Chicago is the leading cultural center of Middle America and boasts of the most diverse nightlife in the region. Windy City theatres, restaurants, bars, and raging dance clubs where the party rocks into all hours of the night characterize the scene. Although partying is not typically associated with public transportation – the complex Chicago mass transit network does afford opportunities to enjoy the nighttime electricity.
Effectively taking public transportation to Chicago nightlife arrives in two primary components. First, partygoers must identify and locate the neighborhoods that feature adequate clusters of nightlife to make the trip worthwhile. Secondly, Chicagoans and tourists must reconcile these areas with the public transportation system lines and schedules to ensure that late-night service is available to that particular focal point.
Metra commuter rail and the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) are the two branches of the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) that serves Chicago. Metra lines radiate from Chicago’s downtown core with service to various suburban endpoints, such as Joliet, Naperville, Elgin, and Kenosha, Wisconsin. CTA Trains converge upon The Loop and encircle Chicago’s commercial district from all sides of the Windy City.
All aboard Metra Trains from downtown Chicago at 12:30 a.m. Obviously, ditching the party at midnight to catch the last train out of town is pure madness. Taking Metra commuter rail is not a viable option to enjoy Chicago nightlife. Although various CTA train and bus lines shut down into the early morning hours – the Red and Blue Lines both provide 24-hour service.
Several CTA bus lines do also offer OWL 24 – hour service. However, riding the bus to the club late at night from an isolated stop is not exactly cool, or safe.
The Blue Line enters the city from Oak Park, IL via the I-290 Eisenhower Expressway and barrels underneath the Loop before reversing course and heading northwest to O’Hare Airport. The Red Line carries public transportation traffic between Howard and 95th Streets on the Far North and South Sides. The Red Line is particularly critical for clubbers and typically becomes a Party Train from Grand to Belmont throughout the night.
Chicago neighborhoods that teem of nightlife and are bisected by these lines include the Loop, South Loop, River North, Wicker Park, Lincoln Park, and Lakeview. All of these areas are downtown and north – highlighting the weaknesses of a city that is very segregated, historically.
CTA fares cost $2.25 per one-way travel.
This guide details how to take public transportation, particularly the CTA to enjoy Chicago nightlife from all sides of the city. The directives are appropriate for both tourists and locals.
How to Use Public Transportation to Enjoy Chicago Nightlife from the CTA Red Line
Again, the CTA Red Line bisects the City of Chicago from Howard Street to 95th Street and the Dan Ryan. Logically, north bound trains flash “Howard” and south bound trains will display “95 / Dan Ryan.”
North Siders will pick up the Red Line along Sheridan Road from Howard Street (Paulina) to Loyola University, where the Red Line then traces a right-of-way that is largely between Sheridan and Broadway towards Irving Park Road. South of Irving, the Red Line parallels Sheffield Avenue into Lincoln Park before transitioning into the River North and Chicago Loop as the State Street subway.
Partygoers from the Northwest Side can take the Blue Line at the Kennedy Expressway from O’Hare to Addison Street. The Blue Line dips south at Addison and stops at Belmont before tracking Milwaukee Avenue into downtown. Blue Line socialites will transfer to the Red Line at Jackson by following the color-coded tunnel featuring red and blue highlights throughout the walkway.
The Red Line does stop at Lake, Washington, Monroe, and Jackson beneath the Chicago Loop. Again, the Jackson stop is a transfer point for the 24-hour Blue Line, which is of particular importance to Chicago nightlife per public transportation, in its own right.
South Siders will access the Red Line at the I-90/94 Dan Ryan Expressway. The Red Line barrels through the Ryan median with stations at 95th, 87th, 79th, 69th, 63rd, Garfield (55th), 47th, and 35th streets. These trains then enter the South Loop with stops at Cermak Road and Roosevelt.
Per the Red Line, the crowd becomes increasingly more authentic the further one travels from the Loop.
The Chicago theatre district is centered upon Washington, Randolph, and State Streets in the Loop. The legendary Chicago Theatre is at 175 N. State (Lake) and Cadillac Palace Theatre is at 151 W. Randolph Street, within close proximity to the Red Line. Outside of these cultural icons and a smattering of sports bars along Wabash, the Chicago Loop is largely dead at night.
Although some bars and taverns, such as Tantrum (1023 S. State) and Wabash Tap (1233 S. Wabash) are indeed located within the South Loop neighborhood per the Roosevelt station – the majority of Chicago nightlife will be accessed via northbound Red Line trains marked as “Howard” from downtown.
Grand, Chicago, Clark – Division, Fullerton, Belmont, and Addison are important stops along the Red Line for nightlife. Grand and Chicago are River North stations at State Street within close proximity to the ESPN Zone, Hard Rock Café, Excalibur, Dave and Busters, Vision Nightclub, Ontourage, and the infinite amounts of bars, clubs, and restaurants that line Ontario Street.
Rush Street is one short walk to the north of the Chicago Avenue Red Line stop. Rush is where elite Chicago converges to party and serves as the automatic nightlife destination for all out of town celebrities visiting the Windy City. Gibson’s Bar and Steakhouse at 1028 N. Rush Street is the leading Chicago staple on Rush. Certainly, serious socialites will arrive at Rush Street suited and booted.
