Alex and I met at Northwestern University, but back in those days we were just friends - we hung out in similar circles, but didn’t start dating until well after graduation. Still, Northwestern has a very special place in both of our hearts, and we share many memories there, so it only seemed right to spend one final day saying goodbye to our beloved campus and the town surrounding it.
Evanston is a bustling suburb located about 12 miles north of Chicago, serviced by Chicago’s public transportation system (the CTA) via the Purple Line. The Purple Line technically begins service at the Howard stop, requiring a transfer from the Red Line if you’re coming from the city. During weekday rush hour times, though, the Purple Line Express actually runs all the way into the city center, making stops along the Red and Brown lines into the Loop. To get a sense of when the Purple Line operates with express service, the CTA’s route planner is a useful tool, as is Google Maps.
On this particular day, we actually got lucky - we managed to catch the last outbound Purple Line Express at Fullerton, saving us a wait at Howard. The Northwestern campus and most of the off-campus sites frequented by students are located nearest to the Davis, Foster, and Noyes stops, although continuing north to the Central station will bring you to Ryan Field, the school’s football stadium.
NORTH CAMPUS AREA
We graduated five years ago, and a lot has changed since we moved away. Many of our favorite spots have moved, renovated, or closed - as was the case with legendary sandwich purveyor Rollin’ to Go, a student staple and possibly the most beloved restaurant near North Campus. Sadly, neither Alex nor myself ever really got a chance to say goodbye as it shuttered in 2015, but trust us when we say it deserves a mention anyway. RIP, friend.
Luckily, other stalwart spots from our younger years are still around. Coffee Lab, which actually moved a few hundred feet east from its original spot on the corner of Noyes and Maple and now occupies the empty space where Rollin’ to Go (gone but not forgotten) used to be. The lattes and snacks are great, but what we really love is just a plain cup of pour-over coffee, brewed with care using Intelligentsia beans - no cream or sugar required.
I also have to mention Al’s Deli. Although we arrived too early (the shop is open from 11:15-3pm) to visit on this particular day, this tiny, eclectic shop deserves to be brought up because it is my number one choice for incredible sandwiches and some of the tastiest macarons I’ve ever had the joy of eating. Opt for the smoked turkey with aioli on rosemary olive bread, and thank me later. Do note that it is cash-only, but there are several ATMs nearby.
Northwestern’s campus runs from north to south along Lake Michigan. North Campus is home to the fraternity quad, as well as a number of dorms and classroom buildings. The expansive Technological Institute, called ‘Tech’ by students, is home to a vast array of labs, lecture halls, and offices for mostly science classes - and is a place I personally hate, due to an unpleasant hour I once spent lost in its basement corridors with no phone reception, struggling to find an exit among a series of increasingly foreboding research labs plastered with signs reading “CAUTION: RADIATION INSIDE.” In that moment my life could have become a horror movie or a superhero origin story, but luckily I found some stairs and resigned myself to a happily mundane, mutant-free future.
If you continue south on Sheridan Road, a short detour behind the Garrett seminary will bring you to a favorite campus hideout: the Shakespeare Garden. Tucked away from the noise of busy Sheridan Road, it’s a tranquil space to enjoy some lovely scenery and get away from the stress of classes for a while. I’m always surprised by how empty the garden is, considering everyone I know adores the place, but I guess that’s why it’s so damn charming.
The farther south you travel on campus, the closer you get to the ‘downtown’ area of Evanston. Along with some freshman dorms, the sorority quad is one of the southernmost residence areas on campus. I lived in my sorority house for two years and it tremendously shaped my college experience. When I was an undergrad, it was awesome to meet all of the Tridelt alumnae who would stop by on homecoming weekend and regale us with stories of their college experiences, so I like to think that it’s not super weird that I stop by here whenever I’m in Evanston.
Behind the campus, Lake Michigan runs along the greenery of Northwestern's Lakefill. Home to running paths, painted rocks, and the best views of Downtown Chicago on campus, on sunny days the Lakefill is dotted with students reading, sunbathing, and hanging out with friends. It's a place where I've spent many happy afternoons avoiding homework and enjoying the few days of warmth the Midwest has to offer.
Downtown Evanston is home to a vast array of shops and restaurants with options for any craving. But one stands above the rest, the undisputed king of Evanston’s restaurant scene, beloved by students past and present: Bat 17.
A tiny bar and grill that opened a large bar space next door a few years ago, Bat serves up gigantic sandwiches and salads alongside an exceptionally well-curated craft beer selection. I literally dream about the BBQ Chicken Salad (like, it’s happened multiple times, it’s fine), but the Blue Lightning buffalo chicken sandwich is a close second, and their breakfast ‘balawats’ are all divine. Alex personally prefers to order one of the many pastrami options, but you literally cannot go wrong - there is not a single bad thing on the menu. This place is the best in town, and everyone knows it - on game days expect to wait, and on Homecoming weekend it’s packed to the gills literally all day, but there’s a reason everyone comes here. It’s worth the wait - and you’ll want to be extra hungry, because we’re not exaggerating when we say the portions are enormous. Go now, thank us later.
After Bat, Alex and I were too full to move, so we decided to head home. That’s not to say there’s nothing left to do in the city - Evanston has a lot going on, and there are plenty of options ranging from concert venues to bars and restaurants that we didn’t get a chance to cover here. We just wanted to offer a glimpse into our college years by showcasing some of our favorite spots around campus, but Evanston offers plenty more that we didn’t get a chance to visit on this particular trip. If you’re looking to get out of Chicago for a day and get a feel for campus life, Evanston is an easy, fun, and interesting option, and we like to think that even if you’re not affiliated with Northwestern, you’ll find something worth your while.