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doing Chicago: what to do in wicker park

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When I was 16, I came to Chicago on an art scholarship. I fell in love and knew in my heart that I’d live here someday. At age 30 (woof,) I finally did it, and I am so happy. Since I’m getting to explore the city more like a native and less like a tourist visiting the same spots over and over, I thought I’d start sharing some of the hidden gems that might be overlooked by people coming to visit for the first time. Today’s spotlight is on Wicker Park/Bucktown. It’s one of the trendiest “hipster”-ish parts of town, but that means there’s a lot of great food and drinks in addition to things to do and places to shop!

Gotta start with my favorite food group. I love Dimo’s (and Dimo’s loves me!) If you’re in the Six Points area and just need to grab something quick, this pizza is where it’s at. Pop in, drop my name, and grab a slice of the white pie or another monthly special – I promise you won’t be disappointed.

If you have more of a sweet tooth, head across the intersection to Stan’s Donuts. Stan’s began in LA and their popularity has spread here to the midwest with two locations in Chicago. There’s not a lot of space inside, so be prepared to eat your donut and get on out. Go on the weekend to get the biggest selection (the beignets, buttermilk bar, and chocolate sprinkles are my favorites.)

Wicker Park is home to many great bookstores, and one of my favorites is Volumes Bookcafe. Part bookstore, part coffee shop, part bar, this is a really cool spot. Browse for books and cozy up in the cafe with a cup of coffee, or come in later on, grab a beer, and borrow a board game with friends.

Mahalo Chicago Wicker Park

Mahalo is the most Instagram-worthy spot on the block. It’s Hawaiian-inspired, and begging to be photographed. The drink menu is fantastic (grab the daily daiquiri and thank me later) and I look forward to visiting again for a meal. We went a few months ago and weren’t bowled over, but the chef has changed since then, and both the menu and website look much better!

There are a lot of great spots in Wicker Park to grab a cup of coffee – hop off the Blue Line and head straight into La Colombe, or head around the corner to the Starbucks Roastery. (Yeah yeah, I know, Starbucks. It’s a roastery, though, and they have more creative drinks – the Coffee Malt is amazing!) If you’re looking for a spot to set up and work, I love Brü. Very freelance-friendly, and they accept Brewpass. Use the code DESI1 when you sign up for a free cup!

Quimby’s is another great bookstore in the neighborhood. They feature indie and underground books, comics, magazines and – best of all – zines. Growing up I was really into zines (I still have a few of my favorites kicking around my parents house) and I could spend hours browsing the shelves here. They have both local and national authors, as well as lots of fun gifts and notebooks. They also host shows from time to time – the great Sad13 played here last spring.

kanela breakfast club

If you want a cinnamon roll the size of your head (and quite honestly if you don’t, there’s a great Urgent Care I can recommend in Wicker Park because something must be wrong,) head down to Kanela Breakfast Club. It’s my favorite one in the city so far, and the rest of the menu is equally great. They have a nice bar area and it’s bigger than it looks, so don’t let a line deter you. They turn it over quickly.

While it’s not a strictly local spot, I can’t visit Wicker Park without buzzing in to David’s Tea. Their summer collection is gorgeous and the iced tea press makes it easy to make single batches of iced tea in one tumbler – just grab and go. Pop in, grab a tea of the day, and try not to walk out with a pound of tea.

Don’t leave Chicago without a souvenir! Transit Tees have some of my favorite t-shirts and knick knacks. Ever since I saw Rachel on The Real World: Back to New York I’ve loved transit-inspired stuff, and there’s plenty of it here. Whether you want to rep a specific line or stop, they’ll have it. (Plus a lot of awesome Michigan stuff, too!)

Cabana Club

reckless records

If you’re into records, stop over at Reckless Records. Wicker Park is just one of their three locations in the city. They have both new releases and used records, and their website has an up-to-date inventory search. I’ve found my one unicorn record by checking their website constantly! If there’s something you’re on the hunt for, head in. Actually, check them out anyway – the staff is always ready with recommendations.

chop shop pizza summit chicago

Though it might not seem like it, there are a couple venues in Wicker Park where you can check out some shows. Subterranean features some of my favorite artists (including Doomtree in a few weeks!) and Chop Shop’s First Ward venue features some really great punk shows. (They also host the Pizza Summit where I attempted to eat my body weight in pizza against two competitive eaters in April, as pictured above.)

