Three months after Opening Night, the Wrigley Field bleachers were finally completely open for fans to explore Friday afternoon. I thought it was most appropriate that the first day of the opening of the 21st-Century version of the bleachers was on a day with a 1:20 p.m. game start, like the old days, with every other game on the scoreboard showing "NITE GAME." Sort of a blast from the past, with the future showing ahead of us.
You've seen photos of the new seating areas over the last couple of months. What was new Friday was the lower concourses now open, with beautiful brickwork throughout, new concession stands on both sides of the lower area, and the new "PLATFORM 14" (presumably, named to honor Ernie Banks) on the upper level behind the scoreboard.
One surprise in the Platform 14 area was the inclusion of a menu from Hot Doug's, the gourmet hot-dog place on the Northwest Side of Chicago that closed last year. Here's what owner Doug Sohn said about how this partnership came to pass:
"The outpouring of love and support from Chicago for Hot Doug’s was incredible, and it became clear our fans were still craving the sausages that made our restaurant famous," said Sohn. "The opportunity to partner with the Cubs and serve our product at historic Wrigley Field was too tempting to pass up, and we’re thrilled that Chicagoans now have a chance to enjoy Hot Doug’s once again."
The menu for Hot Doug's is shown in photo 17. There are also quite a number of other food selections at Platform 14, including traditional ballpark fare, barbecue and Italian food. The traditional grill stand serves Vienna Beef hot dogs, bratwursts and Wrigley Field Smokies. The barbecue stand serves BBQ pulled pork, beef brisket, mac-n-cheese and the new "Grand Slam BBQ Twist," which offers smoked beef brisket or pulled pork topped with barbecue sauce and mac-n-cheese, filled into cone-shaped bread. Finally, the Italian stand serves Vienna Beef Italian beef sandwiches, Giordano’s Pizza and the new "Outfield Meatball Sandwich," which features three giant beef and pork meatballs with housemade marinara sauce and topped with grated parmesan cheese on a hoagie roll.
On the left-field side of the lower level is the Waveland Grill (photo 1). There, you can get "Da Burger" is a grilled Cuban-style pork burger topped with bacon, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles and spicy mustard aioli, as well as the "Buffalo Chicken Sandwich" featuring a crispy breaded chicken breast tossed in Buffalo hot sauce, topped with blue cheese coleslaw and crumbled blue cheese.
The right-field side has the Red Line Grill (photo 7). Among other things there, you can get the "Big ‘W’ Burger, a six-ounce fresh beef patty topped with slices of American and cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato, red onion, a secret sauce, served with crinkle cut french fries, and the "Joe Maddon – Third Base Hoagie." That hoagie is described as a time-honored recipe straight from Joe’s cousins Dave and Tina Mashinski’s restaurant in Hazelton, Pennsylvania, the Third Base Luncheonette. It features ham, salami, white American cheese, crisp lettuce, sliced tomatoes, onion, spicy peppers and olive oil, served on a hoagie roll. You can see the full menu for the Red Line Grill in photo 12.
Beyond food items, you can see where the new bullpens will be (photos 2, 5 and 6 for the left-field bullpen), and just in case you weren't sure, photo 6 shows a helpful sign. I have been told that there will be two-way glass installed where the green doors now are, so fans on the lower concourse can watch Cubs (and opponent) relievers warm up.
On the upper level there's a new souvenir stand (photo 15) and "Three Fingers," which is named after Cubs Hall of Fame pitcher Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown. "Three Fingers" is a full-service bar located behind the right field bleachers that serves made-to-order cocktails and specialty beverages, including Bob Chinn’s Mai Tai, the Jack Hammer with Jack Daniel’s and Pepsi, the Blow Torch with Jack Daniel’s Fire and lemonade, Johnny Appleseed Hard Apple Cider, Red Bridge Gluten-free Beer, Bud Light, Goose Island 312 Urban Wheat Ale and Green Line Pale Ale.
It's all very well-organized, with good signage, and I've also included photos of the full concourses and new exit gates. Those gates are currently closed, as they would go out onto areas that are now construction areas. Eventually traffic flow will be much better in and out of the bleachers, and the Cubs expect that these new concession areas will mean much shorter lines for food and drink.
The brickwork is gorgeous and gives the whole place a classic throwback look that, oddly enough, the bleachers never had when they were built in the 1930s. The old bleachers that were torn down in 2005 didn't allow fans into the lower level except at the entrance gate; these are much larger, better-looking and better lit. The Cubs still have some finishing touches to put into the new bleachers, but all in all, they did a wonderful job.
Finally, I'm sure you're wondering what I have to say about the new speakers that appeared over several left-field bleacher sections Friday, including directly over my head in the left-field corner.
Believe it or not, I have few complaints. The volume was loud, but not mind-numbingly so. The only thing that was a bit too loud was the pre-recorded music. Music from the ballpark organ played by Gary Pressy and Andrew Belleson's P.A. announcements were at reasonable levels. Nicely done, Cubs, and I understand they're still tweaking the audio system.
Construction will, of course, continue through the rest of this year and for three more offseasons in other parts of the park. But the new bleachers are mostly complete, and they did an excellent job on them.