City of architects, speakeasies and good, old fashioned manners. Chicago has amazing public art, arguably the world’s best selection of skyscrapers, a diverse population, a strong creative community, good public transport (including the iconic ‘L Train’), and some of the friendliest people we’ve ever met. Don’t be surprised if you find people shaking your hand vigorously and saying ‘Welcome, to Chicago’ without a trace of irony. Enjoy it!
HOTELS WE LOVE: hotels we love in Chicago….
Blackbird: You know you’re in a city of architects when the guy at the table next to you confides to his companions: “I just don’t like the way she drafts”. Specialising in contemporary American cuisine this sleek restaurant combines hip credentials with old fashioned Chicago comfort. A real class act. Unless your name’s ‘Obama’ book in advance. 619 W. Randolph St. Tel: 312 715-0708
Avec: The little sister of Blackbird, Avec is geared towards shared plates and, in theory, is more casual and less expensive than Blackbird, but remember that waiting for a table is thirsty business and adds up quickly. The wooden interior is beautiful and warm, but it gets pretty noisy. We like the terrace for a drink. Open: Daily 3:30pm-late 615 w. Randolph, Tel: 312-377-2002
Nightwood Restaurant: with its exposed brick, wooden floors, quirky outdoor area, friendly staff and fresh daily menu, Nightwood is a gem in the