Coming to Chicago in late June and want to do something special outdoors, but can’t wait for the inconveniently scheduled street festivals and art tours? Do we have an event for you – it’s right on historic Route 66 for two nights, and tickets go on sale this week.
Once upon a time when yours truly was just a wee little thing, there was this new thing that happened during the summer that was an event for singles to meet and have great time with live music, beer and food. It was called the World’s Largest Block Party. That sounded friendly enough to me, and lots of other people thought so, too, which was part of the problem. It was a Saturday event, and it was usually mobbed. I wondered at the time who would willingly expose themselves to milling and bumping through such an enormous crowd in the heat, humidity and sun just to hear deafening live music; but apparently swilling beer makes you susceptible to a lot of things you might not do otherwise.
And I was never a beer drinker, which may explain why I only ever went to one of those parties. Still, most people seemed to be having a really good time and the crowd was sizeable, so the organizers kept throwing it every year. Somewhere along the line, I discovered that it was a charity benefit, but I was always vague about exactly who benefited. Eventually, I got busy with other things (or perhaps just aged out of wanting to go to such events) and lost track of it over the years, focusing on my local block parties and getting to know my neighbors instead. Meanwhile, Old St. Patrick’s Catholic Church at Adams and Desplaines Streets endured; having survived the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, it could certainly survive a big street party in front of the church once a year.
Lo and behold, it’s 30 years later, and the World’s Largest Block Party is still going strong. Still mobbed, still serving beer and loud music, still making thousands of sunburned young people happy. Except the neighborhood there has suddenly gotten a lot more upscale. To say the area around Old St. Pat’s, which is a historic church and landmark, is gentrified is a gross understatement. The West Loop has some of the priciest real estate in the city right now (by pricey, I don’t mean Trump-style completely unreasonable unless you’re a foreign potentate or hedge-fund manager expensive, I only mean way out of my middle-class pocketbook expensive, unless you’re a yuppie couple with two six-digit salaries and without kids). But it’s been preserved, at least; the church itself was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.
In the interim, St. Pat’s has survived long enough – as the oldest Catholic church in town and one of the oldest buildings in town – to see this neighborhood transformation. Today, St. Pat’s programs are the beneficiary of this huge party, which now lasts two nights. The organizers today are a lot more, well, organized than they used to be back in the day, and the thing has taken on the appearance of a huge street fair, except that it’s limited to evenings. Which is probably good, considering what Chicago’s summers can be like. The party also stretches for two blocks now, from Adams Street on the south end where the church is to Madison Street on the north, which is the official entrance point. This year, there’ll even be a Battle of the Bands to determine which one starts off each night. Should make rock music lovers very happy.
If you’re going to be in Chicago and readying for your road trip on Route 66 and have nothing to do the evenings of Friday, June 27 and Saturday, June 28, you might want to check out this block party. The bands have gotten better over the years, the organizers do a good job with crowd control and arranging for the food, and if it doesn’t rain, it’s a good time. If you like crowds. They have raffles now, too, to raise more money for St. Pat’s outreach and mission programs, such as the Education Center, the Outreach Group, Horizons For Youth, Career Transitions Center of Chicago, and Global Alliance for Africa. There’s even a VIP area with its own bar and its own porta-potties (convenient!) if you’re willing to spend twice the price.
Since this is a very popular event – it’s had crowds of 20,000 or more in years past – you might want to get your tickets in advance. Here are the facts:
Tickets: Tickets go on sale May 22. The Block Party Hotline is (312) 648-1021 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Admission tickets are $40 each per night in advance, $45 at the door, and $75 for both nights. Each ticket comes with four free drink tickets (beer, wine, soda or water). VIP tickets are $80 each per night; they include event entry and allow entry to the VIP Lounge, an elevated area near main stage with bar, food catered by West End Grill, and private port-o-lets. Groups of 20 or more may purchase group tickets at the rate of $35.00 per ticket. Call (312) 648-1590 for group sales.
Once tickets go on sale, they can be purchased weekdays at Old St. Patrick’s office, 711 W. Monroe St., 3rd floor. Ticketing hours are Monday-Thursday 9am–7pm, Fridays 9am–5pm. Tickets can be purchased by cash, money order, Visa, MasterCard, Discover and AmEx. NO CHECKS, please! For assistance with printing or transferring tickets please contact Extreme Tix at 888-695-0888 or email@example.com
Food and drink: Tasty eats will be available from a number of vendors,vwith selections including Connie’s Pizza, Nicholas Quality Meats on the grill (very popular at West Loop street fairs), Quang Noodles, brats, hamburgers, and much more. Plus, there will be celebrity bartenders on display showing off their mixological technique. You have an opportunity to be served one of your four free drinks from some of Chicago’s local celebrities at one of the bars from 6-8 pm both nights.
Parking: There isn’t any, not on that weekend, so either prepare to park two blocks away in Greektown and pay the sucker rates you may be charged that weekend (private parking lots usually boost rates whenever there’s a street fest on), or else be smart and take public transportation or cab it down to the venue. The CTA L stops at Quincy and at Washington are several blocks east (probably too far, if you’ve been drinking) but the Northwestern train station and Union Station are within a few blocks, so a METRA train will do you fine. There are also buses you can take from L stops in the Loop, and the Halsted bus that goes through Greektown will take you within a few blocks of the block party.
After the party: There will be after-parties at three different bars, two in the West Loop and one in the Gold Coast, for those diehards who just won’t quit. For the rest, if you plan to attend both days and don’t want to drive home or just want to spend the weekend in town, two nearby hotels are offering special rates for the weekend: the Holiday Inn at 506 W. Harrison St. and the Crowne Plaza Chicago at 733 W. Madison St. See the block party website for details.
Sponsors: include the Chicago Tribune’s Redeye entertainment mag, Barefoot Wine & Bubbly, Catalyst Chicago, Holiday Inn, Connie’s Pizza, Presidential Towers, wecre8 agency, West End Grill, Duggan’s on Halsted, Phoenix-Veterans Print, The Lodge, and Four Corners Tavern Group. The music is co-sponsored by WXRT-fm (Friday night), WKQX-fm (Saturday night) and Miller Lite.
Incidentally, if you’re going to be in town that week anyway and in the area, do take a look inside the historic church itself. It’s a Celtic design wonderland, with stained glass and stenciling designed by artist Thomas O’Shaughnessy nearly a century ago. Tours are arranged by appointment and are conducted on weekdays between 8am and 11am.
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Until next time,