Culture of Chicago

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Chicago jazz club

The culture of Chicago, Illinois is known for the invention or perfection of several performing arts, including improvisational comedy, house music, blues, jazz,[1] and soul.[2]

The city is known for its Chicago School and Prairie School architecture. It continues to cultivate a strong tradition of classical music, popular music, dance, and performing arts, rooted in Western civilization, as well as other traditions carried forward by its African-American, Asian-American, European, Hispanic, and Native American citizens. Chicago is known for a robust and vigorous tradition of surrealist, funky figurative paintings and art, such as the Chicago Imagist group.

The city is additionally known for various popular culinary dishes, including deep-dish pizza, the Chicago-style hot dog and the Italian beef sandwich.

Food and drink[edit]

In 2008, Maxim awarded Chicago the title of "Tastiest City."[3]

Local specialties[edit]

The sign at the original Maxwell Street Express Grill (now on Union), advertising Maxwell Street Polish, and a range of other offerings.

The great triumvirate of Chicago-style foods is:

  • The Italian beef: a sandwich featuring thinly sliced roast beef simmered in a broth (known locally as "gravy") containing Italian-style seasonings and served on an Italian roll soaked in the meat juices. Most beef stands offer a "cheesy beef" option, which is typically the addition of a slice of provolone or mozarella. A "combo" is a beef sandwich with the addition of grilled Italian sausage. Italian beef sandwiches are traditionally topped with sweet peppers or spicy giardiniera.[citation needed].

Chicago's oldest delicacies are chicken Vesuvio and shrimp DeJonghe.[citation needed] Other Chicago-style dishes include:

  • Chicago-style popcorn,which consists of caramel corn and cheese-flavored popcorn mixed together.[citation needed]
  • The jibarito is a specialty sandwich that originated in the heart of Chicago's Puerto Rican community. Invented by Borinquen Restaurant in the Humboldt Park neighborhood, a jibarito is made with meat or chicken, and condiments, placed between two pieces of fried and flattened plantain instead of bread.[5]
  • Chicago also has its own unique style of tamale, machine-extruded from cornmeal and wrapped in corn husks or paper, and typically sold at hot-dog stands.[6]
  • Although not indigenous to Chicago, gyros are common, reportedly introduced to the U.S., along with flaming saganaki, by Chicago's Parthenon restaurant.[7] Many locally owned fast-food restaurants serve hot dogs, Italian beef, and gyros.[citation needed].

Less well known are:

  • The more provincial South Side specialties such as the "Big Baby", a style of double-cheeseburger with grilled onions and the condiments, traditionally located underneath the burger patties, which originated at Nicky's The Real McCoy on 58th and Kedzie in the Gage Park neighborhood;[8]
  • The breaded-steak sandwich, a specialty particularly found in the Bridgeport neighborhood, which consists of a pounded inexpensive cut of beef that has been breaded, fried and served in an Italian bread roll smothered in marinara sauce, and topped with mozzarella cheese and green peppers (optional);[9]
  • Aquarium-smoked barbecue, particularly rib tips and hot links;[10]
  • Atomic cake, featuring banana, yellow, and chocolate cake layers alternating with banana, strawberry, and fudge fillings.[citation needed]

Restaurant scene[edit]

Chicago features many restaurants that highlight the city's various ethnic neighborhoods, including Chinatown on the South Side, Greektown on Halsted Street, and Little Italy on Taylor Street and the Heart of Italy. The Indo-Pak community along Devon Avenue hosts many Pakistani and Indian eateries. The predominantly Mexican neighborhoods of Pilsen and Little Village are home to numerous eateries ranging from small taquerías to full scale restaurants. The predominantly Mexican neighborhoods of Pilsen and Little Village are home to numerous eateries ranging from small taquerías to full scale restaurants. Several restaurants featuring Middle Eastern fare can be found along Lawrence Avenue, while Polish cuisine is well represented along Milwaukee Avenue on the Northwest side and Archer Avenue on the Southwest side. A large concentration of Vietnamese restaurants can be found in the Argyle Street district in Uptown.[citation needed]

