Navy Pier trading its schlock for sleek in redesign

NavyFrom the Saturday, May 16, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …


By Dave Wischnowsky

It’s the most well attended tourist attraction in the state and offers perhaps the best view of Chicago’s skyline that you can get with your feet planted on the ground, but Navy Pier has felt like a sinking ship for years.

It’s been that heavy with schlock.

Wading 3,000 feet out into the waters of Lake Michigan, the pier originally was envisioned as part of legendary architect Daniel Burnham’s celebrated 1909 Plan of Chicago.

However, over time, it crumbled into disrepair and largely remained that way until 1995 when, at a cost of $225 million, Navy Pier was completely remade as a mix of souvenir shops, sprawling exhibition halls, cultural attractions and public spaces.

That ’90s-style renovation, heavy on carnival-style kitsch and loud colors, proved appealing enough for Navy Pier to begin drawing more than 8 million people a year, re-establishing it as Illinois’ top tourist attraction, an honor the pier also held during the ’50s, when 3.2 million visited annually.

But as the pier closes in on its 100th birthday in 2016 having seen attendance dip a bit in recent years, it’s long been in dire need of a 21st-century makeover. And after visiting earlier this month, I can say that it’s finally getting one so good that I believe will stand the test of time.

And not just a couple of decades.

Continue reading

Is Chicago ready to put the ‘Win’ in Windy City?

From the Saturday, May 9, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

RoseBy Dave Wischnowsky


Besides the Blackhawks’ highly notable exception, you know they don’t call Chicago the Windy City because its sports teams actually win.

But could that soon change?

It’s certainly a possibility with the Bulls, led by a resurgent Derrick Rose, showing flashes of being a legitimate NBA title contender as they wage battle with LeBron James & Co., while the Blackhawks once again look like the team to beat en route to the Stanley Cup.

Meanwhile, on the baseball diamond, the Cubs are assembling a formidable collection of young talent that could finally end their eternal title drought … some day.

It’s unlikely, of course, that Chicago will crown three champions during 2015, but it’s not ridiculous to think the city could end up with a couple of them. If it did, Chicago would join elite company, as in the history of major North American professional sports (NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL) a single city/metropolitan area has been home to multiple champions in one season only 14 times, most recently in ’04 when the New England Patriots and Boston Red Sox respectively won the Super Bowl and World Series.

Detroit is the only city that has hosted more than two major sports champs in a single season, which happened way back in 1935 when the Lions, Red Wings and Tigers all captured their league’s crowns.

So, as Chicago shoots for its own sports glory this spring, I wanted to fire off a few of my own thoughts about the city’s bustling sports scene.

Continue reading

May Days: There’s more than football in Chicago

American-Beer-SmallFrom the Saturday, May 2, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …


By Dave Wischnowsky

Chicago isn’t the Windy City this week. It’s Draft Town.

But for the rest of May, it’s back to being itself – and that’s a pretty great thing if you’re looking to visit soon to enjoy all that Chicago offers during the springtime. Here are a few suggestions for the coming weeks.

May 9: American Beer Classic

If you’ve ever been there for a Chicago Bears game, a concert or any other kind of sporting event, you may have had a beer at Soldier Field.

But have you ever had a beer on Soldier Field?

It not, you can on Saturday, May 9, during the American Beer Classic at the venerable stadium. Featuring more than 30 participating local and national breweries serving up 200-plus beers, the ABC enables you to taste your way around the nation by simply covering 100 yards.

Continue reading

Chicago cooks up its first-ever Food + Wine Festival

Inaugural-Chicago-Food-Wine-Festival-600x300From the Saturday, April 25, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

By Dave Wischnowsky


Before I met my future wife, the Michelin rankings I knew were for tires, not restaurants, I was much more likely to shuck an oyster than actually eat one, and my idea of fine dining probably consisted of opting for Chipotle instead of Taco Bell.

OK, well, maybe I wasn’t that bad. But I wasn’t too far off.

Four years later, however, my wife Debbie – who developed her dining acumen growing up in Manhattan (New York, not Illinois) before sharpening it into a knife (nay, cutlery) during 11 years in Chicago – has elevated my palate to the point that she jokes about creating “a monster.”

