I’ve lived in Chicago for seven years now, and I have decided that by now I get to claim the title of Chicagoan. I grew up in Minnesota, and I moved here from Missouri after graduating college. Over that time, I’ve lived in three neighborhoods, I can give tourists directions to “The Bean”, and I’ve collected my fair share of go-to spots for food, drinks, entertainment, and more.
However, one thing I’ve had to navigate that many others don’t is experiencing Chicago in a wheelchair. I’ve been disabled since birth, and I use a manual wheelchair around the city. Read more about some of my favorite spots around Chicago, complete with my assessments on their accessibility for folks with different mobility challenges.
The Long Room
This place has a little bit of everything. In Chicago’s North Center neighborhood, it serves up coffee in the morning and cocktails and beers on tap in the evening. And it has a delicious rotation of local businesses whipping up food—everything from Cajun to pizza and more—from a take-out window across from the bar. But I’ve saved the best for last. Once you have your drink and food in hand, head out to Long Room’s enclosed patio at the back of the bar. This multi-level hangout is a great place to enjoy Chicago summer and fall, while we can.
Accessibility tips: The Long Room features a step-free entrance. There is booth seating toward the back of the bar that’s easy to transfer into or roll up to, as well as bar and high-top seating. The latter may be too high depending on your mobility needs. The popular patio’s main area is accessible, but two sections of it include steps so try to go early to claim your spot. There are two private bathrooms that should be able to fit most wheelchairs or other mobility devices.
Lagunitas Brewing Tap Room
Head on down to Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood and go to Lagunitas Brewing’s tap room. From the moment you arrive, you feel transported into a different world as you walk (or roll) through a tunnel of lights while Gene Wilder’s “Pure Imagination” plays over the speakers. From there, you’ll enter a massive warehouse with an industrial vibe, where beer kegs, brewery equipment, and high ceilings set the scene to enjoy a menu of bar food and a full selection of Lagunitas’ beers.
Accessibility tips: Lagunitas’ Tap Room is just a short commute from the California Pink Line stop, an accessible CTA station. The establishment itself is equally accommodating for disabled customers. You can find a seat to enjoy your beverage at one of the long picnic tables set up throughout the room, and the bathrooms are spacious, making it easy to maneuver in and out.
West Ridge Nature Park
Tucked away just south of Chicago’s Little India neighborhood is the West Ridge Nature Center. This preserve is an oasis on the North Side where you can stroll down paved trails amid lush vegetation carefully maintained by the Chicago Park District. Stop by the pond in the center of the preserve and admire ducks, turtles, birds, and more in their natural habitat as you let your worries melt away.
Accessibility tips: The nature center’s trails are paved, and wheelchair users will be able to enjoy nearly every aspect of the preserve, except where there is the occasional step or two. You can get to West Ridge Nature Park on the Western bus, which is accessible for people with a variety of disabilities.
If you’re looking to watch a play in Chicago, look no further than Lookingglass Theatre Company. Located in the Water Tower Water Works Building on the Magnificent Mile, it’s a memorable venue to see what makes Chicago’s theatre scene one of the best in the country.
Accessibility tips: There’s a winding ramp leading up to the entrance of the building. Inside, there’s an elevator to take you up to the theaters, and the lobby bathrooms are spacious and can accommodate any mobility needs. At every show, Lookingglass reserves spaces for disabled seating, and it’s usually in the front row. Not only does this offer peace of mind knowing you can easily get to your seat, but there’s also a bonus that you’ll have a great seat for the action too.
A centerpiece of Chicago’s Northalsted neighborhood, Sidetrack is a lively LGBTQ+ bar that’s been serving up drinks for more than 40 years. The massive establishment has six different bars where you can grab a beverage, including a rooftop deck where you can soak in the sun when the weather is nice. It has themed music nights like Lady Gaga or Beyonce, hosts a trivia night on Tuesdays, a monthly queer storytelling event and dog owners can bring their furry friends to hang out for the afternoon the first Saturday of every month.
Accessibility tips: Every bar in Sidetrack is accessible to folks with disabilities, and there’s an elevator to get up to the rooftop. It can get busy, especially on weekends or during Pride or other eventful weekends, so you might have to navigate through crowds when moving around. Not all of Sidetrack’s bathrooms meet ADA accessibility guidelines, so you might have to wait in line at one that does, depending on how busy it gets.
Located near Lake Michigan just east of the city’s Museum Campus, Northerly Island provides a beautiful outdoor live music venue set against the downtown Chicago skyline. Concerts can be tricky for individuals with disabilities to navigate, but Northerly Island does a nice job with its accommodations. Concertgoers to the Huntington Bank Pavilion can take public transportation nearly all the way to the venue, making it so you don’t have to worry about parking. Accessible seating is raised up on platforms that make it so people who can’t or have trouble standing still have a relatively clear view of the stage, even when other people start jumping and dancing around.
Accessibility tips: Unless you want to take your chances in the standing room portion of the venue, securing accessible seating for a show at Northerly Island is simple and should allow you to experience your favorite bands with minimal hassle, alongside a gorgeous view of Chicago’s skyline.
Michael’s Original Pizzeria and Tavern
Pizza is a staple of the Chicago experience, whether you’re a local or visiting. As an alternative to popular Chicago deep-dish pizza chains like Giordano’s or Lou Malnati’s, venture over to Michael’s Pizza in Buena Park. A haven for sports fanatics, Michael’s has dozens of TVs to watch everything from soccer to baseball to football. Try one of its delicious tavern-style pies and order a beer from its inexpensive draft list. Pro tip: Order the extra-thin crust; you won’t regret it.
Accessibility tips: Getting into Michael’s Originalshouldn’t be a problem for anyone with mobility challenges. Inside you’ll mostly find high-top tables, but there are a few shorter ones as well. There are two private bathrooms, but they are small and probably wouldn’t be accessible for individuals in electric wheelchairs.