Monday, July 25, 2016

How to Be a Red Bulls Fan In Chicago -- 2016 Edition

This coming Sunday night, the New York Red Bulls, coming off yet another embarrassment of their alleged rivals New York City FC (4-1 at Red Bull Arena yesterday), head west (well, Midwest) to play away to the Chicago Fire.

Doesn't make a whole lot of sense, does it? Naming a team after the worst thing ever to happen to your city. Well, MLS also has the San Jose Earthquakes, and college sports has the Miami Hurricanes. But you don't see teams called the Detroit Riot, the Los Angeles Smog, or the New York Mets. (Wait a minute... )

Before You Go. This game will be played at the end of July. So ignore all the stories you've heard about Chicago being cold: You're going well into the suburbs to see the Red Bulls play the Fire, not to Soldier Field on the lakefront to see the Giants or Jets play the Bears. More likely than not, it's going to be hot, with no cold blast of air coming in off Lake Michigan producing "Bear Weather."

The Chicago Tribune is predicting temperatures to be in the high 80s during daylight, and the low 70s at night. Fortunately, they're not predicting rain for anytime during the weekend. The Chicago Sun-Times backs up its rivals' temperature predictions.

Wait until you cross into Illinois to change your clocks. Indiana used to be 1 of 2 States, Arizona being the other, where Daylight Savings Time was an issue; however, since 2006 -- 4 years after a West Wing episode lampooned this -- the State has used it throughout. Once you cross into Illinois, you'll be moving from Eastern to Central Daylight Time, going back 1 hour.

Tickets. The Fire averaged 16,003 fans per home game last year. They also averaged 16,003 per home game last year. This suggests that 16,003 is the capacity of Toyota Park. But it's officially listed as 20,000. So either they average a sellout, or they average 80 percent of capacity. So getting tickets might be a problem, or it might not.

Fortunately, this being soccer, they set aside a section of seats for away fans. In their case, Section 134, in the southeast corner of the stadium. Tickets are $32.

Getting There. Chicago is 789 land miles from New York, and Toyota Park is 787 miles from Red Bull Arena. Knowing this, your first reaction is going to be to fly out there.

Unlike some other Midwestern cities, this is a good idea if you can afford it. If you buy tickets online, you can get them for as little as under $300 round-trip. O'Hare International Airport (named for Lt. Cmdr. Edward "Butch" O'Hare, the U.S. Navy's 1st flying ace who was nevertheless shot down over the Pacific in World War II), at the northwestern edge of the city, is United Airlines' headquarters, so nearly every flight they have from the New York area's airports to there is nonstop, so it’ll be 3 hours, tarmac to tarmac, and about 2 hours going back.

The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) Blue Line train will take you from O’Hare to the downtown elevated (or "L") tracks that run in "The Loop" (the borders of which are Randolph, Wells, Van Buren and Wabash Streets) in 45 minutes. From Midway Airport, the Orange Line train can get you to the Loop.  Both should take about 45 minutes.

Bus? Greyhound’s run between the 2 cities, launched 5 times per day, is relatively easy, but long, averaging about 18 hours, and is $300 round-trip -- but can drop to as low as $112 on Advanced Purchase. Only 1 of the 5 runs goes straight there without requiring you to change buses: The one leaving Port Authority Bus Terminal at 10:15 PM (Eastern) and arriving at Chicago at 2:30 PM (Central). This includes half-hour rest stops at Milesburg, Pennsylvania and Elkhart, Indiana, and an hour-and-a-half stopover in Cleveland.

The station is at 630 W. Harrison Street at Des Plaines Street. (If you’ve seen one of my favorite movies, Midnight Run, this is a new station, not the one seen in that 1988 film.) The closest CTA stop is Clinton on the Blue Line, around the corner, underneath the elevated Dwight D. Eisenhower Expressway.
Greyhound station, with Sears/Willis Tower behind it.
It doesn't look like much, but it's very efficient.

Train? Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited (formerly known as the Twentieth Century Limited when the old New York Central Railroad ran it from Grand Central Terminal to Chicago's LaSalle Street Station) leaves New York's Penn Station at 3:40 every afternoon, and arrives at Union Station at 225 South Canal Street at Adams Street in Chicago at 9:45 every morning. It’s $309 round-trip.
The closest CTA stop is Quincy/Wells, in the Loop, but that’s 6 blocks away – counting the Chicago River as a block; Union Station is, literally, out of the Loop.
If you do decide to walk from Union Station to the Loop, don't look up at the big black thing you pass. That’s the Willis Tower, formerly known as the Sears Tower, which, until the new World Trade Center was topped off, was the tallest building in North America, which it had officially been since it opened in 1974. If there's one thing being in New York should have taught you, it’s this: "Don't look up at the tall buildings, or you'll look like a tourist."

But since you've come all this way, it makes sense to get a hotel, so take a cab from Union Station or Greyhound to the hotel – unless you're flying in, in which case you can take the CTA train to within a block of a good hotel. There are also hotels near the airports.

If you decide to drive, it’s far enough that it will help to get someone to go with you and split the duties, and to trade off driving and sleeping. The directions are rather simple, down to (almost but not quite literally) the last mile. You'll need to get into New Jersey, and take Interstate 80 West. You'll be on I-80 for the vast majority of the trip, through New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio. In Ohio, in the western suburbs of Cleveland, I-80 will merge with Interstate 90. From this point onward, you won’t need to think about I-80 until you head home; I-90 is now the key.

Note that the dividing line between Eastern and Central Time on I-80/90, the Indiana Toll Road, is between Exits 39 (in LaPorte County) and 31 (in Lake County).

If you get a hotel near the stadium, and are driving there rather than to the city, while still on I-90 in Indiana, take Exit 17 to Interstate 65 South, then take Exit 259 to Interstate 94 West. Take I-94 into Illinois, to Exit 74 to Interstate 294 North, the Tri-State Tollway. Take that to Exit 17, to U.S. 12 & 20 East, and then turn onto Illinois Route 43 North. This is Harlem Avenue. The stadium will be 4 miles ahead, on your left.

