A Girl’s Gotta Eat – The Taste of Chicago

The very first Taste of Chicago kicked off on July 4, 1980 on a blocked off section of Michigan Avenue.  Organizers anticipated 100,000 attendees but over 250,000 showed up.  The event moved to Grant Park the following year and became one of the world’s largest food festivals.  Additional changes were made in 2012 when organizers shortened the event from 10 days down to 5.  It also moved the event dates away from the July 4th weekend.

This year’s event runs from July 11-15 in Grant Park.  Wednesday – Friday hours are 11:00 am – 9:00 pm and then Saturday – Sunday hours are 10:00 am – 9:00 pm.  Admission is FREE but then you have to purchase tickets for food and beverages.  A strip of 14 tickets will run you $10.  You can purchase these online prior to the event (and pick them up at will call I am assuming), however, you are limited to only 2 strips per purchase this way.  And you will be hit with an additional $3.00 amenities surcharge.  Per strip.  And let me tell you, 14 tickets will not get you very far.  Here is what you should expect to spend, according to their website:

Plan Your Purchase:
“Taste of” Food Portions: 5-6 tickets
Full Food Portions:10-12 tickets
Soda/Water: 7-8 tickets
Beer: 11-14 tickets
Wine/Cocktails: 10-14 tickets

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This year over 80 eateries will be participating.  Some of these will be restaurants that are set up for all 5 days.  Some will be food trucks.  And some will be pop-ups that will only be there for one or two nights.  The Taste’s website has a great list of who will be there and what they will be serving.  It also tells you who will be in the rotating pop-up stands on each night.

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Beverages were available in all forms as well.  Goose Island, CH Distillery, and Stella Rosa all had their own tented lounge areas, but you could get other beer, wine, and cocktails at bar stands scattered throughout the festival.

Beverages

Apparently, there is entertainment as well.  I was only there for the food.  Music and cooking demonstrations are taking place all day.  You can see the full schedule here.

But let’s talk about the food.  Like the food truck festivals, this event is better with a group so you can try a variety of foods.  There were many Chicago staples there such as Lou Malnati’s pizza and the Billy Goat Tavern.  We are big fans of trying new things so here are some of the things we tasted:

Jerk Chicken with red beans and rice from Vee Vee’s African Restaurant:

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Mango Beef Salad from Arun’s:

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Snake Bites from Chicago’s Dog House:

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Five Spice Szechuan chicken from Lao Sze Chuan

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Cheddar Bacon Bun from Buscia’s Bacon Buns

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Italian Beef & Giardiniera Grilled Cheese from Doom Street Eats

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And then we finished strong with dessert.  The first was a Funnel Cake Sundae from Churro Factory – Xurro:

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And then some of us opted for something a little lighter with a scoop of Mango Ice Cream from Star of Siam:

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Parking is always an issue downtown, but you can get a discount at the millennium garages if you pre-purchase them online.

So, plan a day downtown during the fest and pop in and out for lunch, dinner, and dessert.  There is so much to choose from!

tastemap2019

Chicago Food Truck Festival

(Not from Chicago?  Don’t want to have to drive into the city?  Google “Food Truck festivals near me”)

Mark your calendars for next year.  The Chicago Food Truck Festival only comes around once a year.  It usually takes place the weekend after Father’s Day and is a two-day festival of food (and some drinks).  This is the second time I have attended, and much has changed from two years ago.

First, let’s start with the good stuff.  Well, it’s all good when food is involved, but one of the best things about this food truck event is the fact that the tickets are FREE.  Free, people.  Free.  When you “purchase” them, it automatically gets you entrance for both days, however, you can only use them for one of the days, not both.  Which is great, because then you can wait to see what the weather will be like.

Another goodie is the free parking.  In Chicago.  How often does that gem pop up?  Granted, we got there right when it opened at 11:00 am, so I cannot vouch for any available spots in those lots any time after that.  But is does exist at some point.

The location was also different this year than it was two years ago.  And, it changed at the last minute this year because they had more trucks sign up.  Which was another bonus from two years ago.  More dining options (see list of vendors below):

Food Truck List collage

I suggested we do a lap first and see what was available and then start digging in.  That didn’t last long.  Too many enticing smells.  We started with a truck called The Fat Shallot.  Their selection sounded interesting.

