Neighborhood Tour

Chicago's Wrigleyville Knocks It Out of the Park

by Rachel Kurlander
Aerial Wrigleyville from above, with Wrigley Field in the foreground. Photo by Marco Verch/Flickr.

Wrigleyville, Chicago, a neighborhood on the city’s North Side named for the iconic baseball field where the Chicago Cubs play, is alive with fandom and a community that’s always rooting for the home team.

CHICAGO — When I visited Chicago for the first time in August, I knew little about what the city had to offer beyond deep dish pizza and epithetical zephyrs. Atop my list of must-see sites, however, was Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs and indisputably one of the greatest places to spend a glorious summer afternoon (as a die-hard Yankee fan, it pains me to admit that Wrigley Field is superior to Yankee Stadium in almost every way, but alas, it’s true). The ivy-clad outfield wall, iconic red marquee sign, and propitious “W” flag flown after every Cubs win, infuse this second-oldest ballpark in the majors with a rapturous spirit. It’s even nicknamed “The Friendly Confines,” in part because the team was, until very recently, so laughably terrible that competitiveness inevitably devolved into benign spectating.

Baseball game at Wrigley Field Cubs vs. Padres
It's a sunny afternoon in Wrigleyville: Let's play ball. Photo by Rachel Kurlander.
Wrigley Field ticket counter
Charming, old-school ticket counters. Photo by Marco Verch/Flickr.

Out of the Chicago Cubs’ century-long championship drought, however, grew one of the most loyal fan bases in all of professional sports, and nowhere is this enduring love for their hometown heroes more evident than in Wrigleyville. At first, I found it hard to believe that an entire neighborhood existed where daily life revolves around baseball. (Was this heaven on Earth?) I was conditioned to show up at Yankee Stadium ten minutes before the first pitch, and only recently became aware of the few Yankee-themed sports bars near the ballpark.

Wrigleyville, a small neighborhood in the Lakeview Historic District north of Downtown Chicago, is the exact opposite: It’s an entire self-contained ecosystem of bars and restaurants, shops, hotels, music venues, and nightlife, with Wrigley Field at its core and a boisterous atmosphere in which everyone, from baseball zealots to people who don’t know the difference between an ERA and an RBI, can partake. In the last decade, a whole host of fair-weather real estate developers began capitalizing on the team’s success, and so the area began to shed its raucous reputation in favor of glitzy apartment complexes and a new Shake Shack. Still, classic institutions, greasy spoons, and fan favorites prevail. Here’s where to find them.

What to Do

Joe Mather up at the plate at Wrigley Field
In Wrigleyville? Go to Wrigley. Photo by Ben Grey/Flickr.

Wrigley Field
1060 W Addison St.; +1-773-404-2827
Okay, so this one’s a no-brainer. If you’re here between April and September (or October, if the Cubs make the postseason), get tickets to a home game — bonus points if it’s against the crosstown-rival White Sox or division-rival Cardinals. During the offseason, it’s possible to tour the stadium and learn more about Wrigley’s storied past.

A concert at Metro
After the game (or in lieu of it) catch a show at Metro. Photo courtesy of Metro.

Metro
3730 N Clark St.; +1-773-549-4140
This legendary music hall opened in 1982, when founder Joe Shanahan booked the club’s first act, then a little-known band from Athens, Georgia, by the name of R.E.M. Ever since, this 1,000-person concert venue has hosted practically everyone from Bob Dylan to Nirvana to Kanye West, as well as buzzy local acts and Lollapalooza after-shows.

Vintage movie theater Music Box Theater
This retro theater will impress any movie buff. Photo courtesy of Music Box Theater.

Music Box Theatre
3733 N Southport Ave.; +1-773-871-6604
Chicago’s premier cinema for indie flicks, documentaries, foreign films, and cult classics — who said that a sports town can’t have an artsy side? Built in 1929, the theater predates just about every other building in the neighborhood (except Wrigley Field, of course) and still retains its classic feel with red velvet curtains, a ceiling with twinkling starry lights, and popcorn topped with real butter.

Where to Drink

Vines on Clark outdoor patio
The patio at Vines on Clark was made for day drinking. Photo courtesy of Vines on Clark.

Cubby Bear
1059 W Addison St.; +1-773-327-1662
Along with Vines on Clark and Sluggers (all next to each other and across the street from the stadium entrance), these three make up the Cubs sports bar trifecta. Vines has a great outdoor patio and rooftop, Sluggers has an upstairs sports complex with batting cages, and Cubby Bear is, well, Cubby Bear. Don’t expect world-class food and refreshments, but if you’re looking for a fun, rough and rowdy drinking den with more flat screen TVs than you can count, these bars won’t disappoint.

