, before heading on to Lakeview.
- 72 North runs on North Avenue, into the heart of Old Town, and on to Bucktown.
- 73 Armitage serves the Armitage shopping corridor.
- 74 Fullerton runs east/west on Fullerton, the major artery in Lincoln Park.
- 76 Diversey runs east/west on Diversey, the border between Lincoln Park and Lakeview, and continues to Logan Square.
- 151 Sheridan and 156 LaSalle both reach the Lincoln Park Zoo and the lakefront from the Near North. The 151 runs all night.
Lake Shore Drive has exits at Fullerton for Lincoln Park and North Avenue for Old Town. From the Kennedy Expressway, take any of the eastbound exits at Division, North, Fullerton, and Diversey.
Traffic is not swift on the streets of Lincoln Park and Old Town, but it's generally manageable. Beware of parking on side streets that require residential permits. (If you're not parking at a meter, take a quick walk up and down the block to make sure that a permit isn't required to park there.)
There are parking garages in close proximity to the theaters (notably Piper's Alley in Old Town) and on the grounds of the Lincoln Park Zoo ($14, 1-3 hours).
John Dillinger's final bow, Lincoln Park
The Lincoln Park Zoo and the lakefront are the biggest highlights for a day here, especially with kids, but a few sights, particularly the Biograph Theater and the historic districts, are at their most powerful by night.
- Biograph Theater, 2433 N Lincoln Ave (Fullerton Red/Brown/Purple Line). Plays are shown here (see Victory Gardens below), but the theater itself is still best known as the place where John Dillinger went down in 1934. America's most famous bank robber was leaving after a movie with the Lady in Red when FBI agents opened fire. The owners of the theater have never been keen to play up the connection, but the classic marquee is still there. Reportedly, Dillinger fans hold gatherings outside on July 22, the anniversary of his death.
- Chicago History Museum (Chicago Historical Society), 1601 N Clark St (Clark/Division Red Line, Sedgwick Brown Line), ☎ +1 312 642-4600, . M-W noon-8PM, Th-Sa 9:30AM-4:30PM, Su noon-5PM. A creative urban history museum. Exhibits include The Pioneer, the first railroad locomotive to operate in Chicago, and the bed upon which Abraham Lincoln died; more fun for kids is the Chicago-style Hot Dog showcase, which supplies all the giant plastic ingredients you'll need to turn yourself (or your little brother) into a life-sized hot dog (no ketchup, of course). They also host regular tours of different CTA lines and walking tours of Lincoln Park and Old Town. Suggested admission $5 adult, $1 child, free on Mondays.
- Elks National Veterans Memorial, 2750 N Lakeview Ave, ☎ +1 773 755-4876 (David@elks.org), . M-F 9AM-5PM; also Sa-Su 10AM-5PM from 15 April-15 November. This neoclassical veterans memorial is truly grand. Its interior is an extravagant ensemble of marble, bronze sculptures, stained glass, and huge murals. Free admission and tours.
- International Museum of Surgical Science, 1524 N Lake Shore Dr, ☎ +1 312 642-6502, . Tu-Su 10AM-4PM. Four floors of artifacts and artwork, both scientific and whatever an embroidered x-ray can be classified as. $8 adults, $4 students/seniors.
- Lincoln Park. The 1.5 mile-long park from which the neighborhood draws its name is dotted with statues of people with ties to Chicago or Germany (like Goethe), and features plenty of paths for running wide-open green space for sports, and even a rowing lagoon to the west.
Meerkats, Lincoln Park Zoo
- Lincoln Park Conservatory, 2400 N Stockton Dr, ☎ +1 312 742-7736, . 9AM-5PM. Built more than a century ago, the conservatory is right next to the zoo. Even though they're overshadowed by the animals next door, the plants receive an equal amount of care, and there are usually some eye-popping floral displays in the spring. Volunteer-led tours are sometimes available at no cost. Free.
