The official user's manual for sunshine

The Complete Summer

Amusement Parks, Baseball, Food & Drink, Living Arrangements, Outdoor Concerts, Parks & the Great Outdoors, Road Trips, Summer Romance, User's Guide to Summer Add comments

Before you can say “cold front” it’ll be September and you’ll be wishing you hadn’t spent all summer watching reruns on TV. There’s a whole world around Chicago, and for three months, it’s not as icy, bitter and unforgiving as a jilted lover. The sun glistens of the concrete, steel and glass menagerie we call home. But since it’s such a pain to find out what’s going on, and to plan things, NewCity did the work. From hot air balloons to Binti the ape who save lives, we tell you where to go to make you want to sing like Brian Adams about the Summer of ’97.

CAF Neighborhood Tours

The Chicago Architecture Foundation offers a plethora of tours, including the must-do River cruises that takes in steel and concrete marvels from an aquatic angle and an eye-opening walking tour of public sculpture in downtown Chicago. But to get at the subtler charms of Chicago’s variegated nooks and coins, the Foundation’s neighborhood tour can’t be beat. For a few bucks, a CAF guide leads walkers from a designated meeting point—in gritty Edgewater, working-class Bridgeport and tony Kenilworth, just to name a few—to see famous and lesser-known encrustations of Chicago history. There’s enough variety to keep your feet moving for two summers.

To request a tour catalogue with complete descriptions, call 312.922.3432 or visit the Web site at

Summer days spent paddling listlessly in the South Pond of Lincoln Park Zoo have a tradition stretching back through generations. After a hiatus for cleaning up the pond, the Zoo tossed the boats back in the water amid ducks and other waterfowl. There’s no docking along the banks, so this activity is not for the weak of quadriceps (although each boat seats four, so slackers can bring along some muscle to do the real work). But the fantastic view of the skyline is worth the exertion.

Lincoln Park Zoo near Cafe Brauer, 2200 North Cannon, 312.742.0238. 10am-8pm. Group rates available, life jackets provided.

Theatre on the Lake
Instead of the old community theatre diet of summer musicals, last year the Chicago Park District began instead a policy of presenting semi al-fresco versions of the greatest hits of some of Chicago’s small professional companies at its Theatre on the Lake.  The fresh air slate at Fullerton and Lake Shore Drive this year includes the excellent Greasy Joan Theatre Company production of “Pericles,” Shakespeare’s gender-blending tale of a troubled monarch buffeted by both metaphorical and literal seas. Pared down by director Gavin Witt to less than two hours and featuring eight actors playing more than twenty roles, this production has simplicity, understanding and heart.  Given the nautical theme of both the script and Joshua Epstein’s sea creature-infesting setting, it’s the perfect match for an informal theatrical space that’s open to the wind and water but sufficiently enclosed for you to hear every one of Shakespeare’s wise words.

Art Institute
Bypass the clichéd Impressionist paint globs for post-World War II art. Andy Warhol’s friendly-looking “Mao” welcomes art enthusiasts to the recently opened Galleries of Contemporary Art, where half of the works have not been seen in five years, gathering dust in storage. From opera scenery guru David Hockney’s eye-candy acrylics to Alberto Giacometti’s waif-look bronze sculptures, this is art you should like. And if not, stake out a bench: The galleries are air-conditioned.

112 South Michigan, 312.443.3600.

Ghirardelli Soda Fountain
San Francisco can keep the fog; we’re glad to have Ghirardelli. Belly up to the old-fashioned soda fountain for a shake, malt or ice cream soda. Or loosen the belt a notch and order a “Specialty Sundae.” The traditional vanilla ice cream, hot fudge and cherry-topped Domingo honors the store’s founder; the Cable Car tops off a hill of chocolate, vanilla and rocky road ice cream with a chocolate (surprise) cable car; and your waistline won’t escape from Alcatraz Rock, an isle of ice cream surrounded by waves of whipped cream.  Bring four friends (or a huge one) to tackle the Earthquake, eight flavors of ice cream, eight toppings. But be forewarned: After 30 years of research on himself, Dr. Robert Smith warns that when cold food hits the back of the palate, the spheno-palatine ganglion dilate blood vessels in the head, causing the dreaded ice cream headache.

