If you want to AVOID tourist traps, try this!
"Let Real Chicagoans Show You Their Kind of Town"
Chicago Greeter is a free service from the Chicago Office of Tourism that offers visitors a personalized view of the city's friendly people and vibrant neighborhoods. Visitors are paired with a volunteer who leads them on a 2-4 hour journey through a favorite part of the city. It's a great way to meet Chicago up close, through the eyes of a resident.
Sign up at www.chicagogreeter.com/index.html
Tony & Tina's Wedding
Tony & Tina are having a "trial separation" lasting from July 18, 2009 until November, 2009
For all the years I've lived in Chicago, I've avoided seeing this production because I was sure it was going to be cheesy and overpriced and that the food would be pretty bad. Guess what? It was cheesy and overpriced and the food was pretty bad.
It was kind of accidentally going to the wrong wedding, you don't know anyone, you keep looking at your watch to see if it's time to go yet, you head to the bar because you think maybe if I'm drunk, I'll find this funny.
That's not to say that no one in the audience was enjoying themselves, a rather large group of young ladies at a sweet sixteen party were posing for photos with the cast and doing the electric slide and the chicken dance. I guess I've just been to enough real weddings that were just like this one where I didn't really want to pay for the experience.
Located at Piper's Alley, 1616 N. Wells in Old Town, self park garage is the best option for parking, street parking is limited
Unique Suggestions: If you get roped into going like me and wonder what you have to wear, some people dress as if they are going to an actual wedding, otherwise business casual is fine. Or if you want to get in the spirit of things, wear a tight leopard print dress, preferably two sizes too small, bright red lip stick, tease your hair, pop in a couple of sticks of gum and you will fit right in ;-)
The food wasn't very good and the drinks were watered down, there are several good places to eat nearby including Adobo Grill in the same building either before or after the show.
Fun Alternatives: All kinds of good theater in Chicago, if you are looking for something funny, Second City, Zanie's, Comedy Sportz or IO are all good bets.
Avoid the "ghost" tours
Chicago is a city with a lot of character, which includes plenty of ghost tales. There are several "ghost" tours offered in the city, some which claim to have seen actual ghosts during the tour. I went on one of these a couple years ago and it was a total waste of money.
Unique Suggestions: Do not expect to see ghosts. If you think a ghost is going to jump out of a bush during a ghost tour, you will definitely feel like you were ripped off.
Fun Alternatives: There are several books which chronicles Chicago's ghost stories and give the exact locations. If you are interested in visiting some of these "haunted" places, buy one of the ghost books and visit them on your own.
Annual tree lighting ceremony
This was the first year I went to downtown Chicago on "Black Friday", the day after Thanksgiving which is the busiest shopping day of the year in the US. I used to go to the outlet malls, then to select stores and now I can't fathom what they could possibly offer to me that would make me want to go out in all that traffic! Hmm, a free plasma TV maybe ;-)
But I was meeting a friend for lunch and another VTer wanted to meet up at the tree lighting ceremony so I hopped on the train, fought my way through the sea of people on Michigan Avenue, had a very enjoyable lunch. So far so good....
But leaving the restaurant was another story, swimming back through the sea of people down Michigan Avenue towards Daley Plaza, I hit a wall of people about 2 blocks from Daley Plaza and no one was budging, there was no way I was getting to the fountain where the VTer wanted to meet. I finally got within range where I could at least see the tree and the chorus singing Christmas songs and Mayor Daley, a few speeches later, someone turns on the lights for the tree, they shoot off a few fireworks from City Hall and it's over. That's it?!?!?!
Unique Suggestions: Do not try to meet someone here, especially not right in the center of it.
Don't try to negotiate the crowd with someone in a stroller or a wheelchair, it's not going to happen.
Fun Alternatives: You could stay home and watch it on TV
As a local I am obliged to put this tour in the tourist trap section. Ask (almost) anyone who lives in Chicago about taking a gangster tour and they will likely roll their eyes, sigh audibly and declare "Are you kidding me?", sometimes simultaneously. But as my friend Ed (Kaspian) had this as his only non food request for his visit to Chicago, I thought it would be a good chance to actually go on the tour that I'm always steering people away from, let's call it research. I wouldn't have ever dreamed of going on it with my husband, the history buff, who would have spent the entire trip whispering factual inaccuracies in my ear!
The 2 hour tour is on a reasonably comfortable black school bus with two guides dressed in their best gangster gear, in our case Matches and Johnny Rocco, who share driving and story telling duties. Most of the sights they took us past are no longer there-the flower shop where Dion O'Banion worked-gone, the garage where the St. Valentine's Day Massacre happened-gone, the Lexington Hotel where Capone lived and more famously embarassed Geraldo Rivera on TV-gone. Holy Name Cathedral across from Dion O'Banion's flower shop (the bullet holes have been covered over), Sieben's Brewery and the Biograph Theater and alley where Dillinger was shot are still there.
