More Chicago self-touring tips

23 Aug

What can you say about Chicago?  “An October sort of city even in spring,” wrote famed mid-century Nelson Algren.  Algren, who wrote The Man with the Golden Arm and was sought out by feminist Simone de Beauvior, saw the world divided between hustlers and squares, with those who ran the scam often misidentified as upstanding leaders of society.  Born Nelson Algren Abraham, he changed his name legally around the time he had to register for the draft.  His petition for legal change of name is preserved by the Archives of the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County; his draft card is preserved by the National Archives in Chicago.

A hint of Nelson Algren’s Chicago can be experienced just across Michigan Avenue from the Tribune Tower and just north of the Wrigley Building, when you walk down the stairs to the lower level of Michigan Avenue at Hubbard Street.

On the lower level at 430 North Michigan, stop in for a cheeseburger – “No Pepsi, Coke!” – or enjoy a beer at the Billy Goat Tavern, which relocated here in 1964 after 30 years on the West Side near the old Chicago Stadium.  Be prepared to pay cash only, but if you come at the right time, only the radio and newspaper company regulars will be hanging out.  Be sure to read the newspaper clippings by the late, lamented Algren inheritor, Mike Royko.

If you’d like to enjoy finer dining with colleagues, walk just a few feet west on lower Hubbard Street to the corner of Rush Street.  There you’ll find Stefani’s 437 restaurant, a Chicago steakhouse run in the joint that used to be the hangout of Algren, Louis “Studs” Terkel, and the other Chicago Renaissance writers and artists of 1936: Riccardo’s.  Thursday night, August 25, is the 16th anniversary of Riccardo’s closing.  The National Archives in Chicago preserves famed proprietor Riccardo Novaretti’s naturalization records, as well as records about Studs Terkel’s lawsuits against the Central Intelligence Agency during the 1970s.  While waiting for a table or your steak at Stefani’s, pull out a copy of Algren’s prose-poem Chicago: City on the Make (1951), with the intro by Studs Terkel, and

Algren’s fellow writer Richard Wright, who lived in Chicago from 1927 through 1937, worked as a dishwasher in the Hotel Patricia on Fullerton Avenue on the North Side, as a youth club supervisor on the South Side, and in many other laboring jobs.  Wright’s life in Chicago left him “depressed and dismayed,” but he drew upon his experiences to write the 1940 novel Native Son.  Wright donated books to the Cleveland Hall Branch of the Chicago Public Library, where librarian Vivian Harsh had begun the largest collection of archival records and manuscripts about African-American history and literature only a few years earlier, in 1932.  The Vivian Harsh Collection of the Chicago Public Library, based at the Carter G. Woodson Regional Library at 95th and Halsted, is a must-visit repository for archivists, this week or in the future.  Call (312) 747-6900 to confirm hours and availability; details can be found at

Ride the Chicago Transit Authority’s Red Line L trains southward to the end of the line at 95th Street and the Dan Ryan Expressway, then take a number 95W (“W” for “West”) bus one mile west to the corner of Halsted Street and 95th.  The Carter G. Woodson Regional Library, CTA bus and train maps and schedules can be viewed at  As Wright’s friend Algren wrote, “By its padlocked poolrooms and its nightshade neon, by its carbarn Christs punching transfers all night long; by its nuns studying gin-fizz ads in the Englewood Local, you shall know Chicago.”

Richard Wright and Vivian Harsh (ca. 1936)

Richard Wright and Vivian Harsh (ca. 1936).  Photo courtesy Vivian Harsh Collection, Chicago Public Library.



Saturday afternoon in Chicago

23 Aug

Want a real Chicago experience, on your own, on a shoe-string budget?  Here are a handful of tips and tour books that you can carry while traveling, and will want to take home.

Chicago Cultural Center.  Southwest corner of Michigan Avenue and Randolph Street.  Here’s where you can get a cup of coffee or tea, buy a Chicago Transit Authority visitor’s pass for unlimited rides (one-day pass for $5.75 or three-day for $14), pick up maps and brochures, and see the Grand Army of the Republic room upstairs with its stained-glass windows.   The building was originally built in 1893 as the Grand Army of the Republic headquarters, then became the Chicago Public Library’s main branch.

