When it comes to sports, Chicago has a long, proud history. The city is home to franchises in the four major American sports (football, basketball, baseball, and hockey) — all of which have been at the top of their game at one point or another — and it even has its own Chicago Sports Museum where you can delve into the history of these teams. What’s more, the revival of soccer in the United States is evident here in the form of the local Major League Soccer franchise, the Fire. German World Cup winner Bastian Schweinsteiger made worldwide headlines by signing for the team last year.
To give an impression of the city’s success, the Bears are the winningest team in NFL history, even holding the record for the most inductees to the league’s Hall of Fame. The Bulls won six NBA championships in the 1990s with all-time great Michael Jordan. The Chicago Cubs were the focus of the sporting world last year, when they ended a 108-year MLB championship drought by winning the World Series. Last but not least, the Blackhawks are the most widely supported NHL franchise, having won the Stanley Cup three times since 2010.
All of this is good news for sports fans traveling to the city, but the level of obsession might be a little overwhelming. Whether you’re looking to attend a game, find a spot to watch with a beer and some great atmosphere, or get involved with recreational sports in Chicago, here’s your official game plan.
Though the Bears have come upon hard times in recent seasons, Chicago’s football fever has not subsided. Because it’s a major city in the middle of the country, fans of teams from all over the U.S. live and travel here for games.
If you plan on catching a game at Soldier Field, you have a couple of transportation options. From downtown, the best bet is to catch the #128 Soldier Field Express Bus from Union Station. This rail station does not connect to the rapid transit lines of the city’s metro, but it’s just a short walk west of Quincy station in the Loop. Just go past Willis Tower and across the river. This is especially convenient if you’ve come from Midway Airport, since the the orange line goes all the way to Quincy. From O’Hare, take the blue line to Clinton, and walk two blocks north to Union.
For a gametime experience in the city, look no further than Chicago’s incredible selection of sports bars. The best bet for a great atmosphere during a Bears game is the Scout, located near a major metro stop at Roosevelt. The bar opens early (9 a.m.) for noon kickoffs, so grab a seat before it gets busy and settle in with one or two of their 100+ craft beers. A few blocks away, Kroll’s is another local favorite for all sports — though it’s really a hotspot for Packers fans.
If you want to catch a major college game or a contest between NFL teams beside the Bears, there are bars throughout the city with allegiances to certain teams. Check out this page for college bars and this one for the NFL. Of course, if the game you’re after isn’t being shown at a particular bar, don’t be afraid to ask the bartender to change the channel.
Cubs culture is everywhere in Chicago, but the energy of Wrigley Field and the surrounding area on game day (especially during the playoffs) is not to be missed. The park is easily accessed on the metro’s red line, and disembarking at Belmont or Sheridan allows a pleasant walk to the stadium that captures Wrigleyville’s atmosphere without the crazy crowds (so long as you’re on time). Whatever you do, do not take ground transportation to Wrigley — the traffic will result in exorbitant fares.
Once you’re there, your viewing experience will be completely up to you. Gates open two hours prior to the start of games, the 48 bars and restaurants surrounding the park open even earlier (usually around 10 a.m., regardless of start time), and there are rooftop terraces on all sides of the field available for reservation. The cheapest option is getting a general admission ticket and bringing your own food into Wrigley, since it’s allowed.
For a uniquely Chicagoan experience, drink at Slugger’s, and visit their upstairs batting cages. A slightly more laid-back atmosphere (relatively speaking) can be found at Lucky Dorr or Merkle’s Bar and Grill, smaller spaces that offer exclusively local beers on tap.
After a sunny afternoon in Wrigleyville, stroll over to the old Music Box Theatre on Southport Ave. and enjoy a cocktail in the lounge before catching a quirky film (such as “The Room” or “Rocky Horror Picture Show”) in the refreshing air conditioning. The venue is a Chicago landmark that opened in 1929 and has an auditorium capacity of 3,000.
Basketball and Hockey
Conveniently, the United Center on W Madison St. is the home of both the Bulls and Blackhawks. You can get there by taking the L’s green or pink lines to Ashland station. If you’re coming on the blue line from O’Hare, get off at Illinois Medical District for a 10-minute walk to the arena.
Before your game, take advantage of the great eats in the area. The Billy Goat Tavern is paradoxically a famous hole-in-the-wall, a self-effacing and straightforward dive with the grease you’d expect from a burger joint, but with a few tricks up its sleeve, too — such as housemade beers on tap.
The Palace Grill is another nearby Chicago institution, a classic American diner with a lunch counter that’s been serving up omelettes and other eats since 1938. Every inch of the walls is covered in Chicago sports memorabilia, with Blackhawks relics taking center stage. The food is home-cooked, the portions are large, and the prices are fair. It’s also right next to Johnny’s Ice House, the open practice facility used by the Hawks.
For a sharper-edged experience, head to the gastropub Kaiser Tiger. The beer selection is unrivalled, and, as the name suggests, this place is as eclectic at the city itself. German- and Polish-style sausages are the main fare and inspiration, but the pub is also a go-to venue for traditional music on St. Patrick’s Day.
Get to the stadium early to get up close and personal with the team. Regardless of where you’re sitting for a Bulls game, you should be able to walk around the 100 level if you’re early enough, and the stewards might even let you stay for a close-up of the team shootaround. The same goes for Hawks warm-ups, where technical assistants have been known to hand out practice pucks.
The Chicago Fire’s stadium, Toyota Park, is located in the suburb of Bridgeview, so transportation options are a bit limited. Using public services, you can take the orange line to Midway station and board the Toyota Park Express bus. It runs every 20 minutes, beginning two hours before kickoff. Taxis and Ubers can also drop passengers off in the East Lot.
Even if you don’t make it to a game, you can easily tune into Chicago’s passion for soccer just by staying in the city center. With the World Cup underway, there’s never been a better time to visit the city’s vibrant pubs. The Irish influence on the city shines through in these establishments, whose patrons take their soccer (read: football) very seriously.
No place better proves this point than the Globe, a pub that often sees out-the-door lines that would be the envy of any nightclub’s. AJ Hudson’s and Cleo’s are similar stories, but don’t be put off by the crowds. Heineken Pub 97 is unique among the lot as it’s located next to Chicago’s major recreational soccer facility, the CIBC Fire Pitch.
Besides professional team sports, Chicago is also replete with recreational opportunities for the everyday citizen. S3 Leagues offer everything from flag football to beach volleyball, and as they’re accommodating of single participants, you don’t have to worry about finding a team. If you’ve just moved to the city, their bar events are a great way to get out and meet new people.
Chicago Fire Rec Soccer (mentioned above) offers deals to its players on tickets to the team’s games, including exclusive shuttle service to and from the pub of your choosing. If you play in any of their leagues, you’ll have the extra benefit of a bar located immediately next to the pitch — you can pop over once you’ve finished your game.
There are also fantastic cycling and running clubs in the city. The Chain Link is a resource for all Chicagoans who cycle, organizing its own member events (with 100+ groups, including one for botanists and one for beer enthusiasts), participating in races and charity rides as a collective, and putting cyclists in touch with other group rides. The Chicago Area Running Association offers training for every distance — from 5K to full marathons — from professional instructors, and members get discounts at participating businesses in the city. There is an annual membership fee of $35.
Casual sports fans and diehard fanatics alike will delight in the richness of Chicago’s sporting culture, which provides visitors and new residents the perfect inroads to discovering the city and its people. If you have other recommendations on things to do or see related to Chicago sports, get in touch!