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Hot summer fun in the Chicago sun

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Photo courtesy of Bill Malcolm
Photo courtesy of Bill Malcolm

Chicago makes for a perfect summer vacation. Festivals, biking along the lake, or just hanging out at the (Queer) Kathy Osterman Beach (aka Hollywood Beach) in the Bryn Mawr neighborhood are all great options.

Boystown, the "gayborhood," has been rechristened "Northalsted" to promote inclusion. You will find most of the Gay bars and businesses on Halsted Street.

I always stay at the Hotel Versey (644 W. Diversey Pkwy., at the intersection of Clark, Broadway, and Diversey, near the Diversey station on the Brown Line), just south of the gayborhood. The rooms are full of murals featuring local attractions, and parking is just $20 for your entire stay at the Century Shopping Center garage next door (the center also features an LA Fitness, which is free to use for hotel guests). Book directly at HotelVersey.com to save money. Weekday rates are reasonable; weekend rates are also better than anything downtown. Plus, you can walk to the bars or just enjoy the many nearby shops and restaurants. There is even a Trader Joe's across the street; just west of there is the new Dom's Kitchen and Market (2730 N. Halstead St.), where every kind of food is available freshly prepared.

Just steps from the hotel is my favorite Italian restaurant: Renaldi's Pizza (2827 N. Broadway); try the Spingione sausage pizza. Next door to the hotel is Stan's Donuts, a local favorite, which also offers grilled cheese and cookies.

Nearby Broadway features loads of independent shops and restaurants and is a fun way to spend the day. There's Unabridged Books (3521 N. Broadway), one of the last remaining independent bookstores, featuring a wide array of LGBTQ titles. It has been around since 1980 and is still going strong.

Also, don't miss Cram Fashion at 3331 N. Broadway. And grab a salad or enjoy a glass of wine at Mariano's (3030 N. Broadway).

If you need anything, the Walmart Neighborhood Market is at 2844 N. Broadway.

Other hotel options in the neighborhood include the Best Western Hawthorn Terrace and The Willows. All are just steps to the Lakeshore Path, which runs along nearby Lake Michigan.

Bargain hunters will also love the Heart of Chicago Motel, near the Andersonville neighborhood further north; it features free parking.

What to do
Head to the Queer beach (Osterman, or Hollywood, Beach). Enjoy the asada skirt steak tacos at the restaurant on the beach, Lakebreeze, with a margarita.

Hop on the L or the CTA bus for a trip to the Loop to experience Chicago's incredible architecture. My favorite is the Wrigley Building on Michigan Avenue near the Chicago River. Even the new buildings are stunning, such as the Trump Tower. Chicago does have some of the best architecture of any city on the planet.

Millennium Park in the loop is a must. The Shedd Aquarium is also recommended. Navy Pier has a Ferris wheel, among other features.

Walk along the new Riverwalk and then head up Michigan Avenue, which features the best shopping in the Midwest.

Or rent a Divvy Bike and explore the city.

Catch the Cézanne exhibit at the Art Institute.

The Lincoln Park Zoo is another fun idea.

Don't miss Northalsted Market Days, a summer street festival now in its 40th year, which will be held August 6 and 7. Lots of eye candy!

Make your first stop at Sidetracks (3349 N. Halsted), America's biggest and oldest video bar. There is something going on every night. The famous Sunday afternoon show tunes now happen on Mondays and Fridays as well. Don't miss the rooftop bar.

Many other LGBTQ bars are nearby. The North End at 3733 N. Halsted is a sports bar. The Lucky Horseshoe features adult entertainment. Charlie's is a Western-themed bar.

Just north of Andersonville on North Clark, you will find Touché and Jackhammer, which are popular with the leather crowd.

Getting there
Chicago is a major hub for all transportation types, with both O'Hare and Midway Airports as options. Southwest has a huge hub at closer in Midway Airport (to which you can fly on Porter from Toronto). Hop on the Orange Line for a quick ride into town.

Or try Amtrak, which has great service from around the country. Chicago's Union Station (and historic Great Hall) are worth a visit even if you are not taking the train.

Travel tips
If you are driving, look out for the many red-light cameras at intersections, which are eager to give you a ticket for going just a few miles over the speed limit. Short yellow lights also make it very likely you could get a ticket if you enter an intersection while the light is no longer green. It's a revenue raiser for the city, pure and simple, and a total scam. So drive slowly, and do not try to go through an intersection if there are only seconds left to cross.

You don't need a car in the city, though. Better to walk, take the CTA, or rent a BCycle to get around. The CTA (public transportation) is a great way to get around. Buy a VENTRA pass, so you don't have to look for change.

Like many US cities, crime is an issue, but I felt safe walking around the areas I visited.

Remember Lake Shore Drive? It also has a new name, Jean-Baptiste Pointe DuSable Lake Shore Drive, in honor of the city's founder.

For more information
For more information, visit GrabChicago.com (or pick up a copy). GRAB Magazine is Chicago's only remaining in-print LGBTQ magazine. Check the maps at the back of an issue for where to find the bars, restaurants, and other LGBTQ businesses.

The Chicago Reader is the biweekly alternative publication.

You will be amazed at everything Chicago has to offer. It is the Paris of the Midwest. And arguably one of the most LGBTQ+-friendly cities in the world. Just ask Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot — or her First Lady.

Chicago will surprise — especially the great beaches along Lake Michigan, the miles of bike paths, the wonderful parks along the lake, and the interesting neighborhoods. You cannot beat Chicago for a vacation.

Bill Malcolm is America's only LGBTQ-oriented syndicated value-travel columnist.