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Detour Chicago

The other day I was fortunate enough to catch the Good Times: A Historic Bar Tour hosted by Chicago Detours.   It’s a walking tour of the covering three quarters of a mile of downtown Chicago in just over two hour and covering a century of history.

The tour began inside the tribune tower where introductions were made.  Our group consisted of Chicagoans, some relatively new to the area, others like myself were lifelong residents.  Several people in our group were issued ipads which contained historical photos and video clips that coincided with the tour.

Our guide was Amanda Scotese, who also is the founder of Chicago Detours.  Amanda was a researcher for Rick Steves (his popular Travels in Europe television series is seen on public television and best selling guidebooks are in stores everywhere)  before starting Chicago Detours in 2010.  With several guides hosting  public and private cultural and historical tours around the city all year round, there’s always an opportunity to see and learn something new.  I’m actually really looking forward to the Our Chicago Sound: Jazz, Blues & Beyond tour this summer.  Having experienced the Historic Bar Tour, I know this is not one to be missed.

First stop of our Historic Bar Tour was just down the street at the Intercontinental Hotel.  We were quizzed by Amanda on  the architectural elements of the building and using those clues were able to ascertain the origin and purpose of the building.  Knowing what the building was about lead into a discussion on the  cultural climate of the time, not only in the Chicago but in America in general when the building first opened it doors.  Pointing out even the smallest details in the decor both inside and out gave us a complete picture of what it must have been like to live back then.  Being there really tells the story in a way books and videos just can’t.

I don’t want to give away too much here as far as the details go since I really want you to go on this tour,  being a life-long resident of Chicago I thought I knew this city.  Amanda with her meticulous research through public records, stacks of books and publications, was able to piece together the complete history of a small sliver of this city…this after all is a walking tour so there’s only so much ground we can cover.  Through lively conversation, commentary, and with help of some images and video on our ipads, she re-introduced me to a city that was hiding in plain site.

The Tribune Tower and Intercontinental were eye-opening from an architectural and cultural perspective but I was wondering when we were going to get the “bar” in this Historic Bar Tour.  The next stop sure enough we got right to it.  Descending down the stairs to lower Michigan Avenue and crossing the street to the Billy Goat Tavern.  Along the way, Amanda told us interesting facts about lower Michigan, even our route was steeped in history.

Upon arriving at Billy Goat Tavern, our group sat down at some tables in the back where we were served either beer or wine.  Sitting there, were were told the amazing story of William “Billy Goat” Sianis and what it took to open this place.  Of course the discussion also covered the Cubs Curse, the “Cheezborger Cheesborger Cheezborger” sketch John Belushi made famous on Saturday Night Live, and how it was a hangout for many great journalist like Mike Royko.

In order to stay on schedule, we only stayed in each place about 15-20 minutes.  Moving on to the next location we walked down Hubbard Street to what is now Phil Stefani’s 437 Rush (Formerly Burt Kelly’s Jazz Club)  There our conversation turned to Chicago during the Prohibition Era, Segregation, and the origin on Jazz.  I never thought twice about this restaurant until Amanda told of its amazing history…made me wonder what else was I missing out on.  While at Phil Stefani’s 437 Rush , we were again served either beer or wine… not sure what the house red is there but it was wonderful.  In addition to drinks, we also had some appetizers.

The next stop we turned north on Rush Street to the lobby of the Marriott by the North Bridge Shops.  Here we discussed cocktail culture of the 1960’s and to test our knowledge, we had an impromptu quiz-show…lot’s of fun and educational.  The evening actually just that… fun and educational.  Amanda, though her facts were thorough, never really lectured but rather engaged us all in lively conversation which lead us to discover a lot for ourselves.  We were all having too much fun to notice we were actually learning a lot.

The last stop took us up Rush Street to Ontario Street at Lawry’s Steak House.  By then we understood the building had “past lives”   In the case of Lawry’s, it was a private residence, a Scandinavian restaurant, and oddly enough, a mini opera puppet theater (go on the tour to learn more)



Amanda ended the discussion with a quote from David Hume…

Mankind are so much the same, in all times and places, that history informs us of nothing new or strange in this particular. Its chief use is only to discover the constant and universal principles of human nature.

What some of the group had to say about the tour…

Inspiration to look for more

Don’t take the building you walk by for granted

Not tourists, just interested Chicagoans

Leaving me hungry for more

Got to see a Chicago I never knew existed

The tour runs Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays until the end of February but they will likely continue to offer it to the public. It will always be available for private group tours for company outings, birthday parties, and family reunions.  There are other tours available both private and public… please visit Chicago Detours for details.



Xan Garcia

Xan Garcia

Founder and senior editor of VODA. Cocktailian, Journalist, Traveler, and the next Robin Leach.

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