Young at Heart in Chicago: A City Guide for Your Inner Child
Bookended by traffic jams or sardine-can L rides, the 9-to-5 workday can take a toll on your inner child. You may have outgrown moon bounces and ball pits, but it’s still important to cut loose once in a while. Until it’s socially acceptable to schedule girls’ night at Chuck E. Cheese’s, these childish Chicago hot spots will have to suffice.
Play Like a Kid
WhirlyBall | Bucktown, Lombard, and Vernon Hills
Part lacrosse match, part basketball game, and part bumper-car free-for-all, WhirlyBall puts you in the driver’s seat of a tiny cart known as a WhirlyBug. Though this motorized cart lacks brakes, you won’t miss them as you careen around a court and use a plastic scoop to whip wiffle balls off the walls, off other cars, and—hopefully—into the opposing team’s net. WhirlyBall’s Chicago location transforms into a 21-plus venue after 5 p.m., giving winners the chance to celebrate with one of the 20 beers on tap. Craft brews also flow freely at the other two locations, where laser-tag arenas offer further opportunities for youthful escape.
Headquarters Beercade | Lakeview
With Wicker Park’s Emporium Arcade Bar packing in the crowds and Boystown’s Replay set to open soon, barcades are officially a trend. Headquarters Beercade stands out from the pack, letting visitors save their quarters for beer by throwing open the joysticks on more than 30 arcade games free of charge. Gen-Xers might feel like kids in a candy store as they go from NBA Jam to Donkey Kong to Frogger before they’ve finished their pint of barleywine or apricot cider.
Eat Like a Kid
Cheesie’s Pub & Grub | Lakeview and Evanston
Nothing says childhood like a grilled cheese sandwich or a plate of mac 'n' cheese. Cheesie’s Pub & Grub has the audacity to combine both, and the result is a deliciously gooey creation called the Mac. This sandwich packs american cheese, Merkts cheddar, and housemade macaroni noodles between two thick slices of bread. For a more grown-up version of the kiddie classic, try a caprese on sourdough or spice things up with the Tradicion: chorizo and chihuahua cheese with jalapeños on texas toast.
Mindy’s HotChocolate | Wicker Park
Though Mindy’s HotChocolate does have a savory menu with mac 'n' cheese to boot, why not realize a childhood dream and eat dessert first? You’ll want to save plenty of room for James Beard Award-winning chef Mindy Segal’s signature desserts, which include brioche donuts served with caramel corn and signature hot chocolates such as a Black & Tan poured with hot fudge. Go all in with Segal’s rotating special plate, which features a creative “study” on a seasonal ingredient such as rhubarb.
Explore Like a Kid
Twilight Safari at the Lincoln Park Zoo | Lincoln Park
This after-hours adventure at Lincoln Park Zoo affords visitors a rare glimpse at red wolves, pumas, and other nocturnal animals just waking up for their nightly prowls. Open exclusively to the 16-or-older crowd, the photo-worthy stroll also showcases seasonal flora in the zoo’s gardens. The 90-minute safari costs $13 ($10 for members) and begins at 6:30 p.m. on the following Wednesdays: May 22, June 26, July 24, and August 28.
Adler After Dark at Adler Planetarium | Near South Side
Cocktails and stargazing go hand in hand at Adler Planetarium’s monthly After Dark events. Visitors aged 21 or older can enjoy cash-bar libations as they expand their minds with scheduled sky shows and wide-eyed peeks at the universe through the Doane Observatory telescope. DJ-spun tunes, live theater performances, and other surprises round out the educational—if slightly tipsy—evening. Admission is $12 in advance ($9 for members), and the event runs from 6:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. on the third Thursday of every month.
Emily Wachowiak is a Chicago-based writer and editor.