August 31, 2005

After gathering together a list of locations from past research as well as a new crop of additions from Gary Gulley, I arrived in Chicago on Friday afternoon, ready to give it my best shot. I’d been to Chicago last October, and had managed to visit just three booths: at Hangge Uppe, Melvin B’s, and the Local Option. This time, I was ready with a big list and a free day. 

I had a little time in the afternoon when I arrived, and then I’d have the rest of the evening after meeting a friend I was staying with. I decided to tackle the daytime businesses first, and leave the bars for the evening. I found some parking downtown and immediately headed for the City of Chicago Gun Registration office, which had long been the most intriguing photobooth location on my Chicago list. I found my way to the Richard J. Daley Center and headed through security before finding out the gun registration office had moved to a new police headquarters somewhere else in the city. Oh well.

Back in the car, then, and up to my next location, the Crunch Gym location at North and Sheffield, cited by some sources as having a booth. After finally finding the place, totally unadvertised on the outside, I learned that they no longer had the booth. Strike two.

sam_and_willys_blog.jpgFrom there, I headed up to West Lakeview to Sam & Willy’s, a terrific pet supply store known for its pet-friendly photobooth. I utilized some of Chicago’s plentiful “15 minutes but use your flashers” parking and zipped in for a quick photo. I had a nice chat with Joe behind the counter about the booth and how many customers don’t even realize it’s there. I got a phone call from my wife as I was sitting in the booth, so the photos reflect fifteen seconds or so of our conversation. My first success!

I had just a little time left before I needed to be uptown in Evanston, so I headed west a few blocks to The Village Tap, a terrific little bar and beer garden on Roscoe. Thankfully, they’d been open since noon, and I popped in to use their nice black and white booth. My afternoon was complete, with two out of four successes so far.

I headed back into Chicago around 6:30 that night, and decided to just run the map north to south, hitting as many locations as I could, one neighborhood at a time. My first stop would be Uptown, location of the Holiday Club. It was pretty quiet at 7:15, but I enjoyed the Sinatra-themed decor and had a Coke at the bar to get some change for the photobooth. Next stop, Wrigleyville, scene of an afternoon Cubs game whose fans were now spilling into the area’s many bars. I stopped first at Sluggers , a massive sports bar in the shadow of Wrigley Field. I made my way into the third room of the bar and found the photobooth near the exit to the patio. A group of people who seemed to have gotten an early start on their evening were sitting outside the photobooth, and one of them invited herself in to join me as the flash went off. She waited for the photos to come out, but left shortly before they arrived, and I took off with the strip (my first to have words printed between frames), never to see her again…or so I thought.

I walked down Sheffield from Sluggers to Sheffield’s in Lakeview. I wish I’d had a chance to stop and sample some of their hand-pulled ales, but I was on a mission. I paid my $1 cover (?) and headed to the empty back room, where I found the black and white photobooth in between the ubiquitous Golden Tee video game and the Sopranos pinball machine. 

I hopped back in the car near Wrigley and drove down to legendary music venue Schubas in Lake View. The photobooth, an Auto-Photo Model 14 with nice rounded ends, was nestled next to the Golden Tee machine right before the entrance to the performance area. I wish I’d had more time to spend there; it was a great old building.

From Schubas, I walked down Southport to the Lincoln Tap Room, an unremarkable place where I ordered a Sprite to get more ones and waited while a couple of girls played pool before I could sneak by to get to the photobooth.

Back in the car, I headed across town (and across the Chicago River) to Diversey River Bowl, where I had my first disappointment of the evening: a black and white booth that was out of order. Oh well. 

Off, then, to Wicker Park, and The Silver Room, a jewelry boutique with tall ceilings and a big magazine selection. Their black and white photobooth was enclosed in a nice wooden shell that matched the interior of the store, neatly done except for the little shim sticking out from the corner of the box.

By this time, it was about 9:30. I walked up Milwaukee a few blocks to find the Double Door, where I faced my first bouncer of the evening. I asked if I might pop in to take a photo in the booth, but was wet_animal.jpg informed it would be “seven dollars no matter how you cut it.” It was somewhat more painful that I was paying to hear a band called Wet Animal, but I didn’t come all this way to pick and choose, so I handed over my seven bucks and headed in. The photobooth couldn’t spit out the photostrip fast enough for me, and I headed back out into the night and back to my car. 

A quick drive and another “15 minutes with flashers on” parking spot got me to the Rainbo Club, where I allowed myself my one beer of the evening. I brought my two-dollar PBR into the three-dollar photobooth and relaxed briefly, taking in the scene at the bar, picking up a photobooth calendar and donating to the food bank. Liz Phair apparently shot the cover photo for “Exile in Guyville” in that booth, or at least another photobooth that was there in 1993.

One more stop in this neck of the woods, The Empty Bottle on Western Ave. The gentleman at the door was nice enough to let me in and hold onto my license while I went to use the photobooth, avoiding the cover charge for the band in the next room. Unfortunately, the booth took my first dollar and wouldn’t take any more (or any photos), so I was out of luck. 

