CHICAGO – There’s no mistaking when the Brewers are hosting the Chicago Cubs at Miller Park. Even The New York Times has noticed.
I-94 northbound is packed with cars with Land of Lincoln plates and Cubbies adornments, and the stadium is awash in blue, but not the darker blue and gold of the Brewers’ faithful. Rather the royal blue, trimmed with red, of the North Side fans.
But head to Wrigleyville to catch the Crew as visitors against the Cubs, and the situation is not reversed. During a recent I-94 rivalry series, I rode the Red Line to Addison and Sheffield and, while I spotted a few Brewers hats and shirts, it was just that: a few.
Come on, Milwaukee, represent. After all, there’s hardly a better place to road trip to a ball game than the Windy City. It’s nearby – a quick trip by car or, even better, by train – and you can be part of the Brewers’ road crew.
Here are some recommendations for a sports-fueled trip to see the Brewers face the Cubs at Wrigley Field, which you can do next week as the Crew heads to Wrigleyville Sept. 15-18.
Set up shop at a Downtown hotel, where you’ll be centrally located. I recently chose the InterContinental, which is a gorgeous modern hotel, right on the Magnificent Mile, and located in the historic Medinah Athletic Club. The location can’t be beat, and the staff and the rooms are top-notch.
While you’re there, don’t miss the 14th-floor pool, which is like something out of a fairy-tale oasis, with elaborate tile work and plenty of places to lounge around. The dip has been dubbed the Johnny Weissmuller Pool because the Olympian and Hollywood star used to train there. There's also a pretty great hotel fitness center attached.
See a game or two or three. There is perhaps no better venue for a Major League Baseball game than Wrigley Field. While a generation of stadia have attempted to recreate the vibe of the classic ballyard, Wrigley opened in 1918 and has remained the real deal. It’s no frills, but that’s its charm. This is a temple to baseball (regardless of your opinion of its home team), where, despite the addition of some flashy boards, the focus is still on baseball.
In all my years visiting as a Brewers (and Mets) fan, the Cubs faithful have never given me anything more than good-natured guff, but you might consider avoiding the rowdier bleachers if you plan on cheering for the visitors.
If you want to get a taste of home, stop at the RumChata Oasis on the third base-side concourse.
Rockit Burger Bar
While you’re in the neighborhood, walk across Clark Street to Rockit Burger Bar, where you can get some outrageously sized and outrageously scrumptious burgers, like the BFD (with fried egg, bacon, five-year cheddar and a glazed donut bun) and the Mac & Cheese Attack (a quarter-pounder sandwiched between a mac and cheese bun), which has been featured on the "Today" show and "Good Morning America."
I chose the Localvore (pictured above), with Wisconsin’s own Nueske’s bacon and Nordic Creamery smoked cheese (from Westby) on a pretzel bun and with a Goose Island beer-battered onion ring on top. Don’t miss the quirky, hearty apps, either, including Rockit Pockits with chopped steak, caramelized onion and Rockit sauce in a crispy wrap, and the deep fried mac and cheese bites, which come with sriracha ketchup.
I’d say save room for one of the shakes – I recommend the caramel banana (pictured above) – but, what the hell, just go for it all.
Chicago Sports Museum
Although Harry Caray’s Restaurant Group calls it the Chicago Sports Museum, located in the Water Tower Place mall, the venue is more a sports experience with some memorabilia, but lots of interactive attractions, like a place to record your own sports broadcast, the chance to compare your air skills to Jordan’s and see if you can hurl one as fast as Arrieta.
For a more unique experience, head to Little Italy on the near west side to check out the ...
National Italian-American Sports Hall of Fame
Founded as the Italian American Boxing Hall of Fame in 1977 as a fundraiser for a struggling youth program, the Hall has since been expanded to include all sports, and you’ll find tributes not only to Rocky Graziano, Jake LaMotta and Primo Carnera, but also to Joe DiMaggio, Eddie Arcaro and, yes, Vince Lombardi. Tip: the rooftop terrace offers an incomparable view of the Chicago skyline.
Raised Bar rooftop
For a rooftop view in the thick of it all, check out Raised Bar at the Renaissance Hotel on Wacker and State. It’s not especially high up, but the view of the Chicago River and landmarks like The Wrigley Building, Tribune Tower, the matching Marina Towers and, yes, even the old Medinah Athletic Club (InterContinental) is pretty great. It’s perfect for people-watching, both at the bar and down below at street level.
When I visited, I expected a relatively brief pop-in for a refresher but ended up passing three hours, under first the sun and then the stars, chatting with some folks I met on the patio, enjoying some delicious seafood – do not miss the calamari (called Mixto on the menu) or the fresh lobster rolls – and creative cocktails. There’s no sports theme here, but, hey, ya gotta eat. Get a taste of Wisconsin with the Apple Blossom Brandy Old Fashioned, with Laird’s Apple Brandy, jasmine liqueur, rosemary-green apple demerara and apple bitters. It’s unlike anything you’ve likely tasted before.
Although it’s called U.S. Cellular Field (and will soon, and ill-advisedly, be renamed Guaranteed Rate Field), I’ll always call the home of the South Side White Sox "new Comiskey." And if you can work the MLB schedule and your own, check out a game there, too. After all, the Sox came to Milwaukee in the 1960s to nourish a baseball-hungry town and for a brief moment almost became the Milwaukee White Sox.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in an episode of TV's "Party of Five," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.