College Town Tours: The Best of Chicago

Wrigleyville, the home of the Chicago cubs and the best college bar scene in town

You may not think of Chicago as a college town, but with over a dozen schools in the city, it surely is. Going to college in a big (windy) city is a very different experience from small town college life. There is no way you can get bored. Chicago may not have any big college football, but that’s what the Bears are for right? It gets cold in the winter, but that’s what bars are for, to drink and stay warm. Chicago has amazing food, drinking establishments, museums, beaches, sports, architecture, and every form of entertainment you could ask for. It is more laid back than other big cities–New Yorkand LA–and there is no pressure to dress up when you leave the house, which is a definitely plus when you’re dragging yourself to a hangover breakfast at 11am to start off Sunday-Funday in your Juicy sweatpants and Bears jersey.

Going to college in Chicago is a privilege and we encourage you to explore the city and see what it has to offer. We’ve highlighted some of our favorite spots in the city so drink up, have fun, and enjoy all that Chicago has to offer!

–Sara Whipple, Small Kitchen College Ambassador


**SKC Picks**

Most Irresistable Sandwich
Luckys
Wrigleyville – 3472 N. Clark St.

A sandwich the size of a small child would turn any young woman away, right? Wrong. The overstuffed sandwich has won us all over. A Wrigleyville staple, Lucky’s boasts sandwiches overflowing with your choice of meat, cheese, French fries, coleslaw, and condiments. French Fries in any food wins in our book. You will need a fork, knife, time, and a friend to help you finish one of these bad boys. The steak and cheese sandwich may knock you out for the afternoon, but we assure you it is well worth it. They also have awesome drink specials every day of the week including $1 cans on Thursdays. $7 dollars for a sandwich the size of our head? We’re sold.

Best Sports Bar
State Lincoln Park
935 W. Webster Ave

While we enjoyed the beer showers at Kincades Bar after the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup, State Bar located a block from DePaul is the classier choice for a sports bar. State has over 100 flat screens located throughout the bar so girls saying they can’t see the TV is is no excuse for not watching the game. There are huge booths around the perimeter of the bar that are first come first serve on non-game days. However, on gamedays you have to reserve a booth or slowly take over the booth of some unsuspecting guys with gold wings painted on the back of their button down shirt. This bar has surprisingly amazing food. It’s a little bit on the expensive side for a college budget, but they have great nightly specials (Wednesday 1/2 price appetizer, bottles of wine, Thursday $5 everything).  Besides the occasional guys that think they are in a club in Jersey, this place offers everything a sports bar should – hundreds of TVs to watch the game and great food.

Best Place to Feed Your Sweet Tooth
Sweet Mandy B’s
Lincoln Park – 1208 W Webster Ave

Having Sweet Mandy B’s two blocks away from campus can be quite a problem for those trying to avoid the freshman 15 or, more accurately, the college 15. However, with cupcakes as good as these, the extra weight is well worth it. As we walk by we always find some justification for why we must have another cupcake: a really hard day of classes, or just that we haven’t had a cupcake in three whole days! This place is a must for anyone in the Lincoln Park area. We aren’t usually plain janes, but the vanilla and chocolate cupcakes here are amazing. The specialty cupcakes are delicious too, but we like to celebrate the excellence of the traditional flavors.

Cheapest Liquor Store
Binnys Beverage Depot
Lincoln Park – 1720 N. Marcey St.

Binnys may be our favorite place in Chicago. Not only is this the Walmart of Liquor stores, but it also has the nicest staff who will even watch your dog outside for you while you shop. This place is huge and is truly is the college kids’ candy store. Recently, we purchased a handle of Grey Goose vodka for $20–that’s $20 dollars for us to look classy and like we care about the quality of the vodka that goes in to our drink with whatever fruit juice is left in the fridge. We’ll take it! Binnys has 5 Chicago locations, and one is just blocks from the DePaul campus. Be prepared for a comment from one of the check out guys about your purchase. They have seen enough customers to be able to tell what your liquor says about you. Make sure you get a Binny’s card so you can enjoy all the deals they offer!

