A September 2003 trip
to Chicago by wildhoney269
Quote: One of the best things about living in Chicago is that there is a never-ending variety of activities available to partake in to enjoy oneself. Fall is a great time to visit the city because some our greatest festivals are held at that time.
With a population of almost 3 million, Chicago is a city of diverse neighborhoods. Eighty-one distinct communities represent a variety of nationalities, each one taking pride in its heritage. It’s these wonderful communities that make the neighborhood festivals some of the best ethnic events in the city. Oktoberfests are held in a few places around the city and suburbs, but it’s the German-American Festival which is one of the best neighborhood festivals of the year.
The Osaka Garden Festival celebrates Japanese Culture and the sister city relationship between Chicago and Osaka. Unique festivals like The Guinness Oyster Fest and Around the Coyote Festival celebrate good times and artistic culture.
Don’t: Be afraid to try new things. Order up a Thueringer (authentic sausage) at the German-American Festival or some Takoyaki (octopus balls) at the Osaka Garden Festival to try some of the best authentic food in the city.
Do: Consider the time you go to the festivals. The later in the evening you go, the more crowded they will be because many locals visit festivals as a night out. If you want to see the festival and not be too over-crowded, consider going in the late afternoon. That way if you like it as the crowd gets thinker you can stay.
Do: Buy a CTA pass or take the trolley to as many festivals as possible. Street parking is usually hard to find and some lots can be very expensive.
There are several parking lots through out the city so you can drive if you wish, but the parking is usually expensive and traffic sometimes gets hectic at popular locations.
The festival kicks off with a ceremonial keg tapping and free beer. Once the first keg runs dry guests have to pay for their brews. Beer was offered in prices for domestic or imported. All drinkers will buy a souvenir stein. For imported beer (Becks) a large sells for $8 and small for $6 with refills at $7 and $5 respectively. Domestic beer drinkers pay $6 for a large with a $5 refill or $5 for the small with a $4 refill. The small glass is about three times smaller than the large one, so most people purchase the large steins. Wine is also available.
Great bands, including locals and some from Germany, perform. Of course with all the live German music (and flowing beer) there is always lots of dancing. There is also a carnival section with games and this festival is kid-friendly, even though I didn’t see too many kids. Admission for the festival is free, but there are additional charges to play the games.
Different German clubs provide tasty and reasonably priced food. Bratwurst or Thueringer sandwiches are both for sale at the booth. Since you can get a Bratwurst anywhere I recommend starting with the Thueringer. But since the brats here are good I suggest you try one if you feel like seconds. Sandwiches are available plain for $3.00 or with potato salad and sauerkraut for $5.00. Fresh soft pretzels are available for $1 a piece. Whole Bismarck H\earring, cake and coffee is also available at the food stands.
All food and beverages are purchased through tickets even though dollar amounts are displayed. Each ticket is valued at $1. There are usually only two ticket booths, which mean long lines, but you will be entertained by the colorful locals attending the event.
You should not be put off if you are not a beer drinker. All the cultural programs, folk singing, the parade and the array of culinary delights like bratwurst, sauerkraut and potato salad is enough reason to attend.
To get there, take the Red Line ‘L’ to Western and you’ll be right above the festival when standing on the platform.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on October 2, 2003
Walk past the main stage and into the festival to find a large variety of artisan booths speckled amongst booths grilling various foods. Expect to find jewelry, photographers, painters, and other unique artists. Many food booths grill onions and peppers to go with roasted meats. We tried several items and the gyros here are fabulous. Look for grilled lamb, chicken, and sausages. You will also find rotisseries spinning and kebobs grilling.
Let’s not forget about the oysters! This past year the oysters were set up in the field near the second stage. The oyster booth looked very similar to the Guinness booths set up for alcohol and was a bit hard to find. It actually only required some reading, so keep you eyes peeled for the McCormick & Schmick sign. Fresh oysters on the half shell sell for $1.50 each or $5 for half a dozen. Behind the counter watch professional oyster shuckers prepare these delicacies. A sauce made of cocktail sauce and horseradish is available as a topping along with classic Tabasco. While their sauce packs a good punch, I think the oysters tasted best with both sauces piled on top. Be warned though, they are very spicy when eaten that way.
Irish bands, like the Shannon Rovers Pipe Band, perform and there is usually a good U2 cover band making an appearance as well. This festival is always packed goes on since it is heavily advertised due to its major sponsors such as Chicago Sun-Times, American Airlines, Q101 (a hot Chicago radio station), Cingular, and of course Guinness, just to name a few. You can avoid the crowds by getting there around 4pm. The heavy crowds start coming in around 6pm.
Tickets are $10 at the door, but you can purchase them online for $7 before the event. Ticket proceeds go to the New City YMCA.
To get there take the CTA Red Line "L" to the North/Clybourn stop, walk to Halsted and head south towards the blue-tiled New City YMCA.