If you do it right, you should spend about an hour and a half in New Jersey, 5 hours and 15 minutes in Pennsylvania, 4 hours in Ohio, 2 hours and 30 minutes in Indiana, and half an hour in Illinois before you reach your hotel. That’s 13 hours and 45 minutes. Counting rest stops, preferably halfway through Pennsylvania and just after you enter both Ohio and Indiana, and accounting for traffic in both New York and Chicago, it should be no more than 18 hours, which could save you time on both Greyhound and Amtrak, if not on flying.

Once In the City. A derivation of a Native American name, "Chikagu" was translated as "Place of the onion," as there were onion fields there before there was a white settlement. Some have suggested the translation is a little off, that it should be "Place of the skunk." Others have said, either way, it means "Place of the big stink."

Founded in 1831, so by Northeastern standards it's a young city, Chicago's long-ago nickname of "the Second City" is no longer true, as its population has dropped, and Los Angeles' has risen, to the point where L.A. has passed it, and Chicago is now the 3rd-largest city in America. But at 2.7 million within the city limits, and 9.5 million in the metropolitan area, it's still a huge city. And its legendary crime problem is still there, so whatever precautions you take when you're in New York, take them in Chicago as well.

The "Loop" is the connected part of the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA)'s elevated railway (sometimes written as "El" or "L") downtown: Over Wells Street on the west, Van Buren Street on the south, Wabash Street on the east and State Street on the north. Inside the Loop, the east-west streets are Lake, Randolph, Washington, Madison, Monroe, Adams, Jackson and Van Buren; the north-south streets are Wells, LaSalle (Chicago's "Wall Street"), Clark, Dearborn, State and Wabash.

The city's street-address centerpoint is in the Loop, at State & Madison Streets. Madison separates North from South, while State separates East from West. The street grid is laid out so that every 800 on the house numbers is roughly 1 mile. As Wrigley is at 1060 West Addison Street, and on the 3600 block of North Sheffield Avenue, now you know it's a little more than a mile west of State, and 4 1/2 miles north of Madison.

The CTA's rapid-rail system is both underground (subway) and above-ground (elevated), although the El is better-known, standing as a Chicago icon alongside the Sears Tower, Wrigley Field, Michael Jordan, deep-dish pizza, and less savory things like municipal corruption, Mrs. O'Leary's cow and Al Capone. The single-ride fare is $2.25, a 1-day pass is $10, a 3-day pass (if you're going for an entire series) is $20, and a 7-day pass (if you're going for all 6 games) is $28.
(By the way, the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 was more likely the result of Mr. O'Leary hosting a poker game in his barn, in which he, or one of his friends, dropped cigar ash, rather than Mrs. O'Leary's cow, knocking a lantern, onto some hay.)

I was actually in Chicago on the day they switched from tokens to farecards: June 1, 1999. It took me by surprised, as I had saved 10 tokens from my previous visit. I was able to use them all, because I'd gotten there 2 days before.

Illinois' State sales tax is 6.25 percent, but in the City of Chicago it's 9.25 percent -- higher than New York's. So don't be shocked when you see prices: Like New York, Boston and Washington, Chicago is an expensive city.

ZIP Codes in the Chicago area start with the digits 60. The Area Code is 312, with 708 and 847 in the suburbs.

Going In. The Fire (the names Rhythm, Blues and Wind were also suggested) play at Toyota Park -- not to be confused with Toyota Stadium, home of MLS' FC Dallas; or the Toyota Center, home of the NBA's Houston Rockets, all of whose naming rights were bought by the Japanese automaker.

Unlike Wrigley Field, U.S. Cellular Field, Soldier Field and the United Center, the home of the Chicago Fire, Toyota Park, is not within the city limits. It is in the town of Bridgeview, Illinois, 15 miles southwest of downtown, near Midway Airport. To get there by public transport, you'd take the Orange Line from the Loop to Midway, then transfer to Bus 386, and get dropped off on Harlem Avenue, across the parking lot. Total ride time, plus the walk across the parking lot, is a little under an hour.

If you were driving from the city, you'd take Interstate 55, the Stevenson Expressway, south to Exit 283, and take IL-43/Harlem Avenue South. The stadium will be 3 miles ahead on your right. The official address is 7000 Harlem Avenue South. Figure 30-45 minutes, depending on game traffic. Parking is $15.

The stadium opened in the middle of the 2006 MLS season. That year, it hosted the MLS All-Star Game, in which the MLS All-Stars defeated London club Chelsea; and the U.S. Open Cup Final, in which the Fire beat the Los Angeles Galaxy. The Fire have also hosted Everton of Liverpool, AC Milan, Mexican clubs Club America and Chivas Guadalajara, and other international teams in friendlies. The U.S. soccer team has played here once, a 2008 win over Trinidad & Tobago.

The field is natural grass, and is aligned north-to-south. The Fire share it with their female counterparts, the Chicago Red Stars of the National Women's Soccer League. The stadium has also hosted rugby and music festivals.
Food. As one of America's greatest food cities, in Big Ten Country where tailgate parties are practically a sacrament, you would expect the Chicago stadiums and arenas to have lots of good options. According to

There are eleven concession stands around the stadium concourse. As is the growing trend around the country, the stadium serves up the usual American sporting event staples (hotdogs, popcorn, pizza, nachos, etc.) alongside the regional Chicago staples:

  • Stadium Fare (behind Sections 101 and 126, and the Miller Lite Party Deck)
  • Village Grill (behind Sections 106 and 134)
  • Burrito Grandes (behind Sections 108 and 132)
  • Fan Favorites (behind Section 112)
  • That’s Italian (behind Section 114)
  • Chicago Stop (behind Section 118)
  • Corner Kickin’ Chicken (behind Section 121)
  • Bobak’s Sausage (behind Section 123/124)
Section 8 recommendations? Give a try to Connie’s Pizza — said to be “vastly underrated in the great Chicago pizza debate” — or have a Chicago hot dog with all of the proper fixings — sweet relish, mustard, onion, tomato, cucumber, celery salt on a poppy seed bun and hold the ketchup. Check out Hot Time in Old Town‘s concession breakdown a look for a super in-depth rundown on stuffing your face at Toyota Park.
Team History Displays. The Fire won the MLS Cup in 1998 -- their 1st season of play -- and reached the Final in 2000 and 2003. They won the Supporters' Shield in 2003. They won the U.S. Open Cup in 1998 (meaning they won The Double), 2000, 2003 and 2006, and reached the Final in 2004 and 2011. So they do have some history. However, there appears to be no notation for these achievements in the fan-viewable areas of the stadium.

What they do have is the Ring of Fire, a team hall of fame on the east side of the stadium. Founded in 2003, it was the 1st of its kind in MLS. So far, all 8 members have been part of the 1998 MLS Cup & U.S. Open Cup Double: Midfielder Piotr Nowak, Number 10; forward Frank Klopa, 41; midfielder Luboš Kubík, 5; midfielder Chris Armas, 14 (a Bronx native); centreback C.J. Brown, 2; forward Ante Razov, 9, the club's all-time leading scorer; head coach Bob Bradley, the former Princeton University and U.S. national team coach (and father of current U.S. team star Michael Bradley); and the club's 1st general manager, Peter Wilt, also the 1st chairman of the Red Stars.
In addition, behind Sections 132 and 133, the stadium has an Illinois Soccer Hall of Fame.

Because Chicago's team is called the Fire, and FC Dallas were originally known as the Dallas Burn, someone got the idea that the clubs should play each other for a trophy called the Brimstone Cup. The trophy has survived the Dallas club's name change. Dallas has won it 9 times, Chicago 5, with 2 ties.
The Brimstone Cup

Stuff. The Fire Fan Shop is located under the east stand of the stadium. The usual fan gear can be purchased there.

Despite being one of the more successful clubs in MLS, I could find no references to any books or DVD about the Chicago Fire.

During the Game. Chicago Fire fans do not have any particular hatred for Red Bulls fans. The Columbus Crew and Sporting Kansas City, yes, due to geography. The New England Revolution, FC Dallas and the Los Angeles Galaxy, yes, due to Playoff matchups. Team chairman Andrew Hauptmann, yes, due to an extended period of mediocrity. (The most popular hashtag among Fire fans is #HauptmannOut.) The Red Bulls, no. Despite the tendency of Chicago sports fans to enjoy beer and lots of it, your safety should not be an issue.

This game will be Pride Night, honoring Chicago's thriving gay community. While the New York Tri-State Area is among the leading cities in the world in the gay rights movement, some sensitivity should be shown. Certain sex-themed taunts should be left at home.

The Fire hold auditions for National Anthem singers, instead of having a regular. They have a mascot, and, in keeping with the Fire theme, he's a Dalmatian, and his name is Sparky.
Despite Chicago being the 3rd-largest city in America and one of the host cities for the 1994 World Cup, it didn't get a charter franchise in MLS. But when the Fire began play in 1998, they had the fan culture already in place, due to the multiethnic nature of the city. (This was a pattern that later expansion cities like Philadelphia and Seattle followed.)

The north end of Toyota Park, known as the Harlem End (even though Harlem Avenue is on the east side of the stadium), is the home of Section 8. It i
s a merger of original fan groups named the Barn Burners (after the 1871 fire) and the Fire Ultras (a mostly Polish group).

Section 8 was the section of Soldier Field, also in the north end zone, where the most ardent Fire fans sat when they played their first few seasons. They kept the name after the move. "Section 8," as fans of the M*A*S*H character Corporal Max Klinger will remember, is the American military designation for being psychologically unfit for service; crazy.

(It just so happens that Section 8 was also the section of Ebbets Field in Brooklyn where the Dodger Sym-Phony Band sat. Along with the Royal Rooters in Boston baseball, they were a precursor to today's U.S. sports fan groups.)

The north end at Toyota Park, where standing and singing is not only allowed by encouraged, is Sections 116, 117, 118 and 119. The Section 8 fan group uses Section 117.
Section 8 fans in Section 117, including one holding the city flag.
Note that the women's team, the Red Stars,
named themselves for the stars on this flag.

A Hispanic fans' group called Sector Latino sits in Section 101, in the southwest corner. Other groups sit in the Valspar Fire Pit in the south end, Sections 135 to 139.

Their songs include "A Hot Time In the Old Town Tonight," which you've surely heard, but may not be aware was written about the Great Chicago Fire of October 1871. They do the old "Vamos... " song that we sing as "Vamos Metro": "Vamos, La Maquina Roja... " (The Red Machine.) They do "I Just Can't Get Enough," "Blitzkrieg Bop" (surely, not a nod to the USFL team, the Chicago Blitz), "Seven Nation Army," and "You're going home in a Cook County Ambulance!"

After the Game. Fire fans do not have a reputation for bad behavior. On the other hand, Chicagoans do like to drink, so be on your guard. You probably won't have a problem, but don't try to create one.

There's a Circle K to the east of the stadium, at 7050 Harlem Avenue; and a Mexican restaurant, Taqueria Los Magueyes, across from it at 7101 Harlem Avenue. Other than that, there's not much within a short drive. You may have to go back to the city to get a decent postgame meal.

If you want to be around other New Yorkers, I found listings of 4 Chicago bars where New York Giants fans gather: Red Ivy, just south of Wrigley at 3519 N. Clark Street at Eddy Street; The Bad Dog Tavern, 4535 N. Lincoln Avenue at Wilson Avenue (Brown Line to Western); Racine Plumbing Bar and Grill, 2642 N. Lincoln Avenue at Kenmore; and Trinity, at 2721 N. Halsted Street at Diversey Parkway (Brown or Purple Line to Diversey for either Racine or Trinity).

