Baseball – Chicago White Sox

Chicago is a big sports town.  It is big enough to produce two Major League baseball teams.  And, while some look at it as a rivalry, I choose to believe there is enough love in this great city to support two teams.  I know there are haters on both sides, but I am not one of them.  We were invited to a game last season and happily accepted as we are both always up for attending a sporting event.

The original ballpark was built in 1910 and served as the home of the White Sox through 1990.  The new Comiskey Park was built right across the street from the old one.  As a matter of fact, the home plate from the original building can still be found in one of the parking lots.  True Sox fans know where this is, and it didn’t take me long to find someone with a picture to use here.  (Photo credit: Sandy McDaniel)

home plate

home plate 2

The ballpark was renamed US Cellular Field in 2003 and is now known as Guaranteed Rate Field.  Aside from the original home plate, there are many tributes around the park for you to explore.  At the main entrance you will find a bronze and granite sculpture that celebrates the 2005 World Series Championship.  You can also find sculptures around the inside of the park dedicated to Minnie Minoso, Carlton Fisk, Harold Baines, Frank Thomas, and Paul Konerko.  There is also a special plaque dedicated to Jim Thome and his record-setting home runs in the 2008 season.

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While the north side team has more of a block party atmosphere, Comiskey Park (yes, I will always think of it as Comiskey Park) has a tailgate atmosphere.  There are multiple parking lots and Sox fans come out early and ready to party.  I have always liked the tailgate scene with people sharing food, drinks, and playing bags.

This is a great stadium to watch a game in.  It is very modern and comfortable.  I didn’t look into the variety of food they serve because I am a pretty basic baseball fan.  I need a hot dog and a beer.  And a good view.

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The White Sox offer many promotional dates on their schedule every year.  They have the usual “give-away” nights that include t-shirts, hats, and bobbleheads.  Additionally, they have $1.00 hot dog Wednesdays, post-game fireworks nights, music nights, and dog days (bring your dog to the game).  We happened to go to a game on Chicago Blackhawks night.  Alex DeBrincat threw out the first pitch.

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One of their more popular promotions is “Family Sundays”.  Twelve Sunday home games in the 2019 season will have tickets as low as $5.00 (upper level) and parking for only $10.00.  This is a cheap way to see the game, however, if you are looking for a date night away from your own kids (don’t be shy, we all need them now and again), this is not the deal for you.

There are a couple of ways to get tickets: a) Go to the White Sox main website or other ticket vendor (StubHub, etc) and you can purchase single game day tickets, b) go to Groupon or Goldstar and you can get discounted tickets – but they only have a handful of upcoming games available at a time.

We saw a great game, even though it was not a winning game.  We did, however, get see a Sox player hit a home run and, with that, came some fireworks.  Baseball is America’s pastime – get out and enjoy a game on the South Side!

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Day Drinking – Chicago Ale Fest – Winter Edition

Did you miss the winter edition?  Mark your calendars: the summer edition will take place on June 1, 2019.

Chicago Ale Fest is a bi-annual event that takes place every winter and summer.  This year the winter one took place on Saturday, February 2 at Lacuna Artist Lofts.

Like many other beer festivals, there were more vendors than you could visit in one afternoon.  Majority of them were local craft breweries, but there were a good number of out-of-state options to try as well.  Sours were trending this year (not my thing but my son loves them).

There are two entry times to choose from: 12:00-3:00 pm (with a 1 hour early entry option) and 6:00-9:00 pm (also with a 1 hour early entry option).  We chose the earlier session (with the extra hour).  The cost for 4 hours was around $70 but you know your girl found this on Groupon and only paid $44 (with a 20% promo code).  I love a deal!

With the entry fee you get a signature tasting glass and they also gave you a lanyard with a punch card attached.  The vendors were supposed to mark off a beer every time you received a pour.  As you can see from my pic below, no one was particularly diligent in marking your card (‘cause you know I did not just have one).  It was way too busy for that.

