You’d think growing up a mere 3 hours from Chicago, I would have experienced a St. Patrick’s Day there already, but no. Shortly after I was old enough to even have a Guinness, I was packing my bags for Los Angeles. So, upon returning to the Midwest I made it a point to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago, which is notorious for going all-out for the annual Irish holiday. Even though I handle alcohol about as good as Aunt Becky’s kids handle college admissions, I still like to get in on the spirit of the day.
The plan was to spend the weekend in Chicago. I’d leave Friday morning and come back Sunday. I’ll admit, the Midwest is still catching up with the whole public transit thing, so routes aren’t always as convenient or as frequent as say New York, but thankfully I was able avoid taking a car.
I caught a bus from Grand Rapids to Kalamazoo and then a train from Kalamazoo to Chicago. I bought my ticket through Amtrak, so technically the bus was part of that booking. You just need to transfer onto an actual train once you reach Kalamazoo. Don’t ask me why.
The Kalamazoo train station is an interesting place full of characters. To be honest, it had me feeling like I was back in LA all over again. A word of caution: I’d definitely avoid the Kalamazoo train station at night.
The train for Chicago finally arrived. The only warning the conductor issued was to avoid the back car due to the noise factor. It was then that it hit me: I was on a train full of people going to the Big Ten game, to party, or both. It was like an Irish Spring Break.
I arrived in Chicago safe and sound and puke-free. I was staying with a good friend of mine who’s a local, so it was perfect. Since I was so tuckered out, we kept it low-key on Friday, and then I would hit the ground running on Saturday.
Saturday morning, our first stop was the to see Chicago’s famous green river, but not before grabbing some coffee first. I clocked this in at exactly 8:15 am. There was a line outside…of a bar…at 8:15 in the morning. If you had any doubt about Chicago taking St. Paddy’s Day seriously, reference that tidbit.
Okay, back to the river. Every year the city dyes the Chicago River green in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, so naturally, everyone is trying to get a good look at it. Thankfully, other onlookers were pretty cool about sharing the space. I mean, how long do you need to look at a green river? It’s not changing colors anytime soon.
After that, we grabbed brunch at Beatrix downtown, just a block over from Michigan Ave. It’s a cool, kind of swanky place that’s great for a nice brunch spot. If you’re into the healthy food options, you’ll want to go here. I haven’t seen avocado toast on a menu since Los Angeles. I wanted to be adventurous though and try something new, so I went with the rainbow toast. It sounded fun and I had never heard of it before. Good news: it was delicious too. Basically, this toast comes cut into three sections. They all have ricotta cheese and each section is topped with a different colored fruit, hence the whole ‘rainbow toast’ name. You get one with strawberries, one with pineapple, and the third one with blueberries and blackberries. I definitely recommend both the rainbow toast and the restaurant itself. The best thing about this place is that considering the prime location and the good food, the prices are super reasonable. My toast only cost about $5! Budget travelers for the win.
Following brunch, I was on my own until it was time to meet up with another friend later in the day. I had the afternoon to explore Chicago, and it was the perfect day to do it. We had sunny skies and it wasn’t too cold, which for Chicago is a blessing.
I walked along the coastline until I reached Navy Pier. Lake Michigan is not the first place I would think of to have turquoise blue water, but it was absolutely gorgeous that day with the sun shining.
Navy Pier was fun. It’s one of those tourist spots you kind of have to check out when you go here, but it has great views of the water. I walked along the pier, where I saw boats, a Ferris wheel, and even a 20-something’s Instagram photo shoot. Not sure what was most entertaining.
After the pier, I made my way back uptown to the Hancock Building. Now, this is one of those great Chicago spots where you can get a skyline view of the city. My plan was to head up to the building’s Signature Room and Lounge, grab a drink, and check out the view. Unfortunately, I soon discovered it was also the plan of a bunch of other people too. I wasn’t keen on the idea of waiting in a long line, so I figured I’d check out the view and head out. The good news is that there’s no cover, so you can just go up there and not worry about paying for a view. When I was up there though, I learned a travel tip that you’ll definitely want to remember when you head to Chicago: the best view in the entire venue is in the women’s bathroom. I kid you not. If there was ever a reprieve for the long bathroom lines women have had to deal with over the years than this was it. I even asked if the men’s room had the same view. Nope, just the women’s one.
After that, it was time to meet up with another friend of mine over in Wrigleyville. If you’re looking for the party area of Chicago, this is definitely it. The neighborhood was alive for St. Patrick’s Day with the smell of whiskey and the sound of frat boys trying to start fights with each other. There were pubs with lines out the door all along Clark Street. If you do find yourself on Clark Street, keep walking though, because eventually you’ll hit Wrigley Field where the Chicago Cubs play and that’s pretty awesome to see. We ended up going to a bar called Casey Moran’s. No cover but a terrible DJ.
Once Sunday rolled around it was time to head back home, but per usual, the adventures didn’t stop there. Once again, I had a stop-over at the Kalamazoo train station. This time I even had to report a woman smoking in the bathroom. Full disclosure, I slightly feared for my safety here and was never more excited to get on a crammed bus to Grand Rapids.
Upon arriving in Grand Rapids, I called a Lyft ride, where I was met with a driver who looked like a serial killer version of Wallace Shawn from The Princess Bride. After all, St. Paddy’s Day is anything but dull.
Paris! The city of lights, romance, and occasionally, a few rats. Hey, nothing’s perfect right? It truly is a magical place, and I would recommend it in a heartbeat. However, packing up and actually traveling to Paris takes some planning and saving. So, how about a budget-friendly alternative for a little French escape on a dreary winter day in the Midwest?
I recently came across Le Bon Macaron on Cherry Street in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This Parisian-inspired café is locally-owned here in Michigan, and although it has coffee and tea, its real draw is the macarons. This traditional French treat was one of my favorites to try in Paris, so naturally, I was thrilled to enjoy some once again.
The assortment of colors that macarons come in are just as fun too. I tried 3 flavors while I was there: Rose, Violet, and Salted Caramel. Hands down, my favorite was the Violet. If you have a tough time deciding though and want to take some for the road, you have the option to buy 6 for $12.
Make sure to get a seat right by the window, so you can people watch as you sip your cappuccino and enjoy your macaron. They’ve only been open for a few years, but it’s clear this a neighborhood favorite. There are several other locations too in East Lansing and Ann Arbor.
We’ll always have Paris, but in the meantime, we also have Le Bon Macaron.
If you head to Le Bon Macaron and have a macaron suggestion for me to try, leave a comment below letting me know which one.
Coming up later this month: Want to go to a real party? Join me for a St. Patrick's Day travel adventure in Chicago.
About the author
Jill Zwarensteyn is a writer, comedian, and television producer who has been featured on Amazon, truTV, The New York Times, Matador Network, BUST Magazine, Tiplr, ARTRPRNR Magazine, YourTango, Thought Catalog, GoMad Nomad, Mashable, The Daily Mail UK, the Cannes Film Festival, LaughFest, Women's Lifestyle Magazine, and the Funny Women Festival LA. For more info visit: http://www.jillzwarensteyn.weebly.com