If you know nothing at all about gangster history, you might actually learn a few things, if you do know anything about gangster history you may find yourself wincing at the versions told on this tour, including speculation that John Dillinger wasn't the guy shot outside the Biograph Theter in 1934 but instead married and moved to Oregon. This is more about theater, the two gangsters leading the tour tell abbreviated colorful versions of a handful of Chicago gangster stories that aim to please the masses. The bus stops at a couple of places but they do not let you off the bus. Sit on the left side if you want pictures of the Biograph or Holy Name, right side if you want to take a picture of where the garage used to be for the St. Valentine's Day Massacre.
To be fair, there were a lot of people on our bus and the bus that unloaded before our tour that really seemed to be enjoying themselves. My recommendation? If you are a history buff, don't bother. If you are looking for some cheesy jokes, light history coupled with a bus ride through some neighborhoods you might not see (Pilsen, Little Italy, Harpo Studios, Lincoln Park, South Loop), you might enjoy this.
Unique Suggestions: My best advice is to have a few drinks before you go
Fun Alternatives: Read a good book on gangster history, Dillinger The Untold Story by G. Russell Girardin and William J. Helmer and Mr. Capone: The Real - and complete - story of Al Capone by Robert J. Schoenberg are two good accounts of Chicago's most famous gangsters
In my opinion, places like the...
In my opinion, places like the ESPN Zone and DisneyQuest are blights on downtown. They're housed in big concrete buildings that are ugly to look at, and they add a corporate element to a formerly funky neighborhood. Plus, they're not about Chicago at all! I suppose if you have kids and they're restless you might want to do something like this, but I don't see why people don't just go to an amusement park and spare this architecturally significant city from turning into one. Same thing with the Hard Rock Cafe and their ilk--I just don't understand the popularity.
Update July 2001: DisneyQuest is closing! Good riddance, but now we're stuck with an ugly building that will probably be razed to make way for another ugly building. What a waste.
Chicago Cubs Baseball-The Biggest Sham on Earth
"IS THIS HEAVEN?" IF IT IS, HEAVEN REALLY BLOWS
Yes, Wrigley Field is the only reason the Cubs have fans. Why else would people subject themselves to such misery? Cubs fans and the Tribune Co. (they're both the same thing) would like the rest of the world to believe that Cub fans are such die-hard true baseball fans, and they love their team so much, that that's why they keep filling the doll house of a ballpark up.
Truth: Wrigley Field is full of tourists and people who come to be seen, get a tan, stare at chicks and ivy, and above all: get drunk on their two beers. Sure there's real fans mixed in there, but if you only counted them, the Cubs' attendance would be about as good as the goat race.
Wrigley Field is built up to be this picturesque timeless shrine to everything good about baseball, and thousands of people fall sucker to the Cubs and the Tribune Company's "Legendary Wrigley Field" and "Friendly Confines" rhetoric. Sorry to break this, but what Wrigley Field really is, is a urine-scented tourist trap full of drunk frat boy skippies, yuppies on cell phones, and other types of idiots all gathered together to be oblivious of the team losing on the field.
Most of the people at the game don't even know what's going on on the field because of the extra-cirriculars, and moreso because they can really give a rat's ass about the actual game or the Cubs team in general. And when they do pay attention, and their team loses and lets them down again as usual, it's usually everyone elses fault but the teams, and therefore justify themselves by stomping their pink-little booties and throwing things onto the field.
If you're a baseball fan, it is the most over-rated experience and I pray that you do not fall for the Tribune Company brainwashing. There are already way too many chromosome-less Cubs fans in the world as it is.
Unique Suggestions: If you must go, by all means, be the only one in the stands that actually watches the damn game. And above all, PLEASE, don't whine like a little *** when they end up losing. I'll save you the suspense. Chances are, they are going to lose.
Also, before or after the game, be sure to visit and have your picture taken at Seat 113, Aisle 4, Row 8. This was the scene of the most legendary and devine-like sports moment in history. It is where Steve Bartman was sitting when he disrupted that *** Moises Alou's attempt to catch a foul ball that would have put the Cubs within 4 outs of their first World Series since 1945. Instead, the Florida hitter that hit that foul ball went on to draw a walk, and the Marlins went on to score 8 runs that inning to win 8-3!
There is nothing better than seeing this team bite the big one.
Fun Alternatives: The better baseball is on the South Side. Come see a White Sox game! Besides, they win.
Once you go to historical...
Once you go to historical sites you don't need to go again. The John Hancock building is cool to go to but if you are afraid of heights don't go. After you go once you really don't have to go again. And be careful at the cheesecake factory, get some in the afternoon and save it cuz at night it's about a 3 hour wait.
Be careful, guns are not accepted everywhere :))
Unique Suggestions: If you have to keep your gun, get read of the bullets
Fun Alternatives: So many other tools ...
And also the smile :))
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