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Quite a few vendors also had “treasures” available.  We collected logo stickers, coasters, koozies, and bottle openers.  The most interesting one was the Grapefruit IPA chapstick.  Well, that, and the bottle opener with the roach clip.

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A handful of food trucks were in the parking lot to fill all of your buzz-fueled hunger needs.  The beef skewer from Chicago Culinary Kitchen and the pork on naan from The Roaming Hog were delicious.

Food trucks 1

Food trucks 2

The location changes each time and the 2019 Winter Edition was held at the Lacuna Artist Lofts in the Pilsen neighborhood.  Once the world’s largest macaroni factory, the Loft is now home to some offices and retail spaces for painters, photographers, sculptors, clothing designers, and other creative minds.  This was a really cool space and below is a picture of one of the rooms (there were 3 or 4 rooms total):

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The Summer Edition will be taking place on June 1 at Butler Field in Grant Park.  This event is already available on Groupon.  The Winter Edition was available on Goldstar so I am assuming you will find the Summer Edition on there eventually.

Day Drinking – Koval Distillery

(Not from Chicago?  Google “distillery tour near me”)

Not every distillery tour is the same.  The process is very similar, but the result is very different from one brand to another.  Plus, this was a great way to spend a cold, snowy afternoon.

Established in 2008, Koval is the first distillery within the Chicago city limits since the Prohibition era.  The tour takes place in a small storefront in the Ravenswood neighborhood with the actual production facility about a mile up the road.  One of the things I learned on the tour is that Koval is the largest organic distillery in Illinois (maybe the US?  I was trying to pay attention and take notes at the same time).  One aspect of organic distilling is the use of organic barley.  This is more expensive, however, they are also using local farmers as their suppliers.  Another quality that makes the whiskey organic is the use of virgin oak casks.  They purchase all of their barrels built and charred from scratch.  This prevents the spirit from coming into contact with any non-organic material.  You would think this would result in a surplus of barrels, however, they can be sold for re-use.  Besides other distilleries (that don’t require virgin casks), they also sell them to breweries who produce bourbon-barrel aged ales.  Additionally, the average consumer can purchase a used one for their home décor needs for the small price of $150.00.

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While walking us through the distillation process, we learned that Koval’s signature style is to only use the “heart”, or the middle process of the distillation, in their spirits.  The full distillation process produces what are known as the “head”, “heart”, and “tails”.  I could not even begin to describe these stages or at what point these are cut.  This link explains it perfectly and in simple terms.

Equipment

Now, what would a distillery tour be without a tasting or two (or three)?  Whiskey is not the only spirit produced at Koval.  They also bottle and sell gins, brandys, and other flavored liqueurs.  Our first tasting was of their single barrel bourbon whiskey.  110 proof.  Boom.  Now I’ve got that warm toasty feeling inside.  The second tasting was of their new cranberry gin liqueur.  I do not like gin, but I tried it anyway.  The cranberry flavor was definitely present, but it did not overpower the gin itself.  Our third, and final, tasting was a personal choice.  I chose the peach brandy.  I regret my choice only because I heard, after the fact, that the ginger liqueur was a big hit.  This is their second best seller after the single barrel bourbon  whiskey (the regular version, not the 110 proof).

Tasters

Liqueurs

The tour, should you decide to take it, is only $10 per person.  You can also find this activity on Groupon.  This one is limited to Sundays at either 2:00 pm or 4:00 pm.  They have an option for a group of two ($19) or four ($35).  The bonus is that you get to leave with a souvenir shot glass.

CHEERS!

Ragnarock Axe Throwing

Can I “axe” you a question?  Do you have an “axe” to grind?  Do you have the “chops” to take on some target practice?

Axe throwing is trending as the latest date night/girls night/team building activity.  It is just what it sounds like, but with games.  My SO and I found a Groupon (naturally) for an axe throwing location in Chicago, however,  they are popping up all over the suburbs as well.

