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!

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