118 East Pearson, 312.337.9330. Sun-Thu 10-10:30, Fri-Sat 10am-Mid.

Brewers and Suds
Had enough of the living suck known as Chicago baseball? Want to see some real ball, played by real men? You have options. St. Louis, sure. But the Cards are the mortal enemy of North Side fans, so let them flap their wings without us. Cleveland’s out, they, as opposed to our teams, actually sell tickets. Plus there’s that enemy thing again. And fuck Detroit, we want to see baseball. The best option is Milwaukee. Not only do they have a man’s man for a manager (Phil Garner), they scrap and fight for everything they get, making them a feared opponent throughout the American League. And lest we not forget ambiance. Milwaukee County Stadium is no Wrigley, but they score where it counts; beer. Lots of beer, And cheap too. There’s even a giant mug pouring beer in the centerfield stands. As if that’s not enough, relief pitchers ride from the bullpen in a sidecar hitched onto a Harley. Witness the sausage race, as an animated brat, an Italian and a Polish race on the score board, arms a’flailin’. Who the hell cares who the Brewers play. Try and get to a doubleheader, see the sausage race twice. With ticket prices ranging between $4 and $20, you can get away with the whole adventure for less than $40.

To order tickets and for directions to Milwaukee County Stadium from Chicago, call 800.933.7890.

Kane County Cool
Get out of the big city and enjoy a baseball game the way a great majority of people in the USA enjoy baseball. No, not the Cubs on WGN. Check out a minor league game. For that, we recommend as trip to Elfstrom Park to see the Single A Kane County Cougars. The Cougar players are baseball’s youngsters and don’t expect any strikingly good baseball (Cubs fans, quit smirking). A Cougars game is all about atmosphere. The smell of cut grass on an early July day that accompanies memories of the first time we stepped on a diamond. The Major League attitude is refreshingly absent; most of these players will never even see AA ball much less the playing field of a major league park. There’s tons of family types whether you sit on the lawn seats at the picnic tables for $4, or splurge on the most expensive box seat for $7. With the money you’re saving on tickets, you can afford the 1/2 lb BBQ Pork Chop Sandwich. Forget that, you can afford two. Geez, season tickets are less than $450 with box seats. If you can’t get there until August, go on the twenty-second. That’s Sam Adams Golf Umbrella Day. They play Fort Wayne, but nevermind that. You can’t find any umbrella in the city for $7, much less $4.

34W002 Cherry Lane, Geneva. To order tickets, call 630.232.8811.

Frisbee golf at Bradley
Frisbee golf is, if played at the right course on a nice day, a uniquely low-impact way to breeze through a day off with absolutely no negligible benefit, except for being outside. Just think, everyone loves to throw a frisbee, and golf would be great if not for the expensive equipment and spiked shoes. Forget hitting balls (settle down, Beavis), toss a frisbee at a basket, and walk after it. Enjoy the sun, the day off and the lack of real skill it takes to play. And Bradley Park near Peoria is worthy of the journey, in fact, it’s an even better time with the road trip aspect. Bradley Park is an eighteen hole course and sight of (get this) “professional” frisbee golf tournaments, landscaped but heavily wooded enough to be the next-best thing to camping or a nature walk without having to pee in the woods. The first tee, a 383 foot par 4, starts out with an emerald green doglegged fairway, but the course soon digs into the woods. If someone playing behind you is faster, just let ’em play through. After all, the joy for a novice lies not in your score, but in not being in the city. If you refuse to seek the best, investigate playing at Adler Park in Libertyville. Eighteen holes yes, but uncreative and, at times, just plain old too easy (thus, too fast). If it’s a hot day, don’t forget sunblock or a hat. And remember, no one can smell what you’re smoking from 200 feet away, but be careful anyway.