Now, I wouldn’t go that far – salads and subs still dominate my weekly diet – but it is true that these days I have developed a great appreciation for great food. Especially when it’s from the Windy City.

And that’s why I was excited to learn that inaugural Chicago Food + Wine Festival will be rolling into town this summer. Organized through the collaboration of the promoters behind Lollapalooza, celebrity chef Tim Love of Texas, and Food & Wine Magazine, the Chicago event was announced on Tuesday and will be held Aug. 28-30 in Lincoln Park.

One year ago this month, Debbie and I attended the Austin Food + Wine Festival along the banks of the Colorado River deep in the heart of Texas. Surprisingly rollicking but without the overwhelming masses that you’ll encounter at, say, the Taste of Chicago, the Austin fest served as a very fun and very approachable way to dive into the world of upscale food.

Continue reading

Feeling out the Draft for NFL fans in Chicago

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 4.46.46 PMFrom the Saturday, April 18, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …


By Dave Wischnowsky

Without an enclosed-roof facility and with the bone-chilling draft along Lake Michigan every February, it’s unlikely that Chicago ever will – or ever should – host a Super Bowl.
But it will hold a Draft this spring – and it’s super-sized.

After 51 years in New York, the NFL Draft relocates to the Windy City April 30-May 2 when the league stages its reimagined extravaganza inside the historic Auditorium Theatre (50 E. Congress Parkway).

Like planned no-shows Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, you won’t be able to find yourself inside the theatre for the Draft (tickets are no longer available), but that hardly means you can’t be part of the festivities.

And if you want a Draft experience, here’s what you need to know.

Where to go

With 4,000 seats, Auditorium Theatre can only fit so many people. But at Draft Town, the so-called “three-ring circus” that will sprawl across adjacent Grant Park, there will be no such issues.

Covering 900,000 square feet – equal to 15 football fields – Draft Town is open to the public and will feature an arched structure built on Congress Plaza to house Selection Square, where team tables will be and where team representatives will call in their picks.

Continue reading

If you know where to look, April reigns in Chicago

From the Saturday, April 11, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

baconfest2013poetThe WISCH LIST

By Dave Wischnowsky

There are some places you probably don’t want to find yourself stuck at in Chicago this month.

Chuy Garcia’s dinner table, for one. Heck, maybe Rahm Emanuel’s dinner table, for another. The bathroom lines at Wrigley Field, for certain.

However, as Chicago begins to make its long-anticipated turn toward spring, there are plenty of desirables spots to end up at during the month of April. And depending on you preferences, here are a few such options.

Neil Diamond
April 14

My wife loves the guy. And in spite of Neil Diamond’s often-excessive schmaltz (which tends to be a bit much for me), so do many others. If you count yourself among that sizable group, you’re in sweet (Caroline) luck as the 74-year-old crooner is scheduled to be in Chicago for one night only, performing at 8 p.m. on Tuesday at the United Center.

According to Timeout Chicago, Diamond has stripped down much of the kitsch for his latest album, Melody Road, to fine musical effect. And while this current tour is in support of that album, Timeout predicts that the singer will favor a more hits-based act for his Chicago show.

Continue reading

This coffee shop is a trip – back to the ’80s

DeLoreanFrom the Saturday, March 28, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …


By Dave Wischnowsky

Opened in 2010, The Wormhole Coffee Shop in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood was established in 2015. It says so on its front door.

And that’s all because of 1985.


Well, you really shouldn’t be if you grew up during the 1980s, or simply are a fan of “Back to the Future” who’s dreamt of owning a silver DeLorean with flux capacitor. Which, as it turns out, you can actually find inside The Wormhole, a coffee shop that’s for lovers of the ’80s at least as much as it’s for lovers of coffee – and probably much more so.

Located at 1462 N. Milwaukee Avenue along an eclectic stretch of storefronts on the city’s North Side, The Wormhole – as its name suggests – is a trip back in time to the decade when hair was big, the Cold War was hot, and fashion was … well, it was something.

As a proud child of it, I still love the ’80s today. Anytime I stumble across one of the “Back to the Future” and “Indiana Jones” films on TV, I’ll stop and watch. I can still rattle off the starting lineups from the 1984 and ’89 Chicago Cubs as if they’re my Social Security Number. And I get a big retro kick out of seeing the on-point hairstyles, outfits and pop culture references from FX’s hit period drama, “The Americans,” as it chronicles the height of U.S.-USSR political tensions during the early ’80s.

