(City of Chicago, Chicago…)
Rocket-shaped, rainbow pylons mark the bustling, vibrant epicenter of Boystown, but somewhere just over the rainbow, there are many boutiques, novelty stores, restaurants and bars that some visitors to Chicago might easily miss--until now.
A new outpost of the neighborhood InstaGreeter program--a free visitor service offered by the Chicago Office of Tourism and Culture--launches May 26 at the Center on Halsted. Featuring one-hour guided walks led by what the COTC calls "knowledgeable locals," the tours cover Boystown, as well as the Lakeview and Wrigleyville neighborhoods.
"The great thing about the Chicago Greeter program is that the walks are not scripted," explained Kathy Law, who manages the tours. "Lakeview/Wrigleyville/Boystown is a multi-faceted neighborhood with lots for guests to experience. It could be Halsted Street, with its retail, restaurants, and bars, or it could be Wrigley Field for sport enthusiasts, or a greeter could choose to explore the neighborhood to show guests how we live, and highlight residential architecture."
Launched four years ago, there are four neighborhood InstaGreeter programs organized for the summer of 2012: Hyde Park, Old Town, Pilsen, and Lakeview/Wrigleyville/Boystown. Each location is open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on alternating Saturdays from May 26 through Oct. 6.
And as the name "InstaGreeter" suggests, no pre-registration is required, as tours are given on-the-spot, on a first-come, first-served basis.
Unlike some other urban tours, these walk-alongs are not composed of a gaggle of tourists gamely following in the wake of a Greeter. Instead, group size is purposely limited to six or less to encourage interactivity between the Greeter and guests.
Most of the Greeters who will be working out of the Center on Halsted are already a part of the volunteer program, like Mike Chapter, a COTC InstaGreeter for nearly two years.
"I think one of the best reasons to take an InstaGreeter tour is to get the insider info from a local who lives in the neighborhood," said Chapter. "Visitors want to know specifics about which bars are popular on certain nights, which have special events, or where to go for a certain type of crowd or music.
Chapter said sometimes, it's difficult to get that kind of information from a website, and he plans to highlight specific boutiques and resale shops that make for interesting browsing, as well as some the area's hidden-gem restaurants.
InstaGreeters based out of the Center on Halsted will attend an orientation session prior to the program's launch. New volunteers receive additional training that includes attending Greeter tours led by a seasoned guide.
The launch of the new Lakeview/Wrigleyville/Boystown InstaGreeter program takes place on an especially festive weekend--the annual International Mr. Leather competition, which attracts thousands of LGBT participants from around the globe to the Boystown neighborhood and the surrounding area.
"Our Greeters are good about knowing what is going on in the neighborhood they are posted in," said Law. "We look at them as ambassadors for Chicago who pass along information to guests--maybe we can get some of those Mr. Leather contestants to use our new Lakeview/Wrigleyville/Boystown InstaGreeter Service!"
"Each tour guide does his or her own research to make sure they are on top of all the events in the neighborhood," added Chapter. "I'm sure we'll be ready to answer questions that visitors will undoubtedly have about IML, the Pride festivities in June, and Market Days in August. It will be great for guests to have the insights from a local."
Tony Peregrin is a RedEye special contributor