- Lincoln Park Zoo, 2200 N Cannon Dr (Fullerton Red/Brown/Purple Line, or see bus routes), ☎ +1 312 742-2000, . Daily 9AM-6PM, winter 9AM-5PM, summer weekends 9AM-7PM. Few things in Chicago are finer than the Lincoln Park Zoo. It's world-class, yet admission is free; its winding, expansive grounds have the charm of age, yet its facilities are modern and the animals are healthy, happy, and personable. The brand new Great Ape House is one to see, and the Farm In The Zoo features plenty for kids to do, but everyone has their own favorites (penguins). Free.
- Notebaert Nature Museum, 2430 N Cannon Dr, ☎ +1 773 755-5100, . M-F 9AM-4:30PM, Sa-Su 10AM-5PM. Carefully positioned within walking distance of the Lincoln Park Zoo in hopes of being parents' second stop while they're in the area, the Notebaert Nature Museum is...okay. Exhibits are geared toward kids and are sometimes hands-on. The only consistent must-see is the butterfly haven. Adults $9, children 3-12 $6, Th free.
- Oz Park, 2021 N Burling St, ☎ +1 312 742-7898, . Young children might enjoy this Wizard of Oz-themed park with statues and playlots. Free.
- Thomas Masters Gallery, 245 W North Ave (Sedgwick Brown/Purple Line), ☎ +1 312 440-2322, . W-F 12-6PM, Sa 11AM-6PM, Su 12-5PM. A member of the River North gallery scene, with contemporary art, including paint, drawings and sculpture.
These areas have some of the most impressive homes in Chicago, and can be covered easily on foot. For guided walking tours, check with the Chicago History Museum (above).
- Astor Street Historic District, Astor St, between Division and North, . Near Old Town, on what's often referred to as the Gold Coast, Astor Street was named for the fur tycoon John Jacob Astor, and does him tribute on his favored terms — these are the most expensive houses in Chicago. The atmosphere is the main attraction, but the 1892 Charnley House (1365 N Astor St) is particularly interesting, marking a halfway point between the distinctive styles of master architect Louis Sullivan and his apprentice Frank Lloyd Wright. There are also some interesting Art Deco homes like Holabird & Root's design at 1444 N Astor St.
- Mid-North Historic District, Between Fullerton Ave, Clark St, Armitage Ave, Lincoln Ave, and Orchard St, . There are several nice blocks of Lincoln Park near the lake, but the Italianate, Queen Anne, and Romanesque homes of the Mid-North District are especially lovely. Three survived the Chicago Fire (2121 N Hudson, 2339 N Cleveland, 2343 N Cleveland), and two were early designs of Louis Sullivan (440 W Belden Ave, 2147 N Cleveland St). The 1882-89 row houses between Belden and Fullerton are worth a look, too. As you walk, you'll see the faded white-and-blue signs of the Church of Our Savior (530 W Fullerton Ave), founded in 1867 (although the present structure dates from 1889).
- Old Town Triangle District, Between North Ave, Lincoln Ave, and Wells St, . Several blocks of beautiful cottages and row houses, notably the five at 1826-34 N Lincoln Park West, which were designed by Louis Sullivan in 1885. The anchor of the district is St. Mike's (below).
- St. Michael's Church, 1633 N Cleveland Ave, ☎ +1 312 642-2498, . Services Su 9AM,11AM,7PM, M-Sa 8AM, Tu 6PM. Unveiled in 1869, the walls of St Mike's were all that remained after the Chicago Fire swept through Old Town, making it one of only six structures to survive — and the tallest in the city until 1885. A tower was added in 1887, and the current stained glass windows date from 1902. It serves the Redemptorist faith, a branch of Catholicism, with seating for more than 1000 people.
Summer on North Avenue Beach
- North Avenue Beach, 1603 N Lake Shore Dr, ☎ +1 312 742-7529, . Quite possibly the beach volleyball capital of the Midwest. There are semi-pro leagues here, and plenty of nets for amateurs to show up and play. There's also an enclosed roller-hockey rink and plenty of people whizzing past on the wide bike lanes. The North Avenue Beach House is a big boat-shaped structure at the center (look for the red smokestacks) where there are a few food and drink options, occasional live music, and Park District offices. A couple blocks south, toward Oak Street Beach, there are chess tables.
