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Things to do in Chicago, and how to get around...

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The wife and I are visiting Chicago the week of CATT and we'll have a few extra days to explore the city before the tiki festivities kick off. We're flying through Midway and will be staying with a friend in the Sheridan Park area near Uptown when we're not at Aloft O'Hare during CATT. We plan to make additional excursions to Lost Lake and Three Dots before the tour, but also wanna take in as much of the windy city as possible.

Some items on our proposed agenda include:

Field Museum
Art Institute
Hancock Center
Lincoln Park Zoo
Frank Lloyd Wright home & studio tour (any other FLW suggestions? We have an annual pass)

Looking for suggestions of:

Other museums/historic sites
Liquor stores with good rum selection
Record shops
Vintage shopping

Also, is Second City worth checking out?

Lastly, it seems everything is really spread out. The one time I was passing through Chicago I went to Permanent Records and it took me more time to get there and find parking than I actually spent in the store. Is it worth renting a car for the few days we'll be exploring or just take mass transit/uber to get around?


EDIT to include Destination Map

[ Edited by: mikehooker 2019-03-23 14:11 ]


The Drake, at least see the restaurants bars...

Lowerys prime rib

Shedd Aquarium

The red head piano bar

Ginos east,
Not as good as it once was but still...

Hamo posted on Tue, Mar 26, 2019 10:13 PM

It's been almost a decade since I've been to Chicago, but I definitely recommend the Art Institute and Field Museum. You might also consider the Museum of Science and Industry.

If you're looking for deep dish, you might check out Pizzeria Uno. I don't know if it's the best, but that's the place the local took our group of friends.

As for getting around, I'm a weirdo who loves public transportation, including the L, so don't listen to me.


Maxwell the giant flea and food market every Sunday!

Thanks for the suggestions guys. Would like more food recommendations please. Deep Dish, Italian Beef, Hot Dogs.... what places MUST I visit.

Binny's is the best liquor store, as far as I know, that all the locals frequent.

Lyft/Uber work well but sometimes have trouble triangulating your location so look at addresses.

Chicago is large so if you don't have a car you'll want to do the L train.

Not sure on the best pizza, most are likely really good. I'll let you know if I hear of other suggestions. Have fun!

Hamo posted on Wed, Apr 3, 2019 10:58 PM

Well, maybe I’m not as tiki as I thought, since I had to google CATT to see why you were going. I hope you share a trip report afterward. Sorry I don’t have any more food suggestions.

TRIP REPORT... as best I can remember...

We crammed a LOT into this trip. We began with some touristy stuff and eased our way into the 12 hour drink-a-thon that is C.A.T.T. Even got to experience 4" of snowfall in one day.

Alright, here we go!

Day 1:
We purchased a 7-day Ventra card and took the train from our friends place up in Sheridan Park where we were staying for the first leg of our trip to Oak Park to do the Frank Lloyd Wright home & studio tour. We had the worst tour guide of life. Seriously, it had to be her first unsupervised tour and she was clearly not ready. She kept forgetting names, dates, and other pertinent information, rushed through each room, and didn't allow any time for questions. There were also tons of screaming kids in the tour behind us. All that was kind of a drag, but the interiors were super cool and I'm glad we went. FLW designed so many other buildings in the area we ended up just doing our own walking tour through the neighborhood and admired the homes. One of the houses that really impressed me was built in 1902 but looked like a mid century modern masterpiece... 50 years ahead of its time...

That photo really doesn't do it justice so Google Arthur B. Heurtley House. I just couldn't get over how that house was over 100 years old and looked so modern. Most of the other ones we saw were really neat and some were awe-inspiring like the Nathan G. Moore House, originally built in 1895 and redesigned by Wright after a 1922 fire...

We eventually made our way to the Unity Temple. It's an early 20th century poured concrete structure (which was intended to cut costs, but they still went way over budget in its creation) with a delightful, welcoming interior. We decided to just do the self guided audio tour of that one. Sadly didn't take any interior pictures, but do yourself a favor and Google it if you're not already familiar. I love the fixtures and layout and the church seemed really progressive.

I definitely recommend tracing our steps if you're in the area and have even a mild interest in design and architecture. Just hope you get a better guide at the first stop.

