So it’s finally winter. And in just a few days it’ll start feeling like it. For lots of people I know, winter means months of freezing misery spent nestled under layers of blankets. There’s nothing wrong with spending some time relaxing, but winter has its own charm and there’s no reason not to take advantage of winter’s unique offerings. As lovers of C-U and self-described Chambana aficionados, we figured we’d help by offering up some humble suggestions culled from our time in the area.
- The place is in reasonable biking distance of C-U residents.
- The place is either a good place to bike to or a good place to bike at.
- The place is particularly suited to helping you to experience winter, based around our cultural understanding of what marks this season.
We know that many of you have no interest in biking to these places, but we want biking to be an option. Remember, if you’ve got the right gear, it won’t even be uncomfortable. That said, if you’re not going to bike during the winter, make sure you keep your bike in a place that will keep it safe from thieves and the elements (i.e. not outside). If you’ve got nowhere to keep it indoors, we’ll be happy to store it for you.
Enough with the introductions and on with the list!
1. Christmas Lights
Christmas lights are under-appreciated. Their ubiquity leads us to take them for granted when they should be considered a form of American folk art. This under-appreciation is bolstered by the fact that they’re ephemeral, existing for perhaps one –max two– months out of the year.
But why are they so great? Christmas lights allow for residents to be creative with their living spaces. People get to play with colors and textures that houses normally lack. A humdrum house by day becomes something extraordinary by night. With lights reflecting and refracting off of snow or ice, decorated dwellings can take on otherworldly dimension. The magic is in the transformation. Everyday objects by day are recontextualized and reconceptualized by night. Lights are about community, so spend some time wandering around to see how your neighbors have taken part in this ritual, but be sure not to miss these two places:
Candlestick Lane, Urbana
Candlestick Lane is the Yuletide alter-ego of Grant Place, a small street near Philo between Fairlawn Dr. and Eastern Dr. Nowhere else in C-U will you see Christmas-light density like this. It even spills over into some of the streets immediately surrounding it. The traditional dates back to either 1962 or 1963, making 2015 either the 52nd or 53rd year for the tradition. Candlestick Lane is the sole C-U remnant of a time when coordinated neighborhood displays were a more common practice. Houses are lit from mid-December (the 12th this year) ’til New Year’s.
22 Greencroft Drive, Champaign
With lights synchronized to music, this is a more modern take on America’s Christmas light tradition. They’ve not only got music playing, but they also have an FM transmitter, allowing you to watch the show while keeping toasty in your car. For those unfamiliar with Greencroft Dr., this house is located off of Prospect, a few streets north of Kirby and immediately south of Champaign Country Club. For updates, follow them on Facebook.
If fall is the season for beer, then winter is the season for whisk(e)y. As temperatures plunge, the desire for a belly-warming dram increases. Lucky for us, finding good whisk(e)y in C-U poses no difficulty. And all the places I’m listing have deals to ensure that you can get the most malt for your buck.
Seven Saints has, unquestionably, the best choice of whisky in Champaign-Urbana. Their selection spans Scotland, Ireland, Canada, and the US. They’ve even built relationships with distilleries, specially selecting casks from the Buffalo Trace, Heaven Hill, Journeyman, and Koval distilleries for exclusive bottlings available only at Seven Saints. On top of that, there’s great food and the decor is warm, classic, and sophisticated.
For pick-me-up on a blustery winter night, my personal suggestion is a peaty or briney whisky from Islay or the Islands. Laphroaig 10 is a classic entry-level whisky in this category. As is Talisker 10, which might be a better choice for those unsure that they want the medicinal, smokey assault that Laphroaig dishes out. If scotch isn’t your thing, try Redbreast 12, a single pot still Irish whiskey that’s smooth, yet complex at the same time. The advantage to going to Seven Saints is that no matter the style –rye, bourbon, scotch, etc.– you’ll find a vast selection.