Events & Festivals
Summers in Lincoln Park are full of festivals, with one for every major street and parish. Expect beer, non-descript food and a few jam bands. Old Town has one that's definitely worth singling out, though.
- Old Town Art Fair, Just north of North Ave at Lincoln Ave and Wisconsin St, ☎ +1 312 337-1938, . One weekend in early-to-mid June, 10AM-6PM. One of the premiere neighborhood festivals in Chicago, for almost 60 years. There's plenty of pretty stuff to buy, of course, with roughly 250 artists selected by a jury to participate and again at the fair for award purposes. But there's also food and good live music (local high school and national performers), garden walks through the historic district and the neighborhood at its early summer best. Requested donation $5. Expect surly volunteers if the 'request' is not met, though..
It's art, Dad: Second City
- Apollo Theater, 2540 N Lincoln Ave (Fullerton Red/Brown/Purple Line), ☎ +1 773 935-6100, . Box office M-Tu 10AM-6PM, W-Sa 10AM-8PM, Su 11AM-4PM. An eclectic mix on two stages includes solo shows, major contemporary plays like "Ragtime" and "The Vagina Monologues," and the popular improvised musicals of Baby Wants Candy  (Sa 10:30PM, $15). Studio shows around $20, mainstage $35-$50.
- Park West, 322 W Armitage Ave (between Clark St and Lincoln Ave), ☎ +1 773 929-5959, . This converted movie theater (and former burlesque hall) has some of the best acoustics in the U.S., and it's surprisingly intimate considering it can seat up to a thousand. None other than Ringo Starr has said that Park West is second only to London's Royal Albert Hall. Fans will crowd the stage, but the best seats are toward the back, near the main bar and in the balconies... or call in advance to reserve a booth. Tickets usually $25-45.
- Royal George Theater, 1641 N Halsted St (North/Clybourn Red Line), ☎ +1 312 988-9000, . Box office M 10AM-6PM, Tu-Sa 10AM-8PM, Su 12-5PM. Home to the long-running Late Night Catechism and its variations, the Royal George has a couple of stages for "cheeky" parodies and satires that go down nice with moderately wealthy white folks. $30-$50.
- Second City, 1616 N Wells St (Sedgwick Brown Line), ☎ +1 312 337-3992, . 8PM (Su 7PM), F-Sa also 11PM. The list of Second City alumni in show business has become something of a cliche — Alan Alda, John Belushi, Bill Murray, on and on — and it's still going strong today, with recent graduates like Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell, and Tina Fey. The separate revues on the Mainstage and the e.t.c. theaters are consistently smart, timely, and funny. (The third stage, Donny's Skybox, is rented out to local sketch troupes outside the artistic direction of Second City, and is hit-or-miss.) The third act of the night is fully improvised, and if there's space left among the paying customers from the first two acts, admission is free. Tickets M $14, Su,Tu-Th $19, F-Sa $24.
- Steppenwolf, 1650 N Halsted St (North/Clybourn Red Line), ☎ +1 312 335-1650, . Box office M-Sa 11AM-5PM, Su 1-5PM. The creation of John Malkovich, Gary Sinise, and many others, Steppenwolf features cutting-edge theater and doesn't trade on the famous name, offering both original material and incisive re-stagings of classic plays (like a terrific recent production of The Crucible). Unlike Second City, the famous alumni of Steppenwolf make occasional returns to the stage as their schedules allow. Tickets from $40.
- Tony & Tina's Wedding, 230 W North Ave (Sedgwick Brown Line), ☎ +1 312 664-8844, . Su 5PM, W-Th 7:30PM, F 8PM, Sa 7PM. Dinner theater is definitely an acquired taste, but if you're a fan, this is about as good as it comes. Tony, Tina, and their cartoon Italian families have been getting married for more than a decade, interacting with their "guests" at the bar, during the dinner (pasta, naturally), and an after-party. $55-65.