We grabbed a quick bite at Courageous Bakery before taking the train to the loop where we did an architectural boat tour. It was a beautiful day and we had a great guide with a background in architecture and friends who are working on the new wave of 800'+ high rises. He gave great insight into the different designers and styles and how new buildings paid homage to their neighbors. Really interesting stuff and he was very thorough. The Marina Towers were definitely our favorite structures. The designer Bertrand Goldberg had a building on our path we weren't previously aware of called River City that was also super cool. The boat brought us out by Navy Pier where we got a nice view of the cityscape...

Next we walked to the Hancock Building (third tallest in Chicago), and took the elevator up to the 96th floor "Signature Lounge" and had drinks overlooking the city.

Took the L back to our friends place for a quick rest before grabbing a Lyft to Lost Lake. Had a few drinks there and a nice time with some old friends in one of the booths in the back. I think in anticipation of CATT they had already removed all the stools so I'm glad we were able to secure a private spot to sit together with attentive table service. We sampled several things and mostly preferred the off menu drinks to the newer menu ones but the Something From Nothing was really good and I look forward to trying to recreate it at home.

Day 2:
We went to the Art Institute and rushed through several exhibits. I wish we had more time to explore but they didn't open until 10:30 and we had tickets to see Hamilton at 1:30 so we really only had a couple hours in the museum. Seeing a play was not at all on our initial itinerary but the guide on our boat tour the day before had mentioned that Hamilton was still playing in Chicago and since everyone I've ever talked to seems to have seen it and loved it, we decided to catch a matinee for a shockingly good price. The show was incredible and the cast terrific. Glad we found out about this as tickets for the traveling show coming to Austin soon are not only sold out, but were exponentially more costly.

After the show we walked over to Three Dots. We only intended to squeeze in one quick drink before our dinner plan with a friend. For me, since we were short on time and being that it was my first time there (my wife had gone once before), I got the obligatory Three Dots and a Dash... from Three Dots and a Dash. It was terrific as expected. We were about to cut out when we got a text that our friend wasn't feeling well and had to cancel dinner, so we were forced to make a night of it at Three Dots instead. We had several drinks plus crack chicken and crab rangoon. Everything was exceptional. This is one my wife had called Kuikawa that she absolutely adored.

Yes, that's a snow shovel to continually shovel pineapple snow ice into the coupe. The drink that kept on giving! We also tried the Cobras Fang, Jet Pilot, Aloha Felicia, and possibly others... And we were gifted a Shotstopus by the bartender which if I recall correctly, he said consisted of Smith & Cross, 151, and passion fruit foam. Was real yummy.

It was early enough when we arrived that the music was still good, it wasn't too crowded, and we got to sit at the bar. I'm glad that was my first experience because I've heard how clubby and crowded it could get. One of our friends from Austin happened to be in town for the Star Wars convention and his group arrived just before we were going to head out. So we gave up our sacred bar stools to join them for a bit, but by this time the place was really jumpin' and we were ready to call it a night shortly after.

But not before a trip to Binny's for some Doctor Bird!

OK, this report is already getting super long and we're only two days in. We still have two more trips to Three Dots, a return to Lost Lake, plus Hala Kahiki, Tiki Terrace and Chef Shangrila ahead of us. Plus a bunch more touristy crap. Will try to finish up tomorrow.

EDITED to add more photos and recollections.

[ Edited by: mikehooker 2019-04-18 15:52 ]

Thanks for the report thus far, Mike. Enjoying living vicariously through you folks!

Hamo posted on Wed, Apr 17, 2019 10:31 PM

Thanks for coming back with a trip report, Mike! Sounds good so far. It also reminds me that I should report on my SoCal trip soon.

Day 3:
Took the train into the loop again, this time to go on a bus tour of crime sites. It was fun and we learned a lot of history about the prohibition era crime wave. They also said something like there were over 4000 Speakeasies in the '20s while there are only like 1,200 bars in Chicago today. That's pretty crazy if true. We saw where Dillinger was killed and went into the basement at Harry Caray's restaurant, a late 19th century building that was the former home of Frank Nitty who was Al Capone's replacement. During renovations like 20 years ago, an electrician discovered a secret tunnel and a giant safe in the basement. You can go down there and see the secret hideout and they have a bunch of old newspaper clippings about Nitty and other artifacts to check out. Pretty neat.

