Saturday, January 28, 2012

To Chinatown by Bike to Welcome Year of the Dragon 4710

(Edited post with pictures of the celebration)
One of our favorite annual celebrations happened this weekend in Chinatown to welcome the Lunar Chinese New Year 4710. The Lunar New Year party always includes copious fireworks, an incredible Dragon dance and parade with marching bands and plenty of delicious food.  2012 is an extremely special celebration for Chicago's Chinatown. This Dragon year is a time of prosperity and power in traditional Chinese culture, and it's the Chicago Chinatown Centennial too, marking a hundred years of Chinese culture and community in Chicago from 1912-2012. It's actually been 4710 for almost a week already but the celebration was this weekend. The parade started at 1:00 on Sunday and other programs started at 11:30.

Here are our favorite tips for riding to Chinatown and enjoying the afternoon with children in tow. There are also some food and bike route suggestions that are good all year at the end. If you are going in summer look at our post about the water taxi from Michigan Avenue. If you have your own favorite tips or suggestions please add a comment - this isn't a complete list by far!

For the New Year celebrations:
  • The fireworks are everywhere and they are loud and smoky and smelly so make sure everybody can manage surprises.
  • There are zillions of people so plan to lock your bikes very well away from the crowd and dress your kids in something like a Day-Glo suit you can see easily if they slip away.
  • It's pretty cold so dress extra super warm - bring an extra layer for once you are off your bike
  • Don't try to take the water taxi - it's only in the summer. But the playground at Ping Tom park should be open. It's just north of Chinatown Square Mall in those residential streets west of Wentworth - is it South Tan Ct?
  • Everybody at the event thinks they are going to go eat nearby, all at the same time, right after the parade. Bring lots of patience or have a secret plan to avoid the crowds if you don't want to wait. See below for our choices. You could also get back on the bikes and go to the Ed Potsticker House for dumplings (across from the police station at 3139 S Halsted in Bridgeport), for example, or just go for little goodies from a bakery. 
Our food suggestions:
  • The Chinatown Square Mall (just north of Archer) is our favorite part of the neighborhood because the kids can run around without getting into traffic, there are lots of shops and restaurants, and the guy who makes noodles at Hing Kee across from Joy Yee always smiles at the kids as he spins a big clod of dough into uniform, delicious noodles with his bare hands. His line went well out the door this weekend.
  • Another good bet might be Tao Ran Ju (Tasty House) at 2002 S Wentworth, a hot pot place off the beaten track known for its delicious soup dumplings.
  • On the southern end of Wentworth, Evergreen is known for mu shi and similar dishes and the kids love the fish tank (why this one more than others? Don't know.)
  • We ended up at Cai, a newish dim sum restaurant on the upper floor of the Chinatown Square mall, at the eastern end -- it was a good place with a huge bright dining room and some really well prepared dishes, and despite the huge crowds everyone was friendly. Since it was upstairs it filled more slowly than the others, but it was a pleasant new discovery for us. We'll definitely go back.
  • If you prefer nonchinese food, Lawrence Fisheries on Canal just north of Cermak is famous for its fried fish and shrimp and it's a quick ride or walk. There's a little stand in the odd food court basement of the Richland Center just east of the Chinatown Square that has the only Japanese Okonomiyaki and Yakisoba I've seen in Chicago - cheap but no atmosphere at all. Ba Le on Archer has Vietnamese sandwiches and coffee and there's a Vietnamese place on Cermak too.
Other suggestions:
  • Bathrooms haven't been a big problem for us since most places let kids use the bathroom.
  • Coffee? Forget it. Unless you like it Vietnamese style with condensed milk at Ba Le. Alternative to coffee: strong Hong Kong milk tea - try the Sweet Station diner but it's not as kid friendly.
  • There are a lot of good shops for specialty goods in Chinatown, particularly kitchen tools and housewares and of course groceries. Our best luck looking for unusual teas was at Ten Ren, 2247 S Wentworth. 
Chicago Chinatown Centennial Dragon Parade 2012 / 4710
The dragon parade with its marching bands and homemade floats is the big draw for most people, of course, but later in the afternoon the dragons come through the commercial district and dance in front of and inside businesses to bring luck to the new year.

See the yummy lettuce over the shop door?
There were three or four of them, with a dragon zookeeper with a long pike to keep the crowds safe. Businesses offer lettuce and oranges hung with a red ribbon above the door and a dragon leaps up and snatches the treat. Fireworks accompany the lucky dancing animals.

Older people give younger ones decorated red envelopes with money inside for the New Year - don't look until you get home!

There are a few good ways to get to Chinatown:

Since the 18th street protected bike lane has been put in, coming from Pilsen or South Loop you can just take it and then Wentworth south into the heart of the commercial section. Take the sidewalk over the bridge since they haven't installed metal plates there yet.

Coming from the west loop we might ride on Peoria to UIC then Morgan then east across the Cermak bridge to avoid Halsted, though that does connect too. There's also a nicer connection from Morgan and 18th down on Sangamon all the way to Cermak but you'll have to look at our map. We took the sidewalk on Cermak to Chinatown since the bike lanes are full of ice.

The Red Line El comes right in to Chinatown if it's really cold or otherwise no fun to ride bikes with the kids. You can also take the Blue Line to UIC-Halsted where there is a long ramp for your bikes on the Morgan St exit, then through UIC and Morgan as above.

