U.S. Cellular Field: Baseball Gameday GuideThere is no way to describe the White Sox fan experience at U.S. Cellular Field, known locally as "The Cell," without comparing it to Wrigley Field. Opened in 1991, The Cell isn't historic; it's not particularly atmospheric, having opened just before the retro-ballpark trend came into vogue; and the neighborhood isn't as lively as Wrigleyville, where the Cubs play.
But a trip to The Cell is arguably a more authentically Chicago experience than a Cubs game. You won't find many tourists at The Cell, nor will you find legions of drunken frat boys, bachelor and bachelorette party groups or conventioneers. You will find plenty of real baseball fans and real Chicagoans.
The Cell is a modern ballpark, and a lot of fans still believe the upper seats are too steep, but the place does have a lot to offer in terms of quality concessions, family-friendly activities and promotions. The best part about going to a White Sox game is having a chance to mingle with Sox fans, who are passionate, knowledgeable and feisty. (This is the fan base, you might recall, that raised hell back in 1979 on an ill-conceived Disco Demolition Night, and they still have less bizarre but relatively weird, cool promotions, like Mullet Night.)
For South Siders, rooting for the Sox is a part of the culture. It's a tradition passed down from generation to generation, and you have to take in a game to understand the cult-like devotion of Sox fans. If you spend some time in the surrounding neighborhoods, you'll discover a beautiful little secret: there are far more great bars and restaurants within a mile of the stadium than many people realize.
WHAT TO DO BEFORE A WHITE SOX GAME
Bridgeport, the South Side neighborhood once referred to as "Hardscrabble," where The Cell is located, gets a bad rap because it's a fairly gritty, if slowly gentrifying neighborhood that was once predominantly Irish but is now very multiethnic. If you know where to go (and that's what this guide is for), there are plenty of great neighborhood bars and restaurants, so your best pre-game option is to pick one of these places for a good meal and a drink before first pitch. Try to arrive about 2 hours before game time to give yourself a chance to loosen up and take a leisurely walk to the stadium. (Some of these recommendations are a 15-to-20-minute walk or a short drive from the park.)
WHERE TO GET A BEER
Mitchell's Tap | Discriminating beer drinkers will want to mosey a few blocks west of The Cell to this inviting pub, which has an outstanding beer selection and a very pleasant beer garden. Belly up to the bar and ask for a Domaine DuPage Two Brothers, a French-style country ale brewed in west suburban Chicago.
WHERE TO GO WITH A GROUP
ChiSox Bar & Grill (Formerly called Bacardi at the Park) | You don't need a ticket to get into this spacious mezzanine-level bar and restaurant, and with more than 60 massive HDTVs tuned to various sporting events and covering just about every inch of space all the way to the high ceilings, it's a hell of a nice sports bar in its own right. The place isn't cheap ($9 for craft beer pints!)—not much is at an MLB ballpark—but the smoked brisket nachos ($10) are tasty and massive, the mac-n-cheese on the kid's menu is a good deal at $3.50 and your group will have plenty of room to spread out here before the game.
BEST NEIGHBORHOOD SPOT
Schaller's Pump | Located seven blocks west of The Cell at Halsted and 37th Street, this is the ultimate Chicago neighborhood bar. Opened in 1881, and still run by the Schaller family, you can park in their lot for free and walk to the game. Another great option if you're more hungry than thirsty is the Pleasant House Bakery, which has outstanding savory pies and specialty sweets. Go for the steak and ale pie or the chicken balti pie.
WHERE TO GET ROWDY
Cork and Kerry at the Park | This is the ballpark location of one of the South Side's most well-known Irish pubs. The South Side Irish (there are droves of them) love their White Sox almost as much as they love their Guinness, so this is a fun place to throw a few back and loosen up before the game.
WHERE TO HAVE A SIT-DOWN MEAL
Franco's Ristorante | This cozy neighborhood Italian place, which specializes in fresh seafood, pasta and chops, all made to order, is a 10-minute walk north of The Cell. Try the memorable gnocchi with plum tomato sauce and ricotta cheese. Other great options include Gio's Café and Deli, a more casual Italian place; Pancho Pistolas, if you want authentic Mexican fare; South Kawa for great sushi; or Oliver's Café for a high-quality BYOB New American restaurant.
BEST CHICAGO HOT DOG
Morrie O'Malley's Hot Dogs | The dogs at The Cell are pretty damn good, but the all-beef Vienna hot dogs at Morrie O'Malley's just west of the park are to die for. Try the double dog, a bargain at $3.72. Inside the ballpark, an all-beef Vienna dog will set you back $5.50, unless you go to the Chicago-style hot dog stand in right field, where a Comiskey Dog, which comes with kosher pickle, tomatoes, onions, green relish, celery salt, hot peppers and mustard, goes for $6.25. A regular old pork hot dog, smaller than the all-beef but still quite tasty, is $3.75 inside The Cell.
CAN YOU TAILGATE AT THE CELL?
