If you're one to take advantage of Chicago's summer fun, chances are you'll become quite familiar with the Roosevelt L stop. Located a short walk from Grant Park (and the optimum site to see October's marathoners cross the finish line), it's the epitome of convenient for those en route to the festivals. But before and after the fest (or instead of all together), you'll find plenty of options for dining and entertainment that will quickly remind you that there's a lot going on south of the Loop.
Panhandler rating: More often, as with many downtown stops.
Safety rating: It empties out at night, so never fly solo.
Good for groups
Field Museum of Natural History
The Field Museum has come a long way from the taxidermied prairie animals and wax Indian figures that filled its exhibit space for so many years. Of course, those perennial favorites are still on display, but the addition of several interactive exhibits and multimedia features have brought this Chicago favorite into the twenty-first century.
The museum's pride and joy is Sue, the world's largest, best preserved fossilized Tyrannosaurus Rex. A replica skull tops her skeleton in the center of the museum, but her real skull, too heavy to mount on the body, is on display on the second floor. But the Field Museum captures more than just dinosaurs. Its permanent exhibits include plants, animals, geology, culture, art and religion. The ground floor is home to Bushman, Lincoln Park Zoo's famous lowland gorilla, as well as the "Underground Adventure" exhibit, which gives visitors a taste of what it would be like to be an inch-and-a-half tall and live in soil. The first floor plays host to exhibits about Native American culture, as well as most of the museum's animal and ecosystem exhibits.
Best of the nighttime world
The Auditorium Theatre, a joint project of Louis Sullivan, Dankmar Adler and Frank Lloyd Wright (who served as an apprentice draftsman) is one of those places you're destined to see shows in if you are a Chicago music or theater buff. While Chicago is known for small, personal theaters, the Auditorium isn't one of them (it seats 4,300). Originally home to the Chicago Symphony and the Lyric Opera, it now hosts many of the traveling Broadway musicals and big-name concerts (along the lines of Wilco and REM), so if you want to see Les Miz, you have to pay the price.
Speaking of price, the nosebleed tickets are the cheapest, but for the most part not worth it (though the acoustics are great for its size). Either spring for better tickets or rent a video. It serves overpriced gin and tonics and associated drinks during intermission. It's not all bad: Very L-accessible, and if you have decent (orchestra) seats, it makes for a wonderful experience. Upcoming shows include the Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg, Elvis Costello and Trey Anastasio.
Buddy Guy's Legends
Chicago's foremost blues club is owned by the blues legend himself, Buddy Guy. A formidable array of visiting talent and Chicago bluesmen play here including the big man, who graces the stage about 10 times a year. Eric Clapton played here for three dates in November 1994, and he's not alone when it comes to the big names. Other nationally known blues artists like Taj Mahal, Dr. John, Sugar Blue and Koko Taylor, as well as famed non-bluesers like David Bowie and Van Morrison.
Though the $10-$15 cover and the drink prices usually tally up to an expensive number at the end of the night, the music is rarely anything short of superb. Crowd is a mix of yuppies, tourists and real blues stalwarts, and it's very hard to get a seat on weekends. Jackets, T-shirts, caps, and other Buddy Guy paraphernalia are available, and some very cool memorabilia (portraits, a green-sequined dress which Koko Taylor wore in the '50s, a Muddy Waters tour jacket, as well as guitars owned by Clapton and other blues deities) can be found on the walls. There are a couple of pool tables, and the kitchen serves Southern eats like fried okra, Cajun crawfish quesadilla and spicy frog legs during the evening.
Where to chill
A dramatic, Asian-inflected dining room with theatrical lighting, paper lantern light fixtures, bamboo trimmings and blood-red walls, this sushi nightspot has ventured where no other venue has gone before: the very southernmost tip of the South Loop. Triad's extensive menu of traditional and specialty maki rolls (the Kenju, named after the chef, is marinated blue fin tuna with shiitake mushrooms), nigiri and sashimi, and inventive signature items like prawns in a green tea-infused sauce and salmon marinated in Sapporo beer have made quite the splash. A "rookie" sushi plate consists of a California roll, a cucumber roll and shrimp and omelet nigiri.
After 11 p.m., you can head back to the karaoke lounge and choose from 1,000 pop, classic and hip-hop favorites. A VIP dining room features a large plasma screen, DVD player and a state-of-the-art sound system: bring in movies, borrow Triad's or direct staffers to the video store (reservations are required). Takeout and delivery available.
Manny's Coffee Shop & Deli
It's tough to find a good chopped liver sandwich these days. The same goes for cow tongue. You'll find both at Manny's Coffee Shop & Deli, a near South Side fixture since 1942. That's because this cafeteria-style eatery does not compromise its traditional Jewish diner roots.
On one hand, that means you can expect Gefelte fish on the menu and cigars for sale at the register. On the other, that means dueling meat carvers stack the corned beef sandwiches taller than Shaggy and Scooby Doo on a late night fridge raid. Liberally cured with salt, slightly marbled, sliced tissue paper thin, and served on an onion roll, corned beef of this quality begs to be eaten for lunch, not as part of some breakfast skillet. During peak hours, Manny's flings sandwiches at you before you even order. To the uninitiated this can be intimidating, but to the regulars this ensures that the line keeps moving.