YOU WON’T FIND DEEP DISH PIZZA PLACES (okay, there’s one, but it’s a gem), Navy Pier, beef-sandwich joints, and Willis Tower (or Sears Tower, as it is still referred to by many lifelong Chicagoans) in 111 Places in Chicago That You Must Not Miss, by Amy Bizzarri. And that’s a good thing. I cringe when visiting celebrities tout our pizza, downtown nightclubs, and the same old tired tourist attractions as representative of Chicago. Instead, you’ll find the beating heart of Chicago in this book—places of natural and human-made beauty, iconic bars, thought-provoking monuments and museums, eclectic businesses, and the otherwise odd, fascinating, whimsical, and wonderful.
I like 111 Places in Chicago for many reasons. First, it provides a “This is Your Life” glimpse of my life. I spent some of the best nights of my 20s and 30s (pre-fatherhood) at:
- Green Mill Cocktail Lounge (great jazz, poetry slams, and Al Capone’s favorite booth);
- The Hideout, which is more like a way of life, than just a bar for lovers of live music and social justice; and
- The Rainbo Club, a great dive bar, which was—and is—the place to hang if you’re an artist—especially a musician—as well as want to drink where the great writer Nelson Algren once raised a glass.
When I lived in Lakeview in the early 2000s, I spent many nights with friends at the 115+-year-old, four-lane Southport Lanes, jamming a wadded-up dollar or two into the finger holes of my bowling ball to tip the human pinsetters. And, no, being a restaurant- and bar-fly were not the only ways I spent my “ute” (as a South Sider like me might say). The Biograph Theater, Maxwell Street Market, Old St. Patrick’s Church, and other destinations in 111 Places in Chicago were also short chapters in my life story.
I was also pleased to see that four chapters in the book tout destinations that are in or near my current neighborhood (Jefferson Park): American Science & Surplus, a fun spot for science supply and experiment aficionados; Chris’s Billiards, where Paul Newman’s Color of Money was filmed; Fantasy Costumes, where you can spend an entire day planning your next Halloween costume; and Galos Cave, the first iodine-salt cave in the U.S., which is purported to alleviate a range of maladies—from arthritis to asthma.
Yet I’ve lived in Chicago for nearly 48 years, and there are dozens of fascinating and beautiful spots in 111 Places in Chicago that I’ve never visited—and a good number I was not even aware of. Actually, more than 170 Chicago destinations are covered in the book if you count the brief mentions in the “Tip” section of each chapter. Some noteworthy entries include:
- The Clarke House, a 188-year-old survivor of the Chicago Fire where you can glimpse what life was like for a middle-class family in pre-Civil War Chicago;
- Jane Addams’ Hull House, a welcoming place for Chicago’s waves of immigrants since the late 1800s (a great pick given the anti-immigrant mindset of many Americans);
- a leopard-print home in Rogers Park;
- Rosa’s Lounge, as Bizzarri calls it, “one of the few remaining off-the-radar Chicago blues clubs in the city”; and
- Sky Chapel, at 568 feet in the air, the world’s highest church.
I also love the photographs, taken mostly by Susie Inverso. Each chapter features a corresponding photo (or two) that masterfully captures the essence and energy of the place.
Finally, I love that Bizzarri spotlights some wonderful nature destinations in Chicagoland—from the human-crafted beauty of Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool in Lincoln Park and Fern House (which shows the Midwest as it was 300 million years ago) at the Garfield Park Conservatory, to what’s left of wild Chicago: the Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary and Robinson Woods along the Des Plaines River. Bizzarri also writes lovingly about other natural destinations such as Bubbly Creek (a work in progress), Morgan Shoal and Shipwreck, Osaka Garden, Palmisano Park, the Fountain of Youth, and Steelworkers Park. You’ll have to check out the book to learn more about these destinations.
I recently discussed 111 Places in Chicago with Amy Bizzarri.
Q. What made you want to write the book?
I was actually approached by the publisher to write this book. I published two previous books with a focus on Chicago history—Discovering Vintage Chicago and Iconic Chicago Dishes, Drinks and Desserts—and I write for the Chicago Board of Tourism, so I know the city inside out!
Q. How did you narrow down the selections to 111 from what probably was a much-larger list?
A. Chicago is so packed with hidden history and wacky and wonderful places that it was difficult to narrow my list to just 111 places. Eventually I tried to narrow my picks to the most curious spots of all, places that would surprise even locals who think they know the city well.
Q. What most surprised you as you conducted research for the book?
A. I was shocked to discover that Chicago is home of one of the largest mass graves (Oakwood Cemetery Civil War Memorial) and I was happy to have discovered a Fountain of Youth! The Galos Salt Caves amazed me, as did the Morgan Shoal. I snorkeled to the Morgan Shoal to check it out myself. I never thought I’d be setting off on a snorkeling excursion on the South Side of Chicago!
Q. What was your favorite natural destination in the book, and why?
A. The Morgan Shoal! It’s teeming with marine life and as close as we’ll get to a coral reef in the Midwest. I was so surprised by the incredible visibility and every once in a while, when I popped my head up from underwater and spotted the city skyline, I was quite simply amazed! Those water temps though—I recommend a wetsuit!
111 Places in Chicago That You Must Not Miss (9783740801564, Paperback, Emons Verlag) is available at www.111places.com, Amazon.com, other web booksellers, and bookstores. It’s a must-have if you want to experience the real Chicago, not what’s in the popular tourist guides. Highly recommended. Four Chicago-flag stars!
Copyright Andrew Morkes (text, except quoted material from Bizzarri); nature photographs courtesy of and copyrighted by Susie Inverso
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