Bradley Park, I-74 to N. University St., left to W. Nebraska, take the first left after I74, follow to park. Adler Park, Milwaukee Rd. and Rt. 137, 3 miles west of I 294.

Grant Park Music Festival
Its easy to see why Ravinia touts itself as “America’s Finest Outdoor Music Festival”–1997 alone will find hordes of socioeconomically privileged picnickers flocking to hear Samuel Ramey, Itzhak Perlman, Sarah Chang, Cassandra Wilson and Lyle Lovett perform on its verdant Highland Park grounds. While the Grant Park Music Festival doesn’t showcase as many big names as its northern counterpart, it also lacks the 45-minute drives to Lake County, crowded Metra trains, upper-crust atmosphere or $8 lawn/$35 pavilion seats. Working under the auspices of the Chicago Park District, the fest is the country’s only free, municipally-funded classical music event of its kind. But although the sounds and seats are completely gratis, concert quality and selection doesn’t suffer with the park’s symphony’s competent interpretations of classical hits and occasional appearances by bona-fide stars, such as this year’s opening-night headliner, renowned baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky. Best of all, those bored with the music can while the evening away by staring at the mesmerizing skyline backdrop.

The Grant Park Music Festival runs from June 21 to August 24 at the Petrillo Music Shell. Call 312.742.7638 for a performance schedule.

Binti at Brookfield
Last August, when Binti Jua scooped up an unconscious 3-year-old boy who had fallen into the Brookfield Zoo primate cage, the 150-pound Western Lowland gorilla became the most celebrated simian this side of King Kong. Thousands visited Binti at the Tropic World exhibit, children around the world sent her fan mail and she won the American Legion medal of heroism when a Newsweek magazine poll voted her as 1996 hero of the year. Now that the public glare has dimmed, this may be the ideal time to drop in on the 9-year-old primate before she settles into the infamy of appearing in the Fox Network’s “Great Animal Rescues” specials. Plus, you can also catch the zoo’s more anonymous residents, including those in the new South American-styled Living Coast exhibit.

First Avenue and 31st Street, Brookfield, 708.485.0263.

Fiesta Del Sol
Summer breeds street festivals at the same febrile pace it spawns mosquitoes–often an orgy of repetitiveness either with neighborhood chambers of commerce roping off a couple of blocks, peddling members’ inventory and frying funnel cakes for the tykes, or a panoply of restaurants offering “A Taste of” stuff you’d never dream of ingesting otherwise. Amid the monotony, however, it’s fitting that the Pilsen community–mostly Mexican-Americans descended from sun-devoted civilizations–have managed to sustain the city’s most vibrant street fair, Fiesta Del Sol, for twenty-five years. Running from July 24 -27, the colorful alcohol- and tobacco-free celebration draws traditional Mexican artisans and scores of vendors selling freshly cooked tamales, burritos, enchiladas and other south-of-the-border specialties. Entertainment usually includes free carnival rides and concerts by well-known mariachi, salsa and rock-en-español players, while portions of the event often are televised by Spanish-language supernetwork Univision (last year the network filmed episodes of its steamy bump-and-grind dance show “Caliente” at the Fiesta, alone worth trekking to the W est side).

18th between Blue Island and Cermak, 312.666.2663.

Santa’s Village
Nothing says yuletide like roller coasters, pirate ships and Abby the South American llama. That’s why anyone sick of sunshine and yearning for Christmas in July should haul their sleigh, to the Three Worlds of Santa’s Village, an amusement park devoted to St. Nick, Coney Island and Old McDonald’s farm. For only $13.95 per person (ages two and under are admitted for free), you can sample the Himalaya roller coaster, a Galleon Pirate Ship pendulum ride, bumper cars and, of course, a chance to meet Father Christmas himself. Unfortunately, the park no longer hires any elves and anyone looking for Rudolph and Blitzen are only going to find a few run-of-the-mill deer at the petting zoo, sitting next to the llamas. Just beware the “North Pole,” an ice- and bacteria-encrusted stick traditionally licked by the kiddies. Oh, and don’t wait until December–the park, along with the water slides in adjacent Racing Rapids, is only open until October.

