Executive director Thomas Applegate treats the 500 beds in his hostel like seats at the U.N. As he puts it, "We are in the peacemaking business." With an emphasis on community and cultural exchange, travelers don't just stay the night, but forge transcontinental bonds while steeped in Chicago's splendor.
Volunteers lead visitors on a sampling of less obvious hot spots like honky-tonk bingo venues and art film houses. At $30 a night, the group rooms offer lockers, private washrooms and soaring windows. During the summer, single occupancy bedrooms are available on the upper floors from $80 a night. Common areas feature televisions, vending machines, ping-pong and pool tables and a self-service kitchen. The dining room, crisscrossed by rafters, is saturated with light from 20-foot windows that look out onto the L.
Hostel International's mission to encourage cross-pollination isn't limited to travelers. Several programs in conjunction with Chicago Public Schools foster exposure to different cultures. In the "Exchange Neighborhoods" program, one high school class is paired with another class from a different school. They research their own ancestral and local cultures while learning how to be culturally sensitive. After visiting each other's school and neighborhood, they spend the night at the hostel, eating and hanging out. The "cultural kitchen" program highlights interaction between students and travelers staying at the hostel. After studying a country of their choice, students come to the hostel to cook that country's native cuisine and sit down to dinner with a hosteller.
Centerstage Reviewer: David Rosenstock