The Underground Guide: Chicago with Black Cards

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Black Cars / Photo: Courtesy of Black Cards
WRITTEN BY
Josh Modell

With his emo-punk juggernaut Fall Out Boy on extended hiatus, bassist-lyricist Pete Wentz launched the poppy, ska-leaning Black Cards with singer Bebe Re xha. The band has just a handful of shows under its belt, including one at the Chicago outpost of Angels & Kings, a bar Wentz co-owns. Black Cards, whose debut album is imminent, will return to Chicago-Wentz grew up just outside the city, in suburban Wilmette-to play Lollapalooza this summer, on the same stage as FOB singerâ€"turnedâ€"solo artist Patrick Stump.

Breakfast spot
The Original Pancake House
153 Green Bay Rd., Wilmette 847-251-6000

Wentz is quick to point out that, though this is a chain, it's definitely not IHOP. "Pretty much every Sunday we would go there," says Wentz. "The apple pancake takes, like, four hours to make. It's like having dessert for breakfast."

Dinner spot
Chuck Wagon
1120 Central Ave., Wilmette 847-256-0120

Wentz waxes nostalgic about this greasy spoon, located close to where he grew up. He recommends the heart-stopping Nikki Special, a double cheeseburger topped with gyro meat. "There's just one location, down the street from the elementary school I went to," he says. "We would go there for lunch all the time.

Late-night hang
Pick Me Up Café
3408 N. Clark St. 773-248-6613

A solid diner with loads of vegetarian options and an indie-rock-leaning clientele, the Pick Me Up benefits from its close proximity to top Chicago venue Metro, which is just three blocks north. Rexha, whose Chicago experience is limited to touring and vacations, swears by the Cancun combo and the French toast: "It was better than my mom's! They're big, but I was eating off [Black Cards drummer] Spencer's plate after!"

Record store
Reckless Records
1532 N. Milwaukee Ave. 773-235-3727

Most of Wentz's favorite spots to browse for music have been lost to history, but he says, "I'll still go to Reckless every once in a while." A thriving mini-chain, Reckless has three locations throughout the city.

Music venue
Fireside Bowl
2648 W. Fullerton Ave. 773-486-2700

This legendary venue-indeed an ancient bowling alley with working lanes-hosted early shows from the likes of Jimmy Eat World, Shellac, Alkaline Trio, and Fall Out Boy. Its heyday has long passed, but Wentz recalls stage-diving off of the pay phones there. "It was a little bit like Lord of the Flies," he laughs. "I remember being at shows and thinking, 'Who are the adults? Who's running this thing?'?"

First local venue we played
Angels & Kings
230 N. Michigan Ave. 312-334-6722

Black Cards' Chicago debut occurred, naturally, at Angels & Kings, a surprisingly classy bar that recently moved into the Hard Rock Hotel downtown from its former stand-alone spot in the River North neighborhood. "It makes me nervous because Pete's from there," says Rexha. "I want to do my best there."

Movie theater
Biograph
2433 N. Lincoln Ave. 773-871-3000

"What's-his-name was shot there, right? John Dillinger." Indeed, Wentz's favorite old movie palace-which now presents live theater instead-was where the bank robber saw his last flick before being killed by the FBI right outside, in 1934. "They would play cheap movies and '80s movies," Wentz recalls.

Shop
Belmont Army
855 W. Belmont Ave. 773-549-1038

The owners of Chicago's coolest Army surplus store were booted out of their old location to make way for a new El train station, but they resurfaced just down the street with a huge new store that stocks not only fatigues, but also skateboard gear, new fashion, and more. "It's like five stories tall!" marvels Wentz.

Museum/gallery
Shedd Aquarium
1200 S. Lake Shore Dr. 312-939-2438

This popular tourist attraction boasts penguins, dolphins, whales, sharks-and a killer bonus. "Behind it, there's this really rad wall to skateboard on, and it's right on the lake," says Wentz. "At night you can see the dolphins swimming around right there."

Thing to do on a day out
Hang out in Grant Park

Known as "Chicago's front yard," Grant Park is a sprawling green space that borders Lake Michigan. Wentz likes both "the bean"-a huge reflective sculpture-and the festivals that the park hosts, including Lollapalooza and Taste of Chicago. "It's different from L.A.-no one cares who I am. Sometimes people say hi, but it doesn't have the blood-in-the-water vibe to it."

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