Guinness Oyster Fest
1900 West Division Street
Attraction | "Osaka Garden Festival"
This festival is one of the most unique ways to experience Japanese culture in Chicago. A wide variety of ethnic food is available to try. My favorite item is Takoyaki, which are octopus balls. The name is a bit intimidating, but it is made from chopped up octopus meat and rolled into a batter, which is very lightly fried. We also tried Takkatsu, which is like breaded and fried meat. It comes served with a tasty sauce and some shredded cabbage. More standard fare such as fried rice and a variety of noodle options are available at various booths. Also for sale are steamed edamame and cans of green tea.
Before you get to the food booths you will pass a stage set up for live music and dance performances. Bamboo flutes, drums, and traditional maiko dance are some of the performances you can expect to see. There’s also a small section of mats laid out for martial arts demonstrations such as Aikido, Ninpo and Judo.
Just past the food booths are several arts and crafts booths set up in a section called the Japan Bazaar where you can fine unique items. We saw some wonderful Japanese brush paintings, paper umbrellas, hand-made jewelry and purses for sale. A florist booth was set up selling bonsai trees and feng shui floral arrangements. We spent a significant amount of time browsing through the Japanese books at a bookstand. They offered Japanese cookbooks, origami, Japanese arts and several books on philosophy.
The highlight of the festival is of course the garden itself. The natural beauty of Osaka Garden and its traditional Japanese-style elements inspire the visitor. Entering the garden through its wooden entrance gate takes visitors away from the bustling festival and into a peaceful world of lagoons, lush trees, paths, an arched bridge and even waterfalls. Garden tours are available as part of the festival.
After walking through the garden you will find women dressed in traditional Japanese costumes and performing a traditional tea ceremony in a wooded house. Only about fifteen can partake at the ceremony at one time and we did not wait, but it is definitely on my list for next year.
A kid’s stage is set up past the Japan Bazaar. Ongoing kid’s activities include chigiri-e paper artwork, water balloon yoyo games, ramune ring toss, the chopstick challenge, 1000 paper crane making and getting their name written in Japanese. Story tellers, origami, kite making, mask making and other activities are scheduled throughout the weekend.
Oak Street Beach
1000 North Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, Illinois 60611
+1 312 747 0832
Attraction | "Berghoff Oktoberfest"
Visitor’s can enjoy fresh bratwurst, barbecued chicken sandwiches, corn-on-the-cob, soft pretzels, and chocolate chip cookies along with Berghoff’s private-label beers and root beers (soft drinks and water are also available).
In addition to the good food and beer, a stage is setup to showcase a variety of local musical talent. There is usually a raffle with such prizes as a car or a vacation. Raffle proceeds benefit a local charity.
If you happen to be downtown, perhaps shopping on State Street, then you may like to stop by. I do not recommend making a special trip just to attend this fest. For a classic Chicago-style Oktoberfest, you should attend the German-American Festival, usually held around the same time of year. If you do attend, try to do so in the afternoon when there is more space. The Berghoff beer is good, but this fest gets incredibly crowded in the evenings. Most of the attendees are the city’s young professionals, some still wearing ids from their "important" jobs like at the Board of Trade or Mercantile Exchange.
If you don’t want to wait in lines for beers and brats, put your name on the list to eat an authentic dinner inside the Berghoff Restaurant, one of the best in the city.
To get there take the CTA Blue Line "L" to the Jackson stop. When you walk upstairs you will be in the middle of the plaza.
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on October 2, 2003
17 West Adams St
Chicago, Illinois 60603
+1 312 427 3170
The weekend begins on Thursday evening with a special performance by big name jazz musicians (usually a tribute concert). Tickets for this opening night performance are usually between $22 and $49 dollars. The rest of the festival can be enjoyed for free. On Friday afternoon, Grant Park becomes the home base for all the free music and entertainment. Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights all have "headliners" in their line up, but wonderful jazz musicians and singers perform throughout the entire day. Jazz performers are local, national and international talent. Performers vary from year to year, but look for the Branford Marsalis Quartet, Freddy Cole, McCoy Tyner, Shelia Jordan, Dave Holland Big Band, Elvin Jones’ Jazz Machine, Karin Allyson, and many, many more.
Food and beverages are a big part of all Chicago festivals, and they are represented at the Jazz festival as well. While restaurants change from year to year, usually Robinson’s Ribs, Billy Goat Tavern, and other famous Chicago restaurants have a booth here. There are probably less then ten food booths and most are quick food, so if you want a nicer meal you should either pack a picnic to eat on the lawn or make plans for dinner beforehand. Note: no alcohol may be brought in and should be purchased at the beer counter. Food and drink items must be purchased through tickets. As of this writing, 11 tickets were available for $7.
