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AWP is coming close to an end.  Either that, or you’re already sick of attending panel after panel and just want to explore the great city you’re currently visiting for the next few days.  Whatever your particular situation, Mairead Case  has you covered.

And when you’re done reading her guided tour of Chicago, maybe read the Sunday Story she wrote for us

So since the Loop got privatized, one of my favorite things to do, no joke, is walk up State right at five o’clock, blaring “This Corrosion” by Sisters of Mercy. Because these days it can be hard to find a secret, a cheap drink, or a weirdo nook downtown – hard, though not impossible. So here, for you: some gentle rainbow-melt options to combat the I Have Had Too Much of This Conference and Am Going to Bonk –feeling.

Need a sandwich? The best ones I know, conference-proxy, are at Bodega N.5 (638 S. Michigan), where last week’s five-dollar special was this crazy beef-bacon-maple thing on crusty bread, or the pressed sandwiches and café con leche at Cafécito (26 E. Congress, in the hostel lobby), or – trumpet!, vegans – the Soul Veg wraps (and kale, and bar-b-que tofu, and macaroni and cheese) sold in the Barnes and Noble Café (1 E. Jackson). If you’d rather drink your pick-me-up, try a smoothie from Osaka Express(400 S. Michigan Ave) – just fruit, ice, and a not-too-syrupy lemon syrup – or a sinus-clearing ginger ale from Wow Bao (State and Lake).

If you need quiet or prep space, the Winter Garden on the 9th floor of Harold Washington Library (400 S. State Street) is forehead-smack beautiful, with high ceilings and weird little windows like you’re on the set of a musical after everyone’s gone home. (See also: the piano rental rooms.) My favorite place to wander-wonder, downtown, is the Fine Arts Building (410 S Michigan), with its sweet clocks, sweeping murals, and hand-crank elevator. Ride up as high as you can and then walk down, every floor is different and on sunny days the place is all glow.

Event-hungry? Try browsing Reckless Records (26 E. Madison) or future-visioning at the free Guerilla Girls exhibit, newly opened at Columbia College Chicago (in two spaces, 619 S. Wabash and 1104 S. Wabash, 1st floor). If you need copies and the Hilton Kinko’s is jammed, try Indigo (900 S. Wabash), a sweetheart mom and pop where I’ve printed everything from booklets for work to concert posters for me.

Another good free spot is the Claudia Cassidy Theatre lobby in the Chicago Cultural Center (78 E. Washington) – its fire hot red walls are checkerboarded with blue-peachy-tone art by Beatrice Sokoloff, a local lady and single mom who ran an earring factory with six employees and loved painting movie stars like Dietrich, Wayne, and Bow. She called her paintings The Shopworn Angel Movie Art Museum. (Bonus: if you stop by anytime before 9:30pm on Friday or Saturday, you can slip into Young Chicago Authors’ Louder Than a Bomb, too – it’s the largest youth poetry festival in the world.) (Full disclosure: I’m LTAB’s Volunteer Director.)

Got an itch for out-of-the-Loop drinks? It it’s with staff or old pals, I recommend Maria’s (960 W. 31st), a smooth and warm-toned bar featuring delicious fancy beer, delicious savory pies sold next door at Pleasant House, gemlike neighborhood company, and a shelf full of ventriloquist dummies. If you’re schmoozing an editor or a lover, I say try The California Clipper (1002 N. California) for its cheap classy cocktails and ruby-hued booths. I fell in love there once – another good place to do that, to fall in love, is on the floor or at the bar at CHANCES at the Hideout (1354 W. Wabansia), the glitter-golden late night dance party I recommend no matter what else you do before midnight Saturday, and whether or not you’re feeling too old slash low on gas. Five dollars gets you in, a couple more gets you a can of Hamms, then you’ll be set to go.

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