The confluence of Rush, State, and Oak streets is referred to as the “Viagara Triangle,” noted for rich, older gentlemen parading young blondes around town as arm candy.
The Red Line Clark – Division stop grants entrée onto Division Street – which features a bar scene that is more so laid back and casual than Rush Street. These spots are often “come as you are” locations that are palatable to drinkers and rock and rollers. Division pubs include Bootleggers, Mother’s, Shenannigans, and The Lodge. The clientele here is mostly white, aged 21 to 25, and the prevailing look degenerates towards cargo pants, button downs, and frayed baseball caps.
Partygoers may continue north to the Fullerton elevated (el) Red Line platform, which is situated between DePaul University and the Lincoln Avenue corridor. Lincoln Avenue, just to the east of the Fullerton stop is lined with bars often dominated by DePaul students and freshly minted Big 10 alumni.
Further North, the scene at Wrigleyville is a total madhouse on Cubs game nights. Exit the CTA Red Line Addison platform and walk west towards Clark Street, which is dominated with numerous sports bars, pubs, and taverns. The Cubby Bear at 1059 W. Addison is a 30,000 square feet entertainment complex that shares the very same intersection as the iconic Chicago Cubs – Wrigley Field marquee.
Interestingly, reggae connoisseurs will be treated to live music at the Wild Hare and the Exedus II Lounge located at 3530 and 3477 N. Clark Street, respectively. These two reggae clubs represent small pockets of diversity amidst a North Side that is largely homogenous.
Obviously, The Broadway Avenue – Sheridan Road strip at the Loyola elevated is packed with bars that cater to this university demographic. The Pumping Company at 6157 N. Broadway is actually located off the Granville Red Line el and is a popular Loyola watering hole.
Lastly, Belmont is the epicenter of Chicago’s LGBT community per the Red Line. Boys Town is where anything goes.
How to Use Public Transportation to Enjoy Chicago Nightlife from the CTA Blue Line
The Blue Line offers 24 – hour service between O’Hare Airport and the suburb of Forest Park, IL. Trains headed towards the north and west flash “O’Hare” and cars due to the south and west are marked by “Forest Park.” Although Blue Line nightlife is not as prolific as the aforementioned Red – we will identify the few pockets of vibrancy that do exist.
The Blue Line is also noted as the Dearborn Street subway and stops downtown at Jackson, Monroe, and Washington. Jackson is a key transfer point to the North-South Red Line, whereas the Washington platform marks Chicago’s Theatre District.
From O’Hare, these trains track the Kennedy Expressway / Milwaukee Avenue corridors before entering the Chicago Loop at Clark and Lake. Jefferson Park (Kennedy-Lawrence-Milwaukee), Irving Park (Kennedy), Logan Square (Milwaukee – Kedzie), and Western (Milwaukee) are important platforms to access the CTA system from the Northwest Side.
The Blue Line turns sharply to the west of downtown, with service along the Eisenhower “Ike” Expressway into the West Side and Oak Park.
Suburbanites will pick up the Blue Line at Forest Park (Van Buren – Des Plaines), Harlem, and Oak Park (Wesley – Ike) before joining West Side Chicagoans that access the trains from Austin, Cicero, Pulaski, Kedzie, Western, Racine, Halsted, and Clinton (Congress Pkwy.) at the Eisenhower Expressway.
Clubbers seeking out Chicago nightlife per the CTA Blue Line may elect to make their first stop at Grand. Grand Avenue actually marks the six-corner intersection of Grand, Halsted, and Milwaukee. This is the West Town warehouse and industrial district located just to the northwest of the Loop.
The Funky Buddha Lounge, often cited as Chicago’s best dance club draws an eclectic mix of hipsters and is located at 728 W. Grand Avenue – just off of the Blue Line Grand stop. The Buddha Lounge translates into a Pharell Williams, skateboarder chic multiculturalism, overnight.
Red No. Five is a more exclusive club located at 440 N. Halsted Street, which is also within close proximity to the Grand station. Attendees here will be dressed to the nines and guests taking public transportation to this nightspot must exude confidence upon the very moment that they dare to exit the subway.
The electric Wicker Park neighborhood is further to the north; and Chicago nightlife denizens will be deposited at the Damen elevated platform per the Blue Line. This bustling section is dominated with sports bars, karaoke clubs and partygoers lining North, Damen, and Milwaukee Avenues in all directions. Café Absinthe is a critically acclaimed restaurant at 1958 W. North Avenue and Subterranean is a throbbing dance club at 2011 W. North, where the party never stops.
D’Vine Restaurant and Wine Bar at 1650 W. North Avenue is also notable for top shelf deejays spinning the latest in hip-hop. D’Vine is one of the few North Side clubs that aggressively embraces the young African American partygoer.
The more adventurous of sorts will elect to proceed even further north to the California Blue Line stop. Tini Martini, Chicago’s self-proclaimed “#1 Two-Room Ultra Lounge” is located at 2169 N. Milwaukee Avenue.
We Pop Champagne…
Taking Public Transportation to Chicago Nightlife, Sources:
City of Chicago Official Web Site, http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/webportal/home.do
Chicago Transit Authority, http://www.transitchicago.com/
Chicago Nightlife, http://www.chicagonightlife.com/
Metromix Chicago, Chicago Restaurants, Nightlife, and Events Guide, http://chicago.metromix.com/