Chicago

Escape Chicago Without Leaving Town By Visiting These 8 Places

You could use a break.

Garfield Park Conservatory
Garfield Park Conservatory
Garfield Park Conservatory

Itching for a late-summer adventure away from Chicago but not quite ready to pull the travel trigger yet? Thankfully, our beloved 312 is full of activities and destinations primed to pull you out of your daily humdrum and convince you you’re worlds away from home. Stay safe and satisfy your wanderlust at these eight in-city getaways.

Garfield Park Conservatory
Garfield Park Conservatory
Garfield Park Conservatory

Tour the tropics at Garfield Park Conservatory

Make like you’re charting a course through a far off jungle at this 184-acre Westside gem, home to one of the country’s largest and lushest botanical conservatories. Between the palm house, fern room, sensory garden, horticulture hall, and scenic bluestone terrace, you’re looking at a full day of stunning natural splendor without ever crossing over the city limits.

Shore Club Chicago
Shore Club Chicago
Shore Club Chicago

Claim a cabana and sip something beachy at Shore Club

Chicago’s sandy beaches might still be shut down for swimming but that doesn’t mean you can’t get your seaside fix. Claim your spot on this freshly-reopened North Avenue hotspot’s breezy open-air patio and gear up for an afternoon spent downing margaritas in full view of Lake Michigan’s crashing waves. Reservable cabanas and day beds, loaded party cooler packages, and upmarket bites like ceviche and poke, mezze plates, and lobster tacos keep the vacation vibes going long past sunset.

Treat yourself to a schvitz at Red Square Spa

Kiss 2020’s toxins goodbye in tried-and-true Eastern European style at this Division Street original, in operation since 1906. The multilevel bathhouse features a spa, steam baths, saunas, tanning booths, and a full-service bar and restaurant overflowing with blintzes, borscht, housemade pickles, and other restorative Ukrainian specialties. Also, vodka. Enjoy, comrade.

Kayak Chicago
Kayak Chicago
Kayak Chicago

Paddle your blues away with Kayak Chicago

Get your Lewis and Clark on with help from this Chicago River-based kayak rental company. Traversing the city’s waterways from your man-powered vessel lets you scope out your hometown from an entirely new perspective and, an added bonus, gives you a hell of a workout without the stress of stepping inside a germy gym. Check out the different guided tour options — the City Lights evening paddle is socially-distanced date night gold — or simply opt for a quick lesson followed by an all-day DIY experience.

Lurie Garden
Lurie Garden
Lurie Garden

Discover clandestine beauty at Lurie Garden

Imagine a gorgeous garden bursting with vibrant indigenous flora and pristine, ecologically sensitive landscaping and protected from the outside world by rows of dense 15-foot hedges. Now stash that botanical oasis smack dab in the middle of the Loop’s Grant Park, practically hidden in plain sight, and you’re looking at the city’s most sublime (and best kept) secret garden. You’ll barely notice the skyscrapers towering overhead as you traipse through the fairytale-like expanse.

Travel back in time at a drive-in movie

2020 is shaping up to be the year of al fresco living with everything from restaurants and bars to yoga classes fully embracing the pandemic-quelling powers of the great outdoors. Take advantage of this sliver of a silver lining by planning a retro-inspired trip to one of the area’s newly established drive-in theaters. Urban pop-ups in Pilsen, Lincoln Yards, and Soldier Field cater to city folk in search of late-night escapism while repurposed stadiums in Bridgeview and Hoffman Estates lure Chicagoans to the ‘burbs for some good old-fashioned fun. Next month, Floating Boat Cinema brings its nautical screening series to town, inviting ticket holders to enjoy a mix of classics and new releases from the gentle rock of a socially distanced, eight-person mini boat.

Utopian Tailgate
Utopian Tailgate
Utopian Tailgate

Soak up the carefree college town vibes at Utopian Tailgate

Care for a round of cornhole or perhaps a little tableside keg service? Thanks to this 10,000-square-foot rooftop rager from local legends Fifty/50 Restaurant Group (Roots, the Sixth), you no longer have to duck down to Urbana or up to Madison to party like a co-ed. Between drinks, let the bright, neon-hued decor elevate your mood as you run the field on the foosball table or try your shaky hand at giant Jenga.

Break in those new binoculars at Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary

Think urban birding is all grimy pigeons and French fry-stealing seagulls? Prepare to have your nature-loving mind blown at this pastoral 15-acre Northside destination. Here, eager peepers can feast their eyes on over 300 different migratory species including warblers, thrushes, sparrows, woodpeckers, thrashers, and more. Make sure to set your sights on the Magic Hedge, a 150-yard stretch of fragrant trees and flowering shrubbery that serves as an internationally recognized hub for fluttering fauna.Sign up here for our daily Chicago email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun in town.

Meredith Heil is a contributor for Thrillist. 

Chicago

Robyn DaCultyre Is Doing It for the Culture

"The cool thing about Ohio is that there is literally a place for everyone."