At Ragnarock Axe Throwing, you get a 90-minute session that includes training and some throwing competitions in a game-like setting.  The size of your group depends on how many people sign up in each time slot but they cap it off at 24 (split between two throwing bays).  Each bay has an “Axepert” (get it?) to instruct you in the proper way to stand, hold, and eventually, throw the 1.5 lb axe.

Our group had 9 people in it and each bay has two throwing spots so this does move along fairly quickly.  After the safety training portion, they take two people at a time to do some practice throws.  The hardest thing for me was getting it to stick.  I was basically on target with each throw, but I don’t think I was throwing it hard enough.  I need to go in angrier next time.

Once everyone was comfortable with how to hit the target, we were split up (within our own group), into two smaller groups.  The first game we played was TIMBER.  This is the axe throwing version of horse.  You went head-to-head with someone from the other team and, after two throws, whoever had less points got a letter.  The bullseye has number values within each ring.  Next, we played “21” where each team had to get enough point to total 21.  Exactly.  So getting that last number was challenging.

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After the last game (a version of “hangman”) we moved into the double-elimination head-to-head tournament with our small group.  Of course, they paired my SO and I against each other in the first round.  My shining moment was getting a bullseye in this round to move him into the losers bracket.  Making it count when it matters!

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It was also a requirement that you come up with a “punny” name for the competition.  As you can see from my name tag I was Mrs. Axehole.  My SO was just plain Axehole.

An extra bonus is that this location allows you to bring food and drink into the space.  Alcohol, however, is not permitted.  For some reason the city of Chicago doesn’t believe that drinking and axe throwing are a good combination.

This was also quite the core workout.  I was sore the next day.  But it was worth it.  So grab your significant other, and maybe some friends, and go get your lumberjack on!

Jack’s Pumpkin Pop-up – An Adult Pumpkin Farm

Jack’s Pumpkin Pop-Up is an interactive pop-up experience in the city.  It sits on 2 acres of land in the Goose Island neighborhood.  This past weekend were the final dates for the 2018 season but I’m sure it will be back again next year.

While they are promoting themselves as an “adult” pumpkin farm experience, it is open to all-ages.  When we went, on a Friday night at 7:00 pm, there were only a handful of kids there with their parents.  The “adult” part seemed to simply be the three bars set up on the property.

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Your options for entry can be just general admission or it can include +1 or +2 drinks.  If you choose the later option, your drink choices are limited.  You have more choices available if you purchase your drinks separate from the admission.  The other “adult” aspect is they allow you to walk around freely with you drinks.

Having lived and raised my kids in the suburbs, I can tell you I have been to much larger pumpkin farms.  This was smaller, but unique.  Every couple of feet or so was another set up for the perfect photo opportunity.  Giant chairs, shadow boxes, old cars, farm equipment, and lights everywhere!

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Not to mention the most incredible skyline as a backdrop for many of your photo-ops.

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In addition to the selfie/Instagram/snapchat photo ops, there was a small corn maze, some carnival games, and a real camel ride (didn’t expect that one, did you?).  There was also one food truck there that night.  Not sure if that was a rotating option or if it was the same truck for the whole run.

landsape

 

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And yes, there is discounted admission on Groupon if you can go on a Sunday-Thursday.

Urban Adventure Quest – Chicago

Urban Adventure Quest is a scavenger-hunt using your smartphone.  But it is not your typical “find this item” type of pursuit.  That was my biggest concern before trying it out in Chicago.  I did not want to walk around the city just looking for the “most photographed sculpture shaped like a bean”.  Ok, that was on the “find” list, but at least the challenge that accompanied it made it interesting.

Anyway, as I explained above, this is an app that you download onto your phone.  The cost is $49/city hunt but, you can get it for a discounted price with a Groupon (of course) promotion code.  The game allows you to input anywhere from 2 to 5 team member names.  It gives you a specific starting location and, once you are there, you hit the “start” button that will take you to the first puzzle.  Here is what that puzzle looks like (and the only one I will be sharing with you):

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Two things I will recommend to you:

  • Wear comfortable shoes. This walking tour/adventure will take you 2-3 hours.
  • Bring a pen and piece of paper. We ignored this suggestion and regretted it.

