Whoever invented the train table deserves a gold medal. Nothing keeps kids occupied like pushing, tooting and choo-choo-choo’ing a colorful little caboose around a track. No matter if you have your own train table at home or not, there are a bunch across the city and ‘burbs that are worth seeking out. And you’ll find them in some pretty unexpected (and useful!) places — like a wine shop. Read on for the scoop.
photo: The Wine Goddess
The Wine Goddess
Evanston’s boutique-y wine shop may not have the fanciest train table, but it does have wine. And we all know the saying, “If mama’s happy…” The Wine Goddess (aka: owner and wine expert Diana Hamann) placed her wooden table strategically in the front window with tables on either side so while kids entertain themselves by playing conductor, parents can sit down and enjoy a glass of wine or beer and peruse Diana’s extensive collection from small-batch vineyards and local breweries and distilleries.
702 Main St.
Whether your kids are “follow the tracks” kids or a “make my own tracks” kids, they will love the train tables at this Ukie Village play space. One table has a pre-set track that kids can follow and add houses, stores and trucks. The other has patterns painted on it, but kids can build the tracks in whatever configuration they want. Kid City even has enough tracks and trains that the tracks can extend onto the floor.
1837 W. Grand Ave.
photo: Building Blocks by Todd McHenry
Building Blocks Toy Store
All aboard the two locations of this mom-and-pop toy shop, where train tables provide just one of many hands-on play options. Building Blocks’ train tables are by Nilo and while the tables are set up for trains in the store, they actually do much more. The “table top” is actually a white board for little artists, and when engineers are tired of trains, a LEGO/Duplo (two-sided) top can replace the train play mat. The table also has holes to practice “nailing” and Zoob fans can use the holes to build their contraptions right on the table. They sell the table in the store, if you get so attached to it that you want to take one home.
3306 N. Lincoln Ave.
2130 W. Division St.
Morton Grove Public Library
Have a Thomas fan at home? Then he or she will love a trip to this sprawling book nook where you can pick up a Thomas book or two and then relax by the massive Thomas the Train train table. The tracks on the table are nailed down but that doesn’t stop kids’ imaginations as they hunker down over Sodor and guide trains across elevated tracks and through tunnels. Bonus for construction enthusiasts: The library is currently undergoing a facelift and is full of tools, machines and construction workers.
6140 Lincoln Ave.
photo: Paciugo Gelato
A match made in kid heaven — gelato and a train table! The Paciugo Gelato locations in Roscoe Village and Lincoln Square have a train table that kids beeline to while parents try to decide between all of the delicious gelato flavors or sit down to enjoy a cup of coffee. We love that they are highly knowledgeable about possible allergies and offer dairy- and nut-free versions of all of their gelato.
2009 W. Roscoe St.
2324 W. Giddings St. (note: this location is easier to find if you type 4747 N. Lincoln in your GPS; it’s on the east side of Giddings Plaza)
The Oak Park Library
The Main Library location in Oak Park will get you chugging along in a different, more open-ended way. With free-form tracks that sit on a landscape-graphic rug, kids build the train land of their dreams. A mix of train styles complemented by assorted buildings and trucks means a new discovery upon each visit.
834 Lake St.
photo: Little Beans Cafe
Little Beans Cafe
Some kids are still learning to share. And that’s okay at Little Beans Cafe, where there are two train tables providing plenty of table, tracks and trains for everyone. If your kid has a really vivid imagination, make a stop at the dress-up corner to don an engineer costume while working at the train tables.
1809 W. Webster Ave.
Homer Glen Public Library
Chug-chug your way across the Chuggington train table at this peaceful southwest side library. Kids love the double-level pre-set tracks and multi-story structures as well as the multiple Chuggington trains. Combine your trip with one of the library’s many engaging activities (story time, movies, discussions) and you’ll have a full morning or afternoon of fun.
14320 W. 151st St.
photo: Berwyn’s Toys & Trains
Berwyn’s Toys & Trains
First, a fact: Allow a lot of time for your visit to Berwyn’s Toys & Train because it’s a maze of choo-choo cool. From its unbelievable Thomas selection (we’re pretty sure they have every piece ever made) to it’s four train tables, this place is train heaven. The shop specializes in O-Gauge electric trains (think Lionel and Mike’s Train House) and they have an amazing train table set up especially for those classics. Little fingers can press buttons to make the train run, open and close gates, and turn lights on and off. For those who are not crazy about trains, there is also a ton of LEGO and Playmobil sets, slot cars and more.
7025 Ogden Ave.
Learning Express Toy Store
Make your way to the back of the store to find the secluded Thomas train table area by the LEGO and Playmobil section. While you shop it’s easy to keep Junior in sight as he or she raises pulleys and crosses bridges with Bertie or Percy in hand. Bonus: buying gifts is really easy here, thanks clever “birthday buckets” that kids fill up (they’re like wish lists), Plus, there’s free gift wrap.
2863 W. 95th St. (in the Jewel/Osco shopping plaza)
Where is YOUR favorite train table? Spread the word in the Comments!
— Jen Peterson
featured photo: Berwyn’s Toys & Trains