If you live near Chicago, as I do, chances are you have been to the United Center. It might be the most versatile venue in Chicago. The “MadHouse on Madison” is home to the Chicago Bulls, the Chicago Blackhawks and—for two weeks a year—the circus. The United Center also hosts concerts, high school and college athletics and shows for kids. What sets the UC apart from other places is it is actually a good place to see any type of entertainment. Often times seeing a concert or a show in a sports arena is less than ideal, but that has not been my experience at the United Center.
One of the biggest reasons I enjoy the United Center so much is the food. I am a bit of a foodie, and while I am often content with the traditional hot dog and a beer, it is nice knowing I have other options at the United Center that are really, really good. The United Center’s food offerings are even more diverse than its entertainment.
The first thing that jumped out to me the last time I was at the United Center was the Gluten Free cart in section 114. My sister has celiac disease, so anything gluten-free tends to catch my attention. The hot dogs, nachos, candy and popcorn were a welcome sight. The United Center does a great job of providing options for people with dietary restrictions, offering gluten-free, kosher, vegetarian and vegan menu items.
My personal favorite at the United Center is the Ironworks Steak Sandwich. But there are so many
interesting things to try it is hard to stick with just one thing. Another of my favorites includes the Extreme Loaded Dogs in Section 205, the 10 oz. beer cheese burger, the garlic parmesan fries and the prime rib sandwhich. And just in case you are wondering no, not all the food at the United Center is bad for you. The Smart Zone in Section 114 has some nice healthy options—I recommend the veggie cup with hummus. Before your next trip to the United Center, I suggest you peruse the menu and get an idea of what you want to eat, and where it is. I really enjoy getting to shows early and wandering around the concourse to see what is available, but if you do that you risk missing out on something really good, like the pesto caprese Sandwiches. I am a sucker for anything caprese, but even so they are ridiculously good.
In addition to great food the United Center also offers several bars located around the arena, each with unique cocktails. I am personally fond of the Don Julio Tequila Bar, though the Crown Royal, Smirnoff, Captain Morgan and Ketel One bars are all quite popular.
Getting To the United Center
Your best bet for getting to the United Center, especially from the suburbs, is by car. The United Center is very close to both I-90 and I-290, and the official parking is very close and well-lit. Traffic can be a problem for getting to Bulls and Blackhawks games—especially during the week—but getting out after a game is actually surprisingly easy. If you do not want to deal with traffic you can use public transportation. The Orange, Green, Purple and Brown lines can get you to Madison, and the #20 Madison Bus will take you right to the United Center.
There are also several area bars that offer shuttle buses to and from the United Center for Bulls and Blackhawks games as well as some special events. My favorite of these is The CrossRoads Bar & Grill on Madison street. It actually is not a bad walk from The CrossRoads to the United Center, though I took the shuttle bus when I saw Dave Matthews Band in December and it was very quick and convenient.
One of the drawbacks of the United Center is the lack of anything notable in the area, especially for kids. There are plenty of good places to eat, like Bombon Café, but all of the cool touristy things are located downtown. The United Center makes up for that by having some must-see features of its own. The Michael Jordan statue outside Gate 4 off of Wood street is a must-see. The life-sized bronze statues of Stan Mikita and Bobby Hull are impressive in their own right, located outside Gate 3-1/2 on the northeast corner of the building. Once you are inside the United Center, look for the busts of Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen and Bulls legend Johnny “Red” Kerr. The United Center is a great place for amateur photographers to capture some great shots, and the statues are a great place to start.
Seating inside the United Center really comes down to the individual event. I almost always sit in the 300 level for Blackhawks games, both because I like the views from the top. For Bulls games I prefer Section 113. It is close enough to the center of the court that you can see both ends pretty well, but also close to most of my favorite food options in Sections 114 and 115. For Concerts I like to be able to see the entire stage, even if that means a being a bit further away. I sat in Section 112 for Dave Matthews, and it wasn’t bad, but one of my best concert experiences at the United Center was seeing Eric Clapton with Robert Randolph & The Family Band from Section 307.
The United Center’s 2015 lineup is absolutely loaded. The Bulls and Blackhawks both appear to be locks to make the playoffs, and this could be a great opportunity to tell your grandkids “I saw the Bulls/Blackhawks live the year they won the NBA Title/Stanley Cup.” The United Center always has big musical acts, and this year is no different, with Maroon 5, Barry Manilow, Neil Diamond, Bette Midler, U2 and The Who all stopping by. The Big Ten Men’s Basketball Tournament returns in March, and UFC returns to Chicago July 25. There are also great shows for kids with Disney on Ice Presents Frozen and Marvel Universe Live!
From the food to the entertainment to the transportation, the United Center has something for everyone. It is a great place for all kinds of events, especially basketball and hockey. If you do not make it to the United Center at least once this year you are definitely missing out.