The Big Ten Tournament will be held at the House that Jordan Built, the United Center, is scenic Chicago, IL this week. If you're going to join the Buckeye throng at the tournament, or are simply planning on visiting the Capital of the Midwest in the near future, it's easy to get overwhelmed. Don't worry, I live here, I married a local, and I'll be happy to help you, prospective traveler, figure out where to go, what to see, and what to eat. To make life extra easy for you, I even broke everything down into an easy to digest Q&A format!
Q: I am likely an Ohio native, and thus have no familiarity with cities that have functioning public transportation systems. How does Chicago's work?
A: Glad you asked, since driving in this town is kind of a pain, and you're going to generally want to take public transportation everywhere. There are multiple networks in Chicagoland, but CTA buses and trains (the train system is called the "el" for elevated track) are the ones you'll be using most often. You can buy an unlimited 3 day pass for twenty bucks, or a 1 day pass for $10. You can buy them online, at train stations, or at just about any Walgreens in the city.
The downtown area of the city is called The Loop, since almost every train line does a circle around downtown's perimeter. Just about every train line runs to The Loop, so transferring isn't too hard. You'll probably spend most of your time on the Blue, Red or Brown line trains. The full map, in all of it's glory, can be found here.
Q: Where are the basketball games and how do I get there?
A: The Big Ten games will be played at the United Center, located at 1901 W Madison Street. The specific game times and seeding arrangements can be found here.
You can try driving to the United Center, but parking is always going to be a pain in the ass, and it'll be expensive. If you're just staying for a few days, it's way easier to do everything by public transportation. You COULD take the Subway to the United Center, as the Ashland Stop (Green/Pink lines) or the Illinois Medical Center Stop (Blue) are technically within walking distance, but that's a long walk, and to be honest, the neighborhood around the area is not super great. The easiest way is to catch the 20 West bus, which you can catch downtown at Madison. You could also cab it.
Q: What is there to do around the United Center after the games?
A: Nothing. That neighborhood is boring and also kind of dangerous. I imagine there will be lots of cops there, but there really isn't a reason to hang around anywhere west of the Loop.
Q: Whoa, dangerous? Isn't all of Chicago really dangerous??
A: Only parts of Chicago are really dangerous, and you really need a specific reason to go to those places. There are exceptions, but to make things really simple for you, imaginary Big Ten Basketball Fan Tourist Bro, think of the West (west of Logan Square) and South (south of Roosevelt) sides as being less inviting than the North side.
Q: So where should I go then?
A: Well, that depends on what you're into!
Q: I like Sports Bars I guess.
A: Then you're probably going to want to head to Lincoln Park, Lakeview or Wrigleyville. Clark Street, starting at about Wrigley Field, is the close equivalent of High Street in Chicago. It's lined with live music, eats, and lots and lots of bars. Every Big Ten school has some sort of bar around Lincoln Park. If you're in the neighborhood, don't have tickets, but want to watch the games with Buckeye fans, you could check out Vaughans, McGees or Casey Morans. I've been to all three and like Vaughans the best, but I don't even drink so what the hell do I know? Expect large crowds at all three though.
Q: Those all seem well and good, but they look like a bunch of bars we have in Ohio. What are some things that I can't get back home?
A: Chicago is the home of the Blues, so why not hit up a blues bar? The most famous in the city is probably Kingston Mines, not far from the Brown or Red lines. Kingston has multiple stages going and is always a packed party. You can't go wrong there, but I'm partial to their smaller next store neighbor club, B.L.U.E.S. You can usually hit both bars on the same cover charge. I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention my local favorite, Rosa's, in Logan Square. Rosas is a bit out of the way (it's farther west, near the Blue Line) and isn't near the typical tourist crowd, but the music is great, and it's the most "authentic" of the bunch.
Q: What if I want something a little touristy?
A: That's cool. If you're like, a Penn State fan or something, you'll have plenty of time to explore the city. The Museum Campus near the lake really is all it's cracked up to be. The Aquarium and the Science and Industry Museum are excellent, especially if you're on Dad Duty. Also, if you're in the city, it is REQUIRED BY LAW to go to Millennium Park (downtown near the lake) and take a picture of your reflection in "The Bean", our weirdass sculpture that looks exactly like a metallic bean. DON'T go to Navy Pier. Everything at Navy Pier sucks. If your children ask to go to Navy Pier, tell them it's closed. Forever.
Q: I want to get some authentic Chicago Cuisine! Where is the best pizza or hot dog in town?
A; The good news is that you can get a good Chicago-style hot dog virtually every 12 feet in the city. Remember though, *do not ask for ketchup* on your Chicago dog. People have been shot for less in this town. While you can get a dog anywhere, probably the best place to go is Portillos...not because the hot dogs are that much better than anywhere else, but because it's the home of the Chocolate Cake Shake, which is a bonafide religious experience. The Portillos cake shake makes Graeters look like cat vomit. THERE I SAID IT COME AT ME COLUMBUS BROS.
As far as pizza is concerned, let me let you in a dirty little secret. Deep Dish Pizza is a teensy bit overrated. If you INSIST on getting deep dish, my personal recommendation is Lou Mahnati's, with Genos a somewhat distant 2nd. Your friends will tell you go to to Giordanos. Don't listen to them, they're stupid and they're probably Purdue fans. Giordanos is overpriced and is only replacement level pizza. Lou Mahnati's has a much higher WAR.
Q: Any other advice?
A: Chicago cops do NOT mess around with parking tickets. If you brought your car, just accept the fact that you're going to get ticketed twice, and the cops WILL track your sorry ass all the way to Upper Arlington to make you pay up.
Otherwise, relax, have fun, grab a hot dog, and go Buckeyes. I'll see you at the games.