Get us in your inbox

Chicago river, skyline
Photograph: Shutterstock

12 smells every Chicagoan will recognize

Do you smell that? Take a whiff of Chicago's most notable scents.

Written by
Time Out Chicago editors

It's not that Chicago is a particularly smelly city—not like New York in the summertime, at least. But there are a handful of scents that every real Chicagoan will recognize almost immediately, like chocolate wafting through the air (Blommer!) or hot, melty caramel (must be Garrett). In a way, these recognizable smells tell you a lot about our city and what it's all about.

We're still waiting on technology to catch up with scratch-and-sniff capabilities, but for now, you'll have to imagine these authentic Chicago odors.

1. Blommer Chocolate Company
No, you're not going crazy if you smell the scent of freshly baked brownies wafting through the West Loop and River North areas on a breezy day. It's Blommer Chocolate Company, the largest cocoa bean processor in North America, located at the corner of Milwaukee Avenue and Desplaines Street.

2. The Chicago River
Like us, the Chicago River has its good days and not-so-good days. Unlike us, it smells like rotten eggs (or raw sewage) when things get rough. 

3. Lake Michigan
The lake breeze has a particular smell. Not bad—a bit fresh, actually. Part fog, part fish, part wind. It just smells kind of like a massive lake, which makes total sense.

4. Hot goose poop in Grant Park
It's hard to describe what it smells like when the summer sun hits a field that's dotted with goose feces, but we pick up on notes of just-mowed grass and hot garbage.

5. Garrett Popcorn
One minute you're minding your own business in the Loop, and the next you're hit with the intoxicating scent of hot, melted caramel—BAM! It can only mean one thing: You're nearing a Garrett Popcorn shop.

6. Eau de corner bar
Close your eyes and imagine walking into your favorite neighborhood dive. What do you smell? Is that beer-soaked carpeting? Mmm. And top notes of stale popcorn and cigarette smoke? Indeed.

7. Caramelized cheese at Pequod's
Nearly burned cheese could easily be filed away as an unpleasant odor, but this beloved local pizzeria has a way of making it one of the most intoxicating scents in the city.

8. Italian beef
Beef has a very distinctive smell, and an Italian beef sandwich (gluttony at its finest) has a whole lot of it. This soggy Chicago delicacy smells exactly like what it is: a heap of boiled cow slathered in oily vinegar and peppers.

9. Malört
Most would describe this bitter wormwood liquor by its taste, but a keen Chicago nose can pick up on the liquid's faint acidity and medicinal properties from a mile away.

10. Used Divvy bike
Well, now we all know what butt sweat smells like.

11. Christkindlmarket raclette
When winter rolls around and Christkindlmarket sets up shop in Daley Plaza, there's one smell that dominates the rest: melted raclette cheese in all its baryard-y, smelly sock-like glory.

12. City Hall
Any building that dates back to the late 1800s carries a musty aroma that wafts through its halls, but the ancient stench of City Hall is particularly prounounced. Maybe it's just the concentrated scent of politicians expelling hot air?

    You may also like
    You may also like

    The best things in life are free.

    Get our free newsletter – it’s great.

    Loading animation
    Déjà vu! We already have this email. Try another?

    🙌 Awesome, you're subscribed!

    Thanks for subscribing! Look out for your first newsletter in your inbox soon!