Chicago has its own local fried-chicken chain, Harold's Chicken Shack. The city is also home to many fried-shrimp shacks.[citation needed]

Along with ethnic fare and fast food, Chicago is home to many steakhouses, as well as a number of upscale dining establishments serving a wide array of cuisine. Some notable destinations include Frontera Grill, a gourmet Mexican restaurant owned by chef and Mexico: One Plate at a Time host, Rick Bayless; Graham Elliot's eponymous restaurant, Graham Elliot; Jean Joho's Everest, a new-French restaurant located on the top floor of the Chicago Stock Exchange building downtown, and Tru from chefs Rick Tramonto and Gale Gand.[citation needed]

Chicago has become known for its ventures in molecular gastronomy, with chefs Grant Achatz of Alinea,[12] Homaro Cantu of Moto,[13] and Michael Carlson of Schwa.

Craft Brewing[edit]

Chicago has a long brewing history that dates back to the early days of the city.[14] While its era of mass-scale commercial breweries largely came to an end with Prohibition, the city today boasts a number of microbreweries and brewpubs. Included among these are large regional brewers, such as Goose Island, as well as more localized craft brewers like Argus, Half Acre, Metropolitan, Off Color, Pipeworks, and Revolution Brewing.[15][16]

Annual events include Chicago Craft Beer Week,[17] the Chicago Beer Festival,[18] and the Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beer (known as FOBAB).[19]

Distilled spirits[edit]

Jeppson's Malört is a brand of bäsk, a Swedish-style liqueur flavored with wormwood. Known for its bitter taste, it can be found in some Chicago-area taverns and liquor stores, but is seldom seen elsewhere in the country. The Carl Jeppson Company was founded in Chicago in the 1930s and is still based there, but the beverage is now distilled in Florida.[20]

Koval, Chicago's first distillery to operate within city limits since Prohibition, began operation in 2008. Located in the Andersonville neighborhood on the city's North Side, Koval offers a wide range of spirits and was featured on the Chicago ("World's Greenest Beer") episode during the second season of the Esquire Network show Brew Dogs in 2014.[21]


Main article: Chicago literature

Early writers associated with Chicago include, Theodore Drieser, Eugene Field, Hamlin Garland, Edgar Lee Masters, and Frank Norris.[22] Poets have included Gwendolyn Brooks and Carl Sandburg. Other notable writers often associated with the city's literary tradition include Nelson Algren, Saul Bellow, John Dos Passos, James T. Farrell, Loraine Hansberry, Ernest Hemingway, Upton Sinclair, Studs Terkel, and Richard Wright.


Main article: Music of Chicago

Chicago has made many significant pop-cultural contributions. In the field of music, Chicago is known for its Chicago blues, Chicago soul, Jazz, and Gospel. The city is also the birthplace of the House style of music, whose history is related to the development and fostering of the Techno style of music in Detroit, Michigan. The hip hop scene in Chicago is also very influential, with major artists including Kanye West, Twista, Common, Lupe Fiasco, Da Brat, Shawnna and Rhymefest.

Chicago artists have also played an influential role in the R&B–soul genre. Popular R&B artists to hail from Chicago include R. Kelly, Dave Hollister, Jennifer Hudson and Carl Thomas.

The rock band Chicago was named after the city, although its original name was the Chicago Transit Authority. The band's name was shortened to Chicago after the CTA threatened to sue them for unauthorized use of the original trademark. Popular 1980s band Survivor is from Chicago.

Chicago has also been home to a thriving folk music scene, particularly in the 1960s and 1970s. John Prine, Steve Goodman and Bonnie Koloc were the most prominent folk singer–songwriters of that time. Goodman, an obsessive Chicago Cubs fan, is most closely associated with the city.

