You’ve seen the red buses cruise through the Loop, their tour guides gesticulating wildly from rooftop seating. Now, for the first time, Chicago Trolley & Double Decker is rolling out bus excursions that leave the tourist-friendly Loop and head into neighborhoods, from Wrigleyville to President Obama’s Hyde Park. Curious, we hopped on the West Neighborhoods route to see where the red trolley would lead us.
The best information about the western nabes—Chinatown, Greektown, West Loop and Little Italy—came as the trolley rolled down Clark Street. Our humorous guide, Matt, expounded on historic Printers Row and the Bertrand Goldberg–designed Hilliard Homes. He even managed to take a shot at Blago as we rode by the coed Metropolitan Correctional Center. Amateur night, yes, but we let out some laughs.
After more solid edutainment, the tour strayed from downtown and guided commentary became too brief: At the Nine Dragon Wall, Matt offered little information about the Chinese community. But he redeemed himself with a stage-worthy comedic monologue about the Great Chicago Fire as we sat outside the Chicago Fire Academy: “One thing’s for sure, we can rule out the cow, who was acquitted in the late ’90s.”
On to Little Italy, where restaurant suggestions outnumbered actual Italian residents: “Damenzo’s is a hole-in-the-wall, but great food. The Italian beef from Al’s is a city fave,” Matt said. Gentrification was mentioned often, as we traveled by the UIC campus and Maxwell Street before hitting one of the tour’s purported draws, West Loop’s Harpo Studios.
As we headed back to familiar ground, the neighborhood excursion seemed a little out of the loop—pun is, indeed, intended. But on these tours, visitors like our bus-riding cabal of hand-holding couples, full-size families and globetrotters score the chance to see the city and ditch the Mag Mile.
Go now! Meet at the Park Shop in Millennium Park, 11 N Michigan Ave (773-648-5000, chicagotrolley.com). Daily through Sept 7; $29 all-day access to all tours.