I’m a Chicagoan. Though born in San Francisco I grew up in this city with big shoulders as poet Carl Sandburg an Illinois native said. Ever since my mother yanked me by my tiny hand and shouted “you’re coming with me!” while I tugged the other way I’ve always lived here. I’ve been back to my SF roots a few times but there’s nothing there for me anymore. Chicagoans have a saying; ‘Chicago…where the weak are killed and eaten.’ The local tourist shop T-shirt where I ‘borrowed’ that line summed up the city’s hard boiled mentality rather nicely. Wimps are not welcome here.
Chicagoans like most people everywhere are incredibly friendly, honest, and hardworking. They’re basically decent people but this city isn’t for the weak and faint of heart. You slip up it can and will eat you alive. Case in point: as I was editing this article my wife was cheated at a local fast food store out of her meal. Her ‘crime;’ she carries a cane and the girl behind the counter figured her an easy mark.
All hardness aside Chicago has a slew of world class restaurants, an ass kicking NHL hockey team (Blackhawks), a recent World Series winning baseball team (White Sox), interesting local landmarks, the country’s first Planetarium of which your writer volunteers as a telescope facilitator explaining the Universe to tourists like you. Gangsters no longer call the shots yet political corruption is rife in the corridors of industry and power. Despite its’ toughness Chicago is a fascinating place.
Chicago chefs are #1. A climate that’s sub-arctic during winters, roasting hot in summer with varying degrees of light and heavy rainfall the rest of the year we’ve been labeled the ‘City that Works’ since for most of us there’s little else to do but work and eat and we do both with gusto! A few years ago Chicago set the national record as the fattest city in America. Chicago’s cooks can make a simple hot dog or SPAM sandwich tastes like something out of this world! We have our own variation of the humble American hot dog. It’s called the ‘Chicago Dog.’
- Vienna beef frankfurters
- Poppy-seed buns
- Yellow mustard
- Chopped white onion
- Sweet pickle relish with or without mint
- Short peppers
- Diced tomatoes
- Celery salt (optional)
Reader first boil your frankfurter; when done put ‘dog’ on bun steamed or otherwise and add all of the above ingredients to taste; that’s all there is to it your own Chicago styled hot dog sandwich! Your Chicago Dog will taste even better with a side of French fries or a bag of potato chips with a pop (soft drink) to wash it down.
This simple regional meal has a storied history. Some folks say our variation of the hot dog started in the historic Maxwell Street district. Others say the Chicago Dog got its start in 1929 when they called it the ‘Depression Sandwich’-oh yeah…before I forget, true Chicagoans never say sand…WICH but ‘sammich; just so youse’ know. But as I was saying the world famous Vienna Beef frankfurters were first sold at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893. Reader if you want to know more go on line and ‘Google’ it. You can buy your Chicago Dog during any sporting event at game times, ‘Portillos, Superdawg Drive-ins, Bob’s’ on the new Maxwell Street, and from any street vendor when the weather is warm.
‘Gibson’s’ is my place for steak except when I cook ’em myself. Located in the Gold Coast (my neighborhood) across from ‘Viagra Triangle’ (Don’t ask.) they serve the best steaks, chops, lobsters, oysters on the half shell, a wide variety of alcoholic concoctions, and anything else you crave. When in town I recommend at least one trip to this fabulous steakhouse. Google ‘Gibson’s Restaurants’ since there are similar franchises in two nearby suburbs. Reader if you like an all you can eat meat treat visit Brazilian steak house ‘Fogo de Chao.’ My wife and I go there regularly when we wanna’ pig-out; use your search engine and type ‘Fogo de Chao.’ Like they say about Heaven ‘eye has not seen nor ear heard…’ Reader believe me you won’t be disappointed with either of these restaurants! Both restaurants are a gourmand’s delights.
There are so many find restaurants in Chicago. I can only list a minute few. Here’s more of my personal favorites:
- · Big Al’s Beef (www.alsbeef.com)
- · Uno’s Pizzeria & Grill (www.unos.com)
- · Manny’s Coffee Shop & Deli (www.mannysdeli.com)
- · Lem’s BBQ House (www.lemsque.com) was voted the best Bar B Que restaurant in Illinois. WARNING: Rough neighborhood; watch your ass!