- Victory Gardens, 2433 N Lincoln Ave (Fullerton Red/Brown/Purple Line), ☎ +1 773 871-3000, . Box office Tu-Sa 12-8PM, Su 12-4PM. One of the premier Off-Loop theaters in Chicago, Victory Gardens hosts a noteworthy slate of original plays and adaptations both fun and dramatic. Among their several stages is the Biograph Theater, and they're kind enough to screen classic movies there ($5) from time to time so people can relive old Hollywood and ill-fated dates of John Dillinger. Tickets $15-45.
- Zanies Comedy Nite Club, 1548 N Wells St (Sedgwick Brown Line), ☎ +1 312 337-4027 (fax: +1 312 337-3943), . Su-Th 8:30, F 8:30 & 10:30, Sa 7PM, 9PM, & 11:15PM. This is Chicago's flagship stand-up comedy club and hosts all the big international stand-up touring acts. $20 cover & 2-item order minimum, cover may vary.
Trendy boutique shopping can be found at the shops on Armitage between Halsted and Sheffield in Lincoln Park.
- Fleet Feet Sports, 210 W North Ave, Piper's Alley (Sedgwick Brown/Purple Line), ☎ +1 312 587-3338, . M-F 10AM-8PM, Sa 10AM-6PM, Su 11AM-5PM. Reinforce tired feet and outdoor gear here. Fun runs on M-W at 6:30PM (Tu women only).
- Lori's Shoes, 824 W Armitage Ave (Armitage Brown/Purple Line), ☎ +1 773 281-5655, . M-Th 11AM-7PM, F 11AM-6PM, Sa 10AM-6PM, Su 12-5PM. Reinforce unfashionable feet and unremarkable soles here. Handbags and jewelry available as well.
- Old Town Aquarium, 1538 N Wells St, ☎ +1 312 642-8763, . M,W,F 12-7PM, Tu-Th 12-8PM, Sa 11AM-6PM, Su 12-6PM. If you can't make it to Shedd, at least you can go to one of their sources, and without the price of admission. Old Town Aquarium stocks freshwater and saltwater fish from around the world, and they have an extensive portfolio of custom aquarium designs to their credit.
- Piper's Alley, 210 W North Ave (Sedgwick Brown Line). Hours vary by store. A good indoor mall with several floors of stores and restaurants. Piper's Alley houses a lot of the entertainment in Old Town, including an art-movie multiplex, Tony & Tina's Wedding, and the entrances to Second City's e.t.c and Skybox stages. If you've been to a show here and parked in the garage, you might as well go fishing to see if a small purchase anywhere might get your parking validated.
The Lincoln Park Zoo may be free, but the food court and the concessions are a bit steep. If you need to eat at the zoo, take some solace in remembering how much you paid to get in!
The DePaul area has a lot of fast food targeted at students, mostly sandwich and noodle shops.
- Branko's, 1118 W Fullerton Ave (Fullerton Red/Brown/Purple Line), ☎ +1 773 472-3505. This mom-and-pop establishment has been whipping up sandwiches for DePaul students since 1976, and the service alone is worth the trip. Fries are free with almost everything on the menu and a Jumbo Chicago style dog with fries and a large drink comes to about 5 bucks. Cash only. $3-8.
- Clarke's, 2441 N Lincoln Ave (Fullerton Red/Brown/Purple Line), ☎ +1 773 472-3505, . 24 hours. Breakfast all day and night, although burgers are available, too. The food is decent at best, but the hours make it a must-know for anyone on the Lincoln Park bar scene. $3-8.
- Salt n' Pepper Diner, 2575 N Lincoln Ave (Fullerton Red/Brown/Purple Line), ☎ +1 773 525-8788. 7AM-4PM daily. If you need an early breakfast or a cheap lunch, Salt & Pepper sticks to the basics and does them well, with an acclaimed rockabilly jukebox. $4-9.
