Staying in occasionally is fine. But watching Golden Girls and slurping down endless cups of Ramen can get a little old. So where can you go to eat, shop and explore without blowing all your pizza money? Here are some ways to get out and about in Chicago, while barely breaking a $20 bill in most cases. Go forth, penny-pinch and prosper. By TOC staff
At Lincoln Square Lanes, pencil scoring is the norm, and haggling over who was supposed to mark down your brilliant spare two turns ago is half the fun. In this second-floor alley above an Ace Hardware store, a surreal vintage mural of President Lincoln presides over the pins, showing the Great Emancipator sitting in the middle of a tree-speckled landscape. With prices at $4 per game, and shoes for $3, you can afford to grab some late-night tacos at Garcia’s across the street. Add to all that free live music most Friday and Saturday nights, and the whole night will spare you a trip to the ATM. 4874 N Lincoln Ave at Ainslie St, 773-561-8191.
Pins and needles
No fooling: New Nam Foo Ling is as cheap as it gets to undergo a pricking in the name of healing. Tucked in the back of this tiny Chinatown shop are a pair of storage closets—er, rooms—lit by fluorescent lamps and crammed with boxes and makeshift massage tables. It sounds sketchy because it is: Don’t plan to drop in on Dr. Xiaomin Cao, O.M.D., if you’re an acupuncture first-timer, as her $40-per-hour bedside manner isn’t quite on par with the staff at a frou-frou spa. But we gotta hand it to the lady for accurately diagnosing this writer’s sinus congestion after just one peek at my tongue. Just say no to the shock-wave therapy, and don’t be tempted by the complimentary massage unless you can take a beating. 233 W Cermak Rd between Princeton and Wentworth Aves, 312-225-0259.
A bicycle built for you
When you hear “police auction,” you think cheap cars in dubious states of repair. Now substitute the word cars with bikes . The advantage here is that a bike’s condition is easier to determine by sight, plus it’s a lot cheaper to fix up. The Chicago Police Department holds its monthly “general merchandise” auctions at a school on the South Side, and plenty of bikes are included in the mix. A mediocre department store–brand bike will go for $10 to $30, says auctioneer Jeff Brown; fancier brands like Trek start at $50 and head toward $100. “Sometimes folks are disappointed when those very high-end bikes don’t go for $30, but picking up a $1,000 Cannondale for $130 is a steal,” Brown says. Merchandise viewing starts at 8:30am, and the auction begins at 10am; call or check the Chicago Police website to find out upcoming auction dates. West Side Technical Institute, 2800 S Western Ave at 28th St, 773-583-3111.
Art for a fiver
Hunting for cheap original art? Check out Art*o*mat, a retrofitted cigarette machine tucked away in the Chicago Cultural Center near its north entrance. For $5, pull the knob to get a little masterpiece. Then stay for some free music—the LunchBreak performance series offers free concerts weekdays at 12:15pm. Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E Washington St at Michigan Ave , 312-744-6630.
It’s just brunch!
We’ve obviously encountered all-you-can-eat brunches before, but never one like the all-you-can eat (and drink) affair at Joey’s Brickhouse. Here there’s no buffet, no limits—and frankly, no way this could possibly be profitable. For $15 you get as many entrées as you want (and there are more than 35 menu items, including steak and eggs; seared tuna club sandwiches; and house-smoked lox, egg and onion scrambles). If that sounds insane, that’s because it is. So you better get there before Joey comes to his senses. Sat 10am–2pm. 1258 W Belmont Ave between Racine and Lakewood Aves, 773-296-1300.
Eats under $10
Feed’s chicken-shack décor (2803 W Chicago Ave at California Ave, 773-489-4600) is even better when you’re chowing their ridiculously juicy rotisserie bird. Pick up Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches, curried sweet potatoes and honeydew limeade at Fan Si Pan (1618 W Chicago Ave between Ashland and Marshfield Aves, 312-738-1405). And the broke but hungry can sample famed Mexican-food savant Rick Bayless’s genius at Frontera Fresco ( Marshall Field’s 111 N State St, seventh floor, at Washington St, 312-781-1000 )—go for the chipotle steak huarache with mango limeade.