Don't think about driving to the New Year parade. Park and take your bike or the El.

As the Chicago Chinatown Chamber of Commerce says, GUNG HEI FAT CHOI TO ALL!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Yearly Patagonia Winter Sale begins tomorrow morning --January 25th

I know there are plenty of other sales going on out there but if there is a layer at Patagonia you have been hankering for their annual sale begins in the morning tomorrow. Last year we found some of the prices less slashed than previously but hopefully they have plenty to get rid of this season. It usually runs on-line as well.

Also there are Ibex wool underlayers on sale now,

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Bullish on Hyde Park

Today, Saturday, is warm again. This January heatwave might be a great time to take a leisurely ride to one of our favorite places. Hyde Park.  It's almost a suburb, and it's almost part of town.
The smaller museums and cultural centers in Hyde Park are perfect for families to get close to great culture and art in small intimate atmospheres.
Here is a little list of our favorite Hyde Park spots.  It starts with description of today's family day at the Smart museum with more much tucked down afterwards.

On Saturday the Smart  Museum of Art at the University of Chicago is having the first of a winter series of free family days.  Smart family days are amazing. They're always fun and exciting and free with great materials and patient docents leading the way. The museum is small so the tours are always just a little nibble, not too long.
And this winter they will hold one every month.

Family Day: Knot Your Average Art Materials

Download this event iCal Event Info
When:Saturday, January 7, 2012 1:00 pm
Where:Smart Museum of Art external link
5550 South Greenwood Avenue, Chicago, IL
The Smart now offers free family activities on the first Saturday of every month!

This Saturday, drop by and get inspired by contemporary artists who use materials like string, chord, and yarn in their work.

Learn to weave on a flat loom you can build yourself and create your own cloth. Then, explore unusual art materials during a docent-led tour of the Smart's contemporary gallery.

All ages welcome. Activities are designed for children 4–12. Children must be accompanied by an adult at all times.
Website: external link
Contact:Smart Museum of Art
Persons with disabilities who need an accommodation in order to participate in this event should contact the event sponsor for assistance. For events on, please contact ORCSA at (773) 702-8787.
Information on Assistive Listening Device external link

To get to Hyde Park we take the Lake Front Path down to Promontory Point since we haven't found a good route on city streets.  We go through the tunnel westward under Lakeshore Drive just before the Museum of Science and Industry, at 56th street. From here you can ride straight across 56th to Greenwood where the museum is just a bit north of you, but it goes against traffic for part of the way. You can take 57th for a good part of the way instead, where there is coffee at Z & H (never at Medici, home of the worst coffee in Chicago, including vending machines). Smart has a cafe with OK coffee and little snacks too.
lots of bikes in Hyde Park - there's still no snow!

Promontory Point, at roughly 55th street, is great for cook outs if you can fit all the things on your bike! They have fire circles so you don't need a grill, just a rack or sticks to hold the food above the fire. OK, not really the right time of year for this information, but a winter fire can be really fun too.

The Skating Rink on the Midway Plaisance is one of our favorites, free if you have your own skates and $6 to rent a pair from them. It's been open despite the lack of snow. They have a terrific warming house and little cafe. 312 745 2470.

Robie House on 58th and Woodlawn is a famous wonderful restored Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece and they offer kids tours based on the book The Wright 3, a mystery solved by kids who live in Hyde Park. They also have a free self guided neighborhod map you can get at the visitor's center of the important places in the book- just ask at the desk. The tour of the house is not cheap but it is special for kids who love the books. The Robie house is a great first visit for a kid learning about FLW.

The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago is amazing, the perfect size for kids and lots of impressive statues and Egyptian, Abyssinian, Mesopotamian, etc things to see. The Museum atmosphere is  magical and mysterious. We find it is easy for the kids to get close to beautiful ancient  objects here without getting overwhelmed. There are small interactive computer kiosks scattered in each exhibit with fun games and information about the collection. Movies about the Middle East and Levant are screened on Sundays.Donation requested.
tut tut.

SHoP- Southside hub of Production, in the house just north of the Unitarian Church on Woodlawn, has ever-changing projects and events and a project room for kids. They are housed in the old Fenn mansion with oodles of room to explore. They have quirky innovative kid programs that are really fun.

Bonjour French Bakery has good sandwiches and little baked things across from DJs Bike Doctor (Raleigh parts) in the Treasure Island mall on Lake Park Avenue just north of 55th st (Lake Park parallels the Metra tracks).

Z and H is the only place with drinkable coffee on 57th st.

Hyde Park Art Center, S Hyde Park Blvd between 55 and 56th, also has a good cafe.

Blackstone Bikes refurbishes bikes and has a youth program.

57th Street bookstore has a great children department. It has a lovely quiet feeling for browsing that is very comfortable. The children's section is hidden away in the back of the shop.We find they have an especially strong selection of children's books and graphic novels for every kid. They have our favorite selection in the city for middle readers about eight to twelve years old. It's probably our favorite store in Hyde Park.

Rajun Cajun is our favorite place to eat in Hyde Park, with a little soul food and lots of fresh Indian dishes in a fast food atmosphere. It's on 53rd near Harper. Try the chai.