It was time to head over to Hogs & Honeys, a bar I’d seen when I went to check out Crunch in the afternoon. Parking was a nightmare on Weed Street, with valet parkers and stretch Hummers making traffic come to a standstill. I asked the bouncer if I could check out the photobooth without paying the cover, and he said no way. But he added that he thought it was broken, so I probably didn’t want to pay to get in to use it anyway. I suggested that I go in and see if it was broken, and then come back. He let me in, and I headed in to the clichéd mess of Harley stuff, license plates on the wall, and girls standing around a mechanical bull. I found the booth, over by the bathrooms, and it was in working order. I got another Coke for change, quickly took my photostrip and headed out, so happy that I’d avoided the cover that I forgot to snap a photo of the booth. Serves me right.

It was time to head into the heart of downtown Chicago for my next two stops, at Shenanigans House of Beer (I had to step out of the way of people making shots at the basketball hoop behind the photobooth) and Excalibur, where the woman at the door was nice enough to let me use the photobooth without paying the $10 cover.

Since I’d found a legal spot on the street, I decided to stop in for some dinner (as it was 11:45 by now) at a big sausage and pasta restaurant across from the huge McDonald’s. I took off on the longest stretch of the evening, from downtown Chicago four miles south to Pilsen, home of Skylark. As I drove down Halstead, I was reminded as I had been all evening of the other marathon I’d been through in Chicago, the actual 26-mile race I’d run last October. This evening’s photobooth crawl was taking longer and probably covering more ground, but I was constantly reminded of all of the sights and neighborhoods we’d passed through on the racecourse as I drove around. Aimee and I had tried to check out Skylark when we were down getting me registered for the race, and I remember it well — a disastrously long walk into the middle of nowhere to find a bar that wouldn’t open for hours, leading to another long walk back. Oops. This time, I had better luck: Skylark was open and the booth was functioning. 

All along, I’d planned to hit one more photobooth in Wrigleyville on my way back to Evanston, the booth at Smart Bar that I’d read wouldn’t open until 10pm. I took Halstead all the way up, and before I knew it, I was passing familiar old Weed Street, not far from Hogs and Honeys. When a parking spot appeared before me, I took and, and popped in, $5 cover and all, to get the photograph of the booth I’d forgotten to a few hours before. The same bouncer was working the door, so I didn’t try the “see if the photobooth is working” trick. 

My night came to a close up at Smart Bar, downstairs at the Metro on N. Clark. I found a somewhat legal parking spot and headed over, and passed a very intoxicated-looking girl on the street who said “High five!” and held her hand up. As I gave her a high five, I realized to my disbelief that it was the same girl who invited herself into the photobooth with me at Sluggers six hours earlier. I’m surprised she was still standing; she didn’t recognize me or demand the photostrip, thankfully. 

The staff at the door of the Smart Bar were brusque but accomodating; I was told I had five minutes to do what I needed to do to avoid paying the cover, so I zipped downstairs and hopped in the photobooth. Here at the seventeenth stop of the day, I finally came across someone else using the photobooth, and I waited with them for their photos, then mine, to emerge. As I headed back upstairs, I heard the doorman say “Here he comes…” to the woman at the cash register, as if they’d actually been waiting for me, thinking I might just stay down there. I’m glad I didn’t find out what would happen if I had. I headed back to Evanston, satisfied with my accomplishments and impressed at the photobooth mecca that is Chicago.

bunny_hutch_blog.jpgThe next morning, I set out to find a few more booths in the suburbs, with mixed luck. The Heartland Cafe’s booth was in fine working order, as was the photobooth at Novelty Golf and Games (a.k.a. Bunny Hutch Mini-Golf) in Lincolnwood. The photobooth at Photo’s Hot Dogs in Mt. Prospect was also there as promised. The photobooth purported to be in the Lincolnwood Mall was a digital sketch booth, though, and the folks at the Purple Palace had no idea what I was talking about. Most of those tips came from the list in Rob Elder’s Chicago Tribune article, which is now somewhat out of date. 

On my way back from Chicago to Rochester, I made one last stop, at Big Fun in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. The photobooth there was impressively buried among tons of great ’70s toys and Jesus action figures and Simpsons bobbleheads. 

The grand total for the road trip was 26 photobooths, putting us well over 100. I think I’ve had my fill for now… Be sure to contribute yours today. 


  1. 1

    Two covercharges to use a couple of photobooths? That’s dedication!

    I’m surprised anyone let you in without paying the covercharge though. You must either be good at bluffing your way through, or appear a little unhinged 😉

  2. 2

    I think my request was just weird and unfamiliar enough to catch them off guard — also, Chicago bouncers and door people just seemed a tad nicer on the whole than those I’ve encountered in NY and Boston. Try it next time — it might just work…