In a city like Chicago, you can find a college or professional sporting event on pretty much every single night. There are the obvious choices like the Bulls, Blackhawks, Bears, Cubs, and White Sox. But it would be a disservice to ignore some of the other options in the second city. One of those options, on the city's near west side, is the UIC Pavilion, home to the University of Illinois-Chicago Flames.
The UIC Flames are a part of the Horizon Basketball League, and offer an entertaining level of basketball. The visit won't change your life, but it is still a nice way to pass a January evening.
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The variety of food and beverage is surprising for such a small venue. They have two main concessions with all the usual suspects, and then one additional concession stand where you'll find some nice surprises.
The two main concessions offer hot dogs ($3.50), jumbo dog ($5), Polish sausage ($5), bratwurst ($5.50), and cheeseburgers ($5.50). You can also grab a chicken sandwich ($5), Italian Beef ($6), or a slice of Connie's Pizza ($6.50)
Smaller snack items include nachos ($5), fries ($3.50), popcorn ($4.50), or a jumbo pretzel ($4). Beverages include Pepsi products for $4 for a 22-ounce cup, or $5 for a 32-ounce cup.
The real treat is the Robinson's Ribs Concession. There you will find everything on the menu priced at $5. They have a great BBQ pulled pork sandwich with a spicy that's just spicy enough to make your mouth water when you think about it hours after. Other possibilities include BBQ turkey sandwich, BBQ rib tips, grilled boneless ribs, chicken strips, or the footlong Polish. You can grab a side of something spicy or sweet depending if you want the Cajun fries or the funnel cake fries.
Although the seating capacity is nearly 7,000, for most games the upper level seats are closed off, with only the lower sections available for seating, so it will feel significantly smaller. Even then, the lower section is far from full, and at first glance you think you may be in for a dull evening. The fact is, there is nothing electric about the atmosphere, but it's still a good place to see a game.
For starters, there is no scoreboard hanging above center court. I have always liked arenas that omit this common feature. It keeps the focus of the spectator on the play before them, rather than some dopey graphic on the video screen. Instead, there is a large scoreboard on one end which is there if you need the score or a replay of a key play.
Second, the seats are comfortable with good leg room, and they are properly angled to face the court. They are not the sexiest looking orange plastic seats, but they are surprisingly comfortable.
Behind the basket you'll find the pep band. A small, 14-member ensemble with a single trombone along with some trumpets and saxophones, accompanied by a drummer. There's not a clarinet or flute in sight"¦the way it should be.
The UIC campus is located about a half mile on either side by Little Italy and Greektown, although neither is really close enough to be considered part of the immediate neighborhood. That being said, either would be a fine destination for pre-game or a post game meal.
If you want to see some sports memorabilia, check out the Italian-American Sports Hall of Fame (1431 W Taylor St). It's less than a mile away, and right in the heart of some great restaurants. I recommend Rosal's (1154 W Taylor) for great Sicilian fare.
As far as a place in the immediate vicinity of the Pavilion, I would recommend the Union Park Grill. There are at least 20 flat screens all featuring sports, they have ten beers on tap, and better than expected food. They describe themselves as a gastro-pub, and after trying two of their three house specialties, I think they live up to that term.
The fried calamari were big, and cooked perfectly. Best of all was the Spicy Burger- a half pound burger with blue cheese, Dijon mustard, a house spicy sauce reminiscent of buffalo sauce, served on a brioche bun. Looking at my notes I have a stain next to the phrase "really, really good. Yum." That says it all.
My first impression of the crowd was the paltry student section. Located in the corner of the arena, there was one impressive row of students who remained standing the entire game, but I counted only 11 of them at their peak. The remainder of the section sat, looking apathetic.
On a positive note, the remainder of the crowd stayed pretty focused on the game, and the nearly 2,600 in attendance actually got surprisingly loud. Overall these were fleeting moments, and the fan support was fairly weak.
The UIC Pavilion is within easy access of major freeways in Chicago including I-290, I-90, and I-94. There is parking available across the street and a parking garage adjacent to the arena. Parking in either location is only $5 for basketball games, but more expensive for most concerts and other events.
The one main concourse is wide, and with a small crowd you'll have no problems maneuvering around. Restrooms are large and clean too, so no need to skip out of any of the game play just to avoid a wait.
There is no reason to pay more than the least expensive ticket for a UIC basketball game. With few exceptions, there are plenty of empty seats to choose from. Your cost then will be either $8 or $12 depending on the game. Add in the parking and the cost of a drink and an item at the Robinson's Ribs stand, and you'll end up paying no more than $27 for a game. It's not exorbitant, but a little high for the total experience.
Extra points to Sparky the Dragon, the UIC Flames team mascot, who does an excellent job of interacting with the crowd. Another extra point to the "Dancing Flames," the UIC dance squad. Instead of the sultry performances you see from many dance teams, this was almost interpretive dance. I'm not a dance connoisseur by any means, but this was a very good performance.
The Pavilion, located on the campus of the University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC) opened in 1982, and has served as a venue for concerts as well as basketball, soccer, and boxing. It seats just under 7,000 and could be cozy site to see some college basketball.
This is a hockey arena that is used for basketball, but for some reason I like it.
The crowds are not huge so it is easy to get a great seat.
You will see good college hoops for a fair price and there is plenty of free parking for night games.