A local’s guide to Chicago: 10 top tips

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The city’s bars and music scene are among the most vibrant in the US. And with Lake Michigan beaches to relax on and two new budget flights from the UK, now is the time to go

Traditionally overshadowed by coastal powerhouses New York City and Los Angeles, Chicago is on the rise, with a record 55 million visitors in 2017 – and new direct flights from the UK with Norwegian and Wow making the US’s third-largest city more accessible. While visitors tend to congregate around the downtown and lakefront areas to admire the city’s world-renowned architecture, there’s a thriving music and bar scene that shouldn’t be missed.
When it comes to eating in Chicago, there are three essential food groups: pizza, hotdogs and Italian beef. Pizza and hotdogs are well-known to most visitors, but the less-famous Italian beef sandwich is perhaps the quintessential Chicago creation. Thin slices of seasoned roast beef are served on a long Italian or French roll topped with peppers and drenched in jus, the sandwich started as a cheap way of feeding a large Italian wedding party in the early 1900s and was brought here by immigrants in the 1930s. Operating since 1938, Al’s stand in the Little Italy/University Village neighbourhood helped popularise the classic Chicago sandwich. While Al’s is now a chain, the original on Taylor Street remains a must-visit. It’s cash only and there are no seats, so grab one to go and pack extra napkins.
One of the more unusual things about Chicago is its “slashies” (liquor store/bar combos), where you can drink at the bar and walk home with a six-pack of beer or bottle of whiskey under your arm. While most slashies are of the dive bar variety, Maria’s Packaged Goods in the Bridgeport neighbourhood is a slightly more clean-cut version that is popular with the community’s artists, musicians, and beer nerds. As well as offering more than 500 varieties of brew and a Korean/Polish street food project called Kimski, it hosts some of the best DJ nights in the city. The bar’s co-owner is a leading force behind popular, up-and-coming local brewery Marz Community Brewing, experimental art gallery/cultural centre Co-Prosperity Sphere, and broadcaster Lumpen Radio.
• 960 W 31st Street, community-bar.com

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