Absolutely. Parking lots A-G and L allow tailgating and open 2 hours before game time, so come early and fire up the grill. Kegs aren't allowed, but you can drink alcohol if you are reasonably discreet.
Looking for a dusty old tome about the history of cricket in Trinidad and Tobago or a skinny volume on Romanian New Wave cinema? The cavernous Seminary Co-Op Bookstore in Hyde Park, which carries everything from bestsellers to obscure books you won't find anywhere else.
If you're here with kids, the Museum of Science and Industry, just 5 miles southeast of The Cell, is one of the most kid-friendly museums in Chicago. It features an IMAX theater, passenger trains and airplanes you can tour, a replica coal mine, a U-boat and a host of other attractions that will keep you and your kids busy for hours.
INSIDE THE CELL
The selection of craft beers at The Cell seems to get better every year, while food offerings range from healthy bites to classic Chicago dishes.
WHERE TO SIT
The Sox have taken a handful of rows off the upper deck, but it's still widely criticized as too high and steep, so your best bet is to pay a bit more for seats in the lower deck. The lower corners—sections 108-110 and 154-156—are a good deal if you don't mind being a long foul ball away from home plate. If you want to be a bit closer to the action without completely breaking the bank, go with the lower box seats in sections 111-118 and 146-153.
U.S. Cellular Field Seating Chart
Barn Bacon-on-a-Stick | Who could resist this new state fair-like offering at The Cell? You can now find thick-cut, premium Danish bacon seasoned with black pepper at the two Burger Barn locations near sections 113 and 529. A close second is the tasty Cuban sandwich, which comes with ham, barbacoa, Swiss cheese, mustard and mojo sauce and is available at section 148.
BEST LOCAL VENDOR
Beggars Pizza | If you love pizza that is absolutely saturated with toppings, Beggars, whose motto is "We lay it on thick," is worth seeking out. You can find slices of their tasty thin-crust pizza by the slice in sections 101, 124, 154, 163 and 522. (A bigger, gluten-free pie is also available.) A close second here goes to Bobak's (sections 117, 126, 139 and 534), which bills itself as "Born and Raised on the South Side" and has awesome hot dogs ($3.75 or $5.50), Italian sausage ($6) and bratwurst ($6).
Anti-Hero IPA | This season debuts this hoppy little beauty made by Chicago-based Revolution Brewing Company. Don't be fooled by the "Craft Beer" stand next to section 112—those are all pseudo craft beers brewed by Coors. Instead, proceed to one of the real craft beer stands (the signs say "Midwestern Beers") near sections 109, 141 and 155, where you'll find a killer selection that includes Revolution, Windy City Wheat, Two Brothers Ebel Weiss, Lakefront Gluten-Free Ale and a host of others.
WHERE TO EAT HEALTHY
Bobak's | If you're not into bacon-on-a-stick-type offerings, you might try Bobak's adobe mango chicken sausage made with all-natural chicken sausage mixed with mango and adobe chiles. It's available at the Bobak's stands in sections 117, 126, 139 and 534. If you're looking for healthy vegetarian options, go for the veggie dogs (sections 122 and 529) or veggie burgers (sections 122, 140, 524 and 544).
BEST STADIUM BAR
XFinity Zone | Plenty of fans, especially those holding nosebleed tickets, choose to watch large chunks of the game on one of the big screen HDTVs in this sleek new bar/restaurant along the first-base side of the concourse level. They have a carving station for sandwiches, a full bar and a host of places to charge your mobile phone.
OTHER THINGS TO SEE WHILE YOU'RE HERE
Champions Plaza is a diamond-shaped brick plaza at U.S. Cellular's main entrance at Gate 4. It is accompanied by the Champion Moments monument, a bronze-and-granite monument celebrating the Sox' 2005 World Series championship. The plaza is made up of "legacy bricks" inscribed with personal messages from fans and features a timeline highlighting franchise milestones. There's also a Sculpture Plaza in the outfield concourse with statues honoring White Sox legends like Carlton Fisk, Charles Comiskey, Harold Baines and others.
U.S. Cellular Field Tours
WHITE SOX GAMES ON A BUDGET
Few things are cheap at Major League ballparks, but there are gear and food bargains outside the stadium. Two blocks west of the ballpark along 35th Street, you'll find slightly lower prices at Grandstand, which boasts an impressive selection of Sox gear.
WHERE TO GET A CHEAP BEER BEFORE THE GAME
Bernice's Tavern | Bernice's is a great little dive bar with cheap, strong drinks a mile northwest of the ballpark. The interesting jukebox and $1 PBR specials (the regular price is only $2) make this place worth the slight detour.
BEST CHEAP BITES AROUND THE CELL
Zaytune | You can get a massive, delicious falafel sandwich for $5.95 at this little neighborhood Middle Eastern joint. The grilled chicken shawarma and hummus are also winners, and you have to love the fact that the most expensive item on the menu is $9.95. If you're not into Middle Eastern, Fabulous Freddies Italian Eatery is a great place to get cheap, delicious pizza, sandwiches, salads and Italian specialty entrees.
