What to know before you go

Taste of Chicago, the city of Chicago's grandest outdoor food and music festival, kicks off Friday, June 28, for 10 days of free entertainment, activities and, of course, food. Here's some basic info to help you make the most of it.

Location: Columbus Drive, between Monroe Street and Balbo Drives.

Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday-July 6; 11 a.m.-8 p.m. July 7.

Admission: Free.

Getting there: Public transportation is best. For CTA, RTA and Metra travel routes, call 836-7000 (all area codes) or 312-836-4949 (TTY) or log on to www.transitchicago.com.

Street closures: Beginning at 10 a.m. Monday, June 24, Columbus Drive will be closed from Monroe Street to Roosevelt Drive; Congress Parkway will be closed from Michigan Avenue to Columbus Drive; and Jackson Drive will be closed from Michigan Avenue to Columbus Drive.

Where to park: If you must drive, arrive early, because nearby lots fill up quickly. Park at either the Millennium Park garage on Columbus between Randolph Street and Monroe Street, or at the Monroe Street underground garage at Columbus and Monroe. The fee is $10 for 12 hours. You can lock up your bike at Columbus and Monroe Drives.

Buying food: Food tickets are sold in sheets of 11 tickets for $7; that's 50 cents per ticket plus a $1.50 "amenities fee" that helps pay for electric service, portable loos and other modern conveniences. Food items cost between four to nine tickets; Taste portions, which are little samples, cost two to three tickets.

There are six ticket locations scattered around the Taste site. Major credit cards are accepted, but cash-only windows are more plentiful and faster. TCF National Bank Illinois operates ATMs on the Taste site.

Tickets also can be purchased at Chicago-area Dominick's Finer Food Stores in quantities of four strips of 11 tickets or fewer per visit beginning Friday, June 21.

Also, for the first time, tickets will be available for purchase online prior to the beginning of the Taste at www.cityofchicago.org/SpecialEvents/Festivals/Taste2002. Plan ahead -- it could take five to seven days to receive your tickets in the mail.

When to Go: Lines are shortest around 11 a.m. or mid- to late-afternoon. The busiest day at Taste is July 3, which is the night of Chicago's annual Independence Eve concert and fireworks show. July 4, the day of the annual 93XRT concert (this year featuring Midnight Oil, Indigo Girls and Marcia Ball) is another busy day.

Saving money: Stick to the Taste portions to try the greatest number of samples for the least amount of money. On Tuesday, July 2, all Taste portions are two-for-one from 2-4 p.m. You can bring non-alcoholic beverages into Taste, but glass containers will be impounded.

What to bring: Don't forget the sunscreen. Premoistened towelettes come in very handy, as does a small paring knife, useful for splitting portions. Bring a blanket or throw for lounging in the park.

Phil Vettel is the Tribune restaurant critic.

Originally published June 14, 2002.

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