Routes 25 and 72 in East Dundee, 847.426.6753.

Spectator racing
Feel the need for speed, but fearful of getting Ponch and John on your hiney? The LaSalle Speedway is your road to NASCAR nirvana. The quarter-mile clay oval is normally home to events such as the AMA Grand National and late model racing, but $50 and a Winston Cup dream are all you need to take a private spin around the track. The speedway rents out late model cars–plus helmets–for the eight-lap races, even throwing in a couple of guys to wave caution and checkered flags. Up to eight cars can race at once, and a LaSalle management spokesman says there have been only occasional minor accidents in two years of spectator racing. Unfortunately, your days of thunder have a speed limit–the cars don’t go much faster than 60 miles per hour.

To make an appointment or for more information, call LaSalle’s business office at 773.582.3776.

To most, Rosemont means wallet-gouging concerts and mediocre minor-league hockey. On Independence Day weekend, though, the suburb becomes fan-boy ground zero, where Chewbacca rubs furry elbows with Captain Sulu and Ewoks can sample thousands of comic books, videos, role playing games, collectibles and action figures. Chicago Comicon 1997 promises appearances by top publishers and more than two hundred comics illustrators and writers, including guest of honor Frank Miller, the man who penned “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns” and “Sin City.” Other confirmed guests are “Star Trek”‘s George “Sulu” Takei and Nichelle “Psychic Network” Nichols, plus a “Star Wars Men Behind the Masks” reunion with Peter Mayhew, David Prowse, Warwick Davis and Kenny Baker, the big and small thespians who immortalized Chewy, Vader, Wicket the Ewok and R2D2, respectively.

Rosemont Convention Center, 5555 N. River Rd. in Rosemont from July 4-6. Single day tickets are $15, while three-day passes cost $35 for adults and $17.50 for kids 6 to12. Call 630.852.2514 for more information.

It’ll be Red Stripe, haggis and ponies, mon, when the Jamaican Tourism Bureau hosts the Jamaican national polo team’s match against a US squad at the Oak Brook Polo Grounds on June 8. A reggae concert follows the game, and the polo club’s chef is adding jerk chicken with red beans and rice to the grill menu. If that all weren’t enough, the Thistle and Heather Highland Dancers will also perform as a promotion for the St. Andrew’s Society Highland Games bag-pipe competition on June 21. In the past, the match has also included Clydesdale carriage rides.

Quarter-mile west of York Road on 31st Street in Oak Brook. 630.990.2394.

Antique Walk on Belmont
The days are longer and sunnier, and retro-happy America has boosted thrift-shop culture into the stratosphere. Both facts make this the perfect time to turn everything old new again the right way–by promenading down the city’s oldest strip of antique shops. The antique walk runs roughly on Belmont from Western to Ravenswood. The stores run the gamut from big two malls (Belmont Antique Mall, 2039 W. Belmont Ave., 773.549.9270; and Belmont Antique Mall West, 2227 W. Belmont, 773.871.3915) with gaggles of different crap-selling dealers and small, kitschy collectibles resellers (like The Good Old Days, 2138 W. Belmont 773.472.8837 and The House of Nostalgia 2047 W. Belmont, 773.344.6460). Don’t be late to Father Time Antiques (2108 W. Belmont, 773.880.5599), which has an endless array of old wristwatches, pocket watches and clocks. Do they work? Who cares. And for folks who like to live vicariously through the remnants of dead men’s homes, there are also several pricy dealers who’ve gathered elaborate, well-kept furniture and accessories from estate sales (Antique House at 1832 W. Belmont, 773.327.0707 has one of the largest selections).

