United Center – Chicago Blackhawks
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United by Stanley
For years after the United Center opened in 1994, the Chicago Blackhawks were the “other tenant” in the building. As the Bulls declined into mediocrity, the Blackhawks rose in prominence, hitting its zenith with its first Stanley Cup championship in nearly 50 years in 2010. Today the United Center is a hot ticket when the Blackhawks are in town, and a filled standing room only crowd a common sight.
Food & Beverage 5
The selection of food at the United Center is almost overwhelming, but then again, so are some of the prices. The highest priced gourmet items can be found along the first level concourse. You can stop by the Sweet Baby Ray’s stand and go for the brisket sandwich ($13.50) or BBQ pork sandwich ($11.50). The steakhouse stand offers the rib eye steak sandwich ($13.25), Angus steak burger ($12.50), or shrimp po boy ($15).
Mid-priced options can be found including the signature Madhouse burger ($9.75), grilled chicken sandwich ($8.50), and pulled pork sandwich ($8.50). Classics are only slightly overpriced and include a hot dog ($5.75), nachos ($6), Connie’s deep dish pizza slice ($5.75), and brat ($6.25). The recommendation when selecting your food is to stay with a classic, like a slice of Connie’s pizza, or go all the way with a tasty, but high-priced item (avoid the middle options).
Drink selections are plentiful, and there are several bars scattered across the upper concourse that provide for a great view of the game action below. You’ll find numerous options for mixed drinks. Beers will cost you $7.50 for Budweiser products, and premium beers like Sam Adams, Heineken, and Red Hook will run you $8.50. Coke products are available for $5.50 for a large.
One of the greatest traditions in all of sports is the cheering that accompanies the National Anthem. It’s one of those things that you have to experience live to fully appreciate. If you don’t get goose bumps, then you’re probably not alive.
The staff that runs the music and video do a great job of building the pre-game drama with highlight montages, and the crowd takes the energy from there. It’s interesting that as much as the Stanley Cup meant to this franchise and the city of Chicago, that you see very little mention of it during the game day experience. The new banner though, does add to the building.
Once criticism of the seating is the lack of cup holders. I have always thought that fans can be a lot louder if they aren’t forced to hold a drink in one hand during the contest.
One knock on the United Center has often been the rough neighborhood where it resides. While it is true that the near west side of Chicago is not exactly the place for a vacation home, the neighborhood is not as bad as it is sometimes portrayed.
The key is to stay to the east side of the United Center. The nearest mainstay is the famous Billy Goat Tavern, found less than a 1/2 mile away on Madison, where you must have a Cheezborger (as made famous from the Saturday Night Live skit).
The West End Bar & Grill is also a hot spot for pre-game, and is loaded with Blackhawks fans getting their drink on. Come early because this place is packed even three hours before a game. My choice is the Palace Grill (1408 W Madison), a diner where you can grab some beers, some good burgers or breakfast food, and still be surrounded by Blackhawk paraphernalia, without the crowds.
If you have plenty of extra time before the game, check out the Italian American Sports Hall of Fame, located a couple of miles away in the Little Italy neighborhood on Taylor street. There’s also a great array of restaurants along that strip if you want to fill up on some pasta pre-game.
Blackhawk fans have the muscled hearts of a crew that has endured a half century of failure, but that recent glow of a Stanley Cup. There is a new energy to the fans, and the conversations that you hear around the arena are focused on hockey. Whether it’s around the NHL, the history of the Blackhawks, or recent news.
There were as many as 1,000 fans waiting in line to get inside the arena 90 minutes before the puck dropped, a great testament to how eager fans are to continue the winning ways.
There are plenty of bathrooms, but they tend to be small, so expect a solid 15 minute wait during intermission to get from your seat and back. Concourses are wide and there is a social feeling between periods.
Parking will cost you a bundle if you want to be close to the United Center, but if you’re willing to walk a few blocks, there are bargains to be found. For $35 you can park right next to the arena. Move across the street and the price drops to $20. A half block further you move into “unofficial” parking and the cost goes to $18. Another block further east and you’re 3/8 of a mile away and parking for $17 (half the price for less than half a mile).
I’ve had real good luck going just a little bit further and parking on the street for free. About a block past the Billy Goat Tavern, you should be able to find a spot on the street about two hours before the game. Another option is to take the train. The nearest Green Line stop is at the corner of Lake & Ashland and is about 5/8 mile walk to the United Center.
Return on Investment 4
Tickets can be hard to find in the post Stanley Cup era, but I was able to find a ticket about mid-way up the 300 level for $30 ($20 face value), and I had a great view of the action. Unless you can get down by the boards, the perspective of a 300 level seat provides great perspective that you can’t get from watching the game on TV.
The food is incredibly expensive, but definitely a higher quality than what can be found in most arenas. Likewise, parking can be expensive, but if you’re willing to wear your walking shoes, you can find a bargain further away, or by taking the train. Overall, you’ll definitely get what you pay for at the United Center for a Blackhawks game.
I’ll give an extra point for the unparalleled experience of yelling and cheering through the National Anthem with 20,000 of your closest friends. Another extra point for being able to see one of the NHL’s original 6.
The championship banners (4 in all, from the 1934, 1938, 1961, and 2010 seasons) are worth an extra point. Finally, an extra point for the fantastic fans- knowledgeable and enthusiastic with just the right mix of misery and ecstasy in their past.
It is truly a great time to be a Chicago Blackhawks fan. Likewise, any hockey fan should try to make a trip to the United Center, experience the anthem, and witness a game of a very proud franchise.
Food and Drink Recommendations
National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame
1431 West Taylor Street
Chicago, IL 60607
Holiday Inn Hotel and Suites Chicago (map it!)
506 West Harrison St
Chicago, IL 60607
Chicago Marriot at Medical District/UIC
624 South Ashland Ave.
Chicago, IL 60607
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