Wrigley Field: Baseball Gameday GuideWrigley Field is the gold standard of atmospheric, old neighborhood ballparks. When you step inside the "Friendly Confines" and look out at the ivy, the old-school, hand-operated scoreboard and the neatly manicured, pastoral sea of impossibly lush, green grass, you've entered a blissful little slice of Americana that hopefully will never change.
Everyone loves Fenway Park in Boston, but Wrigley, which turned 100 on April 23 this year, feels even more a part of its neighborhood than Fenway because people live so close to the ballpark.
Wrigley is still probably a few years away from a much-needed renovation, but there's never been a better time to visit the grand, old ballpark than right now. The brick walls on the park's exterior along Waveland and Sheffield Avenues now feature very cool, vintage photo murals celebrating the park's history, and the stairwells near home plate and along the first base side have been painted with vintage ads and Cubs logos.
Manager Lee Elia unleashed an infamous tirade deriding the "Bleacher Bums" who came to the team's daytime weekday games as unemployable ne'er do wells who had nothing better to do than come to Wrigley to get drunk and boo their team.
Day games are now much rarer at Wrigley, and no one on the team would dare critique the fans, but the festive atmosphere is still alive. On any given game day, especially in the summer, you'll find plenty of fans who are at Wrigley for the party, not the game, especially in the bleachers.
Any way you slice it, Wrigleyville is electric on game days. Within steps of the park there are dozens of places to eat, drink and shop. The rooftops along Waveland and Sheffield are packed with debauched fans on all-you-can-eat-and-drink packages, street musicians play bucket drums, and the rattle of the red line's L trains behind the park drowns out all but the most boisterous bar fights.
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There are plenty of places to eat and drink in Wrigleyville, but you came for the baseball, right? So why not take advantage of the fact that the Cubs are one of just a handful of teams that allow ticket-holders to watch batting practice before the game? Show up 2 hours before first pitch and you'll have an opportunity to soak up Wrigley's ambience before the masses arrive. The prices at the concession stands (not the roving vendors) are discounted by 25 percent during the first hour of batting practice, so if you plan to eat at the ballpark, you can save a bunch by doing so early. See the Wrigley Field with Kids section below for pre-game ideas with children.
WHERE TO GET A BEER
Guthries Tavern | This is a laid-back neighborhood bar with board games and no TVs, which beer snobs will love. Guthries has a huge selection of craft beers; if you want to try something local, go with Spiteful Brewing Company's Burning Bridges Brown Ale or Goose Island's Green Line Pale Ale. If you prefer a sports bar closer to the park, try Sports Corner, a busy spot right across from Wrigley that has decent food and a nice selection of craft beers, including the Brooklyn brand and Goose Island beers.
WHERE TO GO WITH A GROUP
Goose Island Wrigleyville | The Wrigleyville branch of this justifiably popular local brewpub is spacious enough to accommodate large groups, and it has great beer and relatively good bar food. If you like malty beers, try the Dusseldorf Altbier along with an order of killer homemade soft pretzels.
BEST NEIGHBORHOOD SPOT
Cullen's Bar & Grill | A short walk west of the ballpark, you'll find plenty of atmosphere along with good food and drinks at this comfortable neighborhood Irish pub. The Irish staff pours a poetic pint of Guinness, and you can't go wrong with the shepherd's pie.
WHERE TO GET ROWDY
Murphy's Bleachers | The prices are high, the beer often tastes like its been marinating in someone's old shoe and the place is jam-packed on game days, but with a location right across from the bleachers, this is the place to go if you want to get drunk.
WHERE TO HAVE A SIT-DOWN MEAL
Uncommon Ground | Uncommon Ground has gourmet food, a lively bar and a great wine and beer list. Ask for a table in the front room, where there is often live music, and try the pumpkin ravioli with sweet potato fries and goat cheese fondue. If you're on a tight budget and crave Thai food, walk three blocks north of Wrigley along Sheffield Avenue to Tac Quick, which has a weekday $5.95 lunch special that is hard to beat.
BEST WRIGLEYVILLE BEER GARDEN
Sheffield's | Chicago doesn't have the country's balmiest weather, but when the sun comes out, locals love to drink outdoors. Sheffield's has one of the liveliest beer gardens in the city, not to mention a comprehensive craft beer selection and decent bar food. Have a drink at Sheffield's and then, if you have time, do a little beer-garden crawl, stopping at Old Crow Smokehouse, which has a retractable-roof beer garden and great BBQ, and Deuce's, a newer place that has a beautiful beer garden with a reflecting pool in the center of the space.
