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Lincoln Avenue – stroll the outdoor cafés!
Perhaps you're in town for a Cub game, or maybe you plan to tour the ballpark. This wouldn't be a surprise because Wrigley Field is consistently listed as one of the top tourist attractions in the state of Illinois. But a typical ballgame lasts about 3 hours, and the tour is 90 minutes. What do you do while you're "waiting for the Cubs"?
You could check out the action in Wrigleyville near the ballpark, but it might be a bit too rowdy, and a tad too young for some of us. But you're already up at Addison and Clark and perhaps don't want to trek all the way back downtown.
May I suggest you explore Lincoln Avenue, one of the truly great streets in the city -- in any city? It has everything you could want, and it flows through several very typical North Side neighborhoods (including mine) so you'll see a part of Chicago frequented by the locals.
First, a tiny bit of history. Chicago streets were set up as a grid, with the exception of certain diagonal streets that cut through on the hypotenuse -- like Clark (where you will be at Wrigley Field), Milwaukee, Archer, Blue Island, and others, including Lincoln Avenue.
You might think that these streets were planned by city visionaries to make travel more efficient. You would be wrong. The diagonals were built over traditional Native American routes on high ground created by the retreating glaciers that once covered this part of North America. Chicago was built on a swamp. The moraines left by the glaciers stayed relatively dry during high water times, so for millennia humans have traveled along these routes.
Next time you're at the ballpark, check out the slope of Addison Street. It goes up from Sheffield to Clark. Actually, the first base concourse in the ballpark slopes up from Gate D to the main gate. This is a glacial moraine (is that redundant?). There used to be problems with the field because of the slope, but I believe they have been corrected, mostly. Water still collects on the right field warning track during rains.
But back to Lincoln Avenue. It's an exciting street from its southern-most point at Wells Street (at about 1800 north) to at least Lawrence Avenue (4800 north). Public enemy John Dillinger was gunned down near Fullerton; the first production of the musical Grease was staged a couple of blocks south of there; and Tina Fey lived at Lincoln and Diversey! But since you're planning to be at the ballpark on Addison (3600 north), we'll start there and head northwest.
During the 21st Century, Chicago has blossomed into a café kind of town. Major streets and avenues are lined with bars and eateries that expand onto the sidewalks or into back gardens as soon as weather permits. And as soon as the chairs and tables are on the streets, Chicagoans flock to their favorite spots to enjoy eating and drinking in the fresh (?) air and sunshine.
You can find just about any cuisine you desire on Lincoln Avenue. Italian, Greek, Korean, Bar-B-Que, Japanese, Mexican, German, Chinese .... We only have room for a sampling of favorites. How about Turkish?
Chicago is a big "Bring Your Own Bottle" (BYOB) town including restaurants that are waiting for their liquor licenses, or that have chosen not to get one. Café Orchid, on Addison just east of Lincoln, is one of our favorite BYOBs. Great falafel, lamb, and other Turkish specialties. Pick up a bottle of wine at one of about a bazillion liquor stores, grocery stores, drug stores, wine specialty shops etc. and enjoy! (Note: some states have strict laws about where you can buy adult beverages over the counter. Not Illinois. Chicago is pretty much "anything you want, anywhere you want, anytime you want" - except Sunday mornings 5:00 to 11:00am.)
Or maybe you like Irish "cuisine." Mrs. Murphy & Sons was, appropriately enough, a funeral home in a previous incarnation.
How about fine dining? We like Sola, which is actually on Byron (about 3900 north) one door west of Lincoln. American cuisine with hints of Hawaii and Asia. Niiiice spot.
Traditional burger? Try the Bad Apple, consistently ranked as one of the best hamburgers in town. You'll note the outdoor seating on the side street to the left in the photograph below. Many restaurants have their garden or outdoor dining on side streets, which can really make you feel like you're in the middle of the neighborhood -- classic Chicago two-flats and cottage-style houses right next door.
Tiny Lounge is one of our absolute favorite spots. The drinks are great, the draft beer cold and fresh (try a Daisy Cutter - brewed at Half Acre Brewery, two blocks south on Lincoln -- can't get much fresher than that, unless you stop in Half Acre's tasting room. But then you wouldn't be sitting outdoors.). Bar food is outstanding and very reasonable so you can nosh and not lose your shirt. And if you go inside, THERE ARE NO TVs!! This is a major plus in our book. This spot was designed for talking and hanging out. And the staff is just as friendly as they can be.
Perhaps after a ballgame you would like to ease into a more literary mode. Browse the stacks and have a glass of wine on the sidewalk outside of Book Cellar, a truly independent bookstore with adult beverages and frequent author events. Books and activities for kids, too.
And that brings us to Lawrence Avenue and the end of our tour. But wait! The sun's going down and you'd like some nightlife. Well, you need not venture off Lincoln Avenue at all.
Rock and roll at Martyr's, 3855 N. Lincoln near Byron ...
Or take in a play right next door to Martyr's at the American Theater Co. So you can dine at Sola, see excellent theater at the American Theater Co., and finish the night rocking at Martyr's, all within a few steps of each other at Byron and Lincoln, unheralded cultural center of the universe.
Chicago is famous for its "storefront" theater scene, perhaps the most vibrant in the nation. And we are known for our improv comedy clubs like Second City. Here's a fun little improv/comedy sketch club called Cornservatory at 4210 N. Lincoln ...
A bit of jazz perhaps? Katerina's is a half block east of Lincoln at 1920 W. Irving Park (4000 north). But it's more than jazz -- it is a hopping fun spot where you'll find "The Hippest Jazz, Funk, Latin, Blues, Greek & International Music," according to their website, and it's true ...
If your musical tastes include folk music, the Old Town School of Folk Music is an important cultural anchor on Lincoln Avenue, taking up two large buildings across the street from each other just south of Wilson (4600 north).
When they're not teaching music they produce concerts featuring top quality acts such as Arlo Guthrie and Robyn Hitchcock. If you're here this weekend (July 12-14) you can take in "Square Roots," the outdoors/indoors world music festival produced by the school. It also features lots of craft beers, including Half Acre products from down the street.
What have I left out? Tons! You could spend a couple of weeks in Chicago and do nothing but Lincoln Avenue and you still wouldn't have covered the half of it.
When your day and evening are done, you can grab the Brown Line at Western and Lincoln (actually Leland - 4700 north) and meander your way back to your hotel downtown, with a broad smile gracing your satiated self!
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