And I found these 3 which show Jets games: Rebel Bar & Grill, also just south of Wrigley at 3462 N. Clark at Cornelia Avenue; Butch McGuire's, 20 W. Division Street at Dearborn Street (Red Line to Clark/Division); and Wabash Tap, at 1233 S. Wabash Avenue, at 12th Street. Red Line to Roosevelt.

If your visit to Chicago is during the European soccer season (which this is not), you can usually watch your favorite club at these locations:

* Arsenal and Manchester City: Globe Pub, 1934 W. Irving Park Rd., about 6 miles northwest of The Loop. Brown Line to Irving Park.

* Liverpool, Everton, Celtic, Real Madrid and Juventus: A.J. Hudson's, 3801 N. Ashland Ave. Bus 9 to Addison & Grace.

* Chelsea: Fado, 100 W. Grand Ave. Red Line to Grand.

* Manchester United: The PrivateBank Fire Pitch, 3626 N. Talman Ave. Blue Line to California Ave., then Bus 52 to Rockwell & Addison.

* Tottenham Hotspur: Atlantic Bar & Grill, 5062 N. Lincoln Ave. Brown Line to Western.

* Barcelona: Bar Sixty Three Pub & Pizza, 6341 N. Broadway. Red Line to Loyola.

* AC Milan and Bayern Munich: Cleos Bar & Grill, 1935 W. Chicago Ave. Blue Line to Chicago Ave., then Bus 66 to Damen & Chicago.

If you're a fan of an Italian team or a German team not mentioned on this list, Cleos (apparently, no apostrophe) is your best bet. Otherwise, try A.J. Hudson's or Fado.

Sidelights. Chicago is one of the best sports cities, not just in America, but on the planet. Check out the following – but do it in daylight, as the city's reputation for crime, while significantly reduced from its 1980s peak, is still there.

* U.S. Cellular Field and site of Comiskey Park. Comiskey, the longtime home of the White Sox, 1910 to 1990, was at 324 W. 35th Street at Shields Avenue (a.k.a. Bill Veeck Drive), and is now a parking lot, with its infield painted in.

This was the home field of Big Ed Walsh (the pitcher supposedly helped design it to be a pitchers' park), Eddie Collins, Shoeless Joe Jackson and the rest of the "Black Sox" that won the 1917 World Series but were accused of throwing the 1919 edition, Luke Appling, the great double-play combination of Luis Aparicio and Nellie Fox of the '59 "Go-Go White Sox," Dick Allen, the 1977 "South Side Hit Men" of Richie Zisk and Oscar Gamble, and the 1983 Division Champions of Carlton Fisk, Ron Kittle, LaMarr Hoyt and Harold Baines.

The NFL's Chicago Cardinals played there from 1922 to 1959, and the franchise, now the Arizona Cardinals, won what remains their only NFL Championship Game (they didn't call 'em Super Bowls back then) there in 1947. The Chicago Sting of the old North American Soccer League played there from 1980 to 1982, and won the league title in 1981.

And in 1979, during what was supposed to be intermission between games of a White Sox vs. Tigers doubleheader, was Disco Demolition Night. Today, it's called a fiasco, but the sentiment was right: Disco really did suck. But the biggest music event there was the Beatles' concert on August 20, 1965.

Unlike the Cubs, owned by the Wrigley family that put their chewing-gum fortune into keeping Wrigley Field in good shape, the White Sox' owners rarely had money for upkeep, so, for reasons of safety and comfort, Comiskey Park probably should have been replaced in the 1970s. Instead, it took until 1988 and a serious threat of moving to Tampa Bay (following those of moving to Seattle for 1976 and Milwaukee for 1970) to get a bill through the Illinois legislature to build a replacement for the last active ballpark where Cy Young pitched.

That ballpark opened in 1991, across the street at 333 W. 35th Street. It also named Comiskey Park until naming rights were bought in 2003, and it became U.S. Cellular Field. Designed and built right before Baltimore's Camden Yards rewrote the rules of stadium and arena construction, it was derided as "soulless," "antiseptic" and a "mallpark." Renovations have made it a bit more intimate, and comparative success -- the 2005 World Championship and a few other postseason berths -- have tamed these criticisms somewhat. Red Line to Sox-35th.

UPDATE: On November 1, 2016, the naming rights to this stadium were sold, and it became Guaranteed Rate Field. No more "The Cell," it's "The Rate" or "G-Rate." Yeah, I know, not the best thing to do when the Cubs have just won the World Series.

* Wrigley Field. Opened in 1914 as Weeghman Park for the Chicago Whales of the Federal League, the Cubs moved in for the 1916 season and have been here for a century. William Wrigley Jr. bought the team and the ballpark in 1925 and renamed it Wrigley Field.

It's known for its brick wall surrounding the field, the ivy covering the bricks in the outfield, the trapezoidal bleachers, the big hand-operated scoreboard on top, and famously refusing to add lights until 1988, playing all day games. The Cubs have won 6 Pennants here, but the last was in 1945. The Bears played here from 1921 to 1970, winning 8 NFL Championships in the pre-Super Bowl era. Wrigley (still known as Cubs Park) was also home of the Chicago Tigers, who played in the NFL only in its 1st season, 1920.

It is by far the oldest ballpark in the National League, and next to Fenway Park in Boston the 2nd-oldest in Major League Baseball. 1060 W. Addison Street. Red Line to Addison.

* Previous Chicago ballparks. The Cubs previously played at these parks:

State Street Grounds, also called 23rd Street Grounds, 1874-77, winning the NL's 1st Pennant in 1876, 23rd, State, and Federal Streets & Cermak Road (formerly 22nd Street), Red Line to Cermak-Chinatown.