Fat Shallot collage

We ordered the Truffle BLT and the Spicy Sesame Fries.  Pro Tip:  go with one or more couples.  This way you can order lots of different foods and only have a bite or two.  You also won’t fill up after the first truck.

Fat Shallot 2

Our second stop was the Pierogi Wagon.  Being the good polish girl that I am, I had to get the 6 for $8.95 and do a mix and match with two of each flavor.  We also got a side of sour cream and chopped bacon.  Yum!

Pierogi Wagon collage

The next stop on this culinary tour was the Happy Lobster truck.  I liked their Happy Lobster Roll so much the first time I tried it two years ago that I had to have another one this year.

Happy Lobster collage

Stop number four was at the Taste of International.  This was more of a food stand than a truck, but who am I to tell them they can’t be there?  I am not a fan of curry, but our friends are and wanted to try the curry chicken.  They were cooking it up right there in front of you and I will say it did smell delicious.

Taste of International Curry

Stop number five almost caused a complete break in our couples’ friendship that day.  First, the husband of the couple wanted to stop at a hot dog truck (Hot Dog Fiend).  Pretty basic when you have 40+ new things to try.  Granted, they offered some great combinations to at least make the hot dog interesting.

Hot Dog Fiend collage

But then . . . he did this:

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Ketchup!  Just.  Ketchup.  He’s lucky we have been friends for almost 20 years, or this could have ended a lot differently.

Final stop, and one very full stomach later, was dessert.  Stations by Decadent Flavor offered up mini donuts with sugar/spice toppings.  My SO and I got the small bag with half pumpkin spice (him) and half salted caramel (me).  So good.

Decadent Flavor collage

As I mentioned previously, there were over 40 food trucks/sponsor tents there that day.  There is no way we could hit all of them.  As much as we wanted to.

Beverage options were also available.  There was a beer/sangria/water tent right when you walked in.  You had to buy tickets for these.  You could pre-purchase these online before you go.  A VIP upgrade was available that included early admission and drink tickets.  There was also a pretty cool looking old-fashioned soda pop truck.

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And then there was this:

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A cored pineapple with the insides pureed like a slushie.  Topped with a skewer of gummies and fruit roll-ups.  With a generous sprinkling of Nerds candies.  And yes, alcoholic versions were available.

Some tables/chairs were available, but the event organizers recommend bringing your own.  You should also bring your appetite.  Happy Eating!

Jazzin’ at the Shedd

On Wednesdays in the summer, the Shedd Aquarium hosts an event called “Jazzin’ at the Shedd” and it is just what it sounds like.  A jazz band performs while you explore the many levels of the aquarium.  When the weather cooperates, these bands play outside on the terrace.  Thanks to the rain that never ends in 2019, we had to experience the music indoors.

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The John G. Shedd Aquarium opened its doors to the public on May 30, 1930.  It operates as an aquarium and museum of aquatic life.  It provides educational services to the public and conducts scientific research to further support and protect marine wildlife.  It is hard to find someone who has lived in Chicago (or its suburbs) and has not visited the Shedd Aquarium at some point in their lives.  Along with the Planetarium and the Field Museum, the Aquarium is part of what is now known as the “museum campus”.

From 5:00 – 10:00 pm on these select dates, the museum is closed to the public for this private event.  For the price of admission ($20 for Chicago residents, $25 for Non-residents, Free to Members), guests have access to the full aquarium as well as the live music playing that night.  The Jazzin’ season will run through August and a list of performers can be found here.

With this being a special event, and a weeknight, the aquarium was not crowded.  At all.  We were able to get right up to the glass at each exhibit without waiting.

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The five-hour admission is more of an “open house” format.  Come late, leave early.  Whatever works with your schedule.  A couple of things to keep in mind:

  • Food and drinks are served, however, they are an additional cost to the night.

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  • Some exhibits close early. We decided to eat at a restaurant instead of the event.  Due to our late arrival, we missed the chance to visit the Oceanarium (it closed at 7:45 pm).
  • Another bonus that comes with admission is that you can view the Wednesday night Navy Pier fireworks from the terrace. For an additional $20, you can even reserve a spot on a Shoreline cruise to get you even closer to the display.

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I have made many trips here with my kids that it was nice to explore the marine life on my own.  Additionally, there were very few children present that night.  This is not advertised as an “adults only” event but only a handful of couples brought their kids.  Not that I have anything against kids, but aren’t “date nights” and excuse to get away from your own for a few hours?