- Sultan's Market, 2521 N Clark St, ☎ +1 312 638-9151, . M-Th 10AM-10PM, F-Sa 10AM-midnight, Su 10AM-9PM. Take note if you're in the park by the lakefront, or if you're carrying a lighter wallet after a trip to the Century Shopping Centre in Lakeview a couple blocks north. The prices are absurdly low for the amount of satisfaction you'll get from the Mediterranean salad bar or falafel sandwiches here. They also do a fine shawerma. $3.50-8.
- Vienna Beef Factory, 2501 N Damen St, ☎ +1 773 235-6652, . Deli: M-F 6:30AM-2PM, Sa 10AM-2:30PM. Hoo boy, it's the motherlode. This is where all Chicago's hot dogs are born (not to mention Polish sausages, Italian Beef, and other assorted deli meats). You cannot eat a truer Chicago hot dog than in the factory itself, and the prices are among the best in the city. Parking is easy in the outside lot. $1.50-5.
- Vini's, 2429 N Lincoln Ave (Fullerton red/brown/purple), ☎ +1 773 327-0000, . open until 4 on weekends 11 on weekdays. Open late and incrediably cheap,a giant slice and a drink for under four dollars, Vinny's is very popular with both the lunch and bar crowd. $3.60-20.
- The Wiener's Circle, 2622 N Clark St (Fullerton Red/Brown/Purple Line). Su-Th 11AM-4AM, F-Sa 11AM-5AM. The food is only so-so, the prices fair, but what makes this walk-up joint famous is the staff, who have zero patience for customers and the colorful language skills of a bartender at the seediest dockside bar imaginable. A favorite of the late-night crowd, who after a long night of drinking seem to find major entertainment value in being served a massive dose of profane invective with their greasy chili fries and Chicago-style hot dogs. $3-7.
Lincoln Park is crammed with mid-range Italian restaurants. Sushi places aren't rare, either.
- Bacino's Pizzeria, 2204 N Lincoln Ave, ☎ +1 773 472-7400, . A Lincoln Park branch of the Loop favorite that serves what many call the city's best stuffed pizza. $12-20.
- Bistrot Margot, 1437 N Wells St (Sedgwick Brown Line), ☎ +1 312 587-3660, . M 11:30AM-9PM, Tu-Th 11:30AM-10PM, F 11:30AM-11PM, Sa 10:30AM-11PM, Su 10:30AM-9PM. Casual French bistro at reasonable prices, with an enthusiastic chef and charming decor. There's a bar on the second floor. $18-26.
- Fattoush Restaurant, 2652 N Halsted St (Diversey Brown Line), ☎ +1 773 327-2652, . M-Tu 11AM-10PM, F-Sa 11AM-11PM, Su 11AM-9PM. Lebanese cuisine on Halsted, good for a quick bite before the B.L.U.E.S. or the Kingston Mines. $7-15.
- Kamehachi, 1400 N Wells St (Sedgwick Brown Line), ☎ +1 312 664-3663, . M-Sa 11:30AM-2AM, Su 4:30PM-midnight. Reliable and sometimes exceptional sushi at this Old Town outlet of the Chicago sushi chainlet. There's relief for vegetarians as well: try the agedashi tofu. $16-22.
- Lou Malnati's, 958 W Wrightwood Ave (Fullerton Red/Brown/Purple Line), ☎ +1 773 832-4030, . M-Th 4-10PM, F-Sa 11AM-11PM, Su 11AM-10PM. Lincoln Park branch of the deep-dish pizza giant. This location has outdoor seating and a nice park across the street. $7-12.
- Mangia Roma, 1623 N Halsted St (North/Clybourn Red Line), ☎ +1 312 475-9801, . Tu-Th 11AM-10PM, F-Sa 11AM-10:30PM, Su noon-10PM. Near Steppenwolf and the Royal George — the casual pizza dinners get cheaper if you're also going to a show. $9-16.
- Mayan Palace, 2703 N Halsted St (Diversey Brown Line), ☎ +1 773 935-4200, . Good Mexican food in a relaxed atmosphere, indoor and outdoor seating. Don't put much stock in their claim regarding the best margaritas in the world (1/2 price Tu&Th), but their mole sauce and their fried ice cream are worth bragging about. $8-13.