Lakefront Park, also called Union Base-Ball Grounds and White-Stocking Park (the Cubs used the name "Chicago White Stockings" until 1900, and the AL entry then took the name), 1878-84, winning the 1880, '81 and '82 Pennants, Michigan Avenue & Randolph Street in the northwest corner of what’s now Millennium Park, with (appropriately) Wrigley Square built on the precise site. Randolph/Wabash or Madison/Wabash stops on the Loop.

West Side Park I, 1885-91, winning the 1885 and '86 Pennants. Congress, Loomis, Harrison & Throop Streets, now part of the campus of the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), Blue Line to Racine.

South Side Park, 1891-93, just east of where the Comiskey Parks were built.

West Side Park II, 1893-1915, winning the 1906 and 1910 Pennants and the 1907 and 1908 World Series, the only World Series the Cubs have ever won. At Taylor, Wood and Polk Streets and Wolcott Avenue, now the site of a medical campus that includes the Cook County Hospital, the basis for the TV show ER, Pink Line to Polk. (Yes, the CTA has a Pink Line.)

Prior to the original Comiskey Park, the White Sox played at a different building called South Side Park, at 39th Street (now Pershing Road), 38th Street, & Wentworth and Princeton Avenues, a few blocks south of the Comiskey Parks.

* United Center and site of Chicago Stadium. From 1929 to 1994, the NHL's Chicago Blackhawks played at Chicago Stadium, "the Madhouse on Madison," at 1800 W. Madison Street at Wood Street. The NBA’s Bulls played there from 1967 to 1994. The United Center opened across the street at 1901 W. Madison at Honore Street.

At the old Stadium, the Blackhawks won Stanley Cups in 1934, '38 and '61, and the Bulls won NBA Titles in 1991, '92 and '93. At the United Center, the Bulls won in 1996, ’97 and ’98 and the Blackhawks have won the 2010, '13 and '15 Cups. The city's 1st NBA team, the Chicago Stags, played there from 1946 to 1950, and reached the 1st NBA Finals there in 1947. It will host the NCAA Frozen Four next year, and hosts the annual Champions Classic, a college basketball season-opening tournament.

The Democrats had their Convention at Chicago Stadium in 1932, '40 and '44, nominating Franklin D. Roosevelt each time; the Republicans also had their Convention there in '32 and '44, nominating Herbert Hoover and Thomas E. Dewey, respectively. The Democrats held court (or rink) at the United Center in 1996, renominating Bill Clinton in their first Convention in Chicago since the disaster of 1968.

Elvis Presley gave concerts at Chicago Stadium on June 16 and 17, 1972; October 14 and 15, 1976; and May 1 and 2, 1977 -- meaning he was singing while burglars were breaking into the Watergate complex in Washington, and while Chris Chambliss as hitting a Pennant-winning home run for the Yankees.

Blue Line to Illinois Medical District (which can also be used to access the site of West Side Park II and ER), or Green or Pink Line to Ashland-Lake.

* Soldier Field. The original version of this legendary stadium opened in 1924, and for years was best known as the site of the Chicago College All-Star Game (a team of graduating seniors playing the defending NFL Champions) from 1934 to 1976.

It was the site of the 1927 heavyweight title fight between Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney, the famed "Long Count" fight, which may have had what remains the greatest attendance ever for a U.S. sporting event, with figures ranging from 104,000 to 130,000, depending on who you believe. It definitely was the site of the largest football crowd ever, 123,000 to see Notre Dame play USC a few weeks after the Long Count; in spite of various expansions, the universities of Michigan and Tennessee and Penn State still can't top this. The 1926 Army-Navy Game was played there, in front of over 100,000.

The Chicago Rockets of the All-America Football Conference played at Soldier Field in 1946, '47 and '48, changing their name to the Chicago Hornets in '49. They were not admitted into the NFL with their AAFC brethren in Cleveland, San Francisco and Baltimore.

Games of the 1994 World Cup and the 1999 Women's World Cup were also held at the old Soldier Field. MLS' Chicago Fire made it their 1st home ground, and 14 matches of the U.S. soccer team have been played on the site, most recently a 2016 win over Costa Rica. The U.S. has won 7 of these games, lost 4 and tied 3. An NHL Stadium Series game was played there earlier this year, with the Blackhawks beating the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-1.
The old Soldier Field during the 1994 World Cup

Amazingly, the Bears played at Wrigley from 1921 to 1970, with the occasional single-game exception. The story I heard is that Bears founder-owner-coach George Halas was a good friend of both the Wrigley and Veeck families, and felt loyalty to them, and that's why he stayed at Wrigley even though it had just 47,000 seats for football.

But I heard another story that Halas was a Republican and didn't like Chicago's Democratic Mayor, Richard J. Daley (whose son Richard M. later broke his father's record for longest-serving Mayor), and didn't want to pay the city Parks Department a lot of rent. (This is believable, because Halas was known to be cheap: Mike Ditka, who nonetheless loved his old boss, said, "Halas throws nickels around like manhole covers.") The real reason the Bears moved to Soldier Field in 1971 was Monday Night Football: Halas wanted the revenue, and Wrigley didn't have lights until 1988.

The 1st team named the Chicago Fire, in the World Football League, played at Soldier Field in 1974, changing their name to the Chicago Winds in 1975, before the league folded. The Chicago Blitz of the USFL played there in 1983 and 1984, before folding. The NASL's Chicago Sting played there from 1974 to 1979, and again in 1983 and 1984.

