Chicago’s Surprising Namesake

This week, we celebrate the 180th anniversary of a “small settlement” called Chicago. On August 12, 1833, the city was founded with the expectation that it would become a transportation hub, thanks to its location along both Lake Michigan and the Chicago River. Though we now associate the city with incredible jazz and astounding cuisine, the origins of Chicago itself are slightly less glamorous.

The word “Chicago” is a French adaptation of the Native American term “shikaakwa,” meaning “stinky onion”—a reference to the wild onions (what we now call ramps) that grew in abundance along the banks of the river. But from Chicago’s humble beginnings as an odorous spring veggie, the city grew to become not only a transportation center, but also the primary cosmopolitan destination of the Midwest.

This 1858 shot shows the Illinois Central Railroad Depot on the banks of the Chicago River, which is now the location of Millennium Park.

River Train Station

Photo: Chicago Historical Society via

For history buffs looking to dive further into city’s backstory, check out these SideTour experiences: Explore Chicago history on a river walk and brunch excursion and find the hidden stories of a famous Chicago neighborhood.



Bacon, the Beachfront, and Karaoke: 12 Hours in Chicago with Shuhei Yamamoto

By day, Shuhei Yamamoto is a marketing guru, managing social media for the national education non-profit Teach For America. By night, he lets loose playing shows across Chicago with his indie rock band Pet Lions. His perfect summer day in the city touches upon all the best things in life: bacon, the beach and karaoke.


Photo: All rights reserved Chicago Magazine 

12:00PM: Three words: Country Fried Bacon

I’m actually cheating a little bit by starting in Evanston, the first suburb north of Chicago. Home to Northwestern University, Evanston is a picturesque town with plenty to explore, but the true gem here is amazingly named Wiener and Still Champion. I was introduced to this greasy hot dog joint by our band’s drummer while we were recording at a nearby studio, and—don’t get me wrong —the hot dogs are delicious, but the highlight is the country fried bacon. It’s exactly what it sounds like: Bacon that’s breaded and fried, which is literally the only thing that can be done to improve bacon. And of course, to ensure that it’s the least healthy food you’ve ever consumed, it’s served with hot sauce.

country fried bacon

Photo: All rights reserved Wiener and Still Champion

1:30PM: Recover at the beach

Drag your now-comatose body to the train station and take it south into Chicago to get to the vast Montrose Beach in the Uptown neighborhood. You’ll still be in country-fried-bacon-recovery mode, so depending on the type of person you are, you’ll either 1) attempt to work off the three million calories you just ate at one of the public volleyball courts or soccer fields, or 2) just lay there for a while. I would choose option #2 and I would recommend doing so at the Montrose Dog Beach, where you can watch a bunch of pups splashing around in the water and having the time of their lives.


Photo: Montrose Beach Wikimedia

4:00PM: A bike store/coffee shop

Bring a book to Heritage Bicycles General Store in Lakeview, a super cool handcrafted bicycle store that doubles as a neighborhood coffee shop. Reenergize with some caffeine to get ready for the evening. I live nearby so I occasionally bring my laptop over and work from Heritage, trying my best to fit in with the actual coffee-drinking bicyclists there (I am a tea-drinking public-commuter).


Photo: All rights reserved Melissa Salvatore, The Architect’s Newspaper

6:00PM: A 19th century bar

Take the Ashland bus all the way down to the Noble Square neighborhood. Tucked into the corner of a residential street you’ll find the Chipp Inn, a cozy tavern that opened back in 1897. It’s still pretty old-fashioned—it doesn’t even have a website. Grab a cheap beer and play some pool until you’re ready for dinner.

chip inn

Photo: All rights reserved David Murray, Huffington Post

7:30PM: Chef’s choice sushi

Just a quick ride away is Kai Zan, a sushi restaurant in the Humboldt Park neighborhood. Opened last year, Kai Zan started as a tiny 22-seat hole-in-the-wall but has recently expanded to triple its original size, so you shouldn’t have too much trouble getting a seat. There is technically a menu, but it’d be a mistake to not order the chef’s choice course menu, or omakase. It’s not just the best sushi in Chicago—it’s probably the best meal I’ve had in my six years living here. Don’t forget to buy some alcohol on the way here—it’s a BYOB restaurant.


Photo: All rights reserved Time Out Chicago

10:00PM: Dive bar karaoke

Now that you’ve got some liquid courage, it’s time to call a cab and head back north to Alice’s Lounge in the Avondale neighborhood for karaoke. The first time I walked in here, there were literally two people there, excluding the bartender and the old man setting up the karaoke machine. Two hours later, the place was packed while some dude belted out Harvey Danger’s “Flagpole Sitta.” The three best things about Alice’s:
1) There are no MC’s who perform in between every song, which means you aren’t waiting three hours after you sign up to sing.
2) The song list is relatively up-to-date. Brand new radio hits might not be on there, but unlike most karaoke bars where the most recent song on the list is “Baby One More Time,” Alice’s actually has songs from the past year.
3) Since Avondale is not known for its nightlife, if someone is at Alice’s, then they’re there to sing karaoke. Most of the crowd is an active participant in the festivities.
Now excuse me while I perform “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It” to a room full of strangers.