- Pequod's, 2207 N Clybourn Ave, ☎ +1 773 327-1512, . M-Sa 11AM-2AM, Su 11AM-midnight. Great place to get caramelized/burnt crust Chicago style deep dish pizza, considered a secret favorite. $6-12.
- Raj Darbar, 2660 N Halsted St, ☎ +1 773 348-1010, . Su-Th 5-10PM, F-Sa 5-11PM. Great Indian food with an extensive menu. The service is creaky and the staff always seem to be breaking in flocks of new busboys, but the taste and decor are worth the stop. $13-25.
- Twin Anchors, 1655 N Sedgwick St, ☎ +1 312 266-1616, . M-Th 5PM-11PM, F 5PM-12AM, Sa Noon-Midnight, Su Noon-10:30PM. Impress your friends with your knowledge of Chicago by "stumbling across" this hidden neighborhood joint. Once Frank Sinatra's favorite restaurant in Chicago, it's best known for its ribs, although they also have decent steak. $12-25.
It's no accident that the most fashionable (and expensive) restaurants are situated near Steppenwolf and the surrounding theaters on Halsted. The ease of getting a reservation will be inversely proportional to the number of shows on around that time!
Each one of these restaurants offers a memorable, world-class dining experience, and will give you a great story to tell. Don't lose track of your budget, though — spending $500 on a meal for two is not unheard of.
- Alinea, 1723 N Halsted St (North/Clybourn Red Line), ☎ +1 312 867-0110, . Ranked #1 in 2006 on Gourmet Magazine's "America's Top 50 Restaurants," Alinea is just two blocks from Charlie Trotter's, where the head chef started his career. The meal is served as either a 12-course tasting menu or 24-course "tour" menu, so plan your evening with plenty of time. Tasting: $150, Tour: $225.
- Boka, 1729 N Halsted St (North/Clybourn Red Line), ☎ +1 312 337-6070, . Su-F 5PM-2AM, Sa 5PM-3AM. Another Charlie Trotter's alum runs this popular, trendy restaurant. You won't need formal dress, but you will need a reservation. The menu mixes Japanese, Mediterranean, European, and dang ol' Midwestern food without apparent self-consciousness. Plenty of seafood and a raw bar, too. Dinners are satisfying but light, making it the perfect place for a pre-show meal. $50+.
- Charlie Trotter's, 816 W Armitage Ave (North/Clybourn Red Line), ☎ +1 773 248-6228, . Tu-Th 6-10PM, F-Sa 5:30-10PM, M variable (call ahead). One of the finest restaurants in the world, this contemporary American establishment has set the standard by which all others are judged for the past 20 years. Even if the menu is a bit dated now, nobody does a wine-and-food pairing as well as Charlie Trotter's. $125-200.
The Red Lion Pub, Lincoln Park
If there's a college sports game that you can't miss while you're in town, make tracks to Lincoln Park. Most of the alumni associations (especially for Big Ten schools) have a bar staked out for themselves.
- 3rd Coast Cafe, 1260 N Dearborn St, ☎ +1 312 649-0730, . 7AM-midnight daily. Once known as the Chicago meet-up spot for 2600, the computer hackers quarterly, 3rd Coast is an upscale late-night oasis amid blocks of impressive, silent Old Town row houses. Evenings feature jazz and solo guitarists, and the food is far above average for a cafe.
- B.L.U.E.S. (B.L.U.E.S. on Halsted St), 2519 N Halsted St (Fullerton Red/Brown/Purple Line), . Su-F 8PM-2AM, Sa 8PM-3AM. Small but dedicated blues bar. On Sundays, one cover charge gets you into B.L.U.E.S. and Kingston Mines across the road.
- Delilah's, 2770 N Lincoln Ave, ☎ +1 773 472-2771, . Su-F 4PM-2AM, Sa 4PM-3AM. This is the joint where Kurt (Cobain) met Courtney (Love). No kidding. The booze selection is unbeatable and recent almost-rock-stars spin the records.
