Overview and History
Chicago, the windy city. Tough cops, friendly people, blues, stock yards, football and house music! Come on in, the water's fine! (you will freeze your heinie off in that lake, boy!)
It's another one of those names corrupted from Indian words. The Miami-Illinois indians used the word "shikaakwa," which originally meant "striped skunk" in reference to wild leeks.
Chicago plunked down on the edge of Lake Michigan barely one hundred and fifty years before deep-dish pizza was invented there. Nobody knows how people survived before this culinary delight bubbled up from the subterranean empire to decimate your diet.
The first trading post showed up in Chicago in the late eighteenth century. It was followed by U.S. Army Fort Dearborne, which was eradicated in the war of 1812 at what is known as the Fort Dearborne Massacre.
Chicago has three million people and is the third-biggest city in the United States. It grew up quickly, being incorporated as a city only in 1837. As they say, location is everything, and Chicago used its central position to become the primary railroad hub linking the eastern and western United States. Nice one. This allowed such later innovations as mail-order retailing and the Pullman sleeping car.
The eastern states in the U.S. were settled on foot and on horseback, but the western states were laid out by railroad. Just look at the straight lines on the map and you'll see. Except where a state has a river for one of its borders, it's all surveyors and transits making those long cuts across the open terrain.
Cowboys drove herds of cattle across these plains and ended up in the Chicago stockyards. The advent of refrigerated rail cars opened up the potential of shipping butchered meat across long distances, and the beef industry took off running, trampling several vegetarians in its path.
Along with the beef industry comes a lot of cow poo (bullshit, people) and Chicago took some rather extreme measures to deal with it. First, the city built the inaugural United States sewage system and directed the "runoff" into the Chicago river, so it could go out into the lake and stop stinking up the place.
Oops! The steers were smuggling so much poo into Chicago that it began polluting the city's fresh water supply, which also came from the lake. Human growth thus officially surpassed Nature's capacity for filtration and detoxification. There was too much manure for the lake to handle.
Stop the cattle money train, what are you nuts? Let's go BIG! The Chicagoan solution to this problem was to reverse the flow of the Chicago river by connecting it to the Mississippi with a canal, and send the dirty doo-doo downstream. The Illinois-Michigan canal was the result, running from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River for barges going south to the Gulf of Mexico. Barges and fertilizer. Smells like money to me, boy! Transportation to the southern states
Then what happened? The Chicago Fire struck in 1871 and destroyed a third of the city, the business district included. Rebuilding in style, Chicago erected the world's first skyscraper, the Home Insurance Building. This was so revolutionary that it launched an entire school of architecture.
Chicago is famous in American culture for a few other fun inventions, such as the 1893 World's Fair, Al Capone the gangster, and the Manhattan Project which created the world's first controlled nuclear reaction.
The bustling economy and central location placed Chicago at a crossroads for American music and culture. Black Americans coming up from the South in the 1920's brought jazz and blues music with them, and three generations later that same spirit sprung back out to become house music, invented by Jesse Saunders and Frankie Knuckles among other geniuses.
Three big ones: O'Hare, Midway and Gary-Chicago Internatonal Airports. O'Hare is one of the busiest in the world, claiming to be number two on the list amidst hot contention in a world-wide battle to the finish.
Getting around within Chicago is easy. The whole system is called the Chicago Transit Authority or CTA. They offer an elevated train (commonly called the "L"), commuter trains and buses. Fares are $2 per ride.
The city is laid out in a grid with its center being the intersection of State and Madison streets. From there, the addresses radiate outwards with numbers increasing in increments of 100 per block -- a bike messenger's dream come true.
People and Culture
Diversity is the word. Black, white, hispanic, it's all mixed up here. You've got history from German people, Polish, Irish, Scandinavian, and Italians, AND, Chicago has the second largest population of Serbians after Belgrade!
Things to do & Recommendations
You've got tons of museums and galleries to explore here. The Art Institute of Chicago and Science Central are good ones to start with, then go poke around on Navy Pier when you want to go for a walk.
You've got to have some local food here. Chicago pizza is a national treasure.
Night life: go dancing here, I don't care what anybody says. There's Hydrate, Crobar (admittedly it's a chain) to get you going. From there, ask around to find the local spots we can't tell you about until we see you sweaty and smiling at 5am.
Neighborhoods to investigate in between everything else:
Local words of wisdom from the Mighty Emily D:
"Ok if you want a good hotdog, blink and one will appear; nearly every neighborhood has a good, cheap hotdog joint.
If you want a Chicago special, go to Hot Doug's on the northside, the "Sausage Superstore and Encased Meats Emporium". Get the duck-fat-fries. Be prepared for lines out onto the street right after the doors open. Doug is at 3324 N. California Ave and is at the counter to take your order.
For a good time go to Timber Lanes. Good for cheap beer and a jukebox filled with Journey. 1851 W. Irving Park Rd. Hard to find hole in the wall. No strobe lights. Just good, clean bowling fun.
The Inner Town Pub is off the overly-beaten-path in Wicker Park. Since it's not on the main drag, it is naturally a favorite spot for the hipsters. Despite the crowd, it still offers wonderful visions of sugarplum deerheads, animatronic santa claus(es), Schlitz, stale popcorn, and real live mustaches. Inner Town Pub is at 1935 W. Thomas St.
If you are searching for the perfect Louis XIV style couch and a long flowing wig, check out the furniture and wig district at the 1300-1400 N. Milwaukee Ave drag.
If you want to park your car in a dangerous spot while visiting, I recommend the alleyway that runs parallel to the train tracks.
I lived across the street and saw a man eat a very bloody rat next to my car there.
For shopping/fooding/playing, continue walking north towards one of Chicago's Five Corners: the intersection of North Ave, Milwaukee Ave and Division St. It is the hub of cheesy bars, a Blue Line stop, second-hand/boutique clothes, used books, Fluvog shoes (!) booze and good late-night music. (and more banks popping up by the minute.)
Text by Steve Smith.