Set your sites
Whatever your interest, these new tours will have you hitting the streets.
If you’ve embarked on a riverboat tour or traversed back alleys with an architecture docent, you’ve experienced Chicagoans’ penchant for yammering on about local history. After all, our nickname is the Windy City. But you ain’t heard nothing yet. This spring, a new crop of tours has sprouted, tackling historical topics ranging from blues and booze to building heights and sugar highs. Here’s what’s in store.
Preserving Chicago’s Future
Chicago Architecture Foundation, 224 S Michigan Ave
Does the sight of a wrecking ball bring tears to your eyes? Then this new Chicago Architecture Foundation tour is for you. Launching this spring to go along with an exhibit on preservation, the CAF’s tour-guiding docents skip the obvious iconic structures, forcing you to answer one question along the way: What should the city do to preserve its architectural heritage? Expect a brisk walk as you cover more than two dozen structures, from the funky-looking Federal Center to the stunning Marquette Building. Also gear up for lots of facts and figures-—our docent was big on talking tax breaks and aldermanic privilege (“It’s not the greatest system.”). We could’ve used more indoor stops and fewer statistics, but we walked away feeling pretty strongly about preserving Chicago’s past. The next tour takes place April 18, 10:30am; $15, seniors and students $12, CAF members free. Call 312-922-3432 for reservations.
Chicago Blues Tour
Chicago Office of Tourism, downloadchicagotours.com
Fill up your tank with gas, grab your cigarettes and sunglasses and hit it—that is, the play button on your MP3 player. This free podcast tour to the dark and funky places that once made up the Chicago blues music scene is guided by blues legend Buddy Guy. It not only takes a close look at the historic locations where blues staples once jammed, but also explains how the sound evolved from acoustic to electric right here in the Second City. The photos, tunes and harmonica-laced commentary of cultural historian Tim Samuelson make the tour-—through former black and tan nightclubs, record-label row and the stomping grounds of Muddy Waters—a must for the blues-obsessed. Dorothy Coyle, director of the Chicago Office of Tourism, says the enthusiastic interest from blues-loving out-of-towners inspired her to introduce the tour last fall. Alas, for the rest of us nonbuffs it weighs in as a mildly entertaining and cheap way to spend a Saturday. Download it and learn about where the blues was born at home, or print out the maps of featured locations and take the audio tour on the road.
Exploring Chicago’s Yeast Side: A History of Beer
Too new to review
Chicago History Museum, 1601 N Clark St
For the thousands of Chicagoans who love the lake and also love their beer, this two-and-a-half-hour boat tour beats a night at the bar. The tour had yet to take to the waters at press time, but museum public-programs manager Liz Garibay tells us it’s a social scene, a skyline at sunset and a little bit of history all rolled into one. Traversing the river and lake, the boat is led by Garibay, who highlights the golden age of beer and brewing in Chicago, from the Columbian Exposition to Prohibition. On board, hear the story behind the Berghoff and the process of brewing while tasting a variety of original Berghoff beers. Garibay created the tour last year in an attempt to share history with a younger crowd in a social, learning environment. We’re with her: Boating and booze make history go down more smoothly. May 18, 6:30–9pm; $45, CHM members $40. For reservations, call 312-642-4600.
Tour de Treats
Too new to review
Bobby’s Bike Hike, 465 N McClurg Ct
Who said exercising means skimping on sugar? Definitely not Kelly Brennan, a guide with Chicago tour company Bobby’s Bike Hike. “I thought, Why not ride around and taste cupcakes and see which ones are best?” Brennan says. And, like that, Bobby’s Sweet Ride was born. While we weren’t able to sample the tour, we’re sure it’s every dentist’s dream—with a little bit of neighborhood history to boot. First up is popcorn at Garrett on Michigan Avenue. Next, chocolates at Sarah’s Candies on Oak Street, followed by goodies at the North Side’s Sweet Mandy B’s. To top it all off, there’s dessert at Bobtail Ice Cream in Lakeview. “We tried to go for local shops and not chains,” says Bobby’s Bike Hike owner Jeremy Lewno. “Shop owners will give us samplings of their best stuff.” Pretty sweet. Saturday 12, 1:30pm; $40, $30 students. For reservations, go to bobbysbikehike.com.