Bryan Gruley is reporter at large for Bloomberg News and the author of The Skeleton Box, The Hanging Tree, and Starvation Lake. Formerly the Chicago bureau chief of The Wall Street Journal, Gruley shared in the Pulitzer Prize given to the newspaper for coverage of the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has won the Anthony, Barry, and Strand Awards and was nominated for an Edgar Award for best first novel. He lives with his wife in Chicago. Hockey plays a role in the life of the fictional town of Starvation Lake, as do two of Bryan’s other passions, northern Michigan and newspapers. His new Starvation Lake book is The Skeleton Box, releasing June 5, 2012.
My favorite place to watch a hockey game is my own house, where I control the remote and the beer is free. My favorite place to play hockey is the little town of Plaster Rock, New Brunswick, where I travel each February for the World Pond Hockey championships.
But Chicago is a superb hockey town, and has lots of great places to skate or play or even do both.
1901 West Madison Street
Chicago, IL 60612
Older Hawks fans wax nostalgic about the old Chicago Stadium, with its narrow brick corridors, the noise that shook the place and the mezzanine seats so steep you could set your beer on the head of the fan in front of you. But even though I’m a Detroit native who roots for the Red Wings, I love seeing games at the UC. I get goose bumps during that wild National Anthem and, as a skater myself, enjoy watching tough, skilled players like Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith. However, you may need to take out a small home-equity loan to afford a ticket and a brat.
1350 W. Madison Street
Chicago, IL 60607
Six blocks east of the UC is one of the best amateur men’s hockey rinks in the country. The second-floor rink isn’t as fancy as some of the newer suburban palaces, but has loads more character with its old-school dressing rooms and the banners on the walls celebrating the world’s greatest game. And when you’re done skating, you can quench your thirst at the Stanley Club, a little pub overlooking the rink with four TV screens and a great collection of old Hawks photographs. Plus, you’re around people who might actually know something about hockey, instead of the plastered idiots yelling “Shoot!” and “Hit him!” when they couldn’t stand up on skates. There’s now a second Johnny’s a few miles west: great ice, bigger bar, but still doesn’t quite have the character of the old one.
Elmhurst YMCA Ice Rink
211 West 1st Street
Elmhurst, IL 60126
There’s nothing special about this rink except that it’s outside—and that is very special to hockey players who grew up skating on backyard rinks or sliding around in boots on a snow-packed street. The ice is terrific when the temperature’s between 20 and 30. My favorite moment here was on a New Year’s Eve morning. Six former Hawks were skating and it began to snow lightly—a perfect day for hockey. (But don’t forget your sunglasses when it’s bright out).
Will’s Northwoods Inn
3030 N. Racine
Chicago, IL 60657
Whenever out-of-towners visit, I insist on taking them to Will’s, a classic corner bar tucked among houses and condos. The place has more screens than a NASA command center and more taxidermy than the Field Museum. My favorite stuffed animal: the massive snapping turtle bursting from the wall across from a signed Wisconsin hockey jersey from ex-Hawk Adam Burish. Antler chandeliers, friendly bartenders, and a fine menu—I recommend the BLT—make Will’s a must for fans wanting to watch any sport, but especially hockey.
1638 West Belmont
Avenue Chicago, IL 60657
It was good enough for the Hawks the night they brought home the Stanley Cup, so it ought to be good enough for any fan. A Hawk sighting is possible, as a number of players live in the area. The knotty pine décor gives it a bit of a Yuppie feel, but the Pony T-shirts bear the Hawk chief’s head and the 20 TV screens of varying sizes make it easy to do what you came for: watch. Not so sure about serving Pork Belly Nachos to hockey fans, but the 16-inch grilled cheese sandwich will sustain you well into triple overtime.