So, you’ve got a friend visiting from out of town. You’ve checked off the standard tourist spots.
What’s next when you’ve been to the Bean and looped the Loop?
Showing off the city can double as a fun weekend and a new adventure if you’re willing to scope out its nooks and crannies.
THE BROWN ELEPHANT (ANDERSONVILLE)
A short, four-block walk from the Berwyn Red Line stop, this theater-turned-thrift-store at 5404 N. Clark St. is a must-see if you pass through Andersonville. You’ll find everything from old Playstation consoles and bass guitars to cabinets and sofas up for grabs.
Weaving in and out of the aisles is particularly enjoyable thanks to the high ceiling and the worn, paint-chipped walls that reflect the building’s theatrical history. The Brown Elephant also supports the Howard Brown Health Center, an LGBTQ organization that provides a variety of medical services to more than 18,000 adults and youths each year.
Your thrifty purchases will be easy on the wallet as well as a small act of kindness.
THE GREEN MILL (UPTOWN)
After a day of exploring, save the evening for a trip back to the ‘20s at this jazz bar. Enter a time capsule to Al Capone’s heyday. The bar, designed after Clark Monroe’s Uptown House in Harlem, is the perfect spot for a few drinks and live jazz any night of the week. The Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway St., is a must-see for 21-and-older music lovers.
THE BLOOMINGDALE TRAIL, AKA “THE 606” (WEST SIDE)
What was once an abandoned elevated train track on Chicago’s West Side was recently converted into a 2.7-mile trail open to bikers, runners and dog-walkers alike. The 606 is no New York City high line. It’s better. Compared to it’s East Coast cousin, the 606 takes the cake. It is bikeable, nearly twice as long and accessible to a variety of ethnically and economically diverse Chicago neighborhoods and public schools. Hop on the trail from any of the 13 access points located on Bloomingdale Avenue.
Decorated with site-specific artwork alongside plants and flowers, the 606 is perfect for an afternoon stroll away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
THE WORMHOLE COFFEE (WICKER PARK)
This Wicker Park coffee shop, between the Blue Line Division and Damen stops at 1462 N. Milwaukee Ave., will take you back to the ‘80s and ‘90s with its retro memorabilia. A replica of the famous Back to the Future time-traveling Delorean and a (playable) Nintendo 64 are located in the back of the coffee shop and surrounded by couches, which makes for a cozy stop for a chat over one of the Wormhole’s creative coffee concoctions.
The barista will dress up a cup of coffee, roasted by Halfwit Coffee, according to your liking.
Whether you warm up with the classic “Homemade Vanilla Bean,” or give your taste buds an adventure with the artfully spiced “Tim Curry,” your coffee craving will be quenched. If you’re out exploring the neighborhood for the day, this is a great place to rest your legs from all the thrift shopping and vinyl sifting to reminisce in good company.
BAHA’I TEMPLE (WILMETTE/EVANSTON)
The Baha’i faith, centered around the “oneness of God, religion and Humanity,” professes that there exists a single God that we call by different names such as Yaweh, Allah, Bramah and Great Spirit. There are only seven Baha’i temples in the world and one of them can be found just outside of the city at 100 Linden Ave., Wilmette, not far from Northwestern University in Evanston.
If you’re willing to venture a bit outside of the city limits for some peace and quiet, add this to your itinerary. Designed by architect Louis Bourgeois, the temple was created with combinations of mathematical lines, symbolizing those of the universe, with an intricate merging of circles within circles to visualize the merging of all religions into one. Kindle your curiosity, gain some insight into the Baha’i faith and marvel at the temple’s intricate medley of religious artwork. It is not often that you will find the Islamic Crescent, the Star of David and the cross in such peaceful coexistence.
THE WOOLLY MAMMOTH (ANDERSONVILLE)
Human bones, a variety of antique taxidermy pieces, embryo models and dental tools are no everyday mix of items.
“Our theme is quite clearly life and death,” said the soft-spoken salesman behind the counter when I asked for some clarification about the store’s curious contents. The Woolly Mammoth, at 1513 Foster Ave., is a curious cabinet of oddities and anachronistic paraphernalia. It specializes in an eclectic selection of items: books, toys, military gear, art, charts, maps, vintage vibrators and insect specimens.
Baffle yourselves, take some award-winning snapchats, enjoy.
QUIMBY’S BOOKSTORE (WICKER PARK)
Not far from the Wormhole is a quirky, independent bookstore that is stocked to the brim with independent and small press published books, comics and first-edition publications.
Located at 1854 W. North Ave., Quimby’s is an entertaining stop for those with an open mind and a sense of humour. Browse through shelves of witty, raw comics by Chicago artists and authors that will leave you giggling question marks like a cartoon character. Expect aberrant, silly and unusual products.
TOAST + A VIEW (LINCOLN PARK)
Good food is always high on the priority list, particularly when you have good company to share it with. Off the Fullerton Red Line stop at 746 W. Webster Ave., Toast is the place to take a foodie friend to brunch. With no signage apart from the giant slice of toast outside, this gem is open from 8 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. on weekends and always filled to the brim. The 30-minute wait for a table is well worth it when you get to enjoy the “Pancake Orgy,” a fluffy tower of blueberry, pecan and strawberry pancakes topped with a dollop of whipped cream, that you ordered in ravenous hunger. The hearty breakfast food, local Chicago Bowtruss coffee and cozy atmosphere make for a homey, “special occasion” sort of outing for your out-of-towner.
After brunch, take a little side-trip to one of the best views of the Chicago skyline on the top floor of the parking lot across the street from the old Children’s Memorial Hospital. Take your coffee and leftovers to-go, waddle your full bellies around the corner to Lincoln Avenue and make the seven-flight trek up the parking lot’s staircase.
You will be rewarded with a stunning view and the quiet sense of pride when you can turn to your friend and nonchalantly say, “Yup, this is where I live.”