Photo: Shuhei Yamamoto

Looking for more Chicago summertime adventures? Boost your grilling skills, explore the architecture of the city’s bridges and more.


Recipe for Savory Pancakes: Spinach Artichoke Melt

SideTour host and Babycakes Truck pancake purveyor Leah Wilcox knows that the pancake is much more than just a vehicle for maple syrup. To prove it, she invented over 200 original pancake recipes, both sweet and savory. This cheesy, veggie-laden creation is perfect for a gourmet lunch or dinner entrée.

Spinach Artichoke Melt

(Makes 6-8 servings)


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Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C.

Celebrate the 4th of July Spirit with SideTour

Enjoying our country’s independence with your family and friends doesn’t have to end at the fireworks. Keep the spirit going at a SideTour that ups your grilling game, boosts your bartending skills or even teaches you a thing or two about the American Revolution itself.



Become a Grill Master Expand your repertoire beyond hotdogs and hamburgers in this upcoming SideTour, where you’ll prep and grill impressive recipes including grilled guacamole, Chimichurri steak, whiskey pineapple and bacon-wrapped shrimp.

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Make Delicious Gluten-Free Herb Crackers

Self-taught chef and SideTour host Charis Chia is passionate about cooking with the freshest local ingredients, especially when she’s crafting her signature gluten-free dishes. Like most gluten-free recipes, this is an adaptation of a non-GF cracker recipe, and Charis was drawn to this one in particular for its use of flavorful herbs. She developed this recipe knowing that she wanted something a bit heftier and heartier than your typical gluten-free cracker. Serve these with any of your favorite cracker toppings like cheese, spreads, dips, etc. 


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Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C.

Dive Into Team Building That’s Actually Worth the Instagramming


Harvard alumni group making paella at a 3-course Spanish feast.

At SideTour, trust falls and rope courses just aren’t our style—and it looks like a ton of awesome businesses and clubs agree with us. We’re thrilled to say that the past few months have been super busy for SideTour for Companies, working with dozens of groups as diverse as Microsoft to OKCupid to Vanderbilt’s alumni network. Continue Reading


This Weekend: 5 Great Walks in Chicago

Don’t let your weekend blow by. This Saturday or Sunday, go for a breezy stroll in the Windy City, seeing a new side of the city on a narrated walking adventure with a knowledgeable SideTour host.

Gold Coast Architecture Walk Spend your Saturday morning walking among the rich and famous of Chicago’s Gold Coast. You’ll learn how this former swampland became the home of some of the finest residences in the city, and get a truly inside look at how the other half live, with exclusive access to private homes not usually open to the public.

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Recipe to Make Right Now: Fresh Strawberry and Rhubarb Jam

SideTour host and Chicago-based locavore Andrea Mattson breaks out this recipe every strawberry season to take advantage of the availability of the fresh fruit. Featuring locally grown strawberries and rhubarb, this jam is simple and sweet and allows those favorite flavors of late spring to shine.

If possible, pick up the ingredients from your local farmers’ market. Andrea believes you’ll get better flavor, and it’s always good to support small farmers and the goodness of sustainable growing practices.

Strawberry and Rhubarb Jam

(Makes 6-8 half pint jars of jam) Continue Reading


The Insider’s Guide to Chicago Blues Fest

Starting tonight, for the 30th year, top blues artists—and the half-million spectators they expect to draw—descend upon two Chicago parks to celebrate the past, present and future of the genre. Here’s our thoughts on what not to miss.

Photo: Some rights reserved by unbearable lightness

What To Do Tonight Clear your evening plans to blast into blues’ future when the “New Queen of the Blues” Shemekia Copeland and 14-year-old guitar prodigy Quinn Sullivan headline the festival’s opening night at Millennium Park’s Jay Pritzker Pavilion. Opening acts start at 6:30pm, but get there early to secure a prime spot. Continue Reading


Make Your Own Spicy Chocolate Truffles

Chicago chocolatier and SideTour host Uzma Sharif handcrafts a distinct collection of “East Meets West” chocolates inspired by her grandfather, a renowned South Asian pastry chef. The recipe here adds heat to her delectable dark chocolate truffles in the form of cayenne pepper and Mexican cinnamon, similar to the cocoa creations she sells in her Pilsen shop, Chocolat Uzma Sharif.

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