Want to sight-see on a budget of $4.50 for a round-trip fare?  The Chicago Transit Authority’s rapid transit lines, called the “L” (for “Loop”) or “El” (for Elevated Lines, a 1920s name), run north to Evanston, northwest to O’Hare Airport, west to Oak Park, southwest through the Bungalow Belt to Midway Airport, and south to Englewood.  Pick up a route map at major CTA stations downtown.

Can’t get out from the neighborhood of the SAA meeting?  Nelson Algren’s slim prose-poem Chicago: City on the Make (1951) remains in print and is recommended reading, especially for visitors from out-of-town who might be charmed by what seems like a good deal.  Algren would remind you what happened to the Potawatomi.

Skip the Fodor’s, the Lonely Planet guides if you’re looking for food – go with The Streets & San Man’s Guide to Chicago Eats by Dennis Foley (Chicago: Lake Claremont Press, 2004).  Everybody in Chicago knows that the Streets and Sanitation Department workers know good eats, because they’re often seen at a local dining establishment.  Between Lawrence’s Fisheries on Canal Street and the South Branch of the Chicago River (page 13) and Tony’s Italian Beef on South Pulaski Road near the National Archives at Chicago (page 55), you’re covered.  Always call ahead for hours and confirmation that the dives some of us Chicagoans visit are still open.  (We’ve taken a hit with the closure of Soul Food restaurants in recent times.)

Literary Chicago: A Book Lover’s Tour of the Windy City by Greg Holden (Chicago: Lake Claremont Press, 2001) gives you the low-down on Chicago sites associated with great Chicago writers, from Theodore Dreiser, Carl Sandburg, and Ben Hecht to James T. Farrell, Richard Wright, Nelson Algren, Lorraine Hansberry, Saul Bellow, Eugene Izzi, and Sara Paretsky (who did research for one of her mystery novels at the Vivian Harsh Collection).

Work an eight-hour day, five hours each week?  Thank the people of Chicago for bringing you something called “the weekend.”  Back in 1886, the proposition of an eight-hour work day led to mass marches and the infamous Haymarket bombing and subsequent trial.  Chicago men were executed for the radicalism of it all.  The Labor Trail online tour guides, available at, provide not just maps for self-guided tours of historic places associated with major events in Chicago-area labor and working-class history, but also the contextual historical information that you won’t find at many of the sites.  Hop on a Metra Electric train to Pullman on Saturday afternoon, or a CTA Blue Line train to the Haymarket Martyr’s Monument in Waldheim Cemetery in Forest Park.

Ira Bach’s A Guide to Chicago’s Historic Suburbs on Wheels and On Foot covers the broader Chicago metropolitan region of six counties.  Our favorite, reachable by CTA trains to Evanston: the 1873 Grosse Pointe Lighthouse in Evanston at 2535 Sheridan Road (at the Lake Michigan shoreline, obviously), which offers $6 tours on weekends for adults ($3 for children 8 and older).  On Saturday or Sunday, catch a Red Line “L” train on the Loop at Randolph and Wabash to Howard Street, then switch over to the Purple Line shuttle to Evanston’s Central Avenue CTA station.  Walk east about 9 minutes on Central Avenue to Sheridan Road, then cross and turn to the right to reach the Grosse Point Lighthouse.  Please phone 847-328-6961 for up-to-date information before your visit.

As always, call ahead to confirm availability and hours, and always travel with caution, prudence, a map, and money.


Looking for vegetarian sanctuary in this town of animal craziness?

22 Aug

Just because Chicago is a temple to animal preparation, does not mean that it can’t also provide stellar meat- and dairy-free dining experiences. 