Many mainstream Rock and Roll acts hail from Chicago or were made famous there. Among these are The Blues Brothers, the aforementioned Chicago, Styx, Cheap Trick, Buddy Guy, REO Speedwagon, and Albert King.

In the late 1970s, local band The Shoes arguably started indie rock with a power pop album recorded in their living room. 1980s' and 90s' alternative bands Local H, Eleventh Dream Day, Ministry, Veruca Salt, My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult, Material Issue, Liz Phair, Urge Overkill, and The Smashing Pumpkins hail from Chicago. Contemporary rock bands The Lawrence Arms, Soil, Kill Hannah and Wilco are also Chicago-based. The 2000s have seen local artists Disturbed, Alkaline Trio, The Academy Is, Rise Against, The Audition, Spitalfield, Chevelle, the Plain White T's, Kanye West, Lupe Fiasco, and Fall Out Boy also attain success in the U.S.

Chicago has become known for indie rockers following in the paths of the Smashing Pumpkins, Urge Overkill, Wilco, and The Jesus Lizard; bands like The Sea and Cake, Califone, OK Go, Andrew Bird and Umphrey's McGee hail from the city. Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger of The Fiery Furnaces, who now reside in Brooklyn, New York are originally from Oak Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. Chicago is also home to many independent labels like Thrill Jockey, Drag City, and others, and to the popular music-news website Pitchfork Media.

A handful of punk rock bands are based in Chicago. Some of the more famous punk rock products of the city are Naked Raygun, The Effigies, Big Black (featuring Steve Albini), The Squids (featuring LaTour), and Screeching Weasel. Many of these punk and indie bands got their start at noted alternative music venues Metro (originally Cabaret Metro), Lounge Ax, and The Fireside Bowl.

Chicago is also known for being the "birthplace of American Industrial Music",[citation needed] as many bands got their start in Chicago. The city was also home of the now-defunct Wax Trax! Records record label which once had KMFDM, Ministry, Front 242, PIG, Front Line Assembly, My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult, Coil, and more on its roster.

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra is one of the nation's oldest and most respected orchestras. It is well regarded throughout the world through tours in both Asia and Europe and also through a large number of recordings widely available. Perhaps because of Chicago's historically large German-American population, the CSO is particularly well known for its performances of pieces by German composers.

Chicago also has a thriving and youthful contemporary classical scene. Major venues for new music include concerts by the International Contemporary Ensemble, Ensemble Dal Niente, Third Coast Percussion, Fulcrum Point and the CSO's MusicNOW series. Composers of note include Augusta Read Thomas, Lee Hyla, Marcos Balter, Kirsten Broberg, Hans Thomalla, Jay Alan Yim and Shulamit Ran.

While lacking a school of music with the stature of the Juilliard School or the Curtis Institute of Music, the Chicago area does have a number of colleges. The best known outside of the region is the Northwestern University Bienen School of Music. The Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University and the School of Music at Depaul University are both working to expand their reputations.

Chicago's colorful history and culture have provided inspiration for a wide variety of musical compositions. In the 19th century, the chain of events surrounding the Great Chicago Fire led Chicago resident Horatio Spafford to write the hymn "It Is Well With My Soul".

Performing arts[edit]

Main article: Theatre in Chicago
Illinois Theatre, Chicago, Illinois, c.1909

Chicago is a major center for theater, and is the birthplace of modern improvisational comedy.[23] The city is home to two renowned comedy troupes: The Second City and I.O. The form itself was invented at the University of Chicago in the 1960s by an undergraduate performance group called the Compass Players, whose members went on to found Second City. It is also home to one of the longest running plays in the country—the Neo-Futurists' Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, an ensemble of 30 plays in 60 minutes. Many world-famous actors and comedians are Chicagoans or came to study in the area, particularly at Northwestern University in Evanston.[citation needed]

