Updated date:

Finding Ubisoft's Chicago: "Parker Square"

A series I've been working on since December 2015. Looking for where Ubisoft got the inspiration for "Watch Dogs'" version of Chicago.

This picture was taken in December 2015 facing Waveland Avenue from Southport Avenue; near the Music Box Theater.

This picture was taken in December 2015 facing Waveland Avenue from Southport Avenue; near the Music Box Theater.

The North . . . or I Guess West Part of Town

Watch Dogs' "Parker Square" is largely based on the neighborhoods of Northside Chicago (despite it being the West part of the game's map.) In real-life, this was the most difficult and time consuming section of the game's map to research. I have been to the Windy City three times specifically to work on this project, and as of March 2019, I still haven't covered everything properly yet.

I am honestly not as familiar with Northside Chicago as I am with the Southside. I guess because at heart I always liked the White Sox more? My only time fully exploring the area was during my December 2015 trip. On this trip I both relied on the C.T.A. and my limited research of the hotspots within this article.

This is probably the part of Chicago tourists would find “acceptable” in representing the city. The art crowd, aging hippies, Cubs fans, etc. No! I’m not demeaning any of you. Despite my sarcasm I love everybody, ok maybe not the Cubs but still . . .

Anyhow "Parker Square" definitely appears to be based on the North side of Chicago and even parts of Evanston, Illinois. This region is the same suburb with filming locations from Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Uncle Buck, or as I call it “Hughesville.” Is that already a thing? Well I’m calling it that, and yes, Uncle Buck is one of my all time favorite movies, thanks for asking!

All of the places upscale white people would feel safe is basically what Ubisoft seems to have been going for with "Parker Square." Although some of Watch Dogs' most dramatic story points occur here (i.e. gun battles.), in real-life, Northside is also home to the best deep dish pizza joints in the city. If you go to Chicago, you need to visit D'Agostino's Pizza and Pub. Not Lou Malnati's, you can literally eat those anywhere in the county, but D'Agostino's deep dish pizza has a much better taste and atmosphere. In my opinion anyway, once again I like the Sox, so take what I say with a grain of salt?

Other Regions of Chicago Explored

Owl Motel/Heart O' Chicago Motel

The motel Aiden Pierce starts the game off in, and the only actual cozy looking safe house until you get to the DeadSec Bunker, is mostly based on the Heart o' Chicago Motel. Yeah, that’s right, I’m calling it now! It does have that dark vibe of the Ohio House Motel, but both locations of course are about eight miles away from each other. The Owl Motel takes its retro 60s vibe from both locations. Although layout wise it looks more like a parking garage type structure.

Heart O' Chicago, however, is not in the Magnificent Mile (yeah more on that later) and is closer to some other “Parker Square” hotspots. This in my opinion makes this a more viable possibility. Did anyone from Ubisoft stay here though? I doubt it, but then again I never stayed there either. It does look like a quaint place to stay though.

I stayed in this little flea bag called the Shairns Motel, when I was in town during my June 2017 trip. The location was actually in WORTH, ILLINOIS. How the hell is that Chicago Booking.com!? Anyway that place wasn’t very pleasant. In fact I think the owner won it in a police auction or something. You could almost smell dead hookers in the walls.

Piper's Gate/Piper's Alley

Well played Ubisoft. First off the hotspot info card mentions the annual Cinco De Mayo festival; which is hard to look up since Chicago seems to have a lot of them. Mainly in Pilson which is in the Southside of Chicago, so that couldn’t have been it. However, there is one called "Cinco De Mayo Fiesta De Baile" which is in honor of the gay community that protested during the Stonewall Riots in New York City. The hotspot is a stone gate in-game . . . Am I looking too much into this? Probably, but you can’t name it “Piper” without it being a reference to Piper’s Alley.

Piper’s Alley was a famous tourist destination that was located at the 200 Block of North Avenue. It consisted of a series of back alleys that were home to hippy run shops and art galleries, with the brickwork so clean you could walk barefoot through its pathways. After much protest from its residence, and neighboring population, this paradise was quite literally paved so they could put up a parking garage, gym, and theater. I’m too young to remember Piper’s Alley but I’m sure it looked better than this mini-mall that erected in its place.

My source for information on Piper's Alley

Parker Square Marina/Diverse, Montrose, etc. Harbors

Parker Square Marina looks like something you would see in a New England port town (keep in mind that Parker Square is an accumulation of different Northside vibes). There are several harbors along the coast of Lake Michigan, but since Parker Square is based on Northside I stuck to the big three. I ended up skipping Diversey in the picture department, being convinced back in 2016 that Montrose Harbor was the real-life location, but I’m not certain on that yet.

In Watchdog’s version of Chicago there is a “main” marina, and then this one according to the hotspot info. Diversey Harbor might be the closest reference; none of them really have that shop and boardwalk layout the game depicts though.