Photo by Kayode Omoyosi
Photo by Kayode Omoyosi
Photo by Kayode Omoyosi

I was introduced to Robyn DaCultyre at an Untitled Queen show at C’mon Everybody in late January, and it was one of the most unique drag shows I’d seen in a while. Afterwards, I tracked down this self-described “drag creature” and video chatted about her drag origin story, the state of drag in her native Ohio, and the dual identities that make up her persona. Thrillist: I want to ask you about how Robyn DaCultyre came about and your point of view behind your performance.

Robyn DaCultyre: I’ve been travelling around the country from a young age in ministry and Christian studies. I moved to Chicago right after high school. Four years later, moved back to Columbus and decided I didn’t really want to do church anymore; that wasn’t where my heart was.

I had a really low point in my life and had a suicide attempt and then really found drag and started doing drag as a coping mechanism and way to let off steam. I started in July of 2019, and it was really a lot of punk and metal music. I created this drag creature of sorts and they were really out of this world and celestial and all of those fun alien type terms.

And then we went into a global pandemic and I had a lot of time to figure out who I wanted to be. Digitally I was still doing a lot of drag creature-esque numbers and all of that, but I had this moment where we’re on the front lines getting hit with pepper spray and rubber bullets and pepper spray-all of those lovely things. And I said, I have this platform and I need to start showcasing what’s happening.

Untitled [Queen] stepped in at the right time and messaged me and said, “I’m doing this show for Independence Day called Untitled in America with 52 different performers and I want you to be a part of it.” It was at that moment I was able to take the footage I had been recording on the front lines and incorporate it into digital content. I did a song called Black Like Me by Mickey Guyton that talks about white picket fences, but if you want to see how America is, then you should try being Black like me. The imagery of what’s literally happening in Columbus in that digital performance really spearheaded me into focusing on people who look like me.

Nina Simone is one of my biggest inspirations, and one of her quotes that resonates with me is that it’s the duty of the artist to resonate with the times. My art is politically charged. I like to entertain, but there will definitely be a time when you come to a show expecting to have your drink and be chill and that might not be the case.

How did the name Robyn DaCultyre come about?

I was smoking with Ursula Major, who was on season one of Dragula, and the first time I introduced myself to her I was Robyn Banks, which is my drag name originally. She said, “Well, do you just not want to be original at all?” [Laughs] And I sat with that for a couple of months, and I got really stoned one day and was listening to Janelle Monae, and she talks about doing it for the culture, and I said “I do it for the culture, too!” And the rest is history.

And you started a series called Melanated.

We started Melanated last February. I told the idea to my show director that there were no shows specifically run by Black people that only featured Black entertainers. I wanted to do this show for a night and she said, Why don’t we do it once a week for the whole month? The first show happens, and it’s a sold out crowd, and [my director] comes back and says we should do this every month. So I sucked it up and here we are a year later.

Melanated is the only fully Black show in all of the state. It’s a horrible marketing tool and not something I want to promote, but it is just a fact. It amazes me that we are the 13th largest city in America and there’s nothing here that’s fully focused on Black entertainers. The name also comes from Janelle Monae; she says she’s highly melanated and I said, that works.

Photos by Chay Creates LLC (left) and Bridget Caswell (right)
Photos by Chay Creates LLC (left) and Bridget Caswell (right)
Photos by Chay Creates LLC (left) and Bridget Caswell (right)

You refer to yourself as a drag creature, as opposed to drag queen or king…

This is actually the first time I’m making this public. I am in this place where I want to separate the alternative creature from who this melanated goddess or whatever is. DaCultyre is definitely the person who runs Melanated and then Robyn is this drag creature that is out of this world and really loves punk and alternative music. And both intertwine to make Robyn DaCultyre.

You also do pageants. Tell me about that.

In 2020 I was appointed by Nina West, who is from Columbus, as the representative from Ohio for National Entertainer of the Year in Louisville, Kentucky. I placed ninth out of 13 contestants and I really fell in love with the system and fell in love with the pageantry and loved the idea of reigning and being different. I want to show that we as alternative performers, as bearded performers, you can come into these systems and shake things up.

Is there a uniquely “Ohio” style of drag?

No, and I think that’s one of the things that makes it so amazing is that everyone has their own unique style, and it’s all pretty much accepted. I started as a performer and a drag creature and there was space that was afforded to me and I transitioned to more glamor and pageantry and that’s afforded to me as well. I’ve been a bearded entertainer for a year now. The cool thing about Ohio is that there is literally a place for everyone.

I think I have everything I need. Is there anything else I didn’t ask you about that you want to bring up, or‚Ķ

I don’t think so. Are there any generic questions you haven’t asked?

Generic questions‚ĶI think I asked all of them already [laughs]. I like to ask what you’d be doing if you weren’t doing drag?

It’s a great question. I have a day job that is very demanding so I need drag to get away. I’m also very creative and artistic. I used to do web design and all these other things to pull into my creativity. Drag is the longest thing I’ve stuck with in all parts of my life, so I don’t think it’s going anywhere anytime soon.

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John deBary¬†is a drinks expert and writer. His first cocktail book,¬†Drink What You Want, is available now, and his next book,¬†Saved by the Bellini, is expected in early 2023. He is also the co-founder and president of the¬†Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation, which is dedicated to improving the lives of hospitality industry professionals through advocacy, grant making, and impact investing.

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