View Full Version : Growing up in Chicago in the mid/late 80s

04-26-2013, 05:03 AM
Anything and everything y'all can throw at me. I currently live in Chicago but did not grow up in the city. (I grew up in New Orleans).

MC of the book I've been working on moves from New Orleans to Chicago around '84. She is about 15 or 16 at the time. Right now I have her living in Evanston but where else would a slightly well off kid live back then?

Where would she go to school? Where would she hang out? What would she do in her spare time?

Any ideas/thoughts would be helpful, thanks!

04-27-2013, 09:35 AM
I grew up in the Chicago suburbs (north shore) a few years before your MC...I live in the city now and have for 20 years (a few places in between!). I can tell you what it was like in the early 80's.

A more well-off but not rich kid rarely lived in the city back then. My cousins did but they were pretty rich--they grew up in Lincoln Park and attended private school. In the 80's most middle class kids did not attend public school in the city of Chicago. They went to one of the super fancy schools (Parker, Latin, Lab or Chicago City Day) if they had the money or Catholic school or to one of a very few public schools (Lincoln Park High School) if they were not as wealthy. Other middle class mostly white neighborhoods were Beverly on the far south side, and various enclaves on the north side. Hyde Park was one of the few truly integrated middle class neighborhoods back then (that's still true to some degree). Woodlawn was (and is) a middle class African American neighborhood.

A lot of what your character would do and where she would hang out depends on her race, but I can tell you what a suburban white girl like me, who was artsy and into film, theatre etc did: movies at the Biograph (on Lincoln Avenue, now the home of Victory Gardens) and Varsity (Evanston, it is gone)--they were both arthouse theaters that played independent, foreign and classic films. Hang out at Wax TRax also on Lincoln Avenue, which was THE record store with an especially great selection of punk and new wave music. We spent a lot of time hanging out at allnight diners (one near Lincoln Park, I think it was called Clark's tho I can't remember!) and walking along the lake (skinny dipping if you were brave enough and drunk enough, especially at the curve between Evanston and Rogers Park...nearly deserted!). There was a punk bar called Exit where I saw The Clash when I was 15. There was also a bar called Medusa's which was an all-ages punk club near the Belmont el stop, and lots of homeless kids, runaways and hustlers used to hang out at the Dunkin Donuts on Belmont in the late 80's (and later...until they tore it down). Steppenwolf Theatre was housed in a tiny storefront (at the old Hull House which was torn down) and they did really edgy cool shows that drew big crowds of artsy kids (google Balm in Gilead...best theatre experience ever and I saw it 6 times). We used to go down to the Checkerboard Lounge on the south side and watch Buddy Guy and John Lee Hooker play. They'd serve you alcohol if you had a fake id or sometimes even if you didn't. I remember John Lee Hooker saying to a group of us dancing, "That's right, shake your fat little white asses."

In Evanston, we'd go to the beach, or walk to the lighthouse near Northwestern. There was also a great blues bar on Sheridan Road right near the border of Chicago where we would go see music. I saw Buddy Guy play during a snowstorm and there were so few people in the place that he unplugged his electric guitar and walked out onto the street and we all followed him while he played in the snow. "Taste of Chicago" was called Chicagofest back then and was waaay more mellow than it is now, it was still part of Blues fest but instead of being filled with throngs of drunk white people it was actually about 50/50 black and white and people just spread out blankets and families hung out...no big crowds just amazing blues.

Okay--I have gone on WAY too long, but writing this makes me realize how lucky I was to live here when blues actually was part of the identity of the city, not just a marketing gimmick (i haven't seen live blues in over 15 years!).

If you have any specific questions, feel free to send me a message.

04-27-2013, 09:51 AM
Oh Geez...I just thought of a few more things. I was a northside kid so we would go and see the Cubs. Wrigley Field had not yet been declared a "classic" ballpark and the Cubs sucked as much then as they do now, so it was easy to get tickets. It was 5 bucks for bleacher tickets, and like most places it was easy to get served alcohol if you didn't act like an idiot and had a gimmick (my friends and I would put on fake English accents and pretend to be foreign exchange students attending "university" in the states). The rooftops were just rooftops then and people who lived in the buildings hung out in lawn chairs and watched the game. It wasn't a great neighborhood back then, much grittier than it is now.

Water Tower was the cool place to go--everyone thought it was very modern. Marshall Fields was also a huge destination, especially at Christmas when you'd go downtown and see the window displays and eat lunch at the Walnut room (hourlong waits in line were not uncommon).

Downtown (as in the loop) was a desolate, ugly wasteland after 5 pm. Nobody lived there back then and there was zero nightlife. Old Town was the hotspot where there were lots of bars and restaurants. By the mid 80's Lincoln Park was pretty hip as well. The Mag mile was nice (and fancy) but not as built up as it is now. The Drake was one of the fancy places we would visit when my grandparents were in town (they always stayed there) and we'd have dinner at the Cape Cod room.

And there were always great hidden gems in various ethnic neighborhoods..Polish food at the Busy Bee in Wicker Park, Serbian food at Miro mars Serbian club on Lawrence, and many many more.

Okay done now. Really.

04-27-2013, 12:37 PM
I didn't grow up during the 80's, but three generations of my family grew up in the Chicago land area, specifically the "North Shore." My grandmother grew up in Evanston, my mother in Arlington Heights, my father in Des Plaines. I grew up in Wilmette/Kenilworth.