Best Place to Buy a Keg
West Lakeview Liquors
North Center – 2156 W Addison St

West Lakeview Liquores is a dangerous place. With the widest selection of kegs in Chicago, you can find yourself spending more than you planned. The staff is incredibly knowledgeable and helpful. What makes this place different is the wide variety and quality of their products. They have over 300 different domestic and import beers to choose from. You can place your order and you can either pick it up or have it delivered. They also will help those people who don’t know what to do with a keg once it is delivered (i.e. tap it). This place is great for those of you who want to impress your friends with your sophisticated and worldly choice of beer for your kegger.

Best Dive Bar
The Store
Lincoln Park – 2002 N. Halsted

When 2am rolls around, and you find yourself at The Store, you know it has been a big night. The Store is an experience to say the least. Don’t arrive before 2am unless you enjoy hanging out with the 70-year-olds sitting at the bar. The store is a cross between an old western saloon and the only bar in a rural town in Wisconsin. Appropriately, the crowd is therefore a mix of old men and the drunkest 20-somethings in Chicago. The odds are good for girls as the men to women ratio is usually 10:1. The highlight of this bar is the basketball arcade game and Big Buck Hunter. If you enjoy cheap drinks, great people watching, and a rowdy crowd, this is the place to be.

Best 4AM Bar
Hangee uppe
Near North Side – 14 West Elm St

The Hangee Uppe (pronounced Hang Up) is the place to be late night on Fridays and Saturdays. Most people stumble in here after the other bars on Rush and Division have closed. We don’t recommend coming in here before 1am, as the bar doesn’t get busy until then. We do recommend coming here before 2am because the line starts to build at this time and spending 30 minutes outside in the Chicago winter is never enjoyable. The Hangee Uppe has three dance floors; the top floor plays today’s top 10 charts, one basement dance floor plays 80’s and 90’s hits, and the other basement dance floor plays oldies which usually attracts the, um, oldies. Our biggest piece of advice – make sure you go to the bathroom before you go here unless you want to experience bathrooms like the ones in Slumdog Millionaire. Regardless, it’s impossible not to have a good time here.

Best Place to Meet a Silver Fox
Tavern on Rush
Gold Coast – 1031 N Rush St

Not only is this the place to find a silver fox, but it is by far the best people watching in Chicago. The “Viagra Triangle,” has earned its name for being a hub for the older crowd. A quarter of the population in this triangle is made up of escorts (to put it nicely), which is automatic entertainment. Tavern on Rush is the main restaurant in this area and offers a little bit less expensive menu for you young girls that want to eat at a nice restaurant. We recommend sharing appetizers here as they are pretty big, delicious, and inexpensive. The drinks are a little pricier, so we recommend pregaming or stopping at a cheaper bar before you get here. You can also wait for one of the thirty old guys sitting around the bar to hit on you and buy you a drink. Either way, this place will entertain you for the evening.

Best Late Night Food (With Attitude)
Weiner Circle
Lincoln Park – 2622 N Clark Street

If you live in Chicago and have never visited The Weiner Circle, shame on you! While this place is known less for the food and more for the experience, it is well worth it. Come in here after 2am on a Friday or Saturday night and you will witness something you’ve never seen before. The hotdog joint situated in a 20 x 20 shack, is host to some of the most inappropriate employees you will ever encounter. In fact, you cannot order food here unless you refer to the employees as one of many terrible derogatory words. Beware, they will spit it right back at you, and make you want to curl up in a corner. The food here is decent and does the job of filling you up, but beware – a chocolate milkshake here means something very different than what you would imagine.

Best Late Night Pizza (After 2am)
Ians Pizza
Lakeview – 3463 N Clark St

If you are looking for the best late night pizza, Ian’s is the place to go. While their pizza is delicious at all times of the day, for some reason, their macaroni and cheese covered slice (our favorite) is always better after 2am. Ian’s began in Madison, WI as a college favorite, and Chicagoans are very grateful that it migrated here. They feature seasonal specials including a guacamole burrito pizza, a chili cheese fries pizza, and a s’mores pizza. We do warn you that you will have to deal with 90% of the late night customers being rowdy, but it is well worth it for a slice of Ian’s specialty pizza.