By the end of the day, you’ll be ready for some dessert. Jeni’s Ice Cream is a Midwestern classic (I highly recommend the salty caramel and brambleberry crisp combo) or head up on Damen to Mindy’s Hot Chocolate. Their whole menu is great, but I definitely recommend their namesake hot chocolates or cookies – chef Mindy even wrote a cookbook about cookies, so you know they’ve got to be great!

What are your favorite things to do on vacation? Any places in particular in Chicago you’re curious about? Let me know in the comments – I’d love to share the city with you!

 

July 21, 2017
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weird chicago: haunted history tour

Posted in Travel by
Weird Chicago provided free tickets, but all opinions are my own.

weird chicago

If you follow me on social media (or remember this post from last year’s gift guide), you probably know that I love true crime. After a recent dive into a new podcast (holla at my ladies!) and living with Dani, I’ve grown interested in paranormal phenomenon as well. I’d heard of Weird Chicago before, and I’ve always wanted to do a tour of Chicago’s biggest crime stories. (Honestly, the only one I’m really familiar with is the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre – mostly because the scene of it is across from Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Company.) I was really excited to see their Haunted History tour, and Dani and I jumped on the chance to go!

Our tour guide, Krystal, was energetic and engaging. She said that they can change up the spots they go based on the people on the tour and what’s going on in town. Since there weren’t any little kids on our tour, she added a stop where we could grab a drink at a bar – and it turned out it was a place I’d had an experience many years ago. One of the coolest parts of the trip was that Krystal gave us tips on the best way to shoot paranormal photography. She also asked if anyone was a medium or clairvoyant because some of the sites are very active and people who are sensitive have gotten sick in the past.

As a note – you can bring drinks and snacks on the bus, so I highly recommend that. (There’s a Walgreens and a McDonald’s near the pickup, if you need a quick place to run in.)

chicago's most haunted places

The first stop was on the Chicago Riverwalk, a beautiful paved walkway that’s super popular for tourists and locals. It’s also the site of the Eastland Disaster. Krystal told us the story, and I was shocked that I’d never heard of it before. In 1915, a company chartered this steamship (along with three others) to take their employees as a reward for great work. The ship’s infrastructure failed, resulting in a huge disaster: 220 people died, including many full families. (We were also there on the 102nd anniversary of the disaster, which was a coincidence.) People have reported seeing faces in the water and hearing cries for help – cries so real that emergency services are still called weekly for reports of drownings.

eastland disaster

From there, we boarded back up on the bus and Krystal started telling us about how cemeteries (vs. graveyards) came about. She explained the history of how Chicago’s first cemetery came to be, and told us we were going there. I was really surprised when she told us what it was, because it’s a place I really love – Lincoln Park (including the Lincoln Park Zoo.)

It’s a great park now, so it was really surprising to learn that there are still thousands of bodies buried in the park. Even though people at the time were supposed to move their family’s remains after the city realized that having a burial site so near to the lake wasn’t going to work, many didn’t move them at all. There’s only one remnant left that symbolizes what the park used to be: the Couch Mausoleum. She told us that the most haunted place in Lincoln Park is actually the Zoo (which is one of my favorite places in Chicago!)

Couch Mausoleum

Since we were in Lincoln Park, I had a pretty good idea what the next stop would be, and I was right. Lincoln Park is just a skip and a jump from Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Company… across from the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre site. Even though I’m aware of it, I didn’t know that much about it. Krystal used volunteers from the group to illustrate all the people who were killed, and it was really interesting to hear the history and full story of what happened. There’s a retirement community next door, and one of the first floor apartments had so many complaints from residents that they would hear knocking and yelling constantly. I got very nauseous at this location, it was very weird. It came on quickly and I had to lean up against the fence to keep my strength. (One of the major characters in this story was a dog, so maybe that’s why I was so affected.)

st. valentine's day massacre site

We headed downtown to the theater district to a nondescript alley by the Oriental Theater. Krystal told us it is referred to as Death Alley. In 1903, the Iroquois theater that was there at the time had a fire break out – not unusual at the time for theaters due to the heavy materials and lighting they used. It was billed as the world’s first “fireproof” theater, though, and they opened with a few important shortcuts taken – including no fire alarms and no fire escapes from the balcony. Hundreds of lives were lost (some due to fire, some due to people being pushed from the balcony out to the street) and today, it has a suicide rate of three times that of other places.