Chopping Block
Picnicking is a God-given summertime right, but most people are either too lazy or down-right incompetent to pack a decent al fresco meal. Lincoln Park’s new culinary school, The Chopping Block, has the answer to both these dining disasters. The school offers cooking classes at all levels of expertise, taught by former Cafe Du Midi chef Shelley Young. Among meat, vegetables and dessert training, budding Wolfgang Pucks can take special courses planned this summer that will cover picnicking, outdoor barbecuing, and shopping for summer vegetables and fruits. And if after all that you still can’t tell a baguette from a broiler, the school will be selling gourmet made-to-order picnic baskets for the real morons beginning Memorial Day. Selections include caviar, poached salmon, pork tenderloin, spring rolls, apple pies and cookies, and can be made to feed up to thirty people, or thirty-million ants.

1324 W. Webster,773.472.6700.

Hot air balloons
Bungee jumping is old, flight lessons are too expensive and skydiving is best left to nutty ex-presidents with a death wish. Hot air balloons, however, are safe, relaxing, and still let you soar, at least until that freak hail storm. The largest area hot air balloon port, Windy City Balloons, is in Fox River Grove, so most of the vistas are of rivers, farms, fields and backyards. The cost runs from $135 to $175 per person depending on the time of day you expect to fly, and includes a champagne breakfast or hors d’oeuvres. After floating around for an hour, a chase car and crew follows the balloons to the landing site, and transport passengers back to their cars.

100 Ski Hill Road, Fox River Grove, 847.639.0550

John Hancock building Observatory

Ready to kill the next visitor from your home town who hits the Windy thinking you can “show them Chicago?” Starting this summer, just head toward the newly renovated John Hancock building observatory, and their vacation will be set with a minimum of thought. Ninety-four stories straight to heaven, the observatory has added the new virtual reality tour “Windows on Chicago,” which describes sights such as the Art Institute and Shedd Aquarium while offering computer generated tours complete with address, time and price information on the tourist traps, and arrows that point out the buildings from the observatory vantage point. There are also talking telescopes (Oooh!) that narrate information about the views in four languages (Hola, Centro United!), the new Skywalk, a mesh-enclosed, open-air walkway allowing visitors to step “outside” the building more than one thousand vertigo-filled feet in the air. But please don’t heave lunch while you’re up top. It’s bad for business.

875 N. Michigan Ave., 1-800-888-875-VIEW.

Chicago Yacht Club sailing lessons
It’s time to stop looking jealously from the lakeshore at the topsider-wearing polo-shirt loungers bobbing blissfully on their sailboats. Flip up your collar and in four weeks, you too can distinguish stern from starboard. U.S. Sailing-certified instructors take neo-floats through the basics of manning a one-master, such as knot-tying, sailing theory, safety and self-rescue, so students don’t end up in a disaster-at-sea movie of the week. Four sessions: Mon & Wed, June 9-July 2; Tue & Thu, June 10-July 1; Mon & Wed, July 7-July 30; Tue & Thu, July 8-July 31. 5:30-8:30pm. $320, $250 members.

Open house June 5, 6:30pm. Chicago Yacht Club, Belmont Avenue at the Lake, 773.477.6951.

No less an authority than Joe Bob Briggs says that drive-in theaters should only be named after the highways they sit on. By that criterion alone, the 34 near west-suburban Earlville stands out as the state’s most perfect ozoner. But this place recommends itself in almost every other respect as well. On a Friday, Saturday or Sunday from April through October, drive U.S. 34 past Plano and Sandwich until you see the sixty-by-ninety-foot screen to the north. Then get set for a double feature—plus cartoon—on a grass-covered lot with a snackbar that has offered fountain-fresh Green River soda and a full dinner menu of shrimp, fried chicken and pork tenderloin sandwiches since 1954. The sound comes through hardwired speakers that hang on your window; the bright picture is courtesy of a vintage projector that burns carbon rods for light.

The 34 lies about eighty miles west of downtown Chicago. Head west on I-290 (The Eisenhower) to I-88. Take I-88 west to Route 59. Exit and proceed south to U.S. 34. Turn right and take this winding country highway about forty-five miles west, until you reach Earlville. Drive-in’s on your right. 815.246.9700.

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