Best Chicago-Style Pizza
Pequods
Lincoln Park – 2207 North Clybourn Avenue

The debate about Chicago’s best deep dish pizza will rage on forever, but we think that Pequods is number one. This hole in the wall restaurant is not known by many, but those who do, love it. The atmosphere, including the staff, is very laid back, which is a nice change from other Chicago pizzerias who take themselves too seriously. What makes Pequods different from their competitors is their cheesy caramelized crust. Trust us, it is amazing. For those of you non deep dish lovers, they do offer thin crust, but come on, you are in Chicago!

Best Bar Food
Cortland’s Garage
Bucktown – 1645 West Cortland Street

The garage is a laid back bar in an old garage (hence the name). In the summers they open the garage door and have the option of outdoor seating. The real winner here is the superior bar food. Cortland’s Garage features tons of great appetizers including mac and cheese fritters with bacon and guinness mustard sauce and their classic pretzels. They also have a variety of salads if you are going the healthy route. The big star here is the burger selection. They have nine signature burgers and the option to build your own. The Cortland Street burger is our personal favorite made with white cheddar, smoked bacon, avocado, and crispy onions (it was also named one of the top 10 burgers in Chicago in 2009). It may sound like your everyday burger, but trust us when we say it is amazing! Check out their sister bars The Stretchy (Wrigleyville) and Loft Six Ten (Wicker Park)!

Best Bar Hopping Neighborhood
Wrigleyville

Wrigleyville is hands down the best bar-hopping neighborhood in Chicago – especially for you lazy folk! The strip of bars down Clarke and Sheffield gives people dozens of choices for their next bar and if one bar is dead, it’s on to the next! Some go-to bars are The Stretch, Casey Morans, Harry Caray’s, Murphy’s Bleachers, and John Barleycorn. This area is especially fun during Cubs season as the field is steps away and the fans are rowdy. Wrigleyville’s bars are close in proximity and are tons of fun, which makes it the best bar hopping neighborhood in Chicago.

Best Beach

Most people forget that Chicago is a beach town (at least in the summer). The best beach choice all depends on what kind of person you are. If you are looking for a fun-filled, top of the line people watching beach, then North Ave Beach is for you. On any nice day of the summer, this beach is packed with all sorts of people. Get there early to stake out your spot because by noon you will have a hard time finding a place to put your towel. If you are looking for a less-packed beach, Oak Street Beach is a good option. It’s clean, comfortable, and has some of the best views in Chicago. If you are a dog owner, we recommend the Montrose dog beach. It is large and has tons of dogs. If you’re dog isn’t comfortable with a ton of dogs there is a  small dog beach off the Belmont exit that may be a better fit. Although Chicago is often forgotten as a beach town, there are tons of options for all different types of people.

Best Sunday Funday
Duffy’s
Lincoln Park – 4201 West Diversey Avenue – Chicago

Sunday Funday is a weekly holiday in Chicago and Duffy’s is definitely the place to be. Make sure you get here before 11am if you want any chance of getting a table. You can’t beat their $15.95 all you can eat buffet and unlimited mimosas from 10am to 3pm. The buffet has stuff that sounds good but the quality isn’t great, but its $15.95 right? We recommend if you have some standards for food that you grab brunch somewhere else before you arrive in the blackout hole that is Duffy’s. The crowd is a mix of college kids, 20-somethings, and 30-somethings. This place gets crazy, especially on Bears gamedays. Warning: you may be recovering for the better part of the week after a Sunday at Duffy’s.

Best Hangover Brunch
Nookies
Lincoln Park – 2114 North Halsted Street, Chicago

If you’re like us, you want something greasy and unhealthy to cure a big night of drinking. Nookies is the place to go. It definitely has a diner feel to it and has a huge selection of omelettes, breakfast sandwiches, grilled cheese, and milkshakes. The food is cheap and so delicious. We recommend the grilled cheese (add avocado and bacon). It is just the right amount of greasy to cure your hangover. Saturday and Sunday mornings here are packed, so we recommend going after the morning rush to get a seat here. Nookies has three locations citywide but the Lincoln Park location has great charm and great food!