The challenges/puzzles ranged from super easy to difficult.  The pen and paper will come in handy for a couple of different puzzles.  For one of them, you have to create a word find using words from a famous quote and then solve a riddle from it.  There is another challenge that requires you to fill in artists names in a blank crossword puzzle.

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At Cloud Gate, aka The Bean, once the challenge was complete it was optional to take a selfie in front of this very famous sculpture.  Here is my incredibly cooperative family contribution:

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What I appreciated about doing this in my own city was that we found things that we had no idea existed.  The quest showed us that there are some really cool stones embedded in the façade of the Chicago Tribune tower.  According to this article by Chicago Architecture, there are 149 of them.  Stones from the Parthenon, the Colosseum, and the Great Pyramid.  We wished we had more time to explore them all but, this was a timed competition and all.  And we were in it to win it.

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The quest also took us to a beautiful piece of artwork on Dearborn Street called “The Four Seasons” by Marc Chagall.  Six Chicago scenes are created from hundreds of thousands of mosaic tiles.  It is a fantastic backdrop for taking pictures.  My photo below is a close-up of one of the clues to a challenge but does not do justice to the magnificence of the whole piece.

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Another great thing about this online game is that you are not limited to the city you live in/near.  They currently have 60+ locations to choose from.  I think this is a fantastic way to explore a new city and I can’t wait to choose my next adventure!

Baseball – The Chicago Cubs – Part I

Summertime means baseball.  And there are plenty of teams in Illinois to support.  Let’s start with the Chicago Cubs.  I know there is a rivalry in this town and, while I consider myself a Cubs fan, I am not a hater.  I have many family members and friends who are die-hard White Sox fans.  I don’t have time to be disrespectful of something they love.  Speaking of love, what baseball fan wouldn’t love this view?

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But, I digress.  Wrigley Field has been an iconic stadium on the North side of Chicago since 1914.  It is the second oldest park in the Majors, second only to Fenway Park in Boston.  Originally known as Weeghman Park, it hosted its first Cubs game in 1916 and officially changed its name to Wrigley Field in 1926.  It is best known for day games (especially in the bleachers), the ivy that covers outfield walls, and the forest green scoreboard that is still changed by hand.

Scoreboard

There are a couple of ways to get tickets: a) Go to the Cubs main website or other ticket vendor (StubHub, etc) and you can purchase single game day tickets, b) go to Groupon and you can get discounted tickets – but they only have a handful of upcoming games available at a time, or c) register for the Chicago Cubs lottery and try to win $10 tickets – but only if you are available to go within 48 hours.

Baseball is, in my opinion, an easy sport to be a spectator at even if you are not familiar with all of the rules of play.  It has a relaxing, slow pace to it that goes well with day drinking.  There is also an added element of fun when you go to a day game – almost like you are playing hooky.  And, let’s be honest, the person sitting next to you probably is.  But night games are fun too.  Especially when they can fly the “W”.

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There is so much to see and do around the park as well.  There is no shortage of bars, restaurants, and shops (to get your gear on).  You can also relax in the sun in the new park area on the Clark Street side.  Or you can take a stroll around the park itself and check out the statues and brownstones (some of which have rooftop views).  It feels like a big block party when you go to a game.

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I will have a second post that will cover the new hotel and other recent improvements to the park and the game day atmosphere.  Baseball season doesn’t end until October – get out and see a game!

Raging Waves Water Park

I am here to tell you right now that you do not need to be a kid to go to a water park.  You also don’t need to have kids to be granted admission into a water park.  Why should they get to have all the fun anyway?

Water parks with big slides are even more fun and Raging Waves Water Park in Yorkville is just that place.  They have quite the variety, too.  There is the zero-depth pool that, every 15 minutes or so, turns into a wave pool.  The lazy river winds around the middle of the park so that you can see everything from the comfort of your inner tube.  And then there are the slides.  Body slides, single person inner tube slides, and multi-person tube slides.  With so much to choose from, you are guaranteed a good time.

