Monday, August 26, 2013

Lincoln Park & Old Town, Chicago

Lincoln Park Old Town


Just got back from a fantastic day in Lincoln Park and Old Town!  I chose Lincoln Park and Old Town for my Chicago Neighborhoods series because of the great food, the zoo, the conservatory, and of course, the shopping they both have.  I've been to both of these areas previously, but decided to return and pay a bit more attention, with the intention of writing a blog post.



As I stepped out of the car and strolled around, my "first" impressions were that every single person who lives in Lincoln Park goes to pilates and jogs all the time.  Everywhere I looked, pilates studios beckoned and joggers sped by in their designer, neon athletic wear with matching neon gym shoes.  I got the sense that as much as people ride bikes in Amsterdam, they jog and go to pilates in Lincoln Park.  Actually, the ubiquitous joggers sort of reminded me of walking around BU's campus.

Lincoln Park
Strolling around, watching all the happy-looking people, it dawned on me that this was really a great place to be and a perfect day.  The sun shone through the few clouds, warming and brightening everything around me, which included Urban Outfitters, Starbucks, Five Guys, Einstein's, and other restaurants and shops.  A welcome change from Hyde Park, Lincoln Park feels safe to walk around, as demonstrated by all the joggers and people outside.  The day was truly a breath of fresh air.  I would totally love to live in Lincoln Park, Old Town, or Lincoln Square, and might consider moving if getting all the way to The University of Chicago everyday wouldn't be such a pain.
Menu at Chicago Pizza & Oven Grinder
As usual, Ben and I began our day of exploring with lunch, this time at Chicago Pizza & Oven Grinder Co.  There, the comida típica  and most famous dish that the server recommended is called a Pizza Pot Pie.  These pies are personal pizzas cooked upside down so that the crust makes a bowl for all the toppings and cheese.  Not only is a pizza pot pie delicious, but it's also entertaining.  Our server brought our pies over to the table, crust side up, flipped them upside down, scooped out a little glass bowl, and revealed a layer of cheese.  Under the cheese was this tasty sauce with super fresh tomatoes and spinach.
Pizza Pot Pie at Chicago Pizza & Oven Grinder Co.

The pizzas come in half-pound and one-pound sizes, and the half-pound size was more than big enough for me.  Since the pizzas take about thirty minutes to cook, our sever recommended starting with an appetizer, and we chose the Mediterranean bread.

After lunch, we decided to visit the Lincoln Park Conservatory, but first stopped at Urban Outfitters on the way.  Finally, we chose a neighborhood with Dana-friendly shopping!  Though all the little Buddha figurines in Chinatown were cute, the sweater and t-shirt I bought at Urban Outfitters were more my style...and more wearable.  After my mini shopping excursion, we put the bag and lunch leftovers in the car and walked to the conservatory.

The Lincoln Park Conservatory offers free admission to guests and is organized into themed rooms.  We first explored the fern room, then a prehistoric room (with dinosaur figurines!), and finally an orchid room.  Everywhere we looked, huge, waxy leaves peeked out at us.  Some had veiny flowers, and others showed off brightly colored flowers.  Perhaps the most memorable part of the conservatory was the dinosaur collection in their prehistoric themed room.



Lincoln Park Conservatory
Leaving the conservatory, we headed over to the Lincoln Park Zoo, which also offers free admission for guests.  Lucky for us, the day was perfect for visiting the zoo.  All the animals we saw were awake and more active than I've ever seen zoo animals.  First, we visited the polar bears, a personal favorite of mine.  There, we were beside ourselves with excitement when we saw the gigantic polar bear swimming around and playing with a toy.  The bear played for at least an hour with the toy, giving us plenty of time to walk around the habitat to see the underwater view.  I was amazed by the gigantic size of the polar bear.  One claw was about as big as my head, and the bear's head was probably the size of my rib cage approximately.  Sure, their fur makes them look puffy, especially under water, but fur or no fur, this animal was enormous.



