Catching ‘Fire’ in Chicago: A fan’s guide to the Windy City

Chicago firefighter-paramedic Tommy Young gives most of the tours at Engine 18. | Lori Rackl

Former Chicago firefighter Steve Chikerotis knew “Chicago Fire” was going to draw even higher ratings when it returned last fall for its third season.

What tipped him off?

“Tourists,” the retired deputy district chief said during an interview at Engine 18, the Near West Side firehouse better known as the home of Engine 51 on the NBC drama. “I’d seen a big increase in the number of tourists coming around.”

For folks in the Windy City wanting to follow in the bootsteps of “Chicago Fire,” Engine 18 should be at the top of your To Do list. It’s one of several hot spots worth a visit for fans of the series:

 

Chicago Fire Department Engine 18
1360 S. Blue Island Ave.

“Fire” producers originally planned to use a downtown firehouse to film the pilot in 2012. Chikerotis, a consultant who’d worked on the 1991 film “Backdraft,” persuaded them to check out this one near Pilsen instead.

“I said, ‘I want you to see where my office is because you’re going to love it when you see the skyline,’” Chikerotis recalled.

The first episode of the series was shot here, back when they wanted fictional Firehouse 51 to have a fire pole — a prop that’s still standing in the apparatus bay even though it’s a one-story building.

"Chicago Fire" cast in the apparatus bay at the real Engine 18, which stands in for Engine 51 on the show. | NBC~Elizabeth Morris

“Chicago Fire” cast in the apparatus bay at the real Engine 18, which stands in for Engine 51 on the show. | NBC~Elizabeth Morris

Interior firehouse scenes are now shot on soundstages at Cinespace Chicago Film Studios. But during production season (July through April), the cameras roll here roughly once every two weeks for exterior shots.

People come from near and far — Germany, Australia, China — to get a closer look at the iconic firehouse, put on a helmet and snap a selfie on one of the rigs or sneak a peek at the coat closet where Severide had a steamy sex scene. Twenty bucks will get you a souvenir T-shirt.

“Every day we get them from all over the world,” said real-life firefighter-paramedic Tommy Young, who estimates he’s led at least 300 informal tours of his workplace.

“We’ll go on a run at 2 in the morning and there’ll be people standing out there,” he said. “Sometimes we have to drag them in because they’re afraid to come up to us.”

“As long as we’re not busy or out on a call, I’m happy to show them around,” Tommy added, noting that late morning and afternoons are the best time to visit.

 

Cinespace Chicago Film Studios
16th and Rockwell

“Chicago Fire,” its police-themed spinoff, “Chicago P.D.,” and the newest member of the family, “Chicago Med,” all have their soundstages at this sprawling North Lawndale campus. So does the Fox hit, “Empire.”

Before you go racing over to this out-of-the-way spot with your autograph book in hand, keep in mind that the magic happens behind closed doors and the studios aren’t open to the public. Security personnel have been known to shoo away lookie-loos loitering on the streets, too.

If you really want to see the actors at work, you’re better off finding out when and where they’ll be filming scenes away from the studio by following the Twitter feeds of @Filming_Chicago and @olv.

Filming notices typically get posted in public areas where TV shows will be shooting. | Lori Rackl

Filming notices typically get posted in public areas where TV shows will be shooting. | Lori Rackl

 

Lotties pub
1925 W. Cortland St.

“Chicago Fire’s” favorite watering hole, Molly’s, is modeled after this casual, neighborhood sports bar in Bucktown.

The entrance to Lotties pub, the inspiration for Molly's on "Chicago Fire." | Lori Rackl

The entrance to Lotties pub, the inspiration for Molly’s on “Chicago Fire.” | Lori Rackl

“Fire” went through the painstaking process of filming on location at Lotties until early in season two, when a Molly’s set was built at Cinespace — complete with tiny Christmas lights dangling from the ceiling.

The actors no longer come here, but fans of the show do.

READ MORE: Chicago bar offers taste of Molly’s to ‘Fire’ fans

“It’s been good for business,” Lotties general manager Eddie Treacy said.

Soak up the ambiance while digging into a Chicago Fire burger made up of two beef patties, crispy Tabasco onions, bacon, pepper jack cheese, spicy pickles and giardiniera.

If that doesn’t land you a trip to Chicago Med, top it off with a few Fireball shots of cinnamon-flavored whiskey.

 

Chicago Fire Academy
558 W. De Koven St.

Don’t be surprised if you smell real smoke at this firefighter training facility near Taylor and Jefferson.

