10 More Awesome Chicago Neighborhood Staycations
By Chicagoist in Arts & Entertainment on Sep 1, 2016 8:17PM
Leaving town is overrated. Instead of blowing your paycheck on plane tickets or risking relationships on the forced confined space of a road trip, looking at your own city with a fresh perspective can be just the escape you need. Whether it's discovering the perfect vintage desk lamp at Architectural Artifacts or mixing up a custom cocktail at The Berkshire Room, the city's neighborhoods are spilling over with staycation goodness just waiting to be explored. Last year we gave you our picks for 17 excellent Chicago neighborhood staycations. Now here's ten more for you to check out. Did we forget anything really awesome? Please let us know in the comments.
Stoney Island Arts Bank, via Jessica Mlinaric / Chicagoist
Greater Grand Crossing
Visit Stony Island Arts Bank
One of Chicago’s most renowned artists, Theaster Gates often works at the intersection of art and community development—community development not as code for gentrification, but something more progressive and self-governed. The best example, we think, is the Stony Island Arts Bank. Gates purchased the site, a former savings and loan building that had fallen into disrepair, in 2012 for the grand sum of $1. The center now houses four noteworthy libraries: a collection of books and periodicals from Jet and Ebony publisher Johnson Publishing; an archive of thousands of art-historical slides, dating back to prehistory; a collection of racist “negrobilia” objects; and, our favorite, the awe-inspiring vinyl collection of house-music pioneer Frankie Knuckles. Next time some local government functionary tells you electronic music isn’t art, you’ll know where to send ‘em.
Stony Island Arts Bank is located at 6760 S Stony Island Ave.
Catch a movie at Black Cinema House
Also operated in conjunctions with Gates’ Rebuild Foundation, Black Cinema House holds screenings of films “by and about the people of the African diaspora;” and the organization’s programmers—which have included notables such as Michael W. Phillips and Amir George—strikes a rare balance of adventurousness and approachability. Focus ranges from neglected-but-vital early African-American film to experimental short programs to student works developed through BCH’s neighborhood youth outreach classes. Fresh critical perspectives on more pop-culturally prominent flicks are common, too: recent Diana Ross and Spike Lee retrospectives come to mind. They do frequent screenings at other venues in and around the neighborhood, too, so a quick Twitter or Facebook follow is highly recommended.
Black Cinema House is located at 7200 S Kimbark Ave.
Eat at Original Soul Vegetarian
Any diners operating under the assumption that “vegetarian soul food” is an oxymoron would be wise to visit this beloved vegan-focused outpost. The hands-down standout is the BBQ Twist—a perfect match of sweet sauce and savory riblet-style protein that we’ve waxed poetic about before. The full, meaty texture puts most meat substitutes to shame. And if there are any omnivores in the group, save stomach real estate for real-meat rib tips and hot links at one of the city’s longest-running barbecue spots, Lem’s Bar-B-Q, located just one block east. I know it sounds like a one-or-the-other proposition, but unless you’re a strict-observing vegetarian, it’s the way to go.
Original Soul Vegetarian is located at 203 E 75th St.
Eat at Glenn's Diner
Instead of agonizing over the age-old dining question, "cereal or fish?" Glenn's Diner lets you have it all with generous portions in an unfussy atmosphere. For over ten years, the casual neighborhood staple has been serving breakfast all day as well as fresh fish and seafood for lunch and dinner. Eyeing the cereal bar is like taking a nostalgia trip (Golden Crisp! Kix!). Giant chalkboards display underwater options like Arctic char with shrimp diablo sauce and sea scallops dressed with a bacon, mushroom, and sherry cream. If you're not sure where to start, the knowledgeable staff will walk you through every fin on the menu. Don't miss the Cioppino, a San Francisco stew that packs four kinds of fish, shrimp, mussels, and veggies in a light, spicy broth.
Glenn's Diner is located at 1820 W. Montrose Ave.
Drink at Band of Bohemia
Bohemians live and create by their own rules, as do the owners of the namesake Ravenswood restaurant. Co-founders Michael Carroll and Craig Sindelar are Alinea veterans who melded their considerable experience to create a "culinary brewhouse" that's upscale but not stuffy. The small plates menu pairs meals with in-house beers, and not the other way around. Expect unique flavors on tap like a Thai-influenced saison or a Belgian brewed with lemongrass, cardamom, and lavender. The food is impeccable, but just lounging in the gorgeous bar with a seasonal brew or cocktail will wake your inner free spirit.
