Chicago’s winter weather can turn a leisurely stroll through downtown into an endurance test. Luckily, for the past 60 years there has been a growing network of underground tunnels to offer escape from the cold, wind and rain. The Pedway’s 40-block, 5-mile tunnel system is a neighborhood unto itself, and a Pedway journey has more to offer than just shelter from the elements.
Many commuters who work in or near one of the 50+ buildings with Pedway access are familiar with the system, but for the occasional visitor a few helpful tips, along with some recommended destinations, can turn a potentially unpleasant downtown visit into a subterranean voyage of discovery. Here’s a guide to some of what’s to be found throughout the corridors below.
As the Pedway was constructed in various stages, by a variety of developers, there is little uniformity to its design or layout. Signage is sometimes absent, and degrees of temperature and cleanliness vary, but despite the drawbacks it is a useful and efficient means for getting around a significant part of the Loop. The network of tunnels that comprises much of the northern half of the Loop mostly provides access to civic buildings such as the Thompson Center, City Hall/County Building and the Daley Center, as well as CTA stations, Block 37, Macy’s and the Cultural Center. This section features some baffling twists, turns and seemingly dead ends, but the signage is fairly reliable, so if in doubt, keep an eye out for the yellow-on-blue “compass” plaques.
Tunneling one block north from City Hall, you’ll find yourself in the Thompson Center’s food court, also known as The Great State Fare. Take a break from a draining visit to Department of Revenue or the Secretary of State’s office at one of the many tables surrounded by a large circle of fast food outlets. Retail and a post office are one level up, as well as access to various CTA lines.
Heading east from City Hall, you’ll pass through the Daley Center concourse and the Blue Line entrance beneath Dearborn St. Continuing on, the doors open to the relatively polished and new Block 37. Here you’ll find an impressive selection of retail and meal options.
If you’re in the mood for a special sweet, Beard Papa’s will be on your right, and they have just what you need.. The Japanese chain’s only Illinois location is here, and they specialize in the ever-awesome cream puff. Buy one (or a box full) and sample some of their other unique items such as Mochi rice cakes and Mont Blanc custard. (muginohointl.com)
Across the hall you’ll find Simply Thalia, a fine casual Asian Fusion restaurant with plenty of simple, healthy items on the menu. Vegetarians especially will appreciate the abundance of tasty meat-free options. (simplythalias.com)
Continuing eastward, you’ll find yourself among the many retail outlets of the Block 37 mall. A shopping break avails the visitor of such choices as Akira, Anthropologie, the Disney Store, Sephora, Steve Madden, and Zara. More retail outlets are slated to open soon. (block37.com)
Crossing under State Street, through revolving doors and up a few steps, large windows on the right reveal the lower level of Macy’s. At the entrance is InField’s, a sporty hideaway with a solid menu and daily drink specials. The lower level dining options expand into the Marketplace Foods food court, with a variety of casual home-style cuisines. (visitmacyschicago.com/dining.cfm)
Further east you’ll find yourself under the wonderful Chicago Cultural Center. Signs direct Pedway-ers to an elevator to the first floor. The Cultural Center features a café (with occasional free lunchtime concerts), a Chicago-centric gift shop, and several exhibition spaces. It’s a beautiful building, and the culture’s free, so make sure to take some time out for a visit. (explorechicago.org).
East of Michigan Avenue, north of Millennium Park, the Pedway winds through the “New Eastside.” This section is largely a network of connections to office complexes, residential buildings and hotels. The Pedway’s newest branch was completed just this past November, connecting the luxury high rise Aqua to the Fairmont Hotel, Swissotel and 303 E. Wacker Drive.
Heading eastward past the Cultural Center, the Pedway leads into the Metra/South Shore Millennium Station. On the pathway into the ticket area you’ll find Bar Millennium, a lively sports bar with affordably-priced drinks and friendly conversations among commuters. Following the floor stripes as they curve left will lead you up the escalator and into the Prudential Plaza Randolph Street lobby. Here you’ll find Market Creations Café, a breakfast and lunch favorite featuring casual, fresh fare served buffet-style.
If you’re looking for a slightly more formal dining option, the entrance to Tavern at the Park is located here as well. Enjoy views of Millennium Park or a seat at their lengthy bar for substantial portions of classic American cuisine. (tavernatthepark.com)
The Pedway continues onward through AON Center and northeast to the Fairmont Hotel. An adjacent section north of Lake Street leads up to Wacker Drive and east to the Swissotel. At Michigan Plaza, 225 N. Michigan Avenue, the Pedway leads to Sweetwater Tavern and Grille, a welcome addition to the neighborhood’s restaurant scene. Slip into a cozy booth and watch a game on one of the many large-screen TVs perched throughout this spacious after-work hangout. (sweetwatertavernandgrille.com)
The Pedway leads north and east through Illinois Center, offering a nice refuge from the lake winds along Wacker Drive. From there you’ll be connected to the Hyatt Regency Center and the easternmost reaches of the Pedway at the Swissotel. The hotel’s primary dining destination, The Palm, serves as an ideal location to end a trip through the labyrinth. (thepalm.com/chicago)
For a firsthand Pedway experience, take some spare time out to explore if you get the chance, or, even better, take a guided tour. Improv comedienne Margaret Hicks offers 90-minute tours on Mondays and Thursdays at 10:30 a.m. Go to chicagoelevated.com and click on “Tours” for more information. Know thy Pedway, and the Pedway will be good to you.
—Greg Wahl is a Chicagoan, a freelancer, a grad student, and a seeker of all things awesome & interesting throughout the city and beyond.