Evanston during the 80's was considered nice, and definitely a place a slightly well-off person would live. If she attended public school, she would have gone to Evanston Township Highschool, which is where my grandmother went and was considered better than New Trier High School, which I believe was split into New Trier East and West at the time due to the large number of feeder schools in that area. (New Trier is currently considered one of the best high schools in the state.)

In Evanston, there is a downtown type area with shops she might hang out at, along with your typical parks, restaurants, and whatnot. She might go down the Northwestern to hang out with a friend's older siblings. During the 80's, it was extremely common for 18 year olds to drink, although Evanston was supposed to be a "dry" down at one point. I don't remember when the drinking age switched, but a lot of people stocked up on beer and whatnot prior to the changeover because people who were legal suddenly weren't allowed to buy booze anymore. (Also, it was common place for kids to drive up to Wisconsin for alcohol, which had a lower drinking age.) Lake Michigan is a popular hang-out spot too.

Wilmette and Winnetka are two other suburbs near Chicago that would have been inhabited by "slightly well off" people. In that case, your MC would attend the New Trier Township High School with the campus in Winnetka. Unless she went to private school, in which case she might go to Loyola (but Loyola's Catholic.) In the 80's, the boys who attended Loyola had to swim naked during gym class. Glencoe and Kenilworth were, and still kind of are places where the rich live. Kenilworth is very, very small for a town, (one square mile) and at one point there was a ban preventing non-wasps from moving into the neighborhood, so for a long time only white protestants lived there but it's slowly gotten more diverse. Glencoe is known for it's large Jewish population. I mention Kenilworth and Glencoe because your MC would be attending a high school with students from those areas as well. New Trier takes students in from a lot of different neighborhoods.

If your MC lived in the New Trier district, she would likely spend a lot of time at Lake Michigan during the summer, an ice cream shop called Homers, which is located in Wilmette and very popular, possibly going into Evanston, or a place called Plaza Del Lago. There's also a forest preserve called the Skokie Lagoons she could spend time at. Popular malls in the North Shore are Old Orchard, and Northbrook Court. People LOVED Marshall Fields.

People from the suburbs or the "North Shore" frequently considered the city dangerous. You didn't go down there, even into the Loop, after 6 pm or on Sundays. The South Side was considered very, very dangerous, as was Wicker Park. My father has memories of visiting his cousins down town and when the black kids headed towards the playground, you had to leave because it was "their" territory and they'd beat up any white kids that tried to play there when they were using it.

04-27-2013, 10:41 PM
Wilmette and Winnetka are two other suburbs near Chicago that would have been inhabited by "slightly well off" people.

I guess it depends how you define "slightly well-off"--that can mean anything from above the poverty level from rich but not billionaires! I also grew up on the north shore (Highland Park, and my grandparents lived in Glencoe), and while there were plenty of average middle class folks there were also some VERY rich people who lived in huge mansions on Sheridan Road.

So to the OP, the big question is do you want your MC to be a city kid (Chicago) or a suburban kid (lots of choices) or from Evanston which is the one place that is kind of in between?

04-28-2013, 06:58 AM
First of all, mucho thanks for the info, lots of things I've not thought about.

The MC has gone to live with her half brother who is a young hot shot lawyer. Their father has left her with most of his $ and the half brother as guardian. Maybe because I live in Rogers Park and often go to Evanston for various reasons (and my husband works there), but I keep seeing them live in the 'rich' part of Evanston, but Evanston as it is today, (along the lake and near the 'downtown' side of the city) how was that like in the 80s?

And is the Wax Trax the same record store as referenced in "Pretty in Pink"? (More curious for asking than anything else)

She is white, she was born in New Orleans, but to a drug dealing/addicted mother who had an affair with said father.

This is actually a book I was writing for NaNoWriMo last year but for various reasons didn't get finished but I have been told by friends who have read what I have so far that it needs to be finished.

I guess I'm thinking she lives in either Evanston or a city kid.

(For what it's worth, New Orleans then and now, compared to Chicago is like comparing apples to oranges. NOLA has such a small town feel to it, in so SO many ways)

Again, thank you for any information!

04-29-2013, 05:58 PM
Evanston was a lot like it is now as far as wealth goes. Despite having some very poor areas, it is largely a pretty wealthy place.

I remember a few places we used to go in the 1980's that are still there. One is Cross Rhodes, a casual Greek restaurant. It's not very good now, but in the 1980's I remember hanging out there a lot and the food was really good. Other popular restaurants were Dave's (Italian) and The Pine Yard (Chinese). And if you have a teenage girl in the 1980's living in Evanston, she would definitely know about the Mexican Shop, which had some stuff from Mexico but was mostly known as a place where you could buy cool clothes, cheap sunglasses and all kinds of accessories. It's still there (and is still a great shop) but it is now in a different location. I think it used to be on Chicago Ave.

Funny, I forgot that Wax Trax was in Pretty in Pink! The John Hughes movies are a pretty good reference point for the north shore in the 80's. So is Ordinary People, where the MC has lunch at Walker Brothers in Wilmette, another "world heritage site" for anyone who was a teenager in the 80's in Evanston.

I live in West Rogers Park, so, like you, I am in Evanston a lot!