Band of Bohemia is located at 4710 N. Ravenswood Ave.
Shop at Architectural Artifacts
Architectural Artifacts is quite literally a treasure trove. The 80,000 square foot showroom houses eclectic antiques from around the world that owner Stuart Grannen has been collecting since 1987. Wander the century-old warehouse to explore exquisitely crafted and historically significant pieces like remnants of Buckingham Fountain and a Louis Sullivan column from the Chicago Stock Exchange. Where else can you buy your midcentury Czech light fixtures and vintage Japanese temple ornaments in one place? You might not need that 19th-century Bavarian moose horn hunting lodge chair, but why not treat yo self?
Architectural Artifacts is located at 4325 N. Ravenswood Ave.
Play at Lillstreet Art Center
If Lillstreet were a work of art it would be a mosaic. Since 1975, the co-op has assembled artists of varied ages, skill levels, and disciplines to foster arts growth and education. The 40,000 square foot facility hosts classes in drawing, painting, photography, ceramics, jewelry, printmaking, textiles, and glass. After class, stop by First Slice Pie Café on the ground floor. The nonprofit restaurant's revenue provides meals to more than 600 needy Chicagoans each week. Check out the gallery to see work from the artist in residency program and other makers. When it comes to community building, Lillstreet has it down to a fine art.
Lillstreet Art Center is located at 4401 N Ravenswood Ave.
(from The Revel Room's Facebook)
Eat at Pub Royale
A restaurant named one of America's 50 best by Bon Appetit hardly needs more accolades. Yet in a neighborhood that sees new openings rise and fall on what feels like a weekly basis, Pub Royale is the best thing that's happened in the past year. The British-Indian pub offers a modern interpretation of the cuisine and plenty of surprises. Eggplant curry and buttered paneer are musts on the dinner menu. Gobi Manchurian, a sweet and spicy helping of crispy cauliflower, is among my favorite dishes in the city. On a less traditional note, check out the India hot chicken served with naan and the royale with cheese, which must be one of Chicago's best burgers. The rotating draft list is eclectic and extensive and the cocktail menu includes refreshing seasonal "royale cups." Eat your heart out, and when you're done there's still brunch!
Pub Royale is located at 2049 W. Division St.
Drink at Revel Room
If the Violet Hour is Wicker Park's place to stand in line for haute cocktails in high back chairs, Revel Room is where you settle into a leather booth for a cocktail on tap. As the Old Style sign out front indicates, this is a casual neighborhood tavern. The library-themed lounge and faded mirrors convey a cozy, chic vibe while the beer list and tap cocktails satisfy discerning drinkers. As with all things at this intersection, opt for a weeknight visit perhaps complimented by live music in the lounge rather than battling the weekend bridge and tunnel crowd.
Revel Room is located at 1566 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Shop at Una Mae's
Una Mae's has been outfitting Wicker Park's hip kids since 1997. Shop the boutique's main floor for distinctive men's and women's clothing, shoes, and accessories. A winding staircase leads you to the sale section while the lower level houses vintage finds. Peruse the personal care products, including herbal steams, natural soaps, and beard oils. Before you hit Milwaukee Avenue, stock up on denim shirts, over-sized sweaters, and statement jewelry at Una Mae's to fit the part.
Una Mae's is located at 1528 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Face the Music
If you haven't visited a rock club or record shop in Wicker Park, you're missing the spirit of the neighborhood. Every night, the Milwaukee, North, and Damen intersection is abuzz with music fans flocking to nearby Double Door and Subterranean. Double Door (1572 N. Milwaukee Ave.) has anchored the neighborhood since 1994, hosting everything from local dance parties to the likes of the Rolling Stones and Sonic Youth. Catch a show while you can, because a feud with Double Door's landlord may cause the venue to move in 2017. Check the signage outside Subterranean (2011 W. North Ave.) to see which shows patrons are lining up for then post up by the upstairs balcony for the best view in the room. If you're into crate digging, visit vinyl veteran Reckless Records (1379 N. Milwaukee Ave.) at their expanded new storefront. Just down the road, Shuga Records (1276 N. Milwaukee Ave.) specializes in rare and hard-to-find vinyl while Dusty Groove (1120 N. Ashland Ave.) serves up jazz, soul, funk, and hip-hop wax.