Booths are setup throughout the festival promoting jazz education and jazz awareness. Radio stations, magazines, and newspapers usually have booths set up as long as local artists selling artwork and handmade crafts. The art fair is setup on the rose garden which stretches between the Petrillo Music Shell and Chicago’s famous Buckingham Fountain.
Celebrating jazz doesn’t stop at the Festival. All of Chicago partakes in all things jazz during this weekend. Around the time of the Jazz Festival the public radio station and Cultural Center usually organize jazz related events. To keep the music going after the last performance, many local clubs sponsor after-fest sets starting around 10pm. Check out Green Mill, Jazz Showcase, Velvet Lounge, Andy’s Jazz Club, or Hothouse, which are just a few of the good jazz clubs in the city which are open to all hours of the night.
Chicago Jazz Festival
Petrillo Music Shell-Grant Park
Chicago, Illinois 60605
+1 312 427 1676
One food booth has a few selections of food items. A beverage booth offers Romanian wine and beer. A few other booths were set up but unattended. They offered henna tattoos and a neat eyebrow hair removal with threads. A stage was set up for the band but no one was playing.
Unfortunately I believe this festival advertises itself improperly. The festival is advertised as follows:
"Annual rotisserie cookout of pigs, lamb, sausages and stuffed cabbage. Live music and folk dancers from Greece, Poland and Romania include groups Talaisman and Redmiak. Grape stomping each day at 3pm and free grape juice during festival hours. $7 donation benefits the South Lakeview Neighbors."
It ended up the $7 donation was a required fee. There is no grape stomping at all. They have a grape press, which they use to make the grape juice. The main reason I attended the festival was to see the grape stomping and try Romanian food so we were quite disappointed. We did have some lamb, which cost $11, and it was incredibly dry and tasteless.
We went in the late afternoon and the place was quite empty. I suggest of you go to this festival that you make it a part of your evening when it may be more crowded.
Member Rating 1 out of 5 on October 2, 2003
Taste of Romania
Corner of Barry and Ashland Avenues
Attraction | "Celtic Music Festival"
Celtic dance and traditional storytelling join the great array of musicians featured on more than ten stages and tented areas. A large stage is set up which is dedicated to Irish dancing. Troupes and dance schools from all over the Midwest perform. Throughout the day a few Spanish dancers appear on stage, but it is mostly Irish dancing. If you walk around the back of the stage you can see the young dancers taking a break between sets. Wandering around and visiting the other various stages, you will see musicians playing fiddles, harps, guitars, and a variety of other interesting instruments.
The Celtic Art Fair contributes to this delight of the senses with artisans from all over the world who sell their hand-made jewelry, sweaters, ceramics, glass, paintings, and more. The festival also includes a Celtic kid's oasis, food from a myriad of nations, the Scottish Heavy Athletics Competition, the game of cricket, the ever-popular bagpiper’s circle and much more.
Some interesting food offered at the festival includes curried fries and shepherd pie. While we heard of shepherd pie before, curried fries were new to us. We thought curry was a middle-eastern spice and were surprised to see it a Celtic Fest. We tried the curried fries which has a creamy-like sauce made from yellow curry which is poured over crisp french fries. The shepherd pie was good as well but it was served in a bowl instead of a traditional pie crust.
There are various ways to get to Celtic Fest by El: Red Line to Monroe; Green, Orange or Brown Line to Madison/Wabash or Adams/Wabash.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on October 2, 2003
Celtic Fest Chicago
Attraction | "The Crush in Old Town: Wells Street Wine Festival"
Wines from both domestic vineyards as well as those from France, Italy, Australia, Spain, Chile, and other wine-producing nations are served. Hess, Niebaum Coppola, Ravenswood, Cosentino, and Banfi are some of the featured wineries. Be prepared to wait because the tents get crowded at peak times. Actually, when we went we decided against the tasting and opted to buy beer so we didn’t have to deal with the long lines.
Wells Street (Old Town) is known for its unique retail shops and for some of Chicago finest restaurant. The famed Second City resides on Wells Street. Part of this unique event, food pavilions will be serving the cuisine of popular neighborhood eateries while guests enjoy live entertainment, arts and crafts, and wine-making demonstrations. A stage is set up on the south side of Wells Street where a variety of bands play throughout the day.
Tickets are $5 and for an additional $10 you can purchase a special souvenir wine tasting glass to sample the wines. Whether you are an expert wine connoisseur or interested novice, you will have a blast taking part in this seasonal celebration and tasting wines from renowned domestic and international vineyards. And if like us you come later in the evening when it’s too crowded to get at the wines, you will still have a nice time wandering through the shops of Old Town and listening to the bands. All proceeds benefit the Y-ME Breast Cancer Organization and the Old Town Merchants & Residents Association.
To get there ride the Brown Line "L" to Sedgwick and head east down North Avenue to Wells street.
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on October 3, 2003
Wells Street Wine Festival
North Wells Street between Schiller and North