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We arrived as close to opening time as possible.  This ensured us a few beach loungers near the wave pool.  They also have cabanas that you can rent but we chose to lounge in the sun.

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The cost of the park depends on what you are willing to pay for or do for yourself.  I found discounted tickets on Groupon (naturally).  You only need to rent an inner tube if you want one for the wave pool.  All other rides provide them or you have to get one from the lazy river.

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No food or beverages are allowed IN the park but there are many options for you to choose from.  You are also more than welcome to leave the park and eat your pre-packed lunch in the parking lot.  Just make sure you get the hand stamp for re-entry.

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Make sure you check the FAQ page before you get there.  There are some height requirements for some of the slides (don’t laugh – some of us “shorties” need to know) and other restrictions you might want to know about ahead of time.  So, get out there and be a kid again before the summer is over!

A Girl’s Gotta Eat – Sidewalk Food Tours of Chicago

A food tour is a great way to get a taste of the flavors that a city has to offer.  A 3-hour walking food tour is an even better way to get to know about the city as well.  That is exactly what Sidewalk Food Tours of Chicago has to offer.  You get a sampling of iconic Chicago dishes as well as some treats you maybe would not have tried on your own.  Plus, you get a little commentary on the architecture and history of the city itself.

My SO and I were in the city overnight and, knowing that we had to check out by 11:00 am, figured we would have lunch before heading home.  Instead of going to a standard restaurant, we decided ahead of time to give a food tour a try.  I found out about Sidewalk Food Tours of Chicago through Groupon.  They have two options to choose from: River North and Wicker Park.  We went on the River North tour and met our guide, Jake, at 11:00 am just outside of the Merchandise Mart.

They like to keep it the groups small so there were only 12 of us total.  Yes, we were the only couple from Illinois, but that is not unusual.  Our first stop on the tour was an adorable little doughnut shop called The Doughnut Vault.  We each got a Buttermilk Old Fashion.  Not a sample.  A whole doughnut.  And maybe I should have saved some for later but it was soooooo good.

The Doughnut Vault

From there, we moved on to Lou Malnati’s pizza.  When you come to Chicago, you HAVE to try some deep dish pizza.  Now, I have had my fair share of deep dish pizza, including Lou Malnati’s, so this was nothing new to me.  But you can’t have a food tour in Chicago without a stop like this.  And I love deep dish so I was more than happy to get a slice of this iconic style pizza.

Lou Malnati's

The next stop took us to a small Mexican café called Xoco.  This is an Aztec word that means “little sister”.  It is a smaller companion piece next to Frontera Grill.  This was a necessary stop as chef Rick Bayless is a Chicago culinary treasure.  He has won just about every culinary award out there and I have a super foodie crush on him as well.  Here we were treated to some Mexican style street food.

Xoco

With a 3-hour tour there is plenty of walking so you can work off all of the food you are eating.  By the time we got over to Café Iberico, I was ready to eat again (almost).  This is a tapas bar/restaurant.  Tapas is a Spanish word that means “small dish”, like a snack/appetizer.  That was about all I had room for anyway.  We each got an individual portion of chicken with rice and sautéed onions.

Cafe Iberico

The final stop on the tour was, naturally, dessert.  We ended up at a bakery called Fabcakes.  This little gem has been serving European style meals and pastries since it opened up in 2012.  Each of us got a chocolate cookie sandwich with Nutella cream filling.

Fabcakes

All of the food we ate on the tour was delicious and a genuine representation of Chicago and its culture.  If you are thinking about taking one of their tours, and you should, I have two recommendations.  First, check out their FAQ page to see what is/is not allowed, especially when it comes to dietary restrictions.  Also, bring a bottled water with you.  Only two of the stops on the tour are dine-in.  The other three are truly sidewalk eating experiences.