An airfare to remember
Human error can be a beautiful thing. Just ask the lucky schmoes who scored mistakenly priced round-trip tickets from Chicago to the U.K. for nothing. Want to find find a similar deal for that winter-break trip? Subscribe to the sporadic FareAlert newsletter, and you’ll be notified every time an airline Web master screws up: www.farealert.net.
It can be tricky to find a guitar at a great price—folks who deal in them are specialists, not dabblers, and they tend to know what their merchandise’s worth to the penny. The flip side of this expertise is that there’s a healthy trade in used guitars. At Music Go Round, every time some rich kid realizes he’s never going to be Hendrix and turns in his ax, you get another cheap (i.e., starting at $400) chance at rock stardom. Walk right by the crappy Fender knockoffs on the wall—the good stuff is behind the counter. 1658 N Milwaukee Ave at Concord Pl, 773-342-2460.
The Record Dugout has an amazing selection of vintage vinyl from one end of the store to the other, but even if you stick closely to the cheap bins, you’ll be able to find many fine 45s, LPs and 78s that cut across all genres. One notable item we found in the $2 stacks was an album by ’50s doo-wop kings the Del Vikings, which usually goes for $300. 6055 W 63rd St at McVicker Ave, 773-586-1206.
Do you get my thrift?
Mark your calendars, tightwads. Monday is half-price day at all Unique thrift stores, which means you can pick up everything from picture frames to toaster ovens for a pittance. Some locations open at 6am, each store’s stock is meticulously organized and—here’s the best part—these tidy shops don’t have the musty pee smell of most thrift stores. For locations, call 708-371-4242.
Lit and let die
Hardcover books are pricey, but those who crave first editions should turn to remaindered books. They’re what’s left over when stores return unsold stock. The price-slashed originals—up to 65–70 percent off—show up again in places like Unabridged Bookstore ( 3251 N Broadway St between Aldine Ave and Melrose St, 773-883-9119 ) and all three Powell’s locations (www.powellschicago.com).
Here’s the rub
Plopping down on a padded chair beside a grocery-store checkout doesn’t begin to compare to the silent serenity of a spa, but we dare you to find a spa that offers a neck and back massage from a licensed massage therapist for a buck a minute. We’ll sacrifice a little “atmosphere” for this cheap, chill-inducing thrill at Whole Foods anytime. Visit www.wholefoodsmarket.com for locations.
Supposedly, movie theaters don’t really make money on the tickets; their profit comes from those outrageously priced snacks. If that’s true, the AMC City North 14 must lose money Tuesday nights. For a measly $5, you can watch a first-run mainstream movie, and garage parking and popcorn both come free. 2600 N Western Ave at Logan Blvd, 773-394-1601.
Take a pass
Like everything else, museum visits are getting pretty expensive these days. Major institutions like the Field Museum, Museum of Science and Industry, Adler and Shedd charge $9 to $12 for general admission alone. We recommend defraying the costs by checking out general admission museum passes from any Chicago Public Library. They’re available to students for all major museums—all you’ll need is a CPL card, which you can get with two documents of identification (like a phone bill) showing your name and local address. Visit www.chipublib.org for CPL locations.
Since the Chicago Department of Health cares about your most private of parts, it offers free condoms through various clinics. But don’t get greedy: While the Englewood Clinic ( 641 W 63rd St at Lowe Ave, 312-747-8900 ) kindly offered us a handful, saying it doesn’t count clients’ condoms, a woman at the Lakeview Clinic ( 2861 N Clark St at Surf St, 312-744-5507 ) said the cap is four to five per client. If you’ve used up your freebies, you can get 15 percent off condoms when you buy them in bulk from Tulip ( 1480 W Berwyn Ave between Clark St and Glenwood Ave, 877-70-TULIP ). And if you prefer vegan latex condoms (not processed with casein, a milk-derived product used in the production of most latex condoms), they’re only 35 cents each (30 cents when you buy five or more) at Early to Bed ( 5232 N Sheridan Rd between Berwyn and Foster Aves, 773-271-1219 ).
Miles of style
Push past the Wet Seal cast-offs at clothing swap shop Plato’s Closet, and you’ll find a few wardrobes’ worth of new designer wear. It might not be something you’ll wear out the front door, but when you’re paying $20 for a $200 skirt, who cares if it’s past season? 2150 N Clybourn Ave between Wayne and Southport Aves, 773-549-2070.