Grange Hall Burger Bar, image via Grange Hall's Facebook page
Eat at Grange Hall Burger Bar
A few doors down, Au Cheval gets all the glory, but Grange Hall makes a mean, if not meaner, burger without the side of pretentiousness and four-hour wait times of its more-buzzed-about neighbor. The checkered tablecloths and farmhouse vibe in the intimate space feels laid-back but fresh, and a straight forward menu of comfy favorites with a twist—old fashioned waffle fries with blue cheese and Buffalo sauce, anyone?—is hard to resist.
Grange Hall Burger Bar is located at 844 W. Randolph St.
Shop at The Fig Tree
The Fig Tree is the kind of store you find a reason to wander by so you can duck in and explore, and, inevitably, leave armed with a bag of one-of-a-kind goodies from independent artists. There's a distinct sense of humor running through Fig Tree's inventory ("Trump's Small Hand Soap" and a Kanye-decked greeting card captioned "Loving You Is Yeezy," for instance), so just looking around can be a satisfying way to spend part of an afternoon. The largely Chicago-centric stationary, gift and accessories shop is stocked with the card that only your brother-in-law would appreciate, the city flag satchel you've been trying to find and the "West Loop"-scented candle that would make a perfect housewarming gift for your coworker.
The Fig Tree is located at 1037 W. Madison St.
Drink at Bar Siena
If you can handle the throngs of hip West Loopsters crowding into this relatively new space (it opened last year), the buzzy bar may very well be worth your time. Like its sister restaurant Siena Tavern in River North, Bar Siena dishes out some seriously tasty Italian fare, but here it's with a sportier, edgier energy. Bare-bulb light fixtures, rustic brick walls, antique mirrors and other choices establish an overall sense of chic, while suspended flatscreens dotting the walls, an olive tree sculpture and a bright red pizza oven named "Bella" keep things relaxed and interesting at the same time.
Bar Siena is located at 832 W. Randolph St.
Club Lago, image via Club Lago's Facebook page
Eat at Club Lago
Of course out-of-town Chicago visitors need to try the requisite deep dish and a hot dog with all the classic fixings, but there's a good chance this cozy Italian spot at Orleans and Superior offers a more authentic taste of the city. It's an atmosphere the owners have been honing since 1952, and as the neighborhood has evolved from a warehouse district to an area dotted with art gallery lofts to the condo-dense residential district River North is today, three generations of the same family have kept Club Lago piled high with hearty dishes of red sauce-drenched pasta and simple retro charm. From the neon sign affixed to the side of the brick restaurant to the waitstaff that treat you like an actual old friend, the whole experience feels like burrowing under a warm blanket—topped with bubbly melted parm.
Club Lago is located at 331 W. Superior St.
Drink at The Berkshire Room
Watering holes with a schtick can be off-putting, but The Berkshire Room tucks its nifty novelty item right between the other finely crafted cocktails on its menu. "Dealer's Choice" lets patrons choose a favorite spirit, a preferred flavor profile (think "sweet" or "herbaceous"), and the glassware of their liking, then leaves it up to the bar staff to concoct a one-of-a-kind drink. The results don't disappoint, and neither does the striking, date-friendly space.
The Berkshire Room is located in the ACME Hotel at 15 E. Ohio St.
Shop at Rent the Runway
Yes, technically anyone with internet access can sift through the Rent the Runway racks, but the physical store—one of only five of the previously-online-only retailer's brick-and-mortar locations in the country&8212lets you see, touch and actually try-on a slickly curated array of designer items you really won't find elsewhere. In comparison to your average, or even high-end, department store, the superior quality of the inventory is clear from the moment you stand close enough to spot each embroidered hem or bejeweled detail. Which, of course, is why the goods here are for rent, not purchase (unless of course you want to drop $4,995 on a Kaufman Franco gala gown). The high-tech touches like dressing room mirrors that'll email you photos of the things you tried on, help too. Some finds are hard to justify (if you're spending $175 on a rented dress, why not actually buy one you could wear again?), but some occasions—or perfectly pleated Cedric Charlier jumpsuits&8212are worth the splurge.
Rent the Runway is located at 710 N. Wabash Ave.