- · Sai Café (www.saicafe.com)
- · Little Quiapo (www.littlequiapo.com)
- · Sun Wah B-B-Q (www.sunwahbbq.com)
- · Ricobenes (www.ricobenespizza.com)
- · Viceroy of India (www.vceroyofindia.com); if driving only go there Tuesday were there’s ample on-the-street parking.
Reader these are but a tiny fraction of few of my favorite pig-out places; for a complete listing Google ‘Chicago Restaurant Guide.’
Not too long ago every museum in the city was free to the general public; not anymore though they host occasional ‘Free Days.’ We have the Lincoln Park Zoo & Conservatory (www.lpzoo.org). When my brothers and I were kids Mom used to bundle the three of us off and take those long bus rides to the zoo. Eventually I fell in love with the place. We were entertained as we sat watching the different types of animals do their thing; I especially liked birds. In my youth I ran an aviary to rescue and patch up sick birds before releasing them back to the wilds. Some would come back a visit me from time to time. When you grow up poor you learn to cherish moments like those. I still go there to sketch from time to time. Both the zoo and adjacent conservatory are free to the public and open daily. We have the larger Garfield Park Conservatory that’s also free however the neighborhood isn’t one of the safest places in town though easy accessible by private car and Green Line subway; stick to Lincoln Park; its’ safer that way. Both zoo and conservatories are run by the Chicago Park District as are the free beaches during summer with their highly competent though a bit overzealous life guards.
Our gallery and museum district is not only easily assessable but also on par with similar cultural sites globally. Here are the major ones all my favorites:
- · Art Institute of Chicago (www.artic.edu)
- · Chicago Cultural Center is a window to other Chicago area to do sites. Please Google it to learn more.
- · Chicago History Museum (www.chicagohistory.org) explains Chicago’s history in much detail than my article.
- · Museum of Contemporary Art (www.mcachicago.org)
- · Magnificent Mile (www.themagnificentmile.com/shopping)
- · Field Museum of Natural History (www.fieldmuseum.org)
- · Adler Planetarium (www.adlerplanetarium.org)
- · Shed Aquarium (www.sheedaquarium.org)
- · Museum of Science & Industry (www.msichicago.org). Make sure you visit the Coal Mine.
- · Chinatown (www.chicagochinatown.com/restauants)
- · River’s Casino (www.riverscasino.com/desplaines)
Late King of Swing Benny Goodman said; “I don’t have any great love for Chicago. What the hell, a childhood around Douglas Park isn’t very memorable. I remember the street fights and how you were afraid to cross the bridge ’cause the Irish kids on the other side would beat your head in. I left Chicago a long time ago.” Benny was right. I remember when I was young non-whites dared cross under train viaducts for fear of getting stomped to death by kids and adults of rival ethnic groups. Chicagoans have strong tribal connections with neighborhoods vying for control of their home turf.
When I lived in South Chicago a section of the city located on the Indiana State Line in the southernmost part of the city, residents from one block dared not stray from the block where they lived. If they did they risked a severe beating from residents from the other block. Their crime: being on a different block where block residents felt they didn’t belong. Reader this sounds crazy; it is but that’s how it’s done in certain parts of this town. To top it off South Chicago is overwhelmingly Catholic there were several ethnic parishes within a two to three block radius! All these people prayed to the same God, for much of the same things, pledging spiritual allegiance to the same archbishop; Reader you tell me. I got around all that provincial nonsense by going to different parishes most Sundays. What’s it like now I have no idea; I moved my stuff to my new place decades ago.