Another animal I was excited to see, one of my grandma's favorites, was the giraffe.  While the giraffe strolled around his/her habitat and munched on some leaves, I snapped as many photos as I could.  I was amazed to see how flexible the giraffe's neck was when he/she bent around to scratch his/her back.



Another favorite animal of the day was the kangaroo.  Kangaroos seem bizarre to me because they look like typical furry mammals, but are more specifically classified as marsupials, an infraclass of mammals.  They have these odd looking back legs which are bent at a right angle when they stand, and these tiny little front arms.

Kangaroo at the Lincoln Park Zoo
Kangaroo at the Lincoln Park Zoo
When they lay down and cross their arms in front of them, they looked like the brattiest animal I had seen all day.  I'm sure they're nice enough, but with their permanently pouting face and arms crossed, I had to laugh.  While peering into their habitat, we were fortunate to see one kangaroo hop a few times, another dig through her pouch, a few walk around, and many pout at us.  Actually, I think that's just what their faces look like.

Kangaroos at the Lincoln Park Zoo
And of course, the ever curious seeming meerkats were active, running around, keeping a lookout, and posing for photos.
Meerkat at the Lincoln Park Zoo
Leaving the zoo, we strolled over to Starbucks to rest our feet and get a snack.  Usually, I prefer to eat at local places when exploring new neighborhoods; however, Starbucks seemed fitting for Lincoln Park.  Savoring the daylight, we quickly continued on our way and wandered over to N Wells Street in Old Town.

N Wells St. is the hopping spot in Old Town probably because of all the boutiques and restaurants.  Kilwins, a shop with amazing waffle cones overflowing with ice cream and confectionary-style chocolates in cases, is just down the street from what used to be the Nicole Miller store.  Other shops in the area sell plenty of Dana-friendly clothes and accessories.
N Wells St. in Old Town
Pipers Alley
Around the corner, you'll find Pipers Alley (above, right), a venue where Second City, a famous sketch comedy and improv group, performs.  The theater company started in 1959 and has graduated well-known alums such as Steve Carrell and Tina Fey.  This past year over winter vacation, I went with my family to see one of their shows.  I consider the show fantastic and hilarious especially because at the beginning of the show I was in a rather sour mood and a short way into it I found myself smiling and laughing.  I would love to see more of their shows in the future.

A Structure designed by Studio Gang Architects at the Lincoln Park Zoo's Nature Boardwalk

Before dinner, we quickly stopped into the Thomas Masters Gallery for a little culture, and then went strolling behind the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum on the boardwalk.  Earlier this year, as part of orientation, The University of Chicago hosted a neurodinner (Yes, I use "neuro" as a prefix for almost anything now.) for incoming neuroscience first-year graduate students.  The event was lovely, but I found it a bit strange to eat dinner immediately before touring the museum's taxidermy collection.  Looking around for a stuffed model of what you just ate just feels wrong.  Since we had already seen plenty of live animals in the zoo that day, we kept our visit to the boardwalk, which runs behind the nature museum and goes around the South Pond.  On the boardwalk, we ran into a honeycomb-looking sculpture designed by Studio Gang Architects.  There, we of course had to pose for some creative travel photos.  Aside from existing as notable works of art, half the excitement of a sculpture, for me, is finding a funny pose to match it in a photo.  The more interactive, the better.  One of my favorite sculpture parks, for this reason, is the Vigeland Sculpture Park in Oslo, where I spent about three hours one brisk morning.
At the Lincoln Park Zoo's Nature Boardwalk
Menu at R.J. Grunts
From there, we hurried off to dinner at R.J. Grunts, the first Lettuce Entertain You restaurant, where I had the most delicious hamburger I could have imagined.  I believe the restaurant is known for being the first to have a salad bar, but I was a little too hungry after being out all day to eat a salad.  At the advice of our server, I decided to order one of the specials.  My beef burger arrived topped with arugula, brie and muenster cheese, applewood bacon, carmelized onions, and some other delicious things.  Perfect end to a perfect day.  ¡Buen provecho!


Lincoln Park Zoo's Nature Boardwalk


Polar Bear - The Lincoln Park Zoo

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