Sometimes date-nights can be on a weeknight.  Break up your week with a little Jazz and an ocean of fish!

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.

A Girl’s Gotta Eat – First Bites Bash and Chicago Restaurant Week

Not from Chicago?  Restaurant week is a national event.  To find out when your city is hosting theirs, click here.

First Bites Bash is the kick-off event to Chicago Restaurant Week.  It is a one-night celebration of food and the local chefs that make our city/state a foodie paradise.  This year (2019), the event was held at the Field Museum of Natural History.  More than 70 chefs and restaurants were represented this year.  Tasting portions, from savory to sweet and everything in between, were available.

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Tickets for the event were $125.00.  This covered all the food you could taste in three hours along with the various beverages offered.  Stella Artois, Don Julio, and Josh Wines were just a few of the liquor vendors there.  And these were not tasting portions, they were full pours.  The bash is also a fundraiser and this year’s recipient was Pilot Light, which is a non-profit that helps children make healthier choices through food education.

In addition to delicious tasting food, presentation was well-thought out for a few of the chefs.  And if you watch as many food shows and I do, or even if you only watch one show, you know that presentation is one of the key things contestants are judged on.

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As I mentioned in the first paragraph, sweets were available as well.  Mini portions of cheesecake, donuts, and ice cream sandwiches were there to tempt your sweet tooth.  There was also a chocolate fountain with a variety of foods for dipping.

Chicago Restaurant Week, now in its 12th year, is an annual event that actually takes place over the course of two weeks and involves some of the best restaurants in Chicago and the suburbs.  Participating restaurants put together a special “prix-fixe” menu for their location featuring some of their best dishes.  Prix-fixe means a set price for a complete meal.   Restaurants are challenged to provide a multi-course (usually 3-4 courses) dining experience for under $50 (some locations are more expensive).  Because you are getting a full meal for a discounted price, the portions are smaller.  This year (2019), Chicago Restaurant Week runs from January 25 through February 8.

One of the great things about the prix-fixe menu dining experience is sharing.  My SO and I decided to try a restaurant in the city that we had never been to before called Somerset.  They offered 4 different options for an appetizer, 3 different salads, 4 main courses, and 3 desserts to choose from. So, between the two of us we were able to try 8 different dishes.  You can see the list of all participating restaurants, and filter them by location, here.  Use this as an opportunity to try a place you have never been to before.  Or maybe a place that just opened.  Or a cuisine you want to try but are afraid to invest a whole dish on.  So many reasons to take advantage of Restaurant Week.

Happy dining!

Below is a list of the First Bites Bash participating restaurants and what they were serving that night:

First Bites Bash menu

Maggie Daley Skating Ribbon

One of the cheapest, easiest, and most fun things to do in the winter is to go skating outdoors.  One of the better places to do this in Chicago is at the skating ribbon at Maggie Daley Park.

The ice skating ribbon can be found in the Maggie Daley Park section of Grant Park in the Loop.  This public skating venue opened in December of 2014 and has been a popular winter stop in Chicago ever since.  It is unique in that, it is not just an oval rink, like most skating parks (indoor or outdoor).  It loops around a quarter mile path and also has different elevations.  This means that you are skating on an incline or decline in various sections.  These are not steep, so you won’t feel like you are struggling to get up the hill or speeding out of control going down.  It is very subtle.
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If you are not an experienced skater, the nice thing about skating here is that there are people out there of all skating abilities.  They have railings along the edges if you need to stop for a moment or two.  The best part is you don’t have a bunch of hockey players speeding around or playing tag.  I raised a couple of hockey players.  Trust me, I know.

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Admission is FREE if you own your own skates.  Rentals cost between $13-15 depending on the day of the week.  They also have lockers that you can rent for your belongings (only $2.00).  You can also pre-purchase parking at the Millenium Lakeside Garages but you might be able to find cheaper parking if you are willing to walk a bit.

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The biggest thing you need to know about is the Zamboni run times.  It takes anywhere from 45-60 minutes for the Zamboni to clear the ice.  Yes, that long.  And you don’t want to be arriving right when it starts and get stuck sitting there for an hour.  Or getting on the ice for a short time only to be told you have to get off so they can clean the ice.  Speaking from experience here folks.  They have a schedule on the website but even there they suggest you follow them on twitter (@MaggieDaleyPark) because the schedule could change depending on the weather.