Since their foundings in 1925 and 1974, Goodman Theatre, downtown, and Steppenwolf Theatre Company on the city's north side have nurtured generations of actors, directors, and playwrights. They have grown into internationally renowned companies of artists. Many other theatres, from nearly 100 black box performances spaces like the Strawdog Theatre Company in the Lakeview area to landmark downtown houses like the Chicago Theatre on State and Lake Streets, present a wide variety of plays and musicals, including touring shows and original works such as the premiere in December 2004 of Spamalot. The Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Lookingglass Theatre Company, and the Victory Gardens Theater have won regional Tony Awards, along with Goodman and Steppenwolf. Broadway In Chicago, created in July 2000, hosts touring productions and Broadway musical previews at: Bank of America Theatre, Cadillac Palace Theatre, Ford Center for the Performing Arts Oriental Theatre. Broadway In Chicago provides over 7,500 jobs and an economic impact of over $635 million.[24][25] Polish language productions for Chicago's large Polish speaking population can be seen at the historic Gateway Theatre in Jefferson Park.

The Lyric Opera of Chicago, founded in 1954, performs in the Civic Opera House. The Civic Opera House was built in 1929 on the east bank of the Chicago River and is the second-largest opera auditorium in North America with 3,563 seats. The Lyric Opera purchased the Civic Opera House from the building's owner in 1993. The company has reported an average of 100% sales for the past 16 years and approximately 34,000 subscribers for its six-month season.[citation needed]

The Lithuanian Opera Company of Chicago was founded by Lithuanian Chicagoans in 1956,[26] and presents operas in Lithuanian. It celebrated fifty years of existence in 2006, and operates as a not-for-profit organization. It is noteworthy for performing the rarely staged Rossini's William Tell (1986) and Ponchielli's I Lituani (1981, 1983 and 1991), and also for contributing experienced chorus singers to the Lyric Opera of Chicago.[27] The opera Jūratė and Kastytis by Kazimieras Viktoras Banaitis was presented in Chicago, Illinois in 1996.[28]

The Joffrey Ballet makes its home in Chicago. Other ballet, modern and jazz dance troupes that are located in the city include Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, River North Chicago Dance Company, Gus Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago, Chicago Dance Crash, Thodos Dance Chicago, Chicago Festival Ballet and The Joel Hall Dancers.

The city's Uptown neighborhood is reported to be the birthplace of Slam Poetry, a style of spoken word poetry that incorporates elements of hip hop culture, drama, jazz and lyricism.


Main article: Sports in Chicago
U.S. Cellular Field on Chicago's South Side. Home of the Chicago White Sox

Chicago has 15 professional sports teams. Chicago is one of only a few cities to have its major sports teams play within its city limits. It is one of three U.S. cities that has two Major League Baseball teams, and the only city to have always had more than one baseball team since the formation of the American League in 1900. The Chicago White Sox of the American League, who won the World Series in 2005, play at U.S. Cellular Field, located in the city's South Side in Bridgeport neighborhood. The Chicago Cubs of the National League play at Wrigley Field, which is located in the North Side neighborhood of Lakeview, and the area of Lakeview near the stadium is commonly referred to as "Wrigleyville."

Wrigley Field on the North Side. Home of the Chicago Cubs

The Chicago Bulls of the National Basketball Association are one of the world's most recognized basketball teams, thanks to their enormous success during the Michael Jordan era, when they won six NBA titles in the 1990s. The Bulls play at the United Center on Chicago's Near West side. They share the "UC" with the Chicago Blackhawks, of the National Hockey League. The Hawks are an Original Six franchise, founded in 1926, and won their fifth Stanley Cup in 2013.

The Chicago Bears of the National Football League play at Soldier Field. Chicago is the largest city to have an NFL stadium. The Bears have won nine American Football championships (eight NFL Championships and Super Bowl XX) trailing only the Green Bay Packers, who have twelve.

