The Buckeyes are facing off against Chicago's Big Ten Team* this Saturday, in one of the biggest games of the season. #4 vs #16. College Gameday in the house. Northwestern's homecoming, and decades of history of being bullied by Ohio State on the line. It feels weird to type, but Ohio State vs Northwestern is going to be huge. Lots of you guys agree, and are planning on making the trip.
I don't know much, but I do know Chicago a little bit, and my wife is an Evanston grad. Just like we did for the Big Ten Tourney, we're here to give the basics on what you need to know about Evanston, Chicago, Northwestern and everything else to make sure your trip goes off without a hitch.
So how do I get to Ryan Field?
Well, you can drive if you want to (you can even leave your friends behind!), but I wouldn't recommend it. Parking is a pain in the butt in Evanston even during the best of conditions, and a huge football game doesn't really qualify. You can also take a cab, but the Evanston cab drives engage in such flagrant thievery that Somalian Pirates would be impressed. Also, the weather is probably going to be terrible. You don't want to be on 94 when the weather is terrible.
In my opinion, the best options are to take the trains. There is an "L" Purple Line stop at Central Street that's a little less than half a mile from the stadium. There is also a Metra (commuter rail) station about half a mile in the other direction, that runs along the Union Pacific-North Line. If you're staying downtown, you can take either train. If you're staying in a northern suburb, Metra is probably a better bet. If you're staying in a Southern or Western suburb....why?
I'm not going to be the only Buckeye fan there, right?
Noooo my friend, you'll be in good company. According to Ohio State, there are 8,582 alumni living in Chicago, making it the 3rd most Buckeye-grad dense region outside of Ohio (DC and NYC are 1 and 2). That doesn't include the legions of Buckeye fans and Ohio ex-pats living in the city and nearby suburbs though. Those legions of recent graduates who took to the Big City to find work when they couldn't find it in Toledo and Canton? They're in Chicago now, and they're not sporting Purple and White.
Also, this may surprise you, but Northwestern does not have a history of being great at football. Kids in the 312 do not grow up hoping to play at Ryan Field. I'm sure they exist, but in my 4 years of living in Chicago, I haven't actually *seen* a Northwestern bar. Ohio State fans have typically not had a problem taking over Ryan Field, and while this year will be much harder given that the Wildcats are good and it's homecoming, I can assure you, you won't be the only Buckeye-Jersey clad person there.
Where I am eating around here?
So that depends on if you're committed to staying in Evanston, or are willing to head a little south into the city. If you're sticking it out in E-Town, the one place you're probably going to hear recommended again and again is Mustard's Last Stand, an unassuming hot dog shack right next to the stadium. Despite their silly website (you cannot be "Chicago's premier hot dog stand" if you aren't IN Chicago, bros), and the absolutely crazy crowds you're going to see on Saturday, this place really is good. Authentic hot dogs, great fries, handles the basics very well. If you want something AUTHENTICALLY EVANSTON, you could do a lot worse than Mustard's.
If you want something a little more substantial than hot dogs, I personally recommend the Dixie Kitchen and Baitshop, near the Davis Purple Line stop. Despite operating in the heart of Yankee-dom, the Dixie Kitchen served up pretty authentic New Orleans and Southern cuisine, without costing an exorbitant amount of money. Ain't nothing wrong with some pre-game ribs.
Also, while I know this place isn't going to make any Best of Chicagoland lists, but I have a personal soft spot in my heart for Clarke's, a dinner which you can find in Evanston and Chicago. You want brunch to start your long day of tailgating? Can't go wrong at Clarke's. You want a bigass burger, or a stack of pancakes, from a place that won't let you down? Ain't nothing wrong with Clarke's.
What if I want to eat in Chicago?
That's a better choice. If you're all about that hot dog game, lemme recommend two places that put a new spin on the traditional, Franks and Dawgs, and Hot Dougs. Both places technically sell hot dogs, but instead of processed pig parts, you're more likely to find something like Lamb barese sausage and Calabrian chili aioli. Hot Doug's sells Alligator Sausage. It's awesome and you should eat it, and the Triple Truffle Fries at Franks might be the single best thing I've eaten in Chicago. Sure, I'm not a sophisticated man, but y'all get what I mean.
Chicago is so huge that it's hard to narrow down eating options. If you hang out in Lincoln Park or Old Town (both neighborhoods that have easy subway access along the lakefront and to Northwestern on the Purple line), you won't lack for dining options. If you are adventurous, you can head a little west in Logan Square to check out my stomping grounds. In Loganland, I recommend Revolution Brewing, a wildly popular brew pup. The food is outstanding, and I'm told the beer selection is top notch.
I'm not sure I can get tickets, but I'll be in the neighborhood. Where can I bro out with Buckeye fans?
The main Buckeye Bars in the city are Vaughans, McGees Casey Morans and Mickeys. All four of these are going to be crowded, they're sports-bary, and they're loud. If that's your scene, more power to you.
Mickeys and 11w are getting together to host the Windy City Social the day before the game at 7 PM. 5 bucks gets you a mug and high fives all around from fellow Buckeye fans. If I'm not working that night, I'll swing by myself.
The Ohio State Alumni Club is also hosting a major tailgate (CHIGATE, if you will), nearby Ryan Field. That's a little pricier (30 bucks), but includes food and two drink tickets. You can buy your tickets here:
Finally, you can probably just wander around Lincoln Park and yell OH every ten minutes. I promise you there are enough Ohioans to answer back.