The decade of my childhood brings back great memories for me, and this past weekend, I was hoping to stoke them when I visited The Wormhole on Sunday morning. Upon walking through the front door with “Est. 2015” painted on the glass – a cheeky nod to the once-upon-a-time futuristic year featured in “Back to the Future II” – I wasn’t disappointed as I encountered what could have been a junior high buddy’s basement.

Back when I actually was in junior high.

Continue reading

It’s March Madness on – and off – the basketball court

GroceFrom the Saturday, March 21, edition of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …


By Dave Wischnowsky

It’s that time of year when hope springs eternal.

Or, at least it is, unless your team has already been bounced out of the NCAA Tournament – or, ahem, already bounced out of the NIT.

Beyond any Cinderellas on the hardwood, spring training is in full swing promising hope for the summer. Elsewhere, spring football abounds promising hoping for the fall. And rumor has it that there may even be hope for warm weather soon.

Although, perhaps you shouldn’t hold your breath.

Instead, exhale as we take trip around the spring sports scene and check in on the Cubs, White Sox and Fighting Illini.

March Badness

The last time Illinois missed back-to-back NCAA Tournaments was 1991-92, and then only because the Illini were barred from the ’91 postseason due to NCAA sanctions. There are no sanctions this time around, but there’s plenty of frustration after Illinois was sent to the NIT and then failed to even show up in a 79-58 loss at Alabama.

“Certainly there’s some disappointment,” Illini athletic director Mike Thomas said after the loss. “We’d rather be playing in the NCAA tournament, and that’s our goal every year and any given year when we’re not playing in the NCAA tournament.”

Continue reading

Illini’s Athletic Mess Stems From The Top Down

mike-thomas-ncaa-football-illinois-spring-game-850x560Wednesday’s column from

(CBS) In a perfect Illini world, Tim Beckman would roll to a Rose Bowl next January and John Groce would follow up with a Final Four run in March.

But as any University of Illinois fan knows all too well, we don’t live in a perfect Illini world. Instead, we live in the one created three years ago by athletic director Mike Thomas.

And right now, it’s in a world of hurt.

At Memorial Stadium, Beckman’s Big Ten football record is an unsightly 4-20 as the oft-misguided coach continues to lose games and press conferences while railing on reporters for their lack of positivity. Over at the State Farm Center, Groce’s Big Ten basketball mark stands at just 24-30, his program has missed the NCAA Tournament for two straight years (unseen at Illinois since the early 1990s) and on Tuesday night he stood helpless as his shockingly fight-less Illini were blown out 79-58 by a football school with an interim coach in the first round of the NIT (that was Alabama, for those of you who better used your time).

Elsewhere, even Illini women’s basketball coach Matt Bollant has seen his record fall from a solid 19-14 record in his first year to 9-21 and 15-16 these past two seasons. Overall, Bollant’s Big Ten ledger is 17-33, which means that he, Beckman and Groce now have a collective record of 45-83 (.351) in league games after three full seasons.

Continue reading at

Chicago’s Irish roots run deep on the South Side

paradeFrom the Saturday, March 14, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …


By Dave Wischnowsky

With the dyeing of the river, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade stomping its way north out of Grant Park and all the ensuing Irish-themed revelry, Chicago’s Loop and North Side will be painting the town green today.

But tomorrow? It’s the South Siders’ turn.

And on Sunday with the 2015 South Side Irish Parade, the southern half of the Windy City make the most of its big day (within reason) just like it has almost every year since 1979 (but, notably, not during all).

With perhaps the most colorful history of any parade in Chicago, the South Side Irish Parade has both a rollicking past and what’s become a more tempered, but no less popular, present.

The Parade

Scheduled to begin at noon, this year’s South Side parade will kick off in the Beverly neighborhood at 103rd Street and head south down Western Avenue to 115th Street.

Held prior to the parade at 11 a.m. is the Emerald Isle Mile, a one-mile, timed race starting at 112th and Western and heading north to 104th, with proceeds benefitting Special Olympics Chicago.

For more information about the parade route or the race, visit

Continue reading