A pilgrimage to Wrigley Field is almost a requirement for many folks visiting Chicago, even if their interest in baseball is marginal at best. I made my first trip to the Friendly Confines in 1991 as a teenager visiting Chicago on a solo train trip around the country. Jumping off the Red Line at Addison, I made my way to the ticket booth and picked up a standing-room only ticket for a few bucks.
What do I remember from that first trip? Andre Dawson struck out, Ryne Sandberg hit a double and the Cubs lost. I also recall wandering around Wrigleyville afterwards and enjoying talking to the people, looking at the buildings, and having several notable hot dogs.
Since then, I’ve been to Wrigley hundreds of times and learned a great deal about the neighborhood and what makes it so terribly interesting. Here’s my highly subjective and opinionated guide to what to do outside the park if you have a few hours before or after a Cubs game.
Cubs on Canvas
As you walk out of the Addison El stop, you’ll be greeted by four larger-than-life paintings depicting various Cubs legends sliding, hitting, and performing other baseball feats. Get up close to see Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Fergie Jenkins, and Ryne Sandberg do their thing. These lovely works were done by artist Steve Musgrave, whose portraits of famous Illinois authors appear in the Near North branch of the Chicago Public Library.
Do Fries Go With That Shake?
I’ve been to most of the bars and restaurants in Wrigleyville multiple times to celebrate with friends before and after the game. After 20-plus years of living in the city, my top pick for an overall good time is the Salt & Pepper Diner. It’s on Clark Street just a bit south of Addison and they have a range of breakfast items, some classic diner fare (solid cheeseburgers and tots) and for those who enjoy an adult beverage, their pitchers of beer are reasonably priced. The staff is very friendly and it’s a place where a family will be as comfortable as a group of young men out for the good times. And one more thing: they have a jukebox.
Pick Up A Book (And More) For Your Travels
Most folks planning a visit to Wrigleyville would not automatically think of setting foot in a well-curated bookstore as part of their journey. They would do well to enter the world of Bookworks, which is but a few blocks south of Wrigley Field on the west side of Clark Street. Inside visitors can look through historic ephemera (Downbeat magazine and so on), look over their special section dedicated to Kerouac and other beats, then peruse areas dedicated to poetry, local history, and of course, baseball.
A Fine Pint in Good Company
Many of the bars in Wrigleyville are distinguished by large groups of individuals who have gathered to make merry before and long after a Cubs contest. Sometimes such crowds can be a bit much, so why not wander over to the Gingerman Tavern? Located at 3740 North Clark, it’s a down-tempo place where folks gather around tables or at the bar for conversation and communion. There’s only one bar in the place and the beer selection is thoughtful. They have a couple of pool tables if you should desire some additional entertainment. Also, you might partake of Malort during your visit - it happens to be a liquor with deep Chicago roots. Before ordering, you might do well to ask your bartender what he or she thinks of its flavor. I guarantee they will have some strong feelings on the matter.