The Chicago History Museum
Eat at Kamehachi
They'll have you at spicy edamame. Tossed in garlic and chili oil, Kamehachi's heat-packed twist on the standard Japanese appetizer would be reason enough to visit this Old Town staple. But there are so many more: creative sushi rolls stuffed with out-of-the-ordinary ingredients like citrus wasabi or green beans, outdoor seating in the heart of the neighborhood's walkable epicenter and, if you want to really get into the staycation spirit, staffers that won't judge you for ordering take-out multiple times a week. Trust us.
Explore the Chicago History Museum
It's a little more low key than its flashier, generalist cousins—we're talking about the Field Museum and the Museum of Science and Industry—but that's part of the charm of this aptly named collection of exhibits devoted to none other than our city's history. In addition to covering the basics (Mrs. O'Leary's cow is mentioned somewhere, we're sure), the permanent and visiting displays are always thoughtfully curated, and often they examine Chicago in ways you wouldn't expect. Homages to Chicago artists and designers or creators who were inspired by the city, like photographer Vivian Maier or fashion designer Main Rousseau Bocher, are always a particular highlight and the setting, perched on the edge of Lincoln Park, can't be beat.
The Chicago History Museum is located at 1601 N. Clark St.
Drink at Old Town Ale House
When people describe this place as a dive, they're not kidding. It's dank, dark and more than a little dilapidated. That hasn't kept loyalists (and more than a few celebrity superfans) from packing it nightly, especially after Second City shows let out across the street. Yes, it's cash only and yes, the naked portraits of celebrities and politicians can be unsettling (or hilarious, depending on your mindset and beer count on that particular evening), but it's stuck around for decades for a reason. And we're pretty sure that reason is that Roger Ebert called it "the best bar in the world that I know about," and that guy knew what he was talking about.
Old Town Ale House is located at 219 W. North Ave.
Taqueria Antotolico, via Facebook
Eat at Taquerias Atotonilco
Its hard to determine what the, say, five best dishes are at this long-running taqueria. Truth is, we rarely stray from their specialty: the tacos al pastor, among the best in the city for our money. They’re great any time of day, but are particularly restorative when capping a night out. The original location—a staple on 26th street for 40 years—is open 24 hours on the weekend and until 2 a.m. Monday through Thursday.
Taquerias Atotonilco is located at 3916 W. 26th St.
Drink at Moreno's Liquors
Another decades-rooted neighborhood institution, Moreno's covers all the usual liquor-store essentials, but it stands head and shoulders above the crowd when it comes to the agave market. Moreno's is the largest consumer supplier of tequila and mezcal in Chicago. (The store even sports a mural called “Remembering Mayahuel,” in tribute to the goddess of maguey, painted by students from the nearby Yollocalli Arts Reach.) And while it’s easy to snark on the celebu-branding of tequila and the hipster fad-ishization of mezcal, a walk through the aisles with the ever-knowledgeable staff will open any doubtful mind.
Moreno's Liquors is located at 3724 W. 26th St.
Shop at Numero Factory Outlet
Just when you think every last nugget of buried musical treasure has surely been excavated, local reissue titans Numero Group go and release a jaw-dropping survey of small-press hippie country, or some long out-of-print White Zombie vinyl, or an indispensable collection of regional power-pop or well, you get the idea. This past July, the archival label added a record store to their warehouse property, where record buyers can peruse all of the label’s countless great offerings. Its crate-digging with a leg up: the best in the business have already done the digging for you.
Numero Factory Outlet is located at 2533 S. Troy St.
Paul McGee behind the bar at Milk Room. Photo by Clayton Hauck.
Visit the Chicago Cultural Center
In a city of world-class museums, the Chicago Cultural Center is no slouch, but it's sometimes overlooked by Loop visitors in favor of the Art Institute and Field Museum. The 120-year-old Chicago landmark has stunning architecture, including intricate stained-glass domes, and a rotating collection of art exhibitions from local and visiting artists. You can plan on catching an afternoon architectural tour of the center, or explore for yourself.
The Cultural Center is located at 78 E. Washington St.
Eat at Revival Food Hall
The Loop has more fast-casual dining options than we can count, but the recently opened Revival Food Hall rivals all of them. The food hall features fast food takes on favorite local restaurants from around the city, including Antique Taco, Smoque BBQ and Black Dog Gelato. Right now we're craving Danke's Secret Sandwich and Black Dog's refreshing cucumber sorbet.
Revival is located at 125 S. Clark St.
