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Best public pool to have held Olympic swimming trials

Category, Portage Park, Sports & Recreation No Comments »

Portage Park Pool
An Olympic swimmer set world records here. Decades before Michael Phelps, legend Mark Spitz power-splashed through the 1972 U.S. Olympic swimming trials, hosted by Portage Park pool. He then won seven gold medals at that year’s Munich Olympic Games—a record that stood until 2008. Today, the facility boasts an Olympic-sized pool, high-diving board and sun deck. There’s also a smaller heated pool and a water play area. Though the aged locker room has seen better days, the historic aqua center still thrives.

4100 North Long

Best of Chicago 2010

Best new Old World sauna

Goods & Services, Portage Park No Comments »

The Sweat Lodge

Want to escape Chicago’s brutal cold but don’t have the time or money to fly away? For twenty-five dollars the Sweat Lodge offers a mini-vacation in warmth and splendor. Strip away your snow-soaked boots and the rest of your heavy clothes and wade into the steam room where you’ll view an ethnic Chicago scene that has been re-enacted for over a century. Sweaty men yell through a thick cloud of steam in Ukrainian, Russian, Yiddish, Spanish and sometimes English while sitting in the 100-degree-plus room insulated by four tons of Belgian granite. Some complain about their wives, others brag about extra-curricular affairs, but most are busy dousing themselves with buckets of ice-cold water or engaging in the almost medieval act of rubbing their bodies with dried oak leaves. For the whole body effect, jump into the 35-degree wading pool long enough to catch your breath and then run back into the steam room. There is also a dry sauna made of two tons of red stone, dozens of soft lounge chairs and a kitchen that offers surprisingly good and inexpensive soups and salads as well as a selection of beers as varied as the clientele. As you once again put on your armor to face Chicago’s miserable winter, it is guaranteed that you will do so with a renewed sense of warmth and bravado.

3500 North Cicero

Best hotdog shack

Food & Drink, Portage Park No Comments »

Don’s Dog House

When you think of fast-food joints today, you think of shiny glass and brick on the outside, with Formica tables and stainless-steel counters on the inside, all advertised by a giant, lexon-plastic sign. But what about the days of the corner hotdog stand or the hotdog shack on the beach? Cobbled together out of plywood, tin or whatever materials were available, these were the places that populated Steinbeck’s “Cannery Row” and Algren’s “Neon Wilderness.” Don’s Dog House is one of a vanishing breed of urban hotdog shacks, and its story would make the late Studs Terkel proud. “The place started in the 1960s,” Nathan Hoffman, the weekend shift-worker at Don’s says as he peers through a small, wooden window to take an order. “It was run by Greeks, and I guess they had problems with fires. It kept burning down and they kept repairing it with whatever they had around. Finally, they took an old school bus, cut it in half, and made it into a hotdog stand. So far it has been holding up pretty well.”

5359 W. Addison

Best of Chicago 2008