Adrian's guide to Chicago for DjangoCon 2013

Written by Adrian Holovaty on September 3, 2013

I'm excited that DjangoCon US is in my hometown of Chicago this year! And it's actually in Chicago, unlike PyCon in Rosemont a few years back. :-)

Whenever I travel somewhere for a conference, I try to get a sense of the city. Here's a quick guide to Chicago sights, sounds and tastes -- a guide I wish I had if I were visiting Chicago as an outsider. The focus is on stuff that's either near the conference hotel or is particularly worth a journey. And I threw in some Django locations for fun.

Food near the hotel

Frankly I'd avoid eating at the hotel, even the conference's free meals, if you can afford it. You're in Chicago, so get out and enjoy it! This is a curated list of places I can vouch for being awesome:

Fast stuff (lunch) near the hotel:

  • Portillo's, 100 W. Ontario. Some of the best Chicago-style hot dogs and Italian beef sandwiches in the city. If you like meat and have never experienced an Italian beef sandwich (a Chicago delicacy), go here and eat that.
  • XOCO, 449 N. Clark. High-quality Mexican street food.
  • Billy Goat Tavern, 430 N. Michigan (lower level!). Look for the stairs down from street level on Michigan Ave. Get the double cheeseburger.
  • Sopraffina, various locations. Local Italian-food chain that has amazing salads.
  • Cafecito, 26 E. Congress Pkwy. Get the Cuban sandwich! Bit of a hike from the hotel, but it's worth it.

Dinner near the hotel:

  • Lou Malnati's, 439 N. Wells and 1120 N. State (more spacious location). Best deep-dish pizza in Chicago and some of the greatest food mankind has invented.
  • Purple Pig, 500 N. Michigan. Amazing small-plates dinner place that never disappoints.
  • Sayat-Nova, 157 E. Ohio. Off-the-beaten-path Middleeastern place. Super solid.
  • Bandera, 535 N. Michigan Ave. Classy but not too fancy place with Ameriacn food.

Dinner in the neighborhoods:

  • Smoque, 3800 N. Pulaski. The beef brisket and pulled pork are out of this world. Best barbecue in the city. If you don't live in the U.S. and you don't know barbecue, go here.
  • Spacca Napoli, 1769 W. Sunnyside. Best Italian-style / neopolitan pizza in the city.
  • Hot Chocolate, 1747 N. Damen. Great food and desserts; named one of the best pastry chefs in America several years running.
  • Publican, 837 W. Fulton Market. A shrine to meat. Make a reservation.
  • Big Star, 1531 N. Damen. Fantastic tacos and hipster people-watching opportunities. NOTE: They close at 3 p.m. this Tuesday.
  • Longman & Eagle, 2657 N. Kedzie. Incredible food.

Good coffee near the hotel

Avoid Starbucks and Caribou Coffee and hit one of these local places:

Night stuff for geeks

These places are in the neighborhoods, away from downtown but easily accessible by train ($2.25 one way) or cab:

  • Headquarters Beercade, 950 W. Wolfram. Arcade/bar with gigantic selection of '90s arcade games and pinball machines, all ALWAYS set to free play (!!). Great beer selection as well. Take the Brown Line train to Diversey. Boomshakalaka!
  • Green Mill Jazz Club, 4802 N. Broadway. Said to be the oldest continuously running jazz club in the world. It's like stepping into the 1940s. Has amazing music every night of the week, including gypsy jazz (Django Reinhardt music) on Wednesdays from 9 to 1 a.m. Open until 4 a.m. daily, 5 a.m. on weekends. ;-) Take the Red Line to Lawrence (or take a cab for around $30).
  • Hopleaf, 5148 N. Clark. Awesome bar with gigantic beer selection, specializing in Belgian. Warning: can get very busy. Take a cab ($30).
  • Violet Hour, 1520 N. Damen. Awesome cocktail bar with a great vibe. Entrance is unmarked. NOTE: they're closed this Tuesday. Take the Blue Line to Damen.
  • iO Chicago, 3541 N. Clark. Best improv comedy in the best city for improv comedy. Has multiple shows each night. Take the Red Line to Addison.
  • Signature Lounge, 875 N. Michigan (John Hancock Building). There's a bar/loung on the 95th floor of the Hancock, with amazing views and no admission (though the food/drinks get expensive). If you're from a skyscraperless part of the world, you owe it to yourself to check this out.
  • Rooftop at The Wit Hotel, 201 N. State St. Classy but not pretentious place to hang out and get a drink, with great views. Walk there from the hotel.

Django Web Framework sightseeing

For the super-duper-uber Django fans, here are some notable Chicago locations in the framework's history (all several years old, because it's such an international project these days):

  • 426. W. Belmont (apartment building). Where I showed a pre-release version of Django (yet unnamed) to Ian Bicking circa 2004 and he told me code generation was stupid, henceforth inspiring us to make it dynamic. This is also the address on's current WHOIS records.
  • 626 W. Aldine (apartment building). Last known location of the laptop on which I wrote my share of the original Django source code. I was living here around 2006 and sold the laptop to a Lou Malnati's pizza delivery guy in exchange for some money and pizzas.
  • 400 (?) block of Michigan Ave. (west side of street). Location of the original Chicago Python Users Group meeting where Django was first unveiled to the public. Exact office building address unknown.
  • DePaul University building at southwest corner of Sheffield and Belden. Location of the classic Snakes and Rubies presentation on Dec. 3, 2005. We've got Welsh.


This is a tiny selection of my favorite places. If you have specific questions/requests, let me know in the comments or on Twitter. Also, fellow Chicago residents, feel free to chip in with comments or your own blog posts.


Posted by Eric Sinclair on September 22, 2013, at 3:59 a.m.:

A bit late on the update (sorry) but there is also a Cafecito (a small one) at Madison and Wells now.

Very yummy, good for us loopsters.

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