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We have to give you credit, CTA. After all the ways you’ve screwed us over in 2009 (full buses passing us by, trains running express when we least expect it, the persistent odor of bodily fluids), you think you can make us forget all of it by offering penny rides on New Year’s Eve. And you know what? It just might work. Because instead of writing up a list of grievances, we’ve been busy brainstorming how to spend those cents between 8 p.m. Thursday and 6 a.m. Friday. Here’s what we’ve come up with (not including all the New Year’s Eve events on the slate):

  • Hop on the Red Line and spend some time at the Jackson stop, where you’ll surely find a music performance in progress, whether it’s classical violin or jazz on electric guitar. Increase your enjoyment by stopping by Ceres Café for a drink with the traders first.
  • Take a ride over to the Chicago Blue Line stop to view the new installation from local artist Peter N. Gray. While you’re there, head above ground for a cocktail at the Matchbox and maybe a heart attack (the Three Little Piggies Sandwich) at the nearby Silver Palm.
  • Plan a Pink Line journey to 18th St, where the decorated station will have you in awe. Not only that, but perennial favorite Nuevo Leon is just a short walk away (and if you’re taking a ride on the tail end of the deal, Panaderia Nuevo Leon opens at 5:30 a.m.)
  • Pre-party with the Wildcat faithful at Tommy Nevin’s Pub in Evanston, off the Purple Line’s Dempster stop – the diehards have plenty to prepare for, as Northwestern plays its biggest football game in several years on New Year’s Day, against Auburn in the Outback Bowl at 11 a.m. (if you can’t bear to leave the city, try Lion Head Pub – by the Fullerton stop – or the brand-new Purple Haze, steps away from Belmont).
  • Ride the Brown Line out to Francisco, just so you can confirm it exists (seriously, it’s gotta be the least referenced stop on the North Side). The welcoming Montrose Saloon is a short jaunt south.
  • Go for a late, late dinner (or an early breakfast) at the 24-hour Huck Finn Donuts near the Pulaski stop on the Orange Line. We recommend the Donut Delight (topped with whipped cream and ice cream).
  • Brave the cold and take a walk to Promontory Point, near the Garfield Green Line stop in Hyde Park. It’s the perfect place to toast to 2010 (with non-alcoholic beverages, of course).


Got better ideas for how to take advantage of cheap public transit on New Year’s Eve? Let everyone know in the comments. And remember to check out Centerstage’s Virtual L to find the best spots near train stops year-round.

3 Things We Love About ... Dunning

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1. One of the advantages to living in this Northwest Side neighborhood is proximity to the family-owned Eli's Cheesecake World, 6701 W. Forest Preserve Dr. The cheesecake sprang from Eli's The Place For Steak restaurant; the dessert made its official debut on July 4, 1980 at the first Taste of Chicago.

Originally a manufacturing/distribution plant, Cheesecake World was renovated and remodeled, adding a 40-seat cafe, serving up coffee, cakes and of course, cheesecakes. More than 30 types of cheesecakes are manufactured and you can tour ($3 a person, call ahead to arrange, 773-736-3417) the glass-fronted processing/baking area to see just how these delectable treats are made.

The company store features “Sweet Imperfections,” cheesecakes at nearly half-price.

2. Those who have lived in the area for decades affectionately call the Harlem Irving Plaza Mall, 4104 N. Harlem (at Forest Preserve Drive), “the HIP.”

Technically located in Norridge (but literally across the street from the Chicago border) the HIP opened in 1956 (the land was once the site of a livestock farm) and was one of the first “shopping centers” built in the Chicago area. At the time, it was an open-air shopping center with 44 stores including Wieboldt’s, Woolworth and Kroger’s.

4-10_Stewart_Franksville_3.jpg That all went away more than 30 years ago when the mall was renovated, and enclosed, expanding to more than 700,000 square feet of enclosed shopping space. Anchor stores now include Target, Carson Pirie Scott and Best Buy.

3. The familiar “choo-choo train and engineer” neon sign of Franksville, 3550 N. Harlem, has been beckoning diners for decades. This is the home to the footlong hot dog ($3.80), the jumbo dog ($3.80) and the regular Chicago hot dog ($1.97). The cheese fries ($2.24) are a must. Dine-in or drive-through.

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