Paint the toes red
Polish your digits in under an hour for a mere $28 with the manicure/pedicure special at Old Town Nails on Mondays and Tuesdays. A neighborhood fave, the shop is clean, pleasant smelling (no asphyxiating chemical stench here), and visited by a regular stream of devoted clients. Korean and English chatter mingles, sitcoms and game shows play on a TV in the back, and drying stations are scattered among three giant, cushy couches. Bring your own magazines, as the selection can be outdated. 1433 N Wells St between Schiller St and Burton Pl, 312-266-1614.
Hit the road, (flap) jack
Need an excuse to gobble a few carb bombs? How about a 3.5-mile run through the leafy streets of Lincoln Park, and the fun of meeting other runners? In the Saturday Pancake Runs, there’s no charge for the run or the pancakes, but the store that runs the event, Momentum, requests that you call ahead, so they know how much batter to whip up. Second Saturday of each month at 9am. 2001 N Clybourn Ave between Wayne and Lakewood Aves, 773-525-7866.
Cut a rugs price
It’s time to put your foot down when it comes to high prices on floor coverings. Dozens of Oriental rugs, from 3" x 5" mats to room-size tapestries, are always 75 percent off regular prices at the Marshall Field’s Furniture Outlet. The outlet is open only Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, so plan ahead and bring a long vehicle—’cause delivery costs extra. 4000 W Diversey Ave at Pulaski Ave, 773-202-6300.
Thanks to the Uptown Multi-Cultural Art Center’s generous definition of the word artist, even two-left-hands you can make a one-of-a-kind fashion statement. Over the course of four Sundays, the center conducts open-door, all-materials-included workshops for anyone bearing sketches (evidence that you at least attempt to draw). Instructors show you how to build a screen-printing frame, stretch fabric across it, coat it, ink it and press it onto a T-shirt for free. Sun 3–6pm. Inside the American Indian Center of Chicago, 1630 W Wilson Ave between Paulina St and Ashland. Ave, 773-561-7676.
There’s something florists don’t want you to know (and were reluctant to tell us): If you’re looking for high-quality yet inexpensive flowers, the best place in the city is Costco. Yep, Costco the wholesaler, the one that sells everything from tires to pianos. We were floored when we saw a bouquet of 24 roses for $14.99, with lots of colors to choose from, and the “garden bunch,” a bouquet of about 60 stems, for $8.99. Of course, you need to be a member to get these prices, which will set you back about $45 a year. 2746 N Clybourn Ave at Damen Ave (773-360-2053).
Spend it like Beckham—or, if you’re lacking a multimillion-dollar contract with Real Madrid, do the next best thing and head to Chicago Soccer for a Euro- or Latin-hipster soccer jersey. The one-of-a-kind, two-story shop carries a colorful profusion of fútbol gear and uniforms. Kick it downstairs for the real bargains: outmoded jerseys from past seasons on sale for half price. We spotted Manchester United and Brazil jerseys for just $35, and Chicago Fire shirts for $30. 4839 N Western Ave at Gunnison St, 773-271-2255.
Triple-lutz your way to Rainbo Sports for a pair of used figure skates sold on consignment or last year’s model in the clearance section. Rainbo sells custom-fit and leading-brand competitive skates to the North suburbs’ top skaters at its warehouselike facility. Retail manager John Rohskothen, a fixture at Rainbo for almost 30 years, will set you up with a clearance pair of Riedells, SP-Teris or Don Jacksons for half-price (think $100 marked down from $200 for beginning competitive skates and $50 versus $100 for recreational blades) or a consignment pair of excellent used skates for half to two- thirds off the original cost. 1440 Paddock Dr, Northbrook, 847-998-1000.
Just the ticket
Even the savviest of theater patrons sometimes forget that same-day, reduced-price tickets are available at numerous Hot Tix booths throughout the city, with weekend tickets available on Fridays. You’ll be surprised at the variety of shows available, as both large theaters and small storefronts are always anxious to put a few last-minute butts in seats. It’s cash only, so hit the ATM first. 72 E Randolph St; 163 E Pearson St; 9501 N Skokie Blvd, Skokie; and all Tower Records locations (www.hottix.org).
