Just in time for the 2014 American Institute of Architects convention right here in Chicago, the team at Green Building & Design put together a series of neighborhood guides for attendees to get out of McCormick Place and explore the city. I took on two of my favorite North Side haunts, Uptown and Lincoln Square. (To peruse the rest of the neighborhood guides, click here.)
Distance from downtown: 7.2 miles Via: Red Line Best for: Performing arts, historical architecture Go: Evening
GREEN MILL COCKTAIL LOUNGE Buildings about as old as Al Capone are lucky to see a few adaptive reuses before demolition, but the Green Mill has hardly changed at all. The infectious energy of this famous Prohobition-era establishment is undiluted in the years since Chicago’s notorious mobsters sidled up to the bar. The jazz is top-notch, as are the poetry slams every Sunday. Come early; the place is packed with loyal longtime regulars.
GRACELAND CEMETERY Chicago’s formidable architectural legacy lies beneath this Gilded Age-era cemetery’s 119 sprawling green acres. Don’t miss Daniel H. Burnham’s solitary resting place on a wooded lake isle, Louis Sullivan’s gorgeous rough-hewn headstone, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s unsurprisingly austere black granite slab.
FOUNTAINHEAD The ever-changing menu of pub fare is creative, but dressed-down—think sriracha deviled eggs, house beer sausage, and mezcal-marinated chicken tacos. The food is from scratch, supplied by the chef’s own garden and his favorite regional farms, and accompanied by a lengthy list of craft brews. And in summer, you won’t find a better rooftop for dining in all of Uptown.
BLACK ENSEMBLE THEATER The sleek, LEED-certified Black Ensemble Theater is a sight for contemporary eyes in this neighborhood of elevated train tracks. The exterior makes an elegant interplay of contemporary materials, combining the verticality of ipe wood paneling with sturdy horizontal cement-block panels, red brick, and the glass curtain wall.
UPTOWN THEATRE BUILDING Amid talks of reviving Uptown’s legacy as an entertainment district, this grand old movie palace sits at the center of the conversation. The vast interior was touted as “An Acre of Seats in a Magic City” during its grand opening in 1925—it boasts a higher square footage than even New York’s Radio Music Hall. But the Rapp and Rapp-designed landmark, with its unique colonnaded eight-story façade, has been out of commission for decades and needs $70 million of restoration.
Distance from downtown: 9.1 miles Via: Brown Line Best for: German food and beer, unique gifts, hiking Go: Afternoon
KRAUSE MUSIC STORE Built in 1922 and skillfully restored, this ornate landmark building was the final commission of Prairie School architect Louis Sullivan’s career. Two stories of gray terra cotta showcase Sullivan’s skill for symmetry and detail, and culminate in a massive lyrical crest-like folly extending above the roofline. The street-facing window features the Wheeler Kearns-designed conference room of the former music shop’s current occupant, Studio V Design.
GENE’S SAUSAGE SHOP & DELICATESSEN In homage to Lincoln Square’s German history, step inside this family-owned gourmet grocer. You can’t beat the variety of German and Austrian schnapps and marzipan, but the real highlight? More than 40 varieties of cured meats and sausages, all produced in Old World style by three in-house smokers. The rooftop wine and beer garden offers German potato salad and schnitzel on communal picnic tables.
HALF ACRE BEER COMPANY Since Goose Island became AB InBev property, Half Acre has stepped into its shoes as a long-standing and truly local Chicago brewery. Learn and sample on brewery tours on Saturday mornings (11 a.m., $10 per person, first come first served), or just stop in the taproom next door—which is, in German biergarten style, bring-your-own-food—for a draft or two.
NORTH SHORE CHANNEL TRAIL There are only a handful of paths within city limits that offer the opportunity to really stretch your legs, bike pedals, or roller blades. The Lakefront Trail is the obvious choice, but the North Shore Channel Trail is a local secret. From its trailhead on Lawrence Avenue, the path follows the Chicago River northward, offering an uninterrupted run or ride via a series of park trails connected by underpasses. You’ll be rewarded by miles of river views, old cottonwoods, prairie preserves, playgrounds, and suburban sculpture parks.
BOOK CELLAR A holdout hyper-local bookstore with a passionate following, the Book Cellar is arguably the best bookshops in Chicago. They put on book signings, poetry readings, and literary events aplenty—in the shop and elsewhere in Chicago. Sign up for their mailing list to find out what’s coming up.