We wanted to hit some vintage stores so we took the train up to the Broadway Antique Market and Edgewater Antiques where we found some mid century modern nick nacks to add to our collections, most notably for me a couple teak viking figures, and for my wife a CatherineHolm bowl, plus a cast iron Quistgaard candle holder. Also found two sets of Matson Line playing cards and a couple condiment dishes from Kon Tiki Ports. I wish we had a little more time to shop and check out other stores but we had to get back to the Loop for dinner plans at Lou Malnati's before our reservation at the Bamboo Room. The pizza was marvelous. We tried Giordano's a couple days earlier and it was disappointing, but the deep dish at Malnati's really hit the spot and satisfied the craving. With bellies full, we walked the couple blocks to Three Dots and met up with a couple Austin Ohana in the Bamboo Room.

Now, we had a pretty good time at Three Dots the night before, but the experience in their Bamboo Room was really special. It's reservation only, they only have like 12 seats, the music is appropriate, and they give you a very hands-on, informative, guided tour through a flight of four cocktails. You essentially get your very own dedicated bartender for several hours. Ours just so happened to be beverage director Kevin Beary who does all the rum buying and distillery touring so I was excited to shake him for whatever knowledgeable he was willing to share. I may have also nudged my way BEHIND the bar to get a closer look at the agricoles.

They started us off with just your typical, every day Daiquiri.... That is, you get a coupe full of pineapple "snow," which is fresh pineapple juice that's frozen and then shaved into little bits. You slowly pour the cocktail that's in the little carafe sitting on ice in the nautilus on top of it and as the pineapple melts it integrates the flavor into the drink while keeping it ice cold. I don't recall what else was involved beyond rum, lime and sugar but it sure was tasty.

We then had the option of going with a flaming coffee grog or something more traditional. My wife and I are not coffee drinkers, but we appreciate it as a flavor in cocktails among many others (like a Mutiny or Black Magic). But what they were making was predominately coffee, so we opted for the alternative, Mai Tai's. They were very agricole forward, which I like (I'm sure I asked what rums they used but don't recall) and they were delicious. We watched them prep this one for about ten minutes and the presentation and attention to detail was incredible. Missing in the pic is all the smoke from the dry ice since we took video before the photo.

After that, we were allowed to either choose three rums from the wall (up to a certain price point) or go with another cocktail. I chose to sample rums while my wife had her third cocktail. Can't recall what hers was but she really liked it. And I was thrilled to be able to try rums that I just can't get in Texas like St Lucia 1931 and Blackadder 14. All in all through the night he probably let me sample six rare rums which I was very grateful for.

Next up, we had a round of Zombies. This was a perfectly good drink, but didn't have the knock you on your ass, potent, complexity I'd expect in a drink of this namesake. But like I said, perfectly enjoyable. And garnish game was once again on point. You can barely make out that there's a flaming cinnamon stick that was soaking in 151 in the back. And how stinkin' cute is that mug? Of course he went home with me as did a couple other ceramics and a crap ton of swizzles to add to the collection.

So that concluded our regularly scheduled cocktail program, but we weren't prepared to leave just yet. And it just so happened that another friend from Austin who was in town for work (seriously, besides our Austin Ohana crew of seven that were in town for C.A.T.T., we had two other friends in town at the same time for other reasons that we ran into at Three Dots on consecutive nights. Small world!), spotted us in the Bamboo Room and jumped the barrier to say hello. We managed to smuggle her into our group even though she didn't have reservations and they still took care of her. I proceeded to order an off menu 151 Swizzle and my memories of the rest of the night are fuzzy/non-existent.

Day 4:
Took a Lyft to move all our baggage to the host hotel for C.A.T.T., the Aloft O'hare. Then grabbed the train back to the Loop and took a long walk through insane wind to the Field Museum. This was a highlight of the trip. We spent a good two hours just in the South Seas/Polynesia wing and could have spent significantly more time but there was so much to see in this building. The Maori meeting house was definitely a site to behold.

We also went through the taxidermy exhibit, Egypt, and hung with dinosaurs. Could have easily spent the whole day there. But we had one more crucial stop before heading back to the hotel for the CATT kickoff party... Another Binnys. The massive one that Kevin had suggested we check out to find more obscure things. Unfortunately a lot of what I was hoping to find was not there, but I still loaded up on delicious rums to bring home.

After momentarily getting lost, we took a long ass train ride back to the hotel and got changed for the start of CATT, our whole reason for being in Chicago. Opening night had a charity auction for the FOM. We won some Aloha shirts, a carved tiki necklace and a bottle of Lost Lake selected barrel JM Rhum. I believe over $4000 was raised through the auction. And a similar amount in raffle tickets. We decided to take it easy that night. No drinks. Save our energy for the next day cuz we had four tiki bars plus bus drinks ahead of us.