BEST CHEAP WHITE SOX TICKETS
Weekday afternoon games and Monday or Tuesday night games early in the season when the weather is still cold are your best bets for cheap tickets. Check Stubhub the night before the game, or just turn up and look for people who have extra tickets—not professional scalpers—outside the park. Prices plummet by the 3rd inning, when sellers get desperate.
THE CELL WITH KIDS
The Cell is one of the most kid-friendly parks in the country. Sign your kids up for the free "Slugger" membership, which gives kids 13 and under complimentary White Sox eye black, a White Sox player wall cling, a White Sox beach ball, four vouchers you can trade in for free reserved tickets in the upper deck and other items.
WHERE TO GO BEFORE THE GAME WITH KIDS
Nana | This trendy Bridgeport eatery specializes in local, organic food and is known for killer breakfast and lunch offerings like breakfast burritos and grilled shrimp and fried oyster po' boys. They also have a great kids menu, with items like teddy bear pancakes, buttered noodles, PB & J and mac-n-cheese.
BEST FOOD FOR KIDS
Mission Tex-Mex Nachos in a Batting Helmet | You kill two birds with one stone at these stands adjacent to sections 111, 125, 153, 526, 533 and 544, as your kids get a heaping portion of nachos along with a souvenir, full-size White Sox batting helmet for $17. Another good bet are the mac-n-cheese bites, available at the general concession stands near sections 110, 164 and 524. You can find a host of other kid-friendly food items at the Rookie Clubs, near sections 101 and 540.
WHERE TO GET AUTOGRAPHS
Fans with tickets for the 100 Level can snag autographs by the home and visitors' dugouts from the time the gates open until 25 minutes before game time, according to the White Sox team website. Select White Sox players also sign autographs for kids 13 and under before 13 designated "Family Sunday" games, where tickets start at just $5 and parking is $10 instead of the usual $20. On "Family Sundays," the Sox have balloonists, a caricature artist and face painters roaming the main concourse, and kids get to run the bases on the field after the game.
NEED A BREAK DURING THE GAME?
If your little ones get bored with the game, you have options. A good bet is to bring them to the XFinity Fundamentals area, where coaches from the White Sox Training Academy teach kids baseball fundamentals like batting, pitching and base running above the left-field concourse.
There are also speed-pitch machines near sections 162 and 524 and two great options for cooling off in the summer: the public shower near section 161 and the "rain rooms" near sections 105 and 546.
The Sox were also the first MLB team to open a social-media lounge (located near section 154), where fans can sit in comfortable seats, charge their phones and see what their fellow fans are tweeting and Instagramming on big-screen TVs with hashtags #whitesox and #soxsocial. The space isn't necessarily designed for kids, but it's still a good place to bring them for a change of scenery.
WHERE TO BUY GEAR FOR KIDS
The Chicago Sports Depot, located at Gate 5, has the best selection of White Sox merch for kids and babies, including T-shirts, hats, onesies and just about everything else you can imagine.
WHAT TO DO AFTER A WHITE SOX GAME
The bars and restaurants in this area aren't neatly clustered together, as they are near Wrigley Field, but there are dozens of great places to eat and drink within a short drive or 15-to-20-minute walk of the ballpark. You'll also find a wealth of bars, restaurants and attractions in nearby neighborhoods like Chinatown, Tri-Taylor/Little Italy, South Loop, Hyde Park and Kenwood, which is President Obama's old stomping ground.
WHERE TO KEEP THE PARTY GOING
Buddy Guy's Legends | It would be a shame to visit Chicago, the home of the blues, and not take in some great live acts, so head a few miles north of The Cell to this venerable blues club, which features live blues every night of the year. The quality of the music is always high, and Buddy, now 77, still plays a handful of shows here each year.
WHERE TO GET A POST-GAME MEAL
Ming Hin | This superb Hong-Kong-style dim sum restaurant is in Chicago's small but noteworthy Chinatown, less than 2 miles north of The Cell. It's open until 2 a.m., so even if the game hits extra innings, they'll be open. Try the shrimp dumplings or, if you're feeling adventurous, the baby cuttlefish with curry sauce.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE TO DO NEARBY?
Take a walk along Taylor Street, the heart of Chicago's Little Italy neighborhood, just a few miles north of The Cell. Make sure you stop at Mario's Italian Lemonade, a neighborhood institution that serves refreshing Italian ice made with real fruit. To the south of The Cell, Hyde Park and Kenwood are also great neighborhoods for a stroll. 57th Street in Hyde Park has some great restaurants and bookstores, and in Kenwood you can get a (distant) look at President Obama's home, at 5046 South Greenwood Avenue. (The best view is from the south side of East Hyde Park Boulevard.) While you're in the area, head to the lakefront Promontory Point for spectacular views of the Chicago skyline and free parking.
Dave Seminara is a journalist and former diplomat based in Chicago. He grew up rooting for the Yankees, when they were terrible, and gradually grew to despise them after they signed a host of loathsome free agents and started winning in the late 90s. Seminara roots for the Cubs and the White Sox and insists that this is nothing to be ashamed of.