Best Parents Weekend Restaurant
Gibson’s Bar and Steakhouse
Near North – 1028 North Rush Street

Parents weekend is the one time we know we are going to get quality food and not have to pay for it. In a city of thousands of restaurants it is difficult to find the perfect one. We usually don’t get to eat much quality meat, especially not in the dining hall. Therefore we think the best parent’s weekend restaurant should be a steakhouse. There are tons of steakhouses to choose from in Chicago but we recommend Gibson’s. It is pricey, but aren’t all steakhouses? This place comes extra recommended because of its location, in the heart of the Viagra Triangle (the best people watching in the city). There are other restaurants in this area that are also great– Carmines and Luxbar are your best bets if you are looking for something a little less expensive. Nonetheless, take advantage of the fact your parents are paying and take them to a nice place that is a Chicago staple!

Best Running Path
Lake Front Bike Path

The best running path in Chicago is quite obvious – the Lake Front Bike Bath which runs along Lake Michigan. The 20-mile long path passes right by downtown Chicago. While this path is incredibly beautiful (especially during the summer) it does get very crowded so look out for bikers and in-line skaters! This running path really can’t be beat.

Best Beer Garden
Sheffields
Lakeview – 3258 N. Sheffield

Sheffield’s, located in the Lakeview neighborhood, boasts one of the top beer gardens in Chicago. With an excellent assortment of beer and amazing BBQ food, this place is a clear winner. In the summer, the garden is packed with the after work crowd and Cubs fans. It’s pretty low-key  with mostly picnic table seating outside. All their BBQ is excellent but we will be girly and recommend the Southern BBQ salad. Their brisket is really delicious too! Overall, this place offers a relaxed environment, with a good group of patrons, good food, and a great beer selection.

Best Free Activity
Lincoln Park Zoo
Lincoln Park – 2200 North Cannon Drive

It’s hard to believe that this beautiful zoo is free. In fact the first few times we went there, we thought we were pretty cool for sneaking through the gates and not having to buy a ticket. This zoo offers everything your average zoo has, but what makes it better is its location. It is adjacent to Lake Michigan and surrounded by beautiful parks. Our recommendation is that you hold off eating at the zoo as everything is extremely overpriced–it is their main source of revenue. Instead, head over to one of the many restaurants surrounding. Our personal favorite is right across from the zoo: RJ Grunts (you have to try the french dip sandwich). You can’t beat a summer day at the Lincoln Park Zoo with the animals, the lake, and the parks.

Best Museum
Field Museum
Near Southside – 1400 South Lake Shore Drive

Chicago is a city of museums. It is hard to pick our favorite among such amazing choices, but we personally love the Field Museum. Mostly known for its dinosaur exhibit and Sue (the largest tyrannosaurus rex), this museum has so much more to offer, like a DNA center (to get your nerd on) and a huge animal exhibit. You can’t beat the location either as it’s right on Lake Michigan and next to the home of the Chicago Bears, Soldier Field. It’s a little bit expensive, but if you use your student ID you can get in for $20.

Originally posted on Saturday, March 12th, 2011

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  2. Four Neighborhoods, Four Vibes | Lost In Grids

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    [...] OK, so Wrigleyville isn’t a neighborhood per se, a Chicagoan cannot deny its presence as a world of its own. Lakeview, the official neighborhood, lies just north of Lincoln Park. Wrigleyville lies in the area surrounding Wrigley Field and is home to the numerous bars that welcome the inebriated Cubs fans. On a Wrigleyville Saturday night, Clark Street, from Addison to Belmont, is flooded with baseball hat-wearing bros and miniskirt-flaunting girls, reliving college days by binge-drinking cheap beer. For those wanting a rowdy night, Wrigelyville is a frat party on steroids. Photo Credit: http://college.biggirlssmallkitchen.com/2011/03/college-town-tours-the-best-of-chicago.html [...]

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