Stay tuned for the dramatic conclusion!

Also, if you had already read my previous post before I made this one, I went back and added some photos and recollections that have come back to me.

EDITED to add a couple more photos.

[ Edited by: mikehooker 2019-04-19 17:07 ]

NOTE: I don't think I took a single picture here on out, so all visuals are stolen from my wife, Antiki, and Princess Pupule without permission.

Day 5:
Everyone gathered in the hotel lobby bright and early to start our CATT adventure. Unfortunately the two buses that were to take us to our destinations showed up considerably late, so our time at our first stop, Chef Shangri-La, was limited. Upon entering the bus we were given our first swag bag with gifts and snacks that all had Chicago origin. On the way to Chef, we were given sample sized cocktails, and MC Jet Sterling provided trivia and raffled off some fun items from the sponsors.

We got to Chef and everyone anxiously piled in. They have some great Witco pieces, some cool Orchids lamps, private booths, thatching, matting, carvings, all the hallmarks of a great tiki bar, but something was just lacking during our visit. Perhaps it was because we were there so early (I believe we arrived before noon), but it was so damn bright in there. None of the lights were dimmed or diffused in any way and the white ceiling tiles were an eye soar. I've seen photos where the mood lighting seems way more appropriate than what we got. Also, they didn't have any music on. So it's a shame we didn't get the full experience. I ordered a round of Doctor Fong's, which for 8 bucks a pop were not as disastrous as I anticipated. There's a lot of cheap rum, some spice, and we believe the "secret ingredient" is lemon-lime Gatorade. Shhh. We also got food which was pretty decent. We quickly stuffed potstickers and crab rangoon in our faces before being called outside. Everyone gathered for a great group photo before loading back on the bus with another bag of goodies and the second bus drink.

Next stop was our old haunt, Three Dots! We were greeted with a complimentary Mai Tai in a commemorative double old fashioned glass. Our group claimed a booth in the corner while the hoards lined up for the free lunch buffet. Good thing we had already put a little sustenance in our bellies cuz none of us were too inclined to spend half our time standing in a line. Instead we commenced the drinking. After my Mai Tai I had a Corn 'n Oil, which was not at all traditional, but really damn good! Then we ordered the Bali Bali bowl to share.

Sadly we had to suck that one down and be on our way. But on the bright side, Lost Lake was our next destination. Back on the bus we piled. Some of our crew tapped out for a bit while I made sure to hydrate. We were halfway through the festivities now and had to exercise restraint and pace ourselves, so no bus drink for me. Upon entry at Lost Lake we were handed Tic Tac Taxis. In due time I claimed a spot at the little bar off to the right when you first walk in where I had Paul McGee whip me up a Ti Punch, which was lovely. Evidently I was the happiest person to ever walk the planet at this moment!

I nerded out over some of the vintage and rare rums on the back bar and Paul didn't bat an eye at handing over a 1940s-era bottle of Red Heart Jamaican rum that I was ogling. All the while he very cool and calmly mixed together orders for the thirsty masses. For my next round I asked him for something potent and spicy, in the Zombie/Jet Pilot family and he definitely answered the call with a delicious, complex concoction. This is the approximate moment I got drunk.

But we still had one more stop to go! Tiki Terrace is an unassuming space in a strip plaza in what seemed like Anytown, USA. I assume we were in a suburb outside of Chicago but lost my bearings somewhere along the way. Perhaps I took a quick catt nap whilst on the bus cuz I don't remember much of the ride. For some reason I didn't really explore the interior of this spot or take in much of the decor. I guess I was wearing down and just wanted to settle at a table and eat. We got good seats in front of the stage that featured two giant Moai, a thatched A-Frame and some cool tapa patterns on the ceiling tiles.

They had a multi-course dinner and floor show prepared for us. Now if you've been to the Mai Kai or seen a proper Polynesian show, this isn't one you'd necessarily write home about, but it was still fun and entertaining, and vastly elevated by the fact a crew of 125 tiki misfits had free rein of the place. I don't recall what instigated it, but at some point the group next to us had a bowl drink and everyone around collectively decided to connect as many straws as possible to one another to make the worlds longest distance from drinker to drinkee. It was quite impressive and I'm certain video evidence of this exists. Following the show, the Austin Ohana got together for a group shot with the performers. We all appear to be in a pretty good state considering we'd just endured about 12 hours of pretty consecutive drinking on the day.