Zamboni

Christkindlmarket and Naper Lights Show – Naperville

A Christkindlmarket, or Christmas market, is a street market that is open during the weeks leading up to the holiday.  This outdoor shopping/dining experience originated in Germany back in the Middle Ages but can now be found in cities around the globe.  In Chicago, the Christkindlmarket can be found at the Daley Plaza.  In 2016, a second location popped up on the grounds of the Naper Settlement in Naperville.

The Christkindlmarket in Naperville is smaller in scale to the one in Chicago but it is just as quaint.  It is open Thursday – Sunday through December 16 and then it is open daily through Christmas Eve.  Also, bonus – it is free.  Admission AND parking.

We did not have any food that night, but they have a number of stands with a variety of options.  Austrian specialties, cheeses, crepes, Belgian waffles, pierogi, chocolates, pretzels, cookies, and candies.  There are also quite a few options for beverages.  Belgian hot chocolate, beer, wine, and ciders.  We tried the Honeycrisp apple cider and the salted caramel cider (whipped cream topping).  And of course we had to buy the signature Christkindlmarket mug.

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There are craft vendors as well.  Some of them have very unique pieces of jewely, wood carved statues, and hand knit creations.  If you are a fan of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, I found the snowblowing/ski mask that you didn’t know you needed:

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And then there are the ornaments and other Christmas collectible.  Do you collect Nutcrackers or buy them for someone who does?  Check out this selection:

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How about white lace ornaments?

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Or just ornaments in general?  If you gift special ornaments each year or participate in an ornament exchange (it’s a thing.  It’s not my thing, but it’s a thing), you need to hit this market.  Every size, color, shape you can imagine.  Or theme.  Animals, sports, occupation, hobby.  The list goes on.

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Click here for a full list of vendors and what they offer.

There were no choirs or other groups performing the night we were there but, you could plan your night around some additional entertainment as well.

When you have finished eating/drinking/shopping, take a stroll through the Naper Lights display.  It is right there on the property.  Multiple light displays, some set to music, can be found on this short walk.  It’s just festive, so why not?

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This holiday event is only open until Christmas Eve so get out there while you can!

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.

Chicago Blackhawks Training Camp Festival

First off, let me say, I love hockey.  The first signs of fall don’t make me think of Halloween or pumpkin spiced whatever.  It reminds me that hockey season is about to start.  Every September, the Chicago Blackhawks kick off the beginning of their season with a training camp festival.  It is a celebration of a new season and the fans who support the organization.

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Tickets are only $5 per person.  ONLY $5.00 people!  You do not need to be a season ticket holder to purchase tickets.  You don’t even need to know a season ticket holder to purchase tickets.  This ticket will provide entry into the festival and into the United Center for the scrimmage game.  You still have to pay for parking but even that is discounted.

The festival is an all-ages event but there is something for everyone.  From an adult perspective, there was a giant beer pong game, bags, and beer.  There was a band playing and plenty of opportunities for photo ops.

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In the parking lot, they had the Blues Brothers car, a Blackhawks race car, and a Hawks Zamboni.

Car collage

In the new atrium, you could get your picture taken in front of a mock-up of the locker room.

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There were plenty of chances for meet and greets as well.  Tony Esposito, Denis Savard, Troy Murray, Steve Konroyd, and Eddie Olczyk were all on hand this year for autographs and pictures.

Embassadors

Then there is the game.  First, let’s go back to the cost of attending.  Since everyone is paying $5.00/seat, the ticket is general admission.  The upside of this is that, if you get into the rink early enough, you can get a prime seat in the 100 level.  On the glass even.  The downside is that, since it is general admission, you need to get into the rink right when they open the doors to get great seats.

They play a full three period scrimmage.  Most would assume that, since it is just a scrimmage, you will not be seeing the top skaters.  Not true.  Not only are the big names (Kane, Toews, Keith) on the roster, they play through the third period.  While it’s great to see the regular players return to form, my SO and I like to see how the prospects/rookies look and maybe get excited to see what they could bring to the team this season.

roster

And best of all, whether you are Team Red or Team white, at the end of the game you can still shout – HAWKS WIN!

Don’t forget to walk around the United Center (inside and out) at some point.  They have a new atrium area with a HUGE fan store.  Outside, you will find some great statues honoring some great players.  Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, and the 75th Anniversary statue are all worth a visit.

Hull and Mikita statue

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