Play at Maggie Daley Park
Venture east over Millennium Park's Frank Gehry pedestrian bridge and you'll behold Maggie Daley Park. The whimsical playground is great for staycationers with kids in tow, but even adults can enjoy trampling through the castle-like, all-ages playground (seriously, we've tried this and it's a blast). In the winter, head to the north end of the park for ice skating around Maggie Daley's ice ribbon.
Drink at The Chicago Athletic Association Hotel
When the historic Chicago Athletic Association underwent a massive renovation last year and opened as a boutique hotel stacked with elegant lounges and cozy leather chairs, we knew it was something special. First of all, the place is a gorgeous, modern take on the historic gentleman's club it once was, minus the No Girls Allowed rule it maintained until the 1970s. We recommend drinking at Cindy's, the rooftop bar with sweeping views of Millennium Park, if you can get up there—lines for the elevator ride to the roof often snake through the lobby—or, if you can swing it, Milk Room, which we believe is the best bar in Chicago. Walk-ins are welcome in the lobby's Drawing Room, which also has coffee, snacks and free wifi.
The Chicago Athletic Association is located at 12 S. Michigan Ave.
Loyola Beach photo by Chicagoist Flickr User Trey Dunkley
Play at Loyola Beach
Grab a blanket and a book and head out to Loyola Beach in East Rogers Park. You can lay in the sun or jog or hike along its three-mile trail. And you didn't hear it from us, but the beach has become such a popular haunt for Pokemon Go gamers thanks to its proliferation of virtual pokemon, it's earned the nickname Pokemon Beach. Just tread with caution—too many gamers are trampling the endangered plans and frustrating the Chicago Park District.
Loyola Beach is located at 1230 W. Greenleaf Ave.
Visit the Leather Archives & Museum
The Leather Archives & Museum is one of Rogers Park's most surprising and obscure open secrets. The museum, historical archive and community space devoted to all things related to the gay leather scene and its influence on Chicago is located in an unassuming, unmarked building on Greenview Avenue. Come for the murals of muscular men that line the walls, stay for the extensive library of the history of the GLBTQ leather community.
the Leather Archives & Museum is located at 6418 N. Greenview Ave.
Drink at Rogers Park Social
The popular neighborhood bar has a seasonal cocktail menu and a retro-style lounge. It's conveniently located near the Morse Red Line station and known for its quality and affordability.
Rogers Park Social is located at 6920 N. Glenwood Ave.
Ping Tom Memorial Park, photo via Yelp
Eat at Chi Cafe
Chinatown is an embarrassment of restaurant riches. But instead of spotlighting hyped newcomers like dim-sum house Dolo Restaurant and Bar or famous staples like Lao Sze Chuan, we’re recommending a favorite that, despite less renown, holds our highest enthusiasm. The contemporary-but-cozy atmosphere is perhaps the corridor’s most authentically Shanghai-like environs. It’s open super late (until 2 am during the week and 5am on Friday and Saturday). The food is inexpensive and savory, especially with a dollop of spice seafood sauce XO. All together, they make it among the most “neighborhood” of the neighborhood’s dining options.
Chi Cafe is located at 2160 S Archer Ave.
Drink at Joy Yee Noodles
Yes, savvy reader, this is indeed a “drink” recommendation at a noodle shop. While delicious chow mein and Korean japchae dishes are cheap and liberally portioned (hence the college crowd), the specialties here are the bubble teas and icy-good smoothies. Owner Jennifer Au’s juice-bar drinks—a fruit-smoothie spin on old-style Taiwanese tapioca tea—were among the first of their kind in the city; and the fresh fruit, chewy tapioca and gobsmacking array of menu options still place them ahead of most imitators who followed in her wake.
Joy Yee Noodles is located at 2139 S China Pl.
Visit Tom Ping Memorial Park
This lovely park hideaway, tucked between 18th Street and Wentworth Avenue and nestled along the South Branch Chicago River, has a lot of Park District amenities: gymnasium, indoor pool, playground, fitness center, baseball diamond. It’s also a preferred ship-out point for urban kayakers, with greener scenery and none of the tour-boat/water-taxi obstacle found further north. (Dabblers or rookies can also rent, from on-premises Urban Kayaks.) But we like it best as a place to lazily stroll and sightsee. The converted rail yard is ideal for a riverwalk stroll or a picturesque timeout—either at the Chinese-style pavilion or the hidden-gem Skyline Patio.
Tom Ping Memorial Park is located at 1700 S Wentworth Ave.