Whisky can be expensive, but Seven Saints knows how to make it affordable. Each Wednesday at Seven Saints is Whiskey Wednesday. That means all whiskeys within one style (e.g. Irish whiskey, Scotch, Canadian whisky) are all half-off.
If Irish whiskey’s your thing, then Dublin O’Neil’s is a place you should hit up. They offer 31 different Irish whiskies and their selection doesn’t just stop at Irish whiskey. They also offer a modern take on Irish and pub food that is suitable for before and after a few drinks. If you want the classic Irish whiskey taste (the triple distillation makes it go down smooth), but want something different than the usual Jameson, give Tullamore D.E.W. a try. If you want an Irish single malt, consider Knappogue Castle 12.
Dublin O’Neil’s has lots of deals to help keep your bar tab low. On Tuesday they have $3 Bushmills, Thursday means $2 off all Irish whiskey and for $8 you can get a Tullamore D.E.W. and a beer. On Sunday, all these deals apply.
The Blind Pig is best known for its pints, but it has a solid selection of whiskies as well. While its selection is small, it’s well chosen. Try Lagavulin 16 for a complex and layered, peaty drink or Highland Park 18 if you want to splurge a little.
If you want to get your whisky for cheaper, you can join their Whiskey Club and get a punchcard. This means you’ll get $2-$5 off each whisky on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Finish your punchcard and you’ll get a custom Blind Pig hat and your name engraved on their Wall of Fame.
3. Sledding Hills
Winter means snow. Snow means sledding. Unfortunately, neither Champaign no Urbana is known for its hills. But human industry has cast aside the cruel hand that geography has dealt us, somehow proving that civilization has conquered nature. What I mean to say is that C-U has artificial hills. They’re also fairly well spread-out in the city. For those of you in Urbana, try Crystal Lake Park to the north and Orchard Downs to the south. For residents of Champaign, there’s Morrissey Park to the south and Centennial Park to the west. This list is far from exhaustive, but this should allow for a good start towards making the best of a snowfall.
4. Flying Machine Coffee
With cold temperatures and minimal daylight, caffeine can be a welcomed companion in the winter. It’s no surprise that the top coffee-consuming countries tend to be have harsher winters, with three of the top five being in Scandinavia.
Flying Machine is the place to get good coffee in C-U. Unlike a lot of places, you won’t get burnt, bitter espresso here. They get their beans from coffee roasters in Illinois including Champaign’s own Columbia Street Roastery, Thirty-Thirty Coffee Co. in Peoria, and Chicago’s Dark Matter and HalfWit, so you know what you’re getting is fresh.
They’ve got all the coffee classics and more. Try their different espresso blends if you want to taste the different ways a well-pulled espresso that utilizes good beans can taste. If milk-based espresso drinks are your thing, try a cortado, a strong Spanish version of a cappuccino. If you generally drink drip coffee, choose from their constantly-rotating selection of single-origin pour overs. Coffee is hugely diverse and with places like Flying Machine, anyone can learn how to become a coffee connoisseur.
5. University of Illinois Ice Arena
Lots of people, even UIUC students, seem not to know this place exists. This ice rink might not be outdoors, and it may be open year-round, but skating always seems to be something that fits in with winter. Skating gives you (well, some of you…) the opportunity to maneuver on ice without the constant fear of tripping and making a fool of yourself, a welcomed change of pace in winter months.
It’s also totally affordable. Admission during public skates is free to UIUC students, Campus Rec members, and children under 4. For everyone else it’s only $5. Skate rental costs $2 for students and members of the public. The first Wednesday of each month, you can get in for $2 and rent skates for just $1. During the spring semester, they’ll be open for public skates on Wednesdays and Sundays, but be sure to check out their calendar for other opportunities to skate! If you’re an experienced skater, you can skate during their freestyle sessions. They also have programs to help you learn to play hockey or figure skate. Keep an eye on their Facebook page for updates.
Photos compliments of the University of Illinois Ice Arena.