For something casual, try the Chicago Diner in Wrigleyville – “Meat Free since ’83.”  Their diner food-style menu is all vegetarian, mostly vegan, and all tasty.  They also happen to make one of the best chocolate layer cakes this poster has ever had, vegan or otherwise.  They are located at 3411 North Halsted Avenue, and are accessible by the Red line (Belmont stop, walk 2 blocks east then 3 blocks north).  Hours are 10 AM to 10:30 PM Sunday through Thursday, and 10 AM to 11 PM Friday and Saturday.  They don’t take reservations, and you may encounter a slight wait, but the neighborhood is a good one to walk around while waiting for your table to open up.

For something a little more fancy, try Green Zebra in the Noble Square neighborhood.  This restaurant focuses on local, seasonal ingredients, served in a small plate style.  They are located at 1460 West Chicago Avenue, and are accessible by public transportation (Division Blue line stop or Chicago Avenue bus) or by taxi.  Brunch is served on Sunday from 10:30 AM to 2:00 PM, and they are open for dinner from 5:30 PM to 9:30 PM Monday through Thursday, 5:00 PM to 10:00 PM on Friday and Saturday, and 5:00 PM to 9:00 PM Sunday.  Reservations are recommended, and can be made through the restaurant or through Open Table.


Cool off at Margie’s Candies

22 Aug

If the heat and humidity in Chicago are getting you down, head to Margie’s Candies.  They do serve food, and you can buy candy there, but it’s really all about the ice cream.  That, and the fact that your sundae will come with your own personal pitcher of hot fudge, caramel, or butterscotch sauce.  That’s right – YOUR OWN PITCHER.

There are two locations, both accessible by public transportation.  The original Margie’s is located in the Bucktown neighborhood, at 1960 North Western Avenue (take the Blue line to the Western stop).  It is open from 9 AM until midnight Sunday through Thursday, and 9 AM until 1 AM on Friday and Saturday.  The second location is in the North Center neighborhood, at 1813 West Montrose Avenue (take the Brown line to the Montrose stop).  It is open from 9 AM to 10 PM Monday through Thursday, 9 AM to 11 PM on Friday, 10 AM to midnight on Saturday, and 11 AM to 11 PM on Sunday.


Bebop and Belugas

22 Aug

If you need an activity for Wednesday evening, consider Jazzin’ at the Shedd – five hours of live jazz on a lakefront terrace at the Shedd Aquarium, located at 1200 South Lake Shore Drive (a little bit south of the conference hotel, easily accessible by bike, car, or CTA bus).  Afterwards, visit with some of the Shedd’s 32,000 inhabitants.

The Pat Mallinger Trio will be performing on Wednesday, August 24th.  Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for kids (ages 3-11).  All-access tickets, which will get you into Jazzin’ as well as the Jellies exhibit, the Abbott Oceanarium, and the Polar Play Zone, are $18 for adults and $16 for kids.  Check out the Shedd’s website for more info –


Let a little bird tell you where the action is, or even better, be the bird.

8 Aug

Sure, Twitter is spectacular at keeping you up to date on hot Hollywood gossip / breaking political news / what your cousin had for lunch.  It is also a terrific conference tool.  Hear something revolutionary at a conference session?  Want to find out what you’re missing at sessions that you can’t attend?  Happen upon (or start up) a fiery discussion group, and want more participants?  Want to find out where people are heading that night for dinner?  Use this year’s Twitter hashtag for the conference – #saa11.

Not only is Twitter a good way to keep up on conference activities if you’re attending, it’s also a way for people who can’t attend in person to get a sense of this year’s hot topics.  So help your fellow archivists and tweet on.


Train, plane, taxi,… boat?

8 Aug

See the city of Chicago in a whole new way – by boat!  You have two options, one utilitarian and one more leisurely, both a great way to see the sights.

Simply need to get from one place to another?  Try a Chicago Water Taxi (  Taxis run from Chinatown to Michigan Avenue, with two stops in between.  Tickets are $2.00 one way between Michigan Avenue and Madison Street, $4.00 if you would like to go all the way to or from Chinatown.

Have more time on your hands, and a desire to learn more about the buildings that you’ll be floating past?  Check out the Chicago Architecture Foundation boat tours (  For an hour and a half, you’ll be treated to a docent-guided tour of the buildings downtown along the Chicago River.  Tickets are $35 per person, and advance reservations are highly recommended.


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