Built on a site where the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 got started, the building houses a glass case full of the badges of fallen firefighters.

The badges of fallen firefighters line the hallway in the Fire Training Academy where several "Fire" scenes have been shot. | Lori Rackl

The badges of fallen firefighters line the hallway in the Chicago Fire Academy where several “Fire” scenes have been shot. | Lori Rackl

“Fire” has filmed emotional scenes here multiple times, including one where Casey (Jesse Spencer) popped the question to Dawson (Monica Raymund) on top of the outdoor stairwell while the city’s skyline glistened in the distance.

Those stairs are off limits to the public, but you’re free to roam around the ground floor inside.

 

The Palm
323 E. Wacker Dr.

Caricatures and autographs of the “Fire” cast and creator Dick Wolf are plastered on the foyer walls of this pricey steakhouse, where Wolf recently held a party to celebrate the start of another season of filming on his Chicago-based first-responder dramas.

READ MORE: ‘Fire’ family toasts start of a new season

“Fire” stars Taylor Kinney and Jesse Spencer live nearby. So did their former co-star Lauren German during her stint as Leslie Shay (R.I.P.). The three of them used to decompress after work at The Palm, located in the Swissotel Chicago.

“It was kind of like our Cheers,” said Kinney, who plays Lt. Kelly Severide. “It was just a place we could go and hang out and laugh.”

Eamonn Walker (left to right), Jon Seda, David Eigenberg, Jason Beghe and Taylor Kinney at the recent Dick Wolf dinner at The Palm. | NBC~Elizabeth Morris

Eamonn Walker (left to right), Jon Seda, David Eigenberg, Jason Beghe and Taylor Kinney at the recent Dick Wolf dinner at The Palm. | NBC~Elizabeth Morris

Kinney and Spencer still go to The Palm on occasion. The latter also is a big fan of Shaw’s Crab House, 21 E. Hubbard St.

“The crab legs are so addictive,” Spencer said. “They’re like my drug.”

The Australian actor and musician likes catching live bluegrass acts at the Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln Ave.

“I play violin,” he said, “and they have a lot of violin players come through.”

Another favorite place for the “Fire” cast to raise a glass: The Monkey’s Paw, 2524 N. Southport Ave. It boasts an extensive menu of single-malt Scotch as well as farm-to-table cuisine.

“It’s a grub-pub, as we would say in England,” said British-born Eamonn Walker, better known as Chief Boden.

 

Chicago River bridges
Along the river’s main branch from Michigan Avenue to Franklin Street

“Fire” films all over the city, especially on the maroon bridges spanning the main branch of the Chicago River.

This is where Shay hit rock bottom and then reconciled with her ambo buddy, Dawson. It’s also where that nearly naked, big bald guy (MJ Carey) went bananas last season on paramedics Peter Mills (Charlie Barnett) and Sylvie Brett (Kara Killmer).

"Chicago Fire" films a season 3 scene with local actor MJ Carey on the Franklin Street bridge. | Lori Rackl

“Chicago Fire” films a season 3 scene with local actor MJ Carey on the Franklin Street bridge. | Lori Rackl

The parade of bridges is one of the most cinematic spots in Chicago — a location lobbied for by “Fire” co-creator and executive producer Michael Brandt back when other cities were in the running. Brandt grew up in Kansas City but was born in the Chicago suburbs and spent many summers here visiting family.

“I wanted to come back to Chicago and make the show,” he said. “My pitch was, ‘There’s a river. There’s the lake. There’s the buildings. There’s all sorts of neighborhoods.’ For me, it’s the most beautiful American city, even when it’s not so beautiful.”

 

UIC Police Headquarters
943 W. Maxwell St.

You didn’t think I’d forget about you “P.D.” fans, did you?

The exterior of District 21 is actually home to University of Illinois at Chicago cops. They took it over from the Chicago Police Department, who operated out of this Maxwell Street station until the late ’90s.

A UIC officer exits the university's police headquarters, the fictional home of District 21 on "Chicago P.D." | Lori Rackl

A UIC officer exits the university’s police headquarters, the fictional home of District 21 on “Chicago P.D.” | Lori Rackl

If the brick structure looked familiar when you first watched “P.D.,” that may be because it was featured in the opening credits of the beloved ’80s cop series “Hill Street Blues,” where “Fire” creator Dick Wolf got his start as a staff writer.

“P.D.” doesn’t shoot here as frequently as “Fire” does at nearby Engine 18.

“We’re not out here all that much,” said Mark Tinker, executive producer and director on “P.D.” “We have more exciting places where we kill people.”

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