It's nearing the end of the summer. You haven't had a good escape yet, but you're not financially secure enough to book that last-minute cruise or get reservations at one of those crazy Vegas pool parties. Yet you still need to get some sun, cut loose, have a few drinks (the cheaper the better) and wouldn't mind getting out of Illinois for just a little while. What to do?
Despite the label tacked to Lake Geneva, calling it the Riviera of Chicagoland's richie-rich types, you can have a decently inexpensive weekend without swilling chardonnay and nibbling cucumber sandwiches on the deck of one of the scions of the Wrigley family. And you can even have fun doing it.
Consider this the inside look at Centerstage's semi-local suggestions for what to do in and near Lake Geneva when you're young, broke and beautiful (or even moderately attractive).
Chuck's Lakeshore Inn
352 Lake St, Fontana
While ground zero of tourism in Lake Geneva revolves around the intersection of Main & Broad streets, itís easy to forget that there are other places around the lake to grab a sandwich and a drink that donít have their place in the city proper. Chuckís Tavern is almost exactly all the way across the lake, and while itís just a few miles away from downtown itís an eternity away in terms of attitude.
Just steps from the beach and very boater-friendly, Chuck's is a nice escape from the relative rat race of the Geneva scene. Chicagoans will feel right at home with gravy bread on the menu, but will quickly be reminded of why you appreciate the smoking ban. You take the good with the bad, and with drinks like the Sweetart (a lot of booze mixed with grape soda) and a beautiful view of the lake, it's weighted far more toward the "good."
Fred's Parkview Tavern
596 N Pine St, Burlington
Let the ads and the billboards tell you where to find the best burger in Lake Geneva. Then ignore them completely and grab one of the best burgers you'll ever have, before you even hit town. Fred's in nearby Burlington cranks out hand-formed hamburgers made from beefily beautiful fresh-ground chuck kissed with special seasonings, perfectly cooked to order and covered in the cheeses and fixings of your choice.
They know their way around a deep fryer as well: onion rings are golden and crisp, curly fries hand-cut and crunchy, and other various fryer-bathed appetizers piping hot and never greasy. A burger with some Wisconsin cheddar, some fresh fries and a couple Spotted Cows on draft approaches true 'Sconnie nirvana.
Hogs & Kisses 149 Broad St., Lake Geneva, (262) 248-7447
Photo: Courtesy of Hogs & Kisses
The downtown area is well-stocked with diner style restaurants, sports bars, brunch places and other various eateries and drinkeries. Having wandered the wilds of Main Street and the beachfront over the years, weíve subjectively determined Hogs & Kisses to be our go-to choice of the downtown drinking establishments.
Part biker-ish bar, part local watering hole, part late-night dining option, Hogs & Kisses offers a good selection of draft beers including the can't-get-it-in-Chicago New Glarus, a dependable menu with a kitchen that stays open late, friendly staff, and we won't hold the tendency to go dance-party on the weekends against them.
Plenty of specials abound, including a respectable bloody mary on Sundays (donít forget the Leinieís beer back). Should you feel slightly sinful about imbibing them on the Sabbath, thankfully the interior has been partially scavenged from Chicago-area buildings, including churches. Keep an eye out for stained glass and confessional booths to keep the guilt level under control.
811 Wrigley Dr., Lake Geneva, (262) 248-4381
Right now you're thinking, "Centerstage is sending me to a chain fried chicken spot?" But no, they're not the cajun-esque fried chicken chain. When you see the meats slowly grilling and rotisserie-cooking outside the lakefront building, you'll forget about red beans & rice immediately.
Despite our promise to send you to the semi-local's places, Popeye's is a place that everyone can agree on. Part BBQ joint, part Greek diner, part fish fryer, this tries to be a lot of things to a lot of different people, and for the most part comes away standing. Can you get better BBQ, steak and seafood in Chicago? Yeah, but can you get them all in one place, with as serene as a view of the lake and some skordalia (garlic spread) on the side? Not a chance.
County Road H, Lake Geneva
Under normal circumstances, the Centerstage morality police wouldn't allow us to suggest anything approaching a house of ill repute, a burlesque parlor or other place that might contain people wearing not much more than a smile. We're hoping they'll let this particular entry pass because the Sugar Shack, the only establishment with "nude entertainment" in town, is one of those rare anomalies - they have both male and female performers.
Yes, show up on the weekends and it's not just the guys who get to see an eyeful of skin. This equal-opportunity joint caters to the women as well, providing a full show to the ladies on Friday and Saturday nights. While the Lake Geneva chamber of commerce would probably prefer we not have you associate the town with EEOC strippers, we really just want to be the one travel guide to acknowledge one of the town's true originals. It's out there - and up to you whether it's your particular cup of tea.