A 2002-03 renovation demolished all but the iconic (if not Ionic, they're in the Doric style) Greek-style columns that used to hang over the stadium, and are now visible only from the outside. It doesn't look like "Soldier Field" anymore: One critic called it The Eyesore on the Lake Shore. Capacity is now roughly what it was in the last few years prior to the renovation, 61,500. And while the Bears won 8 Championships while playing at Wrigley (8 more titles than the Cubs have won there), they've only won 1 more at Soldier Field, the 1985 title capped by Super Bowl XX. The Monsters of the Midway have been tremendous underachievers since leaving Wrigley, having been to only 1 of the last 30 Super Bowls (and losing it).
The old columns and the new stadium

1410 S. Museum Campus Drive, at McFetridge and Lake Shore Drives, a bit of a walk from the closest station, Roosevelt station on the Green, Orange and Red Lines.

* Benedetti-Wehrli Stadium. For 2 seasons, 2002 and '03, while Soldier Field was being demolished and rebuilt, and Toyota Park hadn't yet been built, the Fire were forced to seek shelter elsewhere. Mayor Richard M. Daley offered them the use of the new Comiskey Park (now Guaranteed Rate Field), but White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf put the kibosh on the idea. Nor did the University of Illinois (which was letting the Bears play their 2002 season at Memorial Stadium), nor Northwestern, nor Northern Illinois allow them in.

Desperate, they turned to North Central College in the suburbs of Naperville. The Fire had previously played a 2000 U.S. Open Cup Quarterfinal there, due to a scheduling conflict with Soldier Field. Named Cardinal Stadium at the time, it is now named for a pair of university benefactors. It seats only 5,500 people, so it was no long-term solution. Toyota Park had to be built, so they were no longer at the mercy of Soldier Field's schedulers.
455 S. Brainard Street, about 31 miles southwest of the Loop. Burlington Northern Aurora Line from Union Station to Naperville, then a 15-minute walk south.

* Site of Chicago Coliseum. There were 2 buildings with this name that you should know about. One hosted the 1896 Democratic National Convention, where William Jennings Bryan began the process of turning the Democratic Party from the conservative party it had been since before the Civil War into the modern liberal party it became, a struggle that went through the Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt years before it finally lived up to its promise under John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.

It was here that Bryan gave the speech for which he is most remembered, calling for the free coinage of silver rather than sticking solely to the gold standard: "You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns. You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold."

Now a part of Jackson Park, at 63rd Street & Stony Island Avenue. 63rd Street Metra (commuter rail) station.

The other was home to every Republican Convention from 1904 to 1920. Here, they nominated Theodore Roosevelt in 1904, William Howard Taft in 1908 and 1912, Charles Evans Hughes in 1916 and Warren Harding in 1920. When TR was maneuvered out of the nomination to return to office at the 1912 Convention, he held his subsequent Progressive Party Convention was also held there.

It was also the original home of the Blackhawks, from 1926 to 1929 and briefly again in 1932. In 1935, roller derby was invented there. In 1961, an NBA expansion team, the Chicago Packers, played there, becoming the Zephyrs in 1962 and moving to become the Baltimore Bullets in 1963 (and the Washington Bullets in 1973, and the Washington Wizards in 1997).

The Coliseum hosted a few rock concerts before the Fire Department shut it down in 1971, and it was demolished in 1982. The Soka Gakkai USA Culture Center, a Buddhist institute, now occupies the site. East side of Wabash Avenue at 15th Street, with today's Coliseum Park across the street. Appropriately enough, the nearest CTA stop is at Roosevelt Avenue, on the Red, Yellow and Green Lines.

* Site of International Amphitheatre. Home to the Bulls in their first season, 1966-67, and to the World Hockey Association's Chicago Cougars from 1972 to 1975, this arena, built by the stockyards in 1934, was home to a lot of big pro wrestling cards. Elvis sang here on March 28, 1957. The Beatles played here on September 5, 1964 and August 12, 1966.

But it was best known as a site for political conventions. Both parties met there in 1952 (The Republicans nominating Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Democrats the man was then Governor of Illinois, Adlai Stevenson), the Democrats in 1956 (Stevenson again), the Republicans in 1960 (Richard Nixon), and, most infamously, the Democrats in 1968 (Hubert Humphrey), with all the protests. The main protests for that convention were in Grant Park and a few blocks away on Michigan Avenue in front of the Conrad Hilton Hotel, one of the convention headquarters (now the Chicago Hilton & Towers. 720 S. Michigan).

The Amphitheatre, torn down in 1999, was at 4220 S. Halsted Street, where an Aramark plant now stands. Red Line to 47th Street. This location is definitely not to be visited after dark; indeed, unless you’re really interested in political history, I'd say, if you have to drop one item from this list, this is the one.

Elvis also sang in Illinois at Assembly Hall at the University of Illinois in Champaign on October 22, 1976, and at Southern Illinois University Arena in Carbondale on October 27.

* Northwestern University. Chicago's Big Ten school is just north of the city, 16 miles from the Loop, in Evanston. Dyche Stadium/Ryan Field, and McGaw Hall/Welsh-Ryan Arena, are at 2705 Ashland Avenue between Central Street and Isabella Street. (Purple Line to Central.)

While Northwestern's athletic teams have traditionally been terrible, the school has a very important place in sports history: The 1st NCAA basketball tournament championship game was held there in 1939, at Patten Gymnasium, at 2145 Sheridan Road: Oregon defeated Ohio State. The original Patten Gym was torn down a year later, and the school's Technological Institute was built on the site. Sheridan Road, Noyes Street and Campus Drive. Purple Line to Noyes.

Welsh-Ryan, under the McGaw name, hosted the Final Four in 1956: Bill Russell and K.C. Jones, soon to be Boston Celtics stars, led the University of San Francisco past Iowa. These are the only 2 Final Fours ever to be held in the Chicago area, or in the State of Illinois.

* DePaul University. Led by legendary coach Ray Meyer, and then his son Joey Meyer, the basketball team at this "mid-major" Catholic school has featured eventual pro stars George Mikan, Bill Robinzine, Mark Aguirre, Terry Cummings, Dallas Comegys, Quentin Richardson and Rod Strickland.