CAN YOU TAILGATE AT WRIGLEY FIELD?
No. But who needs a formal tailgate when there are dozens of bars, many with beer gardens, in every direction?
One of Chicago's most charming, historic areas is just a few blocks north of the stadium (the 3800 block of Alta Vista Terrace), but 99 percent of the tourists who visit Wrigley Field have no idea it's there. Alta Vista has 40 rowhouses built in 1904 to resemble a typical block in London.
The Chicago History Museum, 3 miles south of Wrigley along Clark Street, features plenty of historic photos of Wrigley that will give you a sense of what the place used to look like.
INSIDE WRIGLEY FIELD
This year marks the ballpark's 100th anniversary, so expect special food offerings and other fanfare throughout the season.
WHERE TO SIT
If you've come to Wrigley for the party, have plenty of cash and don't care about having a good view of the Cubs game, try one of the dozen rooftop clubs along Sheffield and Waveland Avenues for a distant view of the action and all-you-can-drink-and-eat packages, most starting at $125. The Wrigley Field rooftop at 3639 N. Sheffield has a good reputation for providing quality food and drinks.
If you want to be in the sun, get a bleacher seat or sit close to the field along the first-base side. You can't go wrong with the terrace reserve infield box seats between first and third base for a great view of the action in the mid-price range. Or, if you want a great view of the action, the surrounding neighborhood and, on a clear day, Lake Michigan, sit in the upper deck, as close to home plate as possible
Wrigley Field Seating Chart
Reuben Dog | The Cubs are rolling out a host of decade-themed hot dogs this year for the 100th anniversary, some available only during decade-themed homestands, others all season at the Decades Dogs stand near Gate F. The tasty and filling Reuben dog ($7), available all season and supposedly representing the 1910s, is a Vienna all-beef hot dog with sliced corned beef, sauerkraut, Thousand Island dressing and Swiss cheese.
BEST LOCAL VENDOR
Vienna Beef Hot Dogs | It would be great if these babies didn't cost $5.50 each, but you won't find a better hot dog anywhere than Vienna's, which are made right in the heart of the city, along the Chicago River. Available throughout the park.
Goose Island | The fact that you can now get beers (Sofie, Matilda, 312 Urban Wheat Ale and Green Line Pale Ale) from Goose Island, a local microbrewery, at Wrigley is a welcome change from the not-too-distant past when it was Budweiser, Old Style or O'Doul's. Available on draft at Big Dawgs (left field), CC's Frozen Drinks (left field), Decade Dogs (home plate), The Blue W (right field), Cub House (mezzanine), the Upper Deck Patio and Big Hits (lower bleachers).
WHERE TO EAT HEALTHY
High Plains Bison Cart | The High Plains Bison Cart (left field) has lean, delicious bison dogs, bison brats and bison Italian sausage. You can also get bison dogs and bison cheeseburgers at the Decade Diner (right field).
BEST STADIUM BAR
Captain Morgan Club | You don't need a ticket to get into this bar, located on the first-base side of the park, but bring plenty of money. A Goose Island draft will set you back a bit, but the bartenders are attractive and friendly and you can't beat the convenience.
OTHER THINGS TO SEE WHILE YOU'RE HERE
Leave some time to check out the statues of Cubs legends Ron Santo and Billy Williams (both at the corner of Sheffield and Addison), Ernie Banks (Clark and Addison) and legendary Cubs broadcaster Harry Caray (Sheffield and Waveland). And be sure to check out the view of the city from the Upper Deck Patio.
Wrigley Field Tours
CUBS GAMES ON A BUDGET
Prices can be high in and around Wrigley, but you'll find some game day deals around the neighborhood.
WHERE TO GET A CHEAP BEER BEFORE THE GAME
Wrigleyville North | If you took our advice and beat the crowds by getting off at the Sheridan L stop, or even if you didn't, enjoy a pre- or postgame beer and some pool at this appealing little neighborhood dive bar. The prices here are cheaper than what you'll pay just two blocks south, and the crowd—a mixture of Cubs fans and middle-aged barflies right out of The Simpsons—is always part of the fun.
BEST CHEAP BITES AROUND WRIGLEY FIELD
Azteca de Oro Mexican Grill | You'll find very high-quality Mexican food at this small, inexpensive counter-service BYOB restaurant right across from Wrigley. The Baja fish tacos ($9.99) and the Baja shrimp burrito ($7.99) are superb. Or, if you want a slice of thin-crust pizza, walk a few blocks south on Clark Street to Dimo's, which has both slices with offbeat toppings ($4) and the usuals ($3).