Chicago has an interesting albeit checkered past. It is a city of contrasts, aforementioned a city of tribes, a “stay off my block” mentality in certain neighborhoods away from the touristy lakefront. Chicago is home to some of the smartest people on planet Earth. It’s been noted there are more Noble Prize laureates in Hyde Park (neighborhood to world class University of Chicago) than in the entire United States; its’ probably true. On the flip side certain neighborhoods exist where its’ tantamount to suicide for African-Americans to be on caught on the streets after dark. According to several recent polls Chicago still ranks number one as the most racially segregated city in America. Though you have people of all races and nationalities living in this exciting metropolis they tend to ghettoize themselves within their own narrow ethnic enclaves.
A minor hobby of mine is collecting bits of city history. One historical event I fantasize attending was the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. I have dummy tickets for two, several art books highlighting this historical event and a book about the fair published in 1893 that I purchased in a Wisconsin antique shop. Currently there’s an exhibit about the exposition at the Field Museum of Natural History. This rare exhibition closes September of this year.
Reader visit Argonne National Laboratory (ANL). Its’ off the beaten path but a must do tourist destination. ANL is managed by the US Department of Energy and University of Chicago. Originally set up by World War II era top scientist Enrico Fermi as part of the Manhattan Project which gave us ‘The Bomb’ the lab performs a wide range of cutting edge research projects. Contact them at: www.anl.gov for additional information.
When visiting the cheapest mode of transportation is the CTA (Chicago Transit Authority). Unlike the past the CTA is clean, safe, affordable and generally reliable though the subway’s reliability is questionable due to frequent show downs and track repairs. If you’re serious about CTA go to www.CityPASS.com for travel times, information on various points of interest and how to purchase your City Pass. If you plan to use CTA go on line and consult their Bus/Tran Tracker system before heading out. Reader if you’re from out-of-town we have two world class international airports O’ Hare and Midway, Greyhound Bus, and Amtrak stations.
I wouldn’t drive here if I were you but if you must don’t drive like a tourist slow as hell or else you’ll get cussed’ out by some of the locals though tourists from New York and New Jersey don’t scare easy. And do be cognizant of the many traffic speed cameras and overzealous city tow truck drivers; that’s how local politicians make their money ticketing rich Yuppies and out-of-towners like you. I don’t call Chicago ‘Ticket Central’ for no reason. Go on line for a map of this city’s infamous speed cameras by typing in ‘Chicago’s speed camera locations.’ The nefarious contractor who own and operate these money makers I’m not at liberty to name. Never get lippy with Chicago’s finest our police department in case you’re pulled over. Most officers are nice people and take their jobs seriously but don’t push it. Reader you have been warned.
Chicago is a city for survivors. The harsh winters, boiling summers, the War of 1812 when British invaders wantonly slaughtered the entire population (Fort Dearborn), the Civil War with martial law, that dreadful fire in 1871 that left the city in ashes, Dr. H. H. Holmes who horribly carved up over 200 innocent girls and women during the 1890’s at his ‘Murder Castle.’ Holmes was so heinous he made fellow contemporary Jack the Ripper look like a choirboy in training; like the Ripper they hung the bastard! When the trapdoor was sprung a loud thunderclap followed by a streak of lightening that shook the prison! The race riots of 1919, the vicious Al Capone era, the turbulent 1960’s demonstrate that the denizens of the Windy City, a moniker given us by Eastern politicians over the verbal smoke made by city politicians over the Columbian Exposition, are a tough lot.
Chicago like most cities has more positives than negatives. We have something for everybody; LEGOLAND, Discovery Center, Brookfield Zoo in suburban Brookfield, Chicago Theater Tours, Second City, Windy of Chicago, Bike Chicago, Millennium and Grant Parks, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House, John Hancock Observatory, beautiful Navy Pier, the city’s Architecture River Cruises, Classic Lake Michigan tours, Chicago’s Children’s Museum, Willis Tower along with many interesting and exciting places. You name it we got it. Contact www.ChicagoTours.us for complete listing of more fun things to do during your stay. For affordable hotels use your search engine and type in ‘Chicago hotels cheap;’ they have several hotel sites that have exactly what you’re looking for. Reader its’ still cold as hell here; my suggestion visit us in two months when the weather’s warmer; I’ll be seeing you.