The Blue Demons' longtime home court was Alumni Hall, until 1979. It was demolished in 2000, and DePaul's new student center was built on the site. 1011 W. Belden Avenue. Red Line to Fullerton. Starting in 1980, they moved out to the Rosemont Horizon, now the Allstate Arena, in the suburb of Rosemont, out by O'Hare Airport. 6920 N. Mannheim Road. Blue Line to Rosemont, then Bus 223 to Touhy & Pace. In the Autumn of 2017, they'll move into the new Wintrust Arena, at the McCormick Place Convention Center. 2201 S. Indiana Avenue, at Cermak Road. Green Line to Cermak-McCormick Place.

* National Italian-American Sports Hall of Fame. Appropriately in Chicago's Little Italy, west of downtown, it includes a state uf Yankee legend Joe DiMaggio.  Other New York native or playing baseball players honored include Joe Torre, Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto, Billy Martin, Vic Raschi, Tony Lazzeri, Dave Righetti, Frank Crosetti, Roy Campanella, Sal Maglie, Mike Piazza, Bobby Valentine, John Franco, Carl Furillo, Frank Viola, Jim Fregosi, Ralph Branca, Rocky Colavito, broadcaster Joe Garagiola, and the last active player to have been a Brooklyn Dodger, Bob Aspromonte, and his brother Ken Aspromonte. 1431 W. Taylor Street at Loomis Street.  Pink Line to Polk.

* Museums. Chicago's got a bunch of good ones, as you would expect in a city of 3 million people. Their version of New York’s Museum of Natural History is the Field Museum, just north of Soldier Field. Adjacent is the Shedd Aquarium. On the other side of the Aquarium is their answer to the Hayden Planetarium, the Adler Planetarium. And they have a fantastic museum for which there is no real analogue in New York, though the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia is similar: The Museum of Science & Industry, at 57th Street & Cornell Drive, near the University of Chicago campus; 56th Street Metra station. The Art Institute of Chicago is their version of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, at 111 S. Michigan Avenue, just off the Loop.

* Ferris Bueller's Day OffIf you're a fan of that movie, as I am (see my 25th Anniversary retrospective, from June 2011), not only will you have taken in Wrigley Field, but you'll recognize the Art Institute as where Alan Ruck focused on Georges Seurat’s painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.

Other sites visited by Ferris, Cameron and Sloane were the Sears Tower, then the tallest building in the world, 1,454 feet, 233 S. Wacker Drive (yes, the name is Wacker), Quincy/Wells station in the Loop; and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, 335 S. La Salle Street, LaSalle/Van Buren station in the Loop. (That station is also where Steve Martin & John Candy finally reached Chicago in another John Hughes film, Planes, Trains and Automobiles). The Steuben Day Parade goes down Lincoln Avenue every September, on or close to the anniversary of Baron von Steuben's birth, not in the spring as in the film.

While the Bueller house was in Long Beach, California, the Frye house is in Highland Park, north of the city. Remember, it’s a private residence, and not open to the public, so I won't provide the address. And the restaurant, Chez Quis, did not and does not exist.

Nor did, nor does, Adam's Ribs, a barbecue joint made famous in a 1974 M*A*S*H episode of the same title. Today, there are 18 restaurants in America named Adam's Ribs, including two on Long Island, on Park Boulevard in Massapequa Park and on the Montauk Highway in Babylon; and another on Cookstown-Wrightstown Road outside South Jersey's Fort Dix and McGuire Air Force Base. But only one is anywhere near Chicago, in Buffalo Grove in the northwestern suburbs.

Not far from that, in the western suburbs, is Wheaton, home town of football legend Red Grange and the comedic Belushi Brothers, John and Jim. John and Dan Aykroyd used Wrigley Field in The Blues Brothers, and Jim played an obsessive Cubs fan in Taking Care of Business. Their father, an Albanian immigrant, ran a restaurant called The Olympia Cafe, which became half the basis for John's Saturday Night Live sketch of the same name, better known as the Cheeseburger Sketch: "No hamburger! Cheeseburger, cheeseburger, cheeseburger, cheeseburger, cheeseburger... No fries, chips!... No Coke, Pepsi!"

Don Novello, an SNL writer who played Father Guido Sarducci, said the other half of the inspiration was the Billy Goat Tavern, originally operated by Greek immigrant William "Billy Goat" Sianis, originator of the supposed Billy Goat Curse on the Cubs, across Madison Street from Chicago Stadium, from 1937 until 1963. At that point, Sianis moved to the lower deck of the double-decked Michigan Avenue, since it was near the headquarters of the city's three daily newspapers, the Tribune, the Sun-Times, and the now-defunct Daily News. Mike Royko, who wrote columns for each of these papers, made it his haunt and frequently mentioned it in his columns.

Novello and Bill Murray, Chicagoans, were regulars at the Billy Goat, but John Belushi later said he'd never set foot in the place, so while the others may have drawn inspiration from it, his came from his father's restaurant.

Sam Sianis, nephew of the original Billy, still serves up a fantastic cheeseburger (he was there when I visited in 1999), he deviates from the sketch: No Pepsi, Coke. It's open for breakfast, and serves regular breakfast food. It looks foreboding, being underneath the elevated part of Michigan Avenue, and a sign out front (and on their website) says, "Enter at your own risk." But another sign says, "Butt in anytime." 430 N. Michigan Avenue, lower deck, across from the Tribune Tower. Red Line to Grand. The original location near Chicago Stadium has effectively been replaced, at 1535 W. Madison Street.

The Tribune Tower is a work of art in itself. Its building, Tribune publisher "Colonel" Robert R. McCormick, had stones taken from various famous structures all over the world: The Palace of Westminster in London, the Western Wall in Jerusalem, the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China, the Grand Canyon.  (He must've paid a lot of people off.) These can be seen at near ground level, but the building itself is so grand that it doesn't need it.