Building a vinyl collection is something every self-respecting music fan should and can do in Chicago—but how are you going to play them? For discriminating cheapskates, Lincoln Square’s the Stereo Exchange, crammed with ceiling-high stacks of vintage, high-quality equipment, rises above the competition. Since you only deal with the incense-burning owner Dave Nash, who gives you contractual and personal guarantees on everything that leaves the shop, your first (or last) turntable can be the beginning of a lifelong obsession. 4743 N Western Ave between Lawrence and Leland Aves, 773-784-0004.
Great balls of falafel
The last time we got food for under 25 cents was…never. Which is why it blows our minds that Salam offers its very delicious, golf ball–sized specimens at 19 cents apiece. Go ahead—break a quarter. 4636 N Kedzie Ave between Eastwood and Leland Aves, 773-583-0776.
Eyes, eyes, baby
Funky frames are de rigueur for hipsters, but if you can’t see paying upwards of $250 at trendy optical boutiques, head to Vintage Deluxe in Roscoe Village. Owner Gabrielle Sutton’s well-curated cache of clothing, furniture, housewares and collectibles includes hundreds of pairs dating mostly from the mid-’50s. Prices start at $28, but Sutton estimates 90 percent of her frames cost less than $45. 1846 W Belmont Ave between Wolcott Ave and Honore St, 773-529-7008.
Fuel and far between
So you’re one of those rare students who’s got a car. We’re guessing your friends hit you up for rides, right? And they probably don’t fill up the tank when they bring it back. So log on to www.chicagogasprices.com to search for the lowest pump price near you. The top 15 low and high prices around the city are posted daily to give you a look at the gruesome big picture and tell you which stations to applaud and which to avoid. When you need to gas up close to home, you can narrow your search by neighborhood or station name. You’ll probably still cringe when you see the total price of your full tank, but at least you can save yourself from the agony of finding out later there was a cheaper offer two blocks away.
Dildo the right thing
Ever wondered what all the buzz was about over vibrators, but didn’t want to spend more than $50 on an orgasmic experiment? Lucky for you that both Tulip (1480 W Berwyn Ave at Glenwood Ave, 877-70-TULIP) and Early to Bed (5232 N Sheridan Rd between Berwyn and Foster Aves, 773-271-1219) carry the famed Silver Bullet for only $9. It’s perfect for clitoral stimulation and has a dial for multiple speeds so you can discover whether you like light or intense stimulation. But the Bullet is not just for beginners. Seasoned veterans who travel often for work only to find that they’ve accidentally left their favorite toy at home can stock up on a few. Leave them in your suitcases or toiletry bag and you’ll be prepared for your next trip.
Strike a pose
It ain’t easy being Zen, but it’s definitely affordable at the clean, cozy Moksha River West. Every Sunday, this yoga hub offers a community class that’s free (mats and blocks included) and open to all. And just because it’s gratis doesn’t mean your asanas will suffer—certified instructors and teachers-in-training at least nine months along in their studies take turns leading the class from week to week, and sessions run for the full hour and 45 minutes. Show up early, because the 50-person-capacity studio fills up fast. Sun 1:30–3:15pm. 700 N Carpenter St at Huron St, 312-942-9642; Moksha Lakeview offers community classes Sat 3:30–5pm, 3334 N Clark St at Buckingham Pl, 773-975-9642.
Chinatown has long been a destination for cheap veggies and Hello Kitty gear, but soap? The adorably packaged Bee & Flower hand soaps come in five different scents: bouquet, jasmine, rose, ginger and sandalwood. They leave your hands feeling clean though smelling faintly musky, but at 55 cents a bar, we’ll just call the scent “exotic.” Also $5.50 for a dozen at Dong Kee Corp., 2252 S Wentworth Ave at Alexander St, 312-225-6340.
They work hard for the funny
Developed by renowned I.O. cofounder the late Del Close, the Harold, a style of long-form improvisation, is the basis on which the theater’s reputation was built. There are Harold shows nearly every night on I.O.’s two stages (some of them brilliant, some just awful), but during the free shows Wednesday nights in the I.O. Cabaret, the theater tries to put its best foot forward, offering performances by some of its top players. Wed 8pm. 3541 N Clark St at Eddy St, 773-880-0199.