Finally, we wrapped up our tour at the Congress Hotel. I’ve actually stayed at the Congress Hotel once in 2009 for a conference. I was young, and “enjoying” the conference amenities, if you know what I mean, when I thought it would be a great idea to enter a stairwell that was marked “CLOSED – DO NOT ENTER.” It was so creepy. Cobwebs and dank smell that told you the door hadn’t been cracked for years. I was the only one in the stairwell, and I kept hearing scratches against the wall and a clanging sound on the steps. I hightailed it out of there, and I hadn’t thought about it again until we pulled up. Krystal told us stories about some of the ghosts that still live in the hotel (including one room that the hotel doesn’t rent out unless you request it – and even then, you’re waiting a year to get in) and it’s kind of cool to hear the backstory of some of these “residents.”

It was a really great experience and made me want to learn even more about the city’s history. If you’re a tourist, a transplant, or even if you’ve lived in Chicago your whole life, I highly recommend checking out one of Weird Chicago’s tours!

July 14, 2017
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holiday travel tips

Posted in Travel by

The holidays are stressful enough without throwing travel drama in, but more often than not, there’s some travel involved in getting to your destination. Thankfully, technology makes things a little easier now, whether it’s enabling faster phone calls to be made, or tapping in an alternate route in a GPS app. I’ve made heavy use of tons of travel tips both to make the trip easier as well as rerouting or rebooking when flights are delayed, so I’m sharing some ideas here as we get ready to head out for another round of holiday travel!

If your flight is delayed or cancelled due to weather, the airline won’t comp you a hotel room, but agents will have vouchers with specific discount codes for the airport hotels. It’s worth waiting in line to grab those, and the sheet will have all the steps to redeem the discount. (Pay attention to why your specific flight is canceled, and don’t assume that it’s based on weather – in my only canceled flight story, the agent rebooked me and tried to push me away with the discount code, but I had overheard that my flight was canceled due to mechanical issues. They bussed me out to a fancy five star golf resort, where my total bill for the day and a half was $14.53 for pizza that I had delivered – which I ate in the super luxe hotel robe.)

Read more…

December 22, 2016
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gift guide 2016: wanderlusters

Posted in Living, Travel by

We’re just a few weeks out from Christmas, and in the crunch for wrapping up the holiday shopping lists! If you’re feeling stuck on gift ideas, I’ve put together a week of ideas to help you get inspired. Travel is one of my favorite pastimes, and something I love getting gifts for – planning and going on a trip can be stressful, so this is an area I think a lot of my fellow travel friends prefer receiving things for. (Buying your own travel shower gel? Super boring. Get a fancier one as a gift? More exciting!) Here are some things I’ve seen floating around that would suit any road (or air) warrior.

PurseN Travel Pillow: When I was a couple years younger and just starting to travel, I thought those memory foam neck pillows were so silly. Why not just wad up a hoodie or scarf and use that? Now, however, I find myself jealous of those who walk around with these upon their necks, imagining the comfortable sleep they’ll get – especially as I find myself in window seats less and less. The PurseN pillow in particular has me lusting – it includes zippered pockets so you can tuck away things you want to reach quickly, like earbuds, Dramamine or sunglasses.

The Humorless Ladies of Border Control: Touring the Punk Underground from Belgrade to Ulaanbaatar: A book about travel seems like the perfect airplane (or road trip, if you love audiobooks like I do) companion, right? Franz Nicolay (you might recognize his name as a member of my favorite band, The Hold Steady) left the band a few years ago and embarked on a tour of Eastern Europe. This book chronicles his journey and give you a little lesson in punk rock at the same time. Read more…

December 6, 2016
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how to survive non-stop travel

Posted in Living, Travel by

nonstoptravel

When I was growing up, New Found Glory was one of my favorite bands – I have no shame about this. One of my favorite songs, “Dressed to Kill,” includes the line you’re always on tour, and you’re never home. It’s no secret that I always thought that I’d grow up to be a roadie, tucked away in a bus bunk or folded up in a van too small to carry adults, gear, instruments and luggage, but that’s not exactly how things have turned out. I am still super lucky that I have a job that lets me work remotely, so I certainly still get to do my fair share of travel! The past few months have been especially busy – many drives between Chicago and West Michigan, plus Montreal, Nashville and a flight to Boston. All that travel can definitely take a toll on your state of mind – it’s definitely fun and I know I’m super lucky to have this kind of lifestyle, but it can be hard to feel like you have a hold on what you own and where it is. Here are some tips on how to keep your head on straight when you’re bouncing from one place to another!  Read more…

November 27, 2016
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