- Kingston Mines, 2548 N Halsted St (Fullerton Red/Brown/Purple Line), . Su-F 8PM-4AM, Sa 8PM-5AM. The larger of the blues bars on Halsted. Has a great set-up with two stages and two bands every night. One band plays for an hour on one stage then the other band takes over on the second stage for an hour — continuous music all night from 9:30PM.
- Liar's Club, 1665 W Fullerton Ave (74 Fullerton bus), ☎ +1 773 665-1110. Su-F 8PM-2AM, Sa 8PM-3AM. Good place to dance on the weekend — the DJs play the hits and know how to take the measure of the frat-free crowd. The round wood track-lit dance floor is a stand-out, too. If your friends don't dance, they can wait at the bar upstairs. $5 cover on weekends.
- Neo, 2350 N Clark St (Fullerton Red/Brown/Purple Line), ☎ +1 773 528-2622, . Su-F 10PM-4AM, Sa 10PM-5AM. A Goth dance fortress in the heart of Lincoln Park. Music varies by night, mostly industrial and electro, with metal on Mondays and '80s/new wave on Thursdays. Drinks are reasonably priced, and include cheap beer. Th-Sa Cover $5.
- Old Town Ale House, 219 W North Ave (Sedgwick Brown Line), ☎ +1 312 944-7020, . M-F 8AM-4AM, Sa 8AM-5AM, Su noon-4AM. An old-time Old Town dive, decorated with photos and newspaper clippings to show its history and favored status among famous Second City alums. Note the very late hours.
- Red Lion Pub, 2446 Lincoln Ave (Fullerton Red/Brown/Purple Line), ☎ +1 773 348-2695, . 12PM-1:30AM. Great English pub with two comfortable floors across the street from the Biograph. (And like the Biograph, it's rumored to be haunted.) A few literary clubs meet here for readings.
- Webster's Wine Bar, 1480 W Webster Ave (Fullerton Red/Brown/Purple Line), ☎ +1 773 868-0608, . Webster's has wine tastings/classes twice a month, and all of the expertise to satisfy a sophisticate.
- Arlington House Hostel, 616 W Arlington Pl (Fullerton Red/Brown/Purple Line), ☎ +1 773 929-5380, +1 800 467-8355, . Hostel kitchen, laundry, games, guitars. Dorm beds from $23, private rooms from $57.
- Belair Hotel, 424 W Diversey Pkwy (Diversey Brown Line), ☎ +1 773 248-4000. Caters to travelers on long-term stays — amenities are spare, but it's a cheap back-up option. Close to the lakefront. Rooms from $208/week.
- The Belden-Stratford Hotel, 2300 Lincoln Park West (Fullerton Red Line), ☎ +1 773 281-2900, . Gorgeous building across from the Lincoln Park Zoo, overlooking the lake. It's primarily an apartment building, but there are 40 hotel rooms across its 17 floors. Rooms from $139.
- Days Inn - Lincoln Park North, 644 W Diversey Pkwy (Diversey Brown Line), ☎ +1 888 576-3297, . Frequented by touring bands in town to play at one of the many big clubs on the north side. $98-$130.
- The Inn at Lincoln Park, 601 W Diversey Pkwy (Diversey Brown Line), ☎ +1 773 348-2810, . A short walk to the Lincoln Park Zoo and the lakefront. Rooms from $148.
- Lincoln Park Branch Library, 1150 W Fullerton Ave (Fullerton Red/Brown/Purple Line), ☎ +1 312 744-1926, . M-Th 9AM-9PM, F-Sa 9AM-5PM. Public library with free internet access. Two blocks west of the train station.
- Screenz, 2717 N Clark St, ☎ +1 773 348-9300 (fax: +1 773 348-9170), . M-Th 8AM-midnight, F 8AM-1AM, Sa 9AM-1AM, Su 9AM-midnight. Full-service internet cafe.
- If you are in the mood for exploration, and would like to evade the sports bar scene in Lincoln Park, consider heading west across the river to Wicker Park or Bucktown for some more colorful nightlife and shopping.
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