The Run Down

We visit the past and peer into the future all in one guide. You'll make your way to Evanston to visit Northwestern University. It starts with a tour of an art and history museum, and then you'll follow up with an astronomy lesson inside an open-air observatory. Between those stops, you'll grab a bite to eat at a chicken joint popular with students and locals alike. Here are the details. *Logistics note - This guide, in its entirety, is only good for Friday night as the observatory is only open to the public on Friday evenings.

1. History Lesson @ The Block Museum

2. Chicken Sandwiches @ 10q Chicken

3. Star Gazing @ Dearborn Observatory

1. The Block Museum of Art

Our first stop is The Block Museum of Art, right in the middle of Northwestern’s campus. This free cultural institution is open to everyone, and inside you’ll find rotating exhibits featuring art across history, culture, and different mediums.

In past exhibits, you might have explored Latin pop art from the 1960s or late 19th-century French art nouveau posters that famously hung outside Paris’ Moulin Rouge.

Here are a few logistics notes to keep in mind.

– Open from 12 – 8 pm on Friday
– If you’re driving, there’s a parking lot just south of the museum that’s free after 4 pm on weekdays and all weekend long

Here’s the entrance to the museum. Enter on the first floor, and there should be somebody behind the counter up front to welcome you and give you a quick introduction. Exhibits are constantly changing. You can click here to see what’s currently on display.

Here are a few fun facts about the exhibit we visited. Before Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffet, there was Mansa Musa – the wealthiest man of all time. Mansa Musa ruled the Mali empire in the 14th century, and his West African kingdom just so happened to sit on top of a literal gold mine.

To give you a sense of his wealth, he once took a trip to Egypt and spent so much money that it cratered the price of gold.

I once dined out for breakfast, lunch, and dinner on a regular weekday — so I guess Mansa Musa and I both know a thing or two about out-of-control spending.


2. 10Q Chicken

The museum closes at 8 pm, so you’ll have some time before the big astronomy show, which doesn’t start until 9 pm or 1opm, depending on the time of the year you’re visiting. So the next stop is Downtown Evanston to grab a bite to eat before heading to the observatory. We’re at 10Q Chicken, about a 5-minute drive from the museum. On the menu of this fast-casual restaurant is chicken prepared in all sorts of ways. You’ve got Korean chicken wings, buffalo wings, chicken katsu, rice bowls, tenders, and various takes on the chicken sandwich.

The chicken sandwich, which has seen a renaissance in the culinary world — even pushing people to violence to get their hands on a new one — is what we’re after.

Here’s 10q’s chicken sandwich in all its glory. It’s panko-breaded chicken breast between brioche buns, and with a Korean-inspired twist, it’s topped with togarashi mayo and thinly sliced pickled radishes.

3. Dearborn Observatory

Now that you’ve had a proper meal, it’s time for the main event. Head back to campus and make your way to Dearborn Observatory. You’ll be getting an astronomy lesson and taking a peek into a giant telescope.

As you navigate campus, look for this building with the spooky red light emanating from its tower. The usual advice is to avoid places with mysterious red lights, but this is the exception. 

Before we go further, here are some logistics notes to keep in mind.

– The Dearborn Observatory hosts two free public tours every Friday

– In the Fall/Winter, tours are held at 8 pm if you have a reservation and 9 pm for walk-ins. In the Spring/Fall, those hours are pushed back by an hour.

– Check their website to confirm hours, reserve a tour spot, and check for other announcements
This building is over 130 years old and doubles as a classroom facility.  You’ll see a staircase right as you walk in and see signs directing you to the observatory. Keep going up the stairs until you reach the observatory.

The observatory is like walking into a spaceship, and right in the middle is the giant telescope. The dome opens to give the telescope a clear view of the sky, and a red light illuminates the room to reduce light pollution.

Graduate students are on hand to tell you more about the observatory’s history and how all the computers and machines move the telescope.

A giant telescope requires a giant ladder. Unless it’s really busy, everybody gets a chance to walk up the ladder and look through the lens. It’s hard to tell from the picture, but there’s a chair at the top where astronomers used to sit. It’s not used anymore, and while you may want to sit in it, they don’t let you sit in it.

This is the computer that moves the telescope. To be more precise, the whole dome moves. You won’t feel it while you’re inside, but looking from the outside, you can see the dome rotating as it tracks whatever celestial object it’s targeting.

Before we end this guide, here’s one last tidbit: Northwestern has these Friday night sessions because it’s contractually required. The telescope’s lens was donated to Northwestern in 1929 on the condition that they make the observatory available to the public and at no cost. Since then, Northwestern has been holding up its end of the bargain.