On the final bus ride home we were told the fire alarm had gone off at our hotel and they had to evacuate everyone. Luckily, when we arrived it was only a short wait before they let us go in and the inconvenience did nothing to diminish our spirits.

We crashed shortly after sorting through all our swag from the day. We found out later there was at least one room party, but it's probably for the best we didn't partake. I probably passed out a little after 11. The thing about me when I consume an exorbitant amount of alcohol is that I very rarely hang over or get sick, which is wonderful, but often times my body is restless. In this case, I woke at 3:30 AM and after 30 minutes of tossing and realizing sleep was not in the cards for me, I decided to get up and go down to the gym. They had a fancy elliptical machine where you can pick a course to hike and it gives you a virtual exploration that changes resistance along the trail. I chose to jog through mountains in New Zealand and national parks in Utah. Clocked 6 miles and over 5000 feet of elevation before deciding to go back to the room, shower, and hope for rest. It took a while but eventually I got a little shut eye.

When I awoke... SNOW!

I was hoping to conclude our trip in this post but we've still got one more CATT event left, the farewell party at Hala Kahiki. Will finish up soon...

[ Edited by: mikehooker 2019-04-20 15:45 ]

Finally found some time to wrap this up. If you've made it this far, thanks for reading and hope you're enjoying the journey!

Day 6
We took a Lyft to Gene and Jude's for breakfast hot dogs which were the best of the three places we tried on the trip, then sloshed through the snow to Hala Kahiki.

What a beautiful time capsule of a place! It's not as densely outfitted or breathtaking as the Mai Kai, but every surface is covered in luahala and seagrass matting, there are some fantastic hanging lamps, lit up resin tikis, and the most insane collection of Witco I've seen including fountains, lighting, shields and everything you can imagine. It's everywhere you look, and the place is expansive.

When you enter there's a very long bar with a plethora of stools and a bunch of seating across from it. That leads to a small dining area that overlooks the patio/garden, then you pass into another room where there's a small service bar and another, larger dining area that has a different view of the garden. This is where we spent most of our time. They also have a gift shop beyond this room. Sadly, we couldn't see the water feature in action or really enjoy the extravagance of the garden because it was under snow.

MC Jet Sterling introduced the Cocktail Preachers who played the first two CATTs and reunited to play two sets for us. Great instrumental background music for the days festivities covering surf, exotica and some hits of the 60s. There was a raffle in between their sets where people won swag from Pussers, Plantation, Kona Brewing and other sponsors. There was also a market place with several vendors hawking tiki wares, mugs, carvings, syrups, and more.

My one negative note would be that the drinks I had were undrinkable. They offer a flight of cocktails where you can get 5 miniatures which I thought was a great way to test some options and determine what I'd like to order a full size of. I picked some old reliables in the Mai Tai, Zombie, Navy Grog, Planters Punch and Suffering Bastard. I couldn't consume more than a few sips of any of them. They were super duper sweet, one note, and very disappointing. None even closely resembled what they were supposed to taste like except the mai tai was nothing but orgeat, so I know they got atleast one ingredient right. I heard others say their drinks weren't bad at all, so maybe it was just the bartender who made mine.

Despite that set back, this stop was a great way to end the Chicago Area Tiki Tour. It is a really fun event that's well organized, and I believe the money raised goes towards scholarships for the children of Easter Island who go to Chile and bring their knowledge back to the island to improve their society.

All in all, Chicago is a wonderful city and this was a fantastic trip. We had a blast hanging with friends and making new ones. Drank an immeasurable amount of alcohol. Got to take in the city, some snow, and visit a few great watering holes. I feel there's a lot more to explore so a return visit is in order. Definitely for the CATT in two years, if not sooner.

Pertaining to my initial post, pondering the best way to get around... I found the transit system to be pretty reliable and got us within a mile of many of our destinations. At times when we were too beat or crunched for time or the train didn't quite go where we needed it to, we took Lyft's. I don't imagine I would have enjoyed having a car to drive around and dealing with parking. Next time perhaps we'll stay in the Loop as it seems that was where we ended up the most.

Hamo posted on Thu, Apr 25, 2019 9:48 PM

Thanks, Mike; your trip report really makes me want to get back to Chicago to see these tiki places.

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