Orange fans living in Chicago really lost a lot when Syracuse moved to the ACC. Games versus nearby opponents Marquette, DePaul and Notre Dame (the latter temporarily) vanished, leaving sad faces on the approximately 8,000 alums in Chicagoland.
That's why this Sweet 16 appearance on Friday at the United Center is important. I'm a Chicago native and graduated from SU back in 2000. It's going to be great to see more friendly shades of Orange compared to that generic Fighting Illini crap. It's strange justifying to your Big 10-obsessed friends and family that you're a fan of a school outside the Central Time Zone (Notre Dame and Penn State don't count. Rutgers never counted.). But Orange fandom here is growing. We're, on the whole, friendlier here in Chicago compared to back East. And we're not even under siege. Ignore that "Chiraq" crap; I've been ignoring Spike Lee since his 2000 visit to Schine and all he wanted to do was talk about was point guards from Brooklyn. True story!
I'm really expecting a good time this weekend, so as senior editor of Eater Chicago, I'd like to give Orange fans a hearty welcome to my hometown and some tips on how to enjoy the weekend:
—For starters, here's our essential Eater 38 restaurants in Chicago.
—We're Uber friendly, so download it. There's no direct train service to the UC, but the Green Line takes you close. Get to know the CTA for your transportation needs. Everything is about 15 minutes away from you, unless you're the dweeb that got a hotel at O'Hare or Schaumburg. Rookie mistake.
—Don't be afraid of the area around the United Center. It's not a thriving tourist area, but don't waddle around like a paranoid Georgetown grad fearful someone will snatch your oaky chardonnay. While you'll find colorful characters befitting of a major city with a large urban population, you can walk around the area in the relative safety of a major metropolis.
—The WestEnd Bar is a great choice for a sports bar, owned by Chicago's Four Corners Tavern Group (Benchmark, Gaslight, Kirkwood etc.). Pretty standard fare, but a quick walk to the UC and it usually gets packed on gamedays. If you're lucky they'll even have a shuttle to the game. I'd classify this as the Regatta, or whatever they now call that bar at the Syracuse Sheraton. I'm old.
—MAD Social just opened, and it's the spot where you'll find great food. Owner Gina Stefani is a big Blackhawks and Bulls fans, so her staff will ensure the game is on, and there's fun to be had. Good to take a significant other you've dragged to the game, or if you're sported out and need a break.
—The Ogden. This is the official Syracuse Alum meet-up spot during United Center games. You'll find a great beer list of Midwestern selections. Hey, this is probably the spot to make a bad decision or two. Consider this the Faegan's of the West Loop? It's on...wait for it...Ogden Avenue. It turns out, Virginia is having a meet-up here, too.
UPDATE: Apparently now the Ogden thing isn't happening, as the Chicago alums and national alums are merging plans at Dinosaur:
—If there's a...time...for tacos, you're in luck. Before the Bulls/Blackhawks 2015-16 seasons, the UC added Big Star tacos on the 100-level concourse. They are way better than Chipotle, try the al pastor. Also,
grab a margarita there, as for the taste, money and alcohol content, it's the best beverage in the stadium. (Edit: Forgot, the NCAA prohibits alcohol sales) Here's my long-winded description of the new UC food.
—Oprah used to tape her shows from a studio here, and that help bring a bunch of popular top-flight restaurants to the strip. There's not much for sports bars. But there's a Lou Malnatti's for your deep-dish needs. Porkchop and Green Street Smoked Meats are great for meat eaters. And Haymarket Pub & Brewery will feed you a steady diet of quality brews. I'm a sucker for good beer, and Lone Wolf looks like a dive, but it's not. Don't expect Taps on Westcott. It's got great beer from Three Floyd's. There's also a Kaiser Tiger which offers bacon bombs. Then there's Au Cheval. If you want to wait, folks say that it's the best burger in America. But I can hardly rec it when you have such limited time this weekend.
—Dinosaur BBQ. This opened last year in Chicago on the outskirts of Lincoln Park. It's also now the official SU alum spot in the city. You know the drill. I was way excited about this development. ESPN 1000 Bulls reporter, and Syracuse alum Nick Friedell is excited, too. I have no idea what Bulls TV announcer and SU alum Neil Funk thinks.
—While we're talking about SU connections in Chicago, Sara Verhey, daughter of the owner of River North's Pops For Champagne, is an Orangewoman.
—Goose Island Brewpub: It's a stone's throw from the Dinosaur, and offers the good stuff that Goose serves up exclusively to locals that you can't get on the East Coast. If you find Goose's Bourbon County Brand Stout anywhere, it will be expensive. But if you see it and don't buy it, you need to look in the mirror and question if you stand for the right things. It's a rare delicious beer that makes everyone happy that's at least 15 percent ABV.
—Delilah's. Yeah, this is a funny choice. If you like whisky and punk rock, this is your spot. It's a Buffalo Bills bar during NFL season, and also serves Genny if you want to relive those times at Jimmy Mac's. It's the rare dive bar in Lincoln Park, a dying breed.
—Hubbard Street: River North can be pretty douchey. If you like bros and cover charges, you'll find them here. This is where Theory, the Georgetown bar, resides. I rest my case.
—Late night eats? Here's the Eater Chicago guide. Just, please don't spend all your time in Lincoln Park and Wrigleyville. You're better than that. Oh, and Chicago is the first city in America to have a Taco Bell that serves booze.
—Try some Malört. Don't be a child. Step it up. It's the ideal victory shot. And it's the ideal defeat shot.
—Tiki is a thing in Chicago. Lost Lake in Logan Square is worth the trip.
—Addendum, I was wondering why Syracuse flags were hoisted over the weekend at venerable Gene's Sausage Shop. It urns out there's an SU family connection, a reader tells me. If you've got time to get to Lincoln Square, get some blood sausage here.
My advice after the game? Take a cab or Uber or the Ashland bus north and get out at Division and Milwaukee. Then stumble through Wicker Park and Bucktown. If you can't find fun there, then you're not trying. Feel free to Tweet at me (@Shokdiesel) for questions or more tips.
Don't be afraid to introduce yourself on Friday at the game. I'm the 6-foot, 2-inch Indian guy wearing Orange. And I can still take it to the cup. And hopefully that cup is full of beer.