The building is also the headquarters of the TV and radio station that McCormick named for his paper: WGN, "The World's Greatest Newspaper," a line that has long since disappeared from the paper's masthead. 435 N. Michigan Avenue. Red Line to Grand.

The Wrigley Building is right across from it, at 400 N. Michigan. The block of North Michigan they're on is renamed Jack Brickhouse Way, and Brickhouse's statue is on the grounds of the Tribune Tower.

You may notice some other film landmarks. The Chicago Board of Trade Building was used as the Wayne Tower in Christopher Nolan’s Batman films. And Chicago stood in for Metropolis in the Superman-themed TV series Lois & Clark, with the Wrigley Building and the Tribune Tower as standout landmarks.

TV shows set in Chicago include The Untouchables, about Eliot Ness and his Depression-era crimebusters; Good Times, set in the infamous, now-demolished Cabrini-Green housing project; the related sitcoms Perfect Strangers and Family Matters (Great shows? Well, of course, they were, don't be ridiculous!); Married... with Children, Fox's longest-running non-cartoon (though the Bundy family was pretty darn cartoonish); the 1990s hospital dramas ER and Chicago HopeBoss, the current show with Kelsey Grammer as a corrupt Mayor; and The Bob Newhart Show, with Bob as psychiatrist Dr. Bob Hartley.

Nearly every one of these shows was actually filmed in Los Angeles, and the exterior shots were also mostly L.A. sites, so don't bother going to look for them. However, a statue of Newhart is at the Navy Pier, near its amusement rides, between Grand Avenue & Illinois Street at the lake.

* Quad Cities. Rock Island and Moline, Illinois, and Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa, are, together, known as the Quad Cities. Together, these cities and adjoining smaller towns have a population of about 475,000. (Davenport about 100,000, Moline 44,000, Rock Island 39,000 and Bettendorf 35,000). Not big enough to be major league -- but some people tried.

The 5,000-seat Douglas Park was the home of the Rock Island Independents from 1907 to 1925, including 1920 to 1925 in the NFL. In fact, it was the site of the 1st NFL game, on October 3, 1920, a 45-0 Indys win over the Indiana-based Muncie Flyers. It was also home to a minor-league baseball team, the Rock Island Islanders, from 1907 to 1937, winning Class D Pennants in 1907, 1909 and 1932. West side of 10th Street between 15th and 18th Avenues in Rock Island, 180 miles west of Chicago.

One of the oldest surviving pro basketball teams is the Atlanta Hawks. They began as the Tri-Cities Blackhawks (they dropped Bettendorf from the "Quad Cities" description) in 1946. They weren't very good, and moved to Milwaukee in 1951, St. Louis in 1955, and Atlanta in 1968. They played at the 6,000-seat Wharton Field House, which opened in 1928 and still stands. 1800 20th Avenue.

There is a minor-league baseball team in the Quad Cities, but it's been known by various names since its inception in 1879 as the Davenport Brown Stockings. They've won 10 Pennants, previously in Class B, and in what's now Class A: In 1914, 1933 and 1936 as the Davenport Blue Sox; in 1949 as the Davenport Pirates; in 1968 and 1971 as the Quad City Angels; In 1979 as the Quad City Cubs; in 1990 again as the Quad City Angels; and in 2011 and 2013 under their current name, the Quad Cities River Bandits.

Since 1931, they have played at a stadium right on the Mississippi River, which proved a problem during the 1993 flood. The 4,024-seat ballpark was known as Municipal Stadium until 1971, then as John O'Donnell Stadium until 2008, when it became Modern Woodmen Park, as the fraternal organization bought naming rights. 209 S. Gaines Street in Davenport.

No President has ever come from Chicago, and none has a Presidential Library anywhere near it -- Abraham Lincoln's is 200 miles away, in the State capital of Springfield -- although many have Presidential connections. Most notably, the 1st true Presidential Debate, between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, was held on September 26, 1960, at the old CBS Studio, home to WBBM, 780 on your AM dial and Channel 2 on your TV. 630 N. McClurg Street. The building is no longer there. Red Line to Grand, then an 8-minute walk.

In the early days of American politics, any temporary meeting structure was called a "Wigwam," which is a Native American word for a temporary dwelling. Chicago’s first Wigwam was at what is now 191 N. Upper Wacker Drive, right where the Chicago River splits into north and south branches. Abraham Lincoln was nominated there at their 1860 Convention. A modern office building is on the site today. Clark/Lake station in the Loop.

Another Wigwam stood at 205 East Randolph Street, in what was then called Lake Park, now Grant Park. The Democrats held their Convention there in 1892, nominating Grover Cleveland for the 3rd time. The Harris Theater is on the site today. Randolph/Wabash station in the Loop.

In 1864, the Democrats nominated General George B. McClellan at The Amphitheatre, 1100 South Michigan Avenue. A Best Western Hotel is on the site today. Red Line to Roosevelt. In 1868, the Republicans nominated Ulysses S. Grant at Crosby's Opera House, 1 West Washington Street. A modern office building is on the site today. Blue Line to Washington.

The Interstate Industrial Exposition Building, a.k.a. the Glass Palace, was where the Republicans met and nominated James Garfield in 1880, and both parties met in 1884, the Republicans nominating James G. Blaine and the Democrats nominating Cleveland for the 1st time. 111 South Michigan Avenue. The aforementioned Art Institute of Chicago is on the site today. Adams/Wabash station in the Loop. And in 1888, the Republicans met at the Auditorium Building, 430 South Michigan Avenue. It still stands. Harold Washington Library station, a.k.a. State-Van Buren station, in the Loop.


Every American should visit Chicago. And every American soccer fan should see a game at Toyota Park. Despite being a bit of a pain in the neck to get to from downtown, it provides the best MLS experience in the Midwest. And they won't treat Red Bull fans badly. Certainly, not as though you were arch-rivals.

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