Attending Microsoft Ignite? A Local’s Guide to Chicago

Hey y’all, Mark back again this time with a completely non-technical post. As you’ve probably heard by now, Microsoft Ignite is taking place in Chicago May 4-8th. This is great news as many of us from this blog actually live in Chicago and hope to see some of you folks there! I also know sometimes when people attend a conference they sometimes stick around and make it a three day weekend to see the sights. We thought it might be helpful to give our community some tips of things to do, see and drink while they are in Chicago from folks that live there This post is NOT meant for you to go all Ferris Buller and skip the conference. You wont want to miss it anyways.

 

Why Go

Transportation

Entertainment

Food

Breweries

 

Why Go?

We want you to attend so badly we’ve already got a nice pre-written email for you to use. Honestly before I joined Microsoft I went to as many of these things as I could. I always learned an amazing amount of information, got my difficult questions answered, and would meet awesome people in the field. I was even one of the early TheKrewe members community which has now grown to 1,000+ strong. I’ve always had a great experience. I wont spend too much time on this but if you are reading this post you are either going or thinking about going. Just go Smile.

 

Transportation

You probably do not need a rental car. Really. The MS Ignite hotel section says there will be shuttles between the hotels and the McCormick Place Convention Center so you are good to go for that. But what about getting from the airport to your hotel? You can take a cab which are plentiful around those parts or you can rely on Chicago’s wonderful and simple transportation system. I’ll make it really easy for you. If you are landing at O’Hare airport (ORD and my home away from home) you can take the Blue line into the loop. If you are landing at Midway (MDW) you can take the Orange line into the loop. Great news both the airports are the last stop on those lines so you can only go one way. Not even Hilde could screw that up. If you need to once you are in the loop you can take a cab to your hotel which will be much cheaper. Best of all the train ride will cost $5 or less. More info here.

 

Entertainment

There are obviously LOTS of things to see and do in Chicago. I’m only going to hit a few that tend to get overlooked.

The Museums– Everyone always goes to the Field Museum, the Shedd Aquarium and the Art Institute. All of these are fantastic no question. However two museums that everyone always overlooks are the Adler Planetarium and the Museum of Science and Industry. Lots of places have dinosaur bones, not everywhere has a planetarium. Adler is located right near the field and Shedd museums. If you can’t get excited about the universe I can’t help you. The Museum of Science and Industry is located a bit farther than the others but has lots of unique things. Ever want to get inside a submarine? It’s great.

Really Tall Buildings– Everyone always wants to check out the Sears/Willis tower. They have a skydeck where you can step out into this enclosed glass box. You can see pictures on the site. I’ve only ever gone here with people that are out of town. As a local though I know another spot you might want to check out. The Signature room at the 95th in the John Hancock building offers similar views but with the added bonus of being able to drink an adult beverage of your choice at the same time. If the line for the skydeck is way too long check out the Signature room or if you just want a drink while you stare out over the city. Another place to be outside is the Roof on the Wit. It’s a great spot to be but be warned there might be a line.

Music– Chicago home of the Blues Brothers is known for just that, Blues. Kingston Mines and Chicago B.L.U.E.S Bar are located down the street from each other on the north side of the city. If you are staying downtown though there is Buddy Guy’s Legendslocated basically in the loop. Most of these places offer music seven nights a week but check the calendar of each.

Comedy– Chicago is known for being an improv Comedy town. The big place everyone has heard about is the world famous Second City. Many comedians and members of Saturday Night Live have got their start at Second City. The shows are hilarious and are typically sketch like, think Saturday Night Live. There is usually some improv thrown in for good measure. If you want pure improve, and really you are in Chicago so who doesn’t, I recommend you check out Improv Olympic. They take one suggestion from the audience and do an entire 45 minute show around it with different story lines all tying back to one another. It’s great and amazing. Check it out.

Food

Again only going to hit a few here.

Pizza– The big ones are Gino’s East, Giordanos, and Lou Malnatis. All good in their own way. It’s actually hard to get bad pizza in Chicago. Just stay away from the chains. If deep dish isn’t for you we do still have thin crust in the city limits. I hope you were sitting down for that last part. All these places also make great thin crust pizza. Some other favorites that all the locals know about would be Piece Pizza and Pequods. Piece has great “white” pizza aka no sauce and garlic. Check these out. You are in Chicago though, get deep dish and then take a nap.

Hot Dog– The best place WAS Hot Doug’s, but they closed. The line could be 4-6 hours, not even joking which isn’t probably how you want to spend your Saturday. However Portillo’s is quite actually great so just go there. They also have beef sandwiches if that is more your thing or a “combo” which is Italian sausage with roast beef on top. It’s delicious. Here is how you order one of those. You have to indicate if you want it dunked in the sauce (wet) or not (dry) and if you want hot or sweet peppers. If you cant make it to Portillo’s, Al’s Beef is also really good. You can find them in a few spots around town.

Burger Experience-A heavy metal bar that makes great burgers. Go to Kuma’s Corner. The lines can be quite long so try to go off meal hours. Enjoy the atmosphere, it is unique. For those old timers and comedy nerds, be sure to check out Billy Goat Tavern. If you remember the SNL sketch of “Cheezborger! Cheezeborger! Cheezeborger!” That’s where that came from. Just make sure you get frys or they have a different name for you.

Pop-Corn- I know what you are thinking, how is this on the list. When everyone talks about Chicago food they always skip over Garrett’s popcorn. You get the Garrett Mix, Carmel and Cheese Corn combined. If you are flying in and out of O’Hare they have a shop in terminal 1 and terminal 3. Get 2 bags to go. One for you to eat on the plane, one for you to bring home to someone else. They will love it. Trust me.

Breweries

Goose Island-I’m well aware of who recently bought them but the place is exactly the same. Check out Goose Island which has been in Chicago forever. When you order the 312, don’t call it three hundred twelve. It is called three one two, like the Chicago area code. See you sound like a local already!

Half Acre– I’ve seen Daisy Cutter in more and more places which is a good sign for Half Acre. I think they’ve been around since the mid 2000’s and have been going strong ever since. Check em out.

Revolution– This place is great. It’s huge and they have a ton of great beers. Revolution is probably my favorite in the city. You can also find there beer in cans all over the city.

Three Flyods– Technically not in Chicago, it’s actually in Indiana (about 35-40 minutes away) but Three Floyds is insanely popular and sought after outside the midwest. I wanted to at least make everyone aware you are in driving distance to this.

Those are our tips. If you are looking for more stuff check out the Microsoft Ignite Countdown show on Channel 9 with friends of the blog Joey Snow and Rick Claus. They don’t even live in Chicago and they nailed the Portillo’s pick already so you know these guys know what is up. Keep watching and hopefully we’ll get to see some of you at Microsoft Ignite!

Mark “not that windy” Morowczynski