BEST CHEAP CUBS 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. If you don't mind missing the first couple of innings, the prices plummet by the third inning, when sellers get desperate.
The Cubs sell standing-room-only tickets on game day, only at the box office, and upper reserved outfield seats go for as little as $9 for some games. If you want standing-room-only seats for popular games, show up right when the box office opens at 8 a.m.
WRIGLEY FIELD WITH KIDS
For $20, your child can join Clark's Crew, which gets them a replica Cubs jersey, a Wrigley Field tour, sticker and activity books and a host of other items. And if you want a free souvenir "First Timer at Wrigley" certificate, you can get them at the booth right outside the United Club along the first-base side, mezzanine level.
WHERE TO GO BEFORE THE GAME WITH KIDS
Salt & Pepper | Look for the huge "EAT" sign on Clark, just south of Addison, for a 50s-style diner that your kids will love. It's a great place to satisfy a burger, fries and milkshake craving.
If you have a child age 13 or under, he or she might actually get to watch batting practice on the field. Cubs ushers bestow this cool privilege on a few dozen kids per game, so show up early and make friends with the ushers. On Sundays, the Cubs also give wristbands to the first 1,000 kids age 13 and under, who get to line up in right field and run the bases after the game.
BEST FOOD FOR KIDS
Just About Any Concession Stand | Even the pickiest kid will find plenty of standard ballpark junk food to devour: slices of Giordano's pizza, Vienna Beef hot dogs, Rico's nachos in a Cubs helmet, soft pretzels, chicken nuggets, French fries, Cracker Jack, Blue Bunny ice cream and more is available. The Cubs have a "kids meal" available at all concession stands for $8 that includes a Vienna Beef hot dog, carrot and apple slices and an apple juice.
WHERE TO GET AUTOGRAPHS
Batting practice (see above) is probably your best bet. If you want Cubs players, you can also try the players' parking lot, between Clark Street and the third-base side of the stadium, after the game. If you want autographs from players on the visiting team, line up after the game where they park their buses behind the right-field wall.
NEED A BREAK DURING THE GAME?
The Cubs have a cuddly new mascot named Clark and a brand-new kids spot called Clark's Clubhouse, where little ones can meet Clark, shop for souvenirs, chill out on beanbags and play games.
WHERE TO BUY GEAR FOR KIDS
Clark's Clubhouse has a big selection of Cubs gear for kids.
Wrigleyville Sports, directly across from the main entrance to Wrigley, at the corner of Addison and Clark, also has a huge selection of MLB logo swag for kids and babies, including T-shirts, hats, onesies and just about everything else you can imagine.
WHAT TO DO AFTER A CUBS GAME
The neighborhood is always lively, but it really comes alive after Cubs games, as hordes of fans roam the streets, many of them intoxicated. Die-hard Cubs fans tend to stay at games till the bitter end, but on any given day, up to half of the people in the park are tourists, and they tend to leave early, so many of the nearby bars and restaurants are rocking by the eighth inning. WHERE TO KEEP THE PARTY GOING
GMan Tavern | While all the really sloppy drunks from the sticks gravitate to the Cubby Bear, keep moseying up Clark Street for another block to the GMan Tavern (formerly the Gingerman Tavern) for a more relaxed, neighborhood pub vibe. GMan has a good beer selection and pool tables, and it's friendly and dark, so it's not a bad place to make new friends. If you want to dance, go the Smart Bar, right across the street from the park on Clark Street, and if you want karaoke, walk a few blocks south to Birds & Blokes.
WHERE TO GET A POST-GAME MEAL
Pizza Rustica | This Northern Italian standout is a great place for a post-game meal. Excellent pizza, by the pie or the slice, a nice little wine bar with reasonable selections by the glass or bottle and outdoor seating make this place a great choice for a warm summer evening. Try the Tutta ("everything") pizza, which comes with sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, onions, black olives and bleu cheese. If the game goes late, consider going to the Pick Me Up Café, which has great milkshakes and stays open until 2 a.m.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE TO DO NEARBY?
If you have a few bucks and some energy left, take in a concert at the Metro, one of Chicago's best music venues, right across Clark Street from the park. Of, if you like classic 1920s-era cinemas, take a walk through the Music Box, 5 minutes west of Wrigley on foot.
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.