Phoebus Theater/Apollo’s 2000

Alright, by this point if you’re not convinced I’m an idiot then the story I’m about to tell you might be compelling evidence. Back in December of 2015 my hasty research or lack thereof, made me think this was based on THE Apollo Theater. Like Showtime at the Apollo Apollo? I figured it was that one since Chicago’s is located in the north. And as I said before "Parker Square" is based on Northside (for the most part.) So I travel my way through Northside, to The Apollo, to get a picture of the big silver brick structure, that doesn’t look like the “Phoebus Theater.” I just played it off thinking "well hell Eric a lot of these other places don't match up either, whatever." A couple years later I discovered why. It’s actually based on Apollo's 2000 Theater.

In June of 2017, I took a large road trip to a couple cities, the main objective being to see The Orioles play the White Sox. Why are you even asking me? You already know who won! Regardless, I had my driver’s license and was able to drive past the actual location this time. I stayed in a crappy motel in Worth, Illinois (which isn’t god damn Chicago Booking.com . . .) and was luckily driving up Cermak Road to avoid paying tolls. You can’t miss Apollo’s 2000, unfortunately unlike in that episode of Tour of Chicago (which was uploaded in November of 2017), I doubt that you can climb the back of the building as easily as Aiden does in the game.

There might be a fire escape . . . This would be more realistic than climbing air conditioning units. I imagine safer too.

May Stadium/Wrigley Field, Soldier Field, and "New Comisky" Park

Ok, so as depicted in the game, it’s definitely a baseball stadium, mostly a reference to Cellular Stadium, which is what it was called when I first started this project. When I returned in November 2016, it was "Guaranteed Rate Field" (to cut down confusion, I’m going to call it “New Comisky” for the rest of this segment). The only reason I mention Wrigley Field is because “Parker Square” is based on Northside, where Wrigley Field is located and May Stadium's marquee is similar. However, due to the nearby train station and sports bar, it has more similarity to “New Comisky." The design for May Stadium appears to take inspiration from the Roman pillars of Soldier Field; the home of DA Bears.

For what it’s worth, Wrigley Field also has several bars and a train station nearby, but none of them are physically connected to the stadium itself. With all of that, I should note that the area around May Stadium looks more like Montreal (or even Seattle) than Chicago.

Ferris Halstead Library/Maine North High School

This one has had me stumped for a while. The best I could surmise is it's a much deserved John Hughes reference. From the research I did into this location, it’s most likely based on Maine North High School in Desplaines, Illinois. Because it’s in Desplaines, it’s been a bit out of the way for me to travel to. Luckily for my March 2019 trip, I rented a car and was able to get out to these places.

Maine North High School is the complex that was used to film both The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The Breakfast Club was based in a library, but was actually filmed on a set within the school’s gymnasium. Unfortunately, the actual school was closed down by the time they got around to filming these classics. It's now used by the Illinois State Police.

Where do they get the name Halstead? Well it’s a major street in Chicago, which has several libraries along it. Wherein the “this one had me stumped” comes into effect. I’m fully convinced it’s Maine North High School, though if you’re ever in town check out the Harold Washington Library at 400 South State Street. It's really impressive with the amount of information inside! It's also where I originally thought this hotspot was based on. Don't judge me I'm trying my best!

St. Joseph Cemetery/St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery & Mausoleums

Yet another location I haven’t had a chance to visit due to my limited available options of getting there. St. Joseph’s Cemetery, from what I’ve gathered, is based on the St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery & Mausoleums in River Grove Illinois. In March 2019, I had a chance to drive around this cemetery but it's nothing really remarkable. Yeah, sorry Chicagoans, I have to take another piss on what might be an important landmark (maybe?) but this wasn't really worth the drive.

For that matter neither is the one in-game, since it's depicted as more of a city park than what it actually is; a graveyard housing the remains of loved ones. To be fair to the writers a couple of important, and somber, moments in the game's main story take place here. Though it's clear Ubisoft just saw this on a map and included it into the game. I already have my doubts anyone went to some of the places that are present in Watch Dogs, but it's bluntly clear with this one.

The Botanical Gardens/Chicago Botanic Garden

Five times I’ve been to the Windy City, and not one of them included a visit here. Glencoe Illinois would make this, in real-life, the Northern most hotspot in Watch Dogs. Odd since Pawnee is three and a half hours SOUTH from here. I went to this location in March 2019, which probably wasn't a great idea since it was technically still winter time. With it being a garden that would mean everything is DEAD and it certainly was. Also including my will for living at that point, but the grounds were still pretty though.

If I can raise the money in time I'll head back in July when the plants are alive, and undoubtedly the paths will be packed with tourist assholes . . . Still I would love to see the gardens the way they're intended.

Ubisoft really seems to have condensed the Northside of Chicago. Thankfully they didn’t add in O’Hare International Airport specifically for the reason that people would complain that you can't fly aircraft. This is probably a blessing when it comes to physics engines, nothing wrong with being on the ground. For those who disagree try Saints Row 2’s aircraft . . . Great everything else, but the flying . . .

© 2019 Eric Seidel