The Chicago Fire, members of Major League Soccer, won one league and four US Open Cups since 1997. After eight years at Soldier Field, they moved to the new Toyota Park in Bridgeview at 71st and Harlem Avenue during the summer of 2006.

The Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League play at the Allstate Arena in nearby Rosemont. The Chicago Slaughter of the Continental Indoor Football League play at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, Illinois. The Wolves have won league championships in 1998, 2000, and 2002. Their first season was 1994–95.

The Chicago Hounds of the United Hockey League, the Chicago Shamrox of the National Lacrosse League and the Chicago Storm of the Major Indoor Soccer League play at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates.

Chicago United, USAFL members, are the Australian Rules football club in the city, competing in the MAAFL.

Chicago hosted the 1959 Pan American Games, and Gay Games VII in 2006. The city made an unsuccessful bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics, though it was heavily favored.[29][30]

Visual arts[edit]

The Chicago Picasso

Chicago is home to a lively fine arts community. The highest concentration of contemporary art galleries can be found in the River North neighborhood, though a great amount of arts activity also centers around the area around Wicker Park. Chicago visual art has had a strong individualistic streak, little influenced by outside fashions. "One of the unique characteristics of Chicago," said Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts curator Bob Cozzolino, "is there's always been a very pronounced effort to not be derivative, to not follow the status quo",[31] and arts pioneers such as Stanislav Szukalski who were tied to the "Chicago Renaissance" helped to fashion the city into a nexus for new trends in art.[32]

Chicago has long had a strong tradition of figurative surrealism, as in the works of Ivan Albright and Ed Paschke. In 1968 and 1969, members of the Chicago Imagists, such as Roger Brown, Leon Golub, Robert Lostutter, Jim Nutt, and Barbara Rossi produced bizarre representational paintings. Today Robert Guinan paints gritty realistic portraits of Chicago people which are popular in Paris, although he is little known in Chicago itself.

These same impulses also appeared in Chicago's lively Street photography scene, gaining notoriety through artists centered around the Institute of Design such as Harry Callahan, Aaron Siskind, Leon Lewandowski as well as in the work of nanny-savant Vivian Maier. Bob Thall's beautiful, bleak photographs of Chicago-area architecture have also won much acclaim.[33]

Chicago has a Percent for Art program of public artworks, although it is notoriously more opaque and secretive than that of most other cities; arts activist such as Paul Klein and attorney Scott Hodes have long criticised its lack of public accountability.[34]

Chicago is home to a number of large, outdoor works by well-known artists. These include the Chicago Picasso, Miró's Chicago, Flamingo and Flying Dragon by Alexander Calder, Monument with Standing Beast by Jean Dubuffet, Batcolumn by Claes Oldenburg, Cloud Gate by Anish Kapoor, Crown Fountain by Jaume Plensa, and the Four Seasons mosaic by Marc Chagall.

