Cool Things to Do in Chicago: Odds & Ends Edition

If you know of a better U.S. city than Chicago in which to spend a week during the summer, I’d like to hear it.  Maybe it’s the fact that winters in this town can be so unrelenting, or maybe it’s just something about having such a magnificent body of water literally just a stone’s throw away from downtown.

Whatever the reason, come summertime there is never a shortage of things to do during in my home town, including dozens of something that has become a true summer tradition in Chicago: the neighborhood street festival (www.chicagoneighborhoodfestivals.us).

And while what to do is entirely up to you, and would depend entirely on one’s personal taste in leisure time activity, here are just a few recommendations for you, should you be one of the lucky ones coming into town a few days early.

Ribfest

In Chicago, we take this “hog butcher to the world” thing very seriously.  In fact, so seriously that during the summer we’ll stop traffic, set up police barricades and let 50,000 people eat, drink and party.  What’s more, we’ll even let them dance in the street to iconic hometown bands like this year’s headliners, Styx.

What: Ribfest

When: Friday, June 10 – 5 pm to 10 pm, Saturday, June 11 – Noon to 10 pm, Sunday, June 12 – Noon to 10 pm

Where: 4000 North Lincoln Ave (near Irving Park)

Wells Street Art Festival

Right in the heart of the city’s Old Town neighborhood on the near North Side is Wells Street, home to an annual art fair that is so big and so eagerly anticipated that over $1 million in art is bought and sold there annually. And even if you’re not there to buy, you can still savor the three staples of summer in Chicago: great food, refreshing drinks and, of course, terrific music.

What: Wells Street Art Festival

When: Saturday, June 11 and Sunday, June 12, 10 am to 10 pm

Where: On Wells St. from Division to North Ave

Movies in the Park

The Chicago Parks Department’s summer-long Movies in the Park series kicks off its 2011 season with one of the true classics from one of Hollywood’s masters: Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest.  The series showcases hit (or cult) films with a Chicago connection, which in this case means a number of scenes shot on location, including an exterior shot in front of the old Midway Airport terminal.

What:  Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest

When: Tuesday, June 14 (at dusk)

Where: South Belmont Harbor (corner of Belmont and Lake Shore Drive)

(The Original) Billy Goat Tavern

Long before it achieved national fame as the “Cheezeborger, cheezeborger” place on Saturday Night Live, the Billy Goat Tavern achieved a certain amount of infamy locally.  First, because it bought by Greek immigrant named Billy Sianis with a $205 check, which bounced.  Second, because Sianis placed a curse on his beloved Cubs after they wouldn’t allow him to take his pet goat to the 1945 World Series.  And finally, because it served as a home away from home for generations of hard-boiled reporters like Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Mike Royko, one of the hardest-drinking, most talented newspaper men in history.  In fact, that’s now the reason to drop into this legendary dive: to rub elbows with the ghosts of Royko and his ilk, and to knock one or two back in their memory.

What: Billy Goat Tavern

When: Noon to ????

Where: 430 North Michigan Ave (down the stairs on the west side of the street)

Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me

The What’s My Line? of the NPR set, Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me has achieved cult status among those fervent few for whom radio listening is normally confined to the far left side of the FM dial.  Taped at the Chase Auditorium in the Loop every Thursday evening (with occasional summertime tapings in Millennium Park), WWDTM has become something of a hot ticket in town.  Not Oprah-hot, mind you, but hotter than, say, behind-the-dugout box seats to a Cub game.  And while both the shows set for June 9 and June 16 are apparently sold out, I will never underestimate the power and the resourcefulness of the people in this industry when it comes to getting their hands on last-minute tickets.

What: Live taping of Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me

When: Thursdays at 7:00 pm

Where: Chase Auditorium, 10 South Dearborn St.

Barack Obama’s Chicago

Before he became the most powerful man in the world, Barack Obama called Chicago’s South Side home; specifically the Kenwood/Hyde Park neighborhood.  Most North Siders don’t even know the place exists, but it’s worth the trip down there, especially if you’re in town the weekend before The Cable Show.  Check out the Obama family home; try to spot some of the exotic wild parrots living in Hyde Park and nearby Jackson Park; visit two of the coolest independent bookstores on the planet (57th Street Books and the Seminary Co-op); tour the beautiful and historic University of Chicago campus (birthplace of both the Second City Comedy Troupe and the Atom Bomb); and order up a couple of eggs-over-easy at the Valois Diner, the President’s favorite breakfast joint, and a place operating under the whimsical and slightly odd banner, “See Your Food.”

What: Barrack Obama’s Neighborhood (Hyde Park/Kenwood)

When:  Any old time

Where: 57th Street, just west of Lake Shore Drive

Architectural Boat Tour

To the outsider, you’ll never know how much pride we Chicagoans take in our skyline and our architecture.  In this town — depending on who you’re taking to — names like Frank Lloyd Wright, Daniel Burnham, Louis Sullivan, and Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe are almost as revered as Ernie Banks, Michael Jordan and Walter Payton.  There are dozens of ways of enjoying Chicago’s architectural heritage, but by far the best is Chicago Line Cruises’ boat tour via the Chicago River.  I know, I know.  It’s architecture.  How sexy can that be?  But trust me; take the 90-minute tour. Not only won’t you regret it, you’ll thank me. [Editor Note: Make sure to keep an eye out for the suit guy. He likes to wave to people from one of the bridges and does costume changes.]

What: Chicago architectural boat tour

When:  Hourly, beginning at 8:00 am

Where:   North Pier Docks, 465 N. McClurg Court at the River East Arts Center

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To read more from M.C. Antil, visit his blog at mcantil.com.

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