Bar seating at Murphy's Bleachers
Murphy's Bleachers, the quintessential sports bar. Photo courtesy of Murphy's Bleachers.
Murphy's Bleachers letter board signs
Cheeky letter boards outside of Murphy's Bleachers. Photo courtesy of Murphy's Bleachers.

Murphy’s Bleachers
3655 N Sheffield Ave.; +1-773-281-5356
From its humble origins as a roadside hotdog and beer-by-the-pail stand, this iconic spot is the Mecca of sports bars for Cubs fans (with bingo, trivia, and karaoke nights for the uninitiated). It was once the unofficial clubhouse of the Left Field Bleacher Bums, a legendary band of unruly fans, and a hangout where fans could reliably brush shoulders with celebrities and the players themselves. You won’t run into Kris Bryant or Javier Báez here anytime soon, but this is still the watering hole for tried-and-true fans.

Nisei Lounge
3439 N Sheffield Ave.; +1-773-525-0557
On the menu at Nisei Lounge? Beer and nuts. Seriously, this hole-in-the-wall has been open since 1951 — making it the oldest bar in Wrigleyville — and it’s never had a kitchen (but seems to be doing just fine without one). Come for the impressive craft and microbrew selection in a part of town where Budweiser is the gold standard, or to hide out where, Nisei management claims, “your boss, spouse, priest, or rabbi will never find you.”

The GMan Tavern
3740 N Clark St.; +1-773-549-2050
An intimate, cash-only dive. Lamp-lit pool tables, a working jukebox, and pinball machines instill this beloved local bar with retro charm, and it may be one of the few bars in the neighborhood where you could get through an entire evening without even hearing the word “Cubs.” Open 365 days a week into the wee hours of the morning, perfect for late-night romps.

Where to Eat

Byron’s Hot Dogs
1017 W Irving Park Rd.; +1-773-281-7474
Famous no-frills hot dog counter serving up foot-longs better (and cheaper) than anything you’ll find in the ballpark. Order a jumbo dog “dragged through the garden,” code for Chicago-style piled high with onion, lettuce, tomato, green peppers, cucumber, pickle, and topped off with mustard and relish (do not, under any circumstances, ask for ketchup if you ever want to show your face in this town again).

Lucky’s Sandwich Co.
3472 N Clark St.; +1-773-549-0665
If you’re in the mood for a sandwich, look no further than Lucky’s. Thick slices of white bread stuffed with meat, cheese, and french fries may not sound groundbreaking, but the shop's reputation extends far beyond Wrigleyville as one of the best sandwich joints in Chi-town. Extra hungry? Order the Lucky’s Challenge (featured on the Food Network show Man v. Food): Finish three sandwiches in under an hour to win a Lucky’s T-shirt, your photo on the restaurant’s wall of fame, and your three-sandwich meal for free. 

Cubs decor inside Cozy Noodles & Rice
Cubs baseballs, jerseys, signs, and other miscellany line the walls of Cozy Noodles & Rice. Photo courtesy of Cozy Noodles & Rice.

Cozy Noodles & Rice
3456 N Sheffield Ave.; +1-773-327-0100
Surprisingly, the award for best Cubs ephemera may go to this funky, offbeat Thai joint. The prices are great, the food is even better, and there are only so many hot dogs and cheeseburgers a single person can consume without lapsing into an MSG-induced food coma.

Uncommon Ground
3800 N Clark St.; +1-773-929-3680
Speaking of MSG, you won’t find any here. As the first certified-organic rooftop farm in the United States and the first certified-organic brewery in the state of Illinois, Uncommon Ground is a (mostly) bonafide healthy option in a sea of deep fryers — but epicureans can still find bacon-wrapped meatloaf on the menu. Produce harvested from the rooftop and beer brewed in-house are served in the restaurant, in a rooftop-farm-to-table twist.

A seafood broil at Lowcountry
Good Southern cooking in the heart of Chicago. Photo courtesy of Lowcountry.

Lowcountry
3343 N Clark St.; +1-888-883-8375
This laid-back seafood restaurant filled with picnic tables and checkered cloths will transport you far away from Wrigleyville and down to the Gulf Coast. Choose from shrimp, crab, lobster, crawfish, mussel, and clam boils, or fried plates of just about anything served with hearty southern sides. Save room for dessert: a full helping of deep-fried Oreos and beignets.

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