The city has a number of art museums, of which the two largest are the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Contemporary Art.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Research Resources on Chicago, Jazz, and the Great Migration", University of Chicago Library. Retrieved February 22, 2015.
  2. ^ "Chicago Soul", AllMusic. Retrieved February 22, 2015.
  3. ^ "The Food Awards (II)". Maxim. November 14, 2008. Retrieved December 12, 2008. 
  4. ^ Zeldes, Leah A. (2010-07-22). "Do only barbarians put ketchup on hot dogs?". Dining Chicago. Chicago's Restaurant & Entertainment Guide, Inc. Retrieved 2014-09-12. 
  5. ^ a b Zeldes, Leah A. (2010-01-22). "City of the big sandwiches: Four uncommon Chicago meals on a bun". Dining Chicago. Chicago's Restaurant & Entertainment Guide, Inc. Retrieved 2010-06-16. 
  6. ^ Zeldes, Leah A. (Dec 18, 2009). "The unique Chicago tamale, a tuneful mystery". Dining Chicago. Chicago's Restaurant & Entertainment Guide, Inc. Retrieved Dec 18, 2009. 
  7. ^ "History". The Parthenon. Retrieved 2011-05-30. 
  8. ^ "Video". 
  9. ^ "Sandwiches". Chicago Joe's. 
  10. ^ Zeldes, Leah A. (2008). "Smoke 'em if you got 'em". Dining Chicago. Retrieved 2009-07-15.  On the West and South sides, barbecue joints tend to be strictly take-out places, and the style is typically smokier and chewier, cooked in aquarium smokers. (Developed in the 1950s and unique to Chicago, these rectangular cookers with transparent doors get their name from their resemblance to fish tanks.)
  11. ^ All Things Considered (2007-05-19). "Making a Mother-in-Law Sandwich". Retrieved 2011-05-30. 
  12. ^ "Staff". Alinea Restaurant. 
  13. ^ "Review". 
  14. ^ Kaplan, Jacob (August 20, 2009). "Bygone Breweries", Forgotten Chicago. Retrieved February 23, 2015.
  15. ^ "Illinois Breweries", RateBeer. Retrieved February 23, 2015.
  16. ^ "Updated: Chicago Brewery List", The Hop Review. Retrieved February 23, 2015.
  17. ^ Noel, Josh (May 14, 2014). "Chicago Craft Beer Week Begins", Chicago Tribune. Retrieved February 22, 2015.
  18. ^ Sudo, Chuck (March 27, 2012). "Chicago Beer Festival: Does Location Make the Festival?", Chicagoist. Retrieved February 22, 2015.
  19. ^ Montoro, Philip (November 18, 2013). "The Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beer: Still Completely Ridiculous, Still Definitely Great", Chicago Reader. Retrieved February 22, 2015.
  20. ^ Peters, Mark (November 20, 2012). "In Chicago, a Spirit Rises Despite Bitter Reviews", Wall Street Journal. Retrieved February 22, 2015.
  21. ^ "Brew Dogs – Episode Descriptions", Esquire Network, May 20, 2014. Retrieved February 24, 2015.
  22. ^ Centerstage Media, LLC. "19th Century - Chicago City Life in Chicago, Illinois". Retrieved 2011-05-30. 
  23. ^ Sawyer, R Keith (September 30, 2002). Improvised Dialogue. Ablex/Greenwood. p. 14. ISBN 1-56750-677-1. 
  24. ^ Burghart, Tara (2007-01-16). "Study Outlines Chicago Theater Impact". San Francisco Chronicle. [dead link]
  25. ^ [1][dead link]
  26. ^ "About the Lithuanian Opera Company, Inc. in Chicago". Lithuanian Opera Co. Retrieved 2006-09-14. 
  27. ^ Marsh, Robert C. (2006-07-10). "Author's Preface". In Pellegrini, Norman (ed.). 150 Years of Opera in Chicago. DeKalb, Illinois: Northern Illinois University Press. xii. ISBN 0-87580-353-9. 
  28. ^ "Posters by Ada Sutkus for the Lithuanian Opera Company of Chicago". Retrieved 2011-05-30. 
  29. ^ Levine, Jay. "Chicago In The Running To Host 2016 Summer Games[dead link]." CBS. July 26, 2006. Retrieved on December 1, 2006.
  30. ^ "Official Chicago 2016 Website." Retrieved on December 1, 2006.
  31. ^ Joann Loviglio, "Chicago Art Stars in Philly Exhibition", Chicago Sun-Times, Wednesday, February 22, 2006, p. 49
  32. ^
  33. ^ Warren, Lynn, Art in Chicago 1945-1995, Thames & Hudson, 1996 ISBN 978-0-500-23728-1
  34. ^ Kevin Nance, "Artists Plan Protest on Public Art Policy", Chicago Sun-Times, Sunday, June 10, 2007, p. 10A