This summer my 15-year-old son and I traveled to Chicago in order to see Wrigley Field’s 100th anniversary before major renovations change the baseball stadium.
We decided to make the whole trip “Vintage Chicago” by visiting not just the 2nd oldest ballpark in the nation but the longest standing eateries and shops as well.
As soon as we arrived at Midway Airport, we stopped for a traditional Chicago hot dog at Gold Coast Dogs. I had the traditional char dog with neon green relish, tomato, pickle, and mustard on a poppy seed bun. My son had his usual ketchup and onions even though a satirical sign posted read that anyone using ketchup on a dog would be arrested (he wasn’t, just kidded a lot by the server).
We stayed at the boutique Talbott Hotel which has been in the city since 1927. It is a wonderful establishment with friendly staff from the doorman to the concierge.
Luckliy, we met a wonderful old timey cab driver, Phil, a citizen of 50 years and a cabbie for 25. He took us to two special doughnut shops: Do-Rite Doughnuts and Doughnut Vault.
When planning our trip, I researched the 25 best doughnuts places in the U.S., and Chicago happened to have 4 of those places (the other 2 were too far away from our hotel). The doughnuts at Do-Rite rank among the best I’ve ever eaten. I can’t comment on the Vault’s doughnuts because is was still closed at 7:30 a.m.
Our first dinner was at Pizzeria Uno which originated the famous Chicago deep dish pizza in 1943. This was the only disappointing eatery. I found the crust over done, and my son could barely eat his. This is an example of a place that may have originated a particular meal that doesn’t necessarily make the best version of that meal.
When I was last in Chicago nearly 30 years ago, breakfast at Lou Mitchell’s make an impression. At that time, Mr. Mitchell was still alive personally handing out small boxes of Milk Duds to the ladies, “Sweets for the Sweet!”
The best part of Lou Mitchell’s, established in 1923, is the atmosphere including the seasoned waitresses. When our server found out we were headed to the original location of Margie’s Candies, she got very excited.
After breakfast, we walked across the street to the historic Union Station building. Then we took the El train 15 minutes north to Margie’s Candies.
Margie’s has two locations but we wanted to visit the original location. Clearly, the neighborhood around the small establishment had changed over the decades since the store opened in 1933. Inside the cramped store was an authentic soda fountain in addition to its chocolate candy counter. As a lifetime Los Angeles resident I’ve gotten spoiled by See’s Candies, still the box of chocolates around. Still, Margie’s was good.
Then it was time to go to Wrigley Field. The dixieland band playing outside the ballpark got added to the festive atmosphere. One of the most wonderful things about Wrigley besides the obvious 100 years of its history is the minimum amount of visual and aural noise that has become epidemic at nearly all professional sports complexes. What a pleasure to mainly hear an organ playing and to have giant video screens with commercials between innings.
Throwing out the ceremonial first pitch were members of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (made famous in the film “A League of Their Own”). Also present was the granddaughter of the man who planted the famous ivy against the outfield wall.
For dinner we headed out a 20-minute cab ride to the White Palace Grill, opened since 1939. As far as diners go, it was pretty average, nothing special. The crunchy hash browns were delicious.
Our final day in the Windy City was a whirlwind tour of city highlights. We began with a morning architectural Chicago River cruise. It was very informative; even my son recalled specific architectural styles when we walked city streets later on.
For lunch we went to the Billy Goat Tavern, serving burgers since 1934. Those of you old enough to remember the early seasons of Saturday Night Live may recall the “cheezburger, cheezburger” skit which was based on the long-standing eatery. Sure enough, the man at the cashier sounded just like John Belushi, “You want a double-cheeseburger, double-cheeseburger for you.” Just getting to the Billy Goat Tavern is an adventure. Good luck with GPS helping you to locate the right staircase off Michigan Avenue to go subterranean.
We then headed over to the Willis Tower (formerly Sears). Since my son had been to the top of the Empire State Building, the Space Needle, and the Eiffel Tower, we had to add this to his repertoire. At the top of the building, they have a clear cubicle that extends a few feet out so that you can look beneath you at 1,353 feet.
Finally we visited the Museum of Science and Industry which opened in 1933. My son is not a museum kid. He’d rather watch a PBS special on the brain than look at art. I knew my choice was a success when he unsolicitedly said “I like this museum” twice. We went into the real coal mine, an original exhibit dating to the museum’s origin. We also enjoyed looking at the German U-505 sub that was captured in World War Two.
Our best meal was our last dinner at Gene and Georgetti, the oldest traditional steakhouse in town founded in 1941. The food and the service were topnotch.
I’d highly recommend a Vintage Chicago trip. Nowadays there are so many of the same restaurants and stores that it is worth an effort to research some of the less trendy destinations that were responsible for putting bustling cities such as Chicago on the map.