While the year may not end with a run to the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs, it an undeniably exciting time to be in Chicago. The Fire have a new majority owner, in Chicago-native Joe Mansueto, and the prospect of landing a big-name star or two, providing ample reason for optimism looking toward 2020. Perhaps most exciting of all, the team will be moving back to downtown Chicago and Soldier Field, the host of this year's Gold Cup final, next year. For both local and visitng fans alike, the move presents an opportunity to experience the full array of world-class food, entertainment and culture that the "Second City" has to offer.
Whether a visiting fan to a Chicago Fire game or taking in one of the many international soccer events the city hosts, the guide below will help fans choose well as they discover why Chicago is a fitting hub for Etihad Airways as they seek to connect cultural centers around the world.
Where to Eat and Drink
Chicago is one of America’s great food cities, with something for every taste. From the classics the city is famous for like Italian beef and stuffed pizza to restaurants on the cutting edge of modern cuisine, you’ll never go hungry in your pre-game preparations.
The South Loop and Millennium Park areas adjacent to Soldier Field boast a variety of restaurant and bar options serving food from all over the world and featuring Chicago’s many local breweries.
NEAR SOLDIER FIELD:
- Restaurants: A particularly dense area of nearby options borders Millennium Park. From quick, cheap eats like Dos Toros Taqueria to upscale dining experiences like Mercat a la Planxa there are a myriad of choices.
- Bars: Whether before or after a match, there’s plenty of great watering holes nearby. A fan favorite is Reggies, a hub for the local music and comedy scenes. A meeting point for fans in the past, it’s likely to be an epicenter of Chicago Fire fandom. If you’re looking for a great spot to enjoy a cocktail on a sunny summer afternoon, Cindy’s with its enormous porch overlooking Grant and Millennium Parks is a can’t miss.
ACROSS THE CITY:
- Chinatown sits just southwest of the South Loop, and while a bit of a longer trip from the stadium it’s worth it for the diversity of authentic Chinese cuisine few cities can boast.
- Farther afield but still within reach via public transportation: River North is home to some of Chicago’s best restaurants, Old Town is the perfect combination of great food and nightlife, and the West Loop/Fulton Market features many of the city’s trendiest new bars and restaurants.
How to Get Around
Chicago has one of the most expansive public transportation systems in the U.S., which will enable fans to not only easily access Soldier Field but the rest of the city and suburbs as well.
- THE ‘L’: There are few more iconic images of the Windy City than the elevated train tracks that define ‘The Loop’ at its center and expand across downtown. Soldier Field is a 20-minute walk from the Roosevelt stop on the Red Line, with a short ride to connect to other lines. In addition to stretching across the city’s neighborhoods, the ‘L’ also provides access to both O’Hare (Blue Line) and Midway (Orange Line) airports.
- BUSES: The most direct way to reach Soldier Field via public transportation is by bus, with the #130 Museum Campus line and #146 Inner Drive/Michigan Ave. (which stops at the Roosevelt Red Line station) dropping off at the stadium. The buses also provide convenient transportation through areas not easily accessible via the ‘L’.
- METRA: If you’re coming from the suburbs, Metra trains reach most of suburban Chicago and terminate downtown near ‘L’ stations. (LaSalle Street Station and Millennium Station near the Red Line, Ogilvie Transportation Center near the Green and Pink Lines, Union Station near the Blue Line).
- DIVVY BIKES: A relaxing and convenient way to get up and down the lakefront, the bikes can be rented from and returned to stations across the city.
- DRIVING/RIDESHARES: Chicago is fully serviced by both Uber and Lyft, taxis are easy to find, public parking is plentiful and reasonably priced outside of the center of the city and there is ample parking available at or near Soldier Field.
Where to Watch Soccer
Chicago soccer culture has found a home in bars across the city, both as meet-ups for Fire fans and hubs for supporter groups for the world’s most famous clubs.
- A.J. HUDSON'S (Lakeview): has hosted Fire watch parties and is the home of several Premier League supporter clubs, most notably Liverpool.
- THE ATLANTIC (Lincoln Square): another occasional watch party host, it’s the best place to watch soccer on the far-North Side.
- CLEO'S (Ukrainian Village): a favorite of Chicago soccer fans, Cleo’s is a hub of European soccer and one of the best places to catch UEFA Champions League games.
- FADO (River North): a home not only for soccer, but rugby as well.
- THE GLOBE (North Center): the original Chicago soccer bar, it’s a favorite of Fire fans and one of the most fun places for Premier League action on weekend mornings.
- PUB 97 (North Center): the Chicago Fire’s team-owned pub, it’s all Fire all the time and is conveniently attached to the CIBC Fire Pitch.
- REGGIE'S (South Loop): as mentioned, a fan-favorite and the closest to the Fire’s future home of Soldier Field.
Where to get a pick-up game
You won’t find much green space in The Loop, but across Chicago’s neighborhoods there’s plenty of places you’re likely to find a game going on.
- LINCOLN PARK/LAKEFRONT SOCCER FIELDS: Lincoln Park, which runs along Lake Michigan on Chicago’s North Side, has plenty of full-size fields where it’s common to find both pick-up games and organized leagues.
- CITY PARKS: Many of Chicago’s public parks have at least one full-size soccer/football field and it’s common on a weekday night or Saturday afternoon to find fans of all ages kicking a ball around or organizing a game. Games are often organized through social media sites like Meetup or in Facebook groups.
- MINI PITCHES: An ongoing initiative between the Chicago Fire, U.S. Soccer Foundation and the Chicago Park District is to build 50 mini pitches in neighborhoods across the city in an effort to make soccer more accessible to the whole city, particularly for young players. Many of the mini pitches are already open and magnets for soccer in their surrounding areas.
What to see
Chicago has plenty of great non-soccer, food or beer related things to do, from decades-old traditions to new, lesser-known activities.
- THE MUSEUM CAMPUS: A great way to spend a day (or five), Chicago boasts an impressive collection of museums centrally located adjacent to Grant Park and Soldier Field. The Field Museum (natural history), Art Institute of Chicago, Shedd Aquarium and Adler Planetarium are each a great attraction.
- ARCHITECTURE BOAT TOUR: Yes, it’s cliche, but it lives up to the hype. Chicago is a city that displays the history of American architecture through the variety of building that line the Chicago River, and boat tours provide a great opportunity to both learn about and see the city.
- EXPLORE PILSEN (and other neighborhoods): Chicago is made up of 77 neighborhoods, all with their unique history and many of which can be explored in one day. One of Chicago’s long best-kept secrets is Pilsen, which is rich in Mexican heritage including the National Museum of Mexican Art and authentic Mexican food. It’s become a popular spot for the Chicago artists and creators, giving it a hip twist as well. Wicker Park, Logan Square, Lincoln Square and Chinatown are all also well worth dedicating an afternoon to.
- CHICAGO RIVERWALK: Chicago’s newest summer hotspot, the south bank of the Chicago River as it winds through downtown is now lined with bars, restaurants, seating areas, and a walking path that leads to the lake.
- COMEDY SHOWS: Second City is certainly Chicago’s most famous comedy attraction, but smaller venues like the iO Theater are some of the city’s best entertainment as well.
- ACTIVITY-FOCUSED BARS: From shuffleboard at The Royal Palms, to ping pong at AceBounce, to darts at Flight Club, to curling in the winter at Kaiser Tiger, going out in Chicago can be about a lot more than the drinks.
And finally: While soccer fans may flock to downtown Chicago to enjoy a game, there’s so much to do and see in the Windy City during your visit. The city’s food, neighborhoods and noteworthy attractions offer fans plenty of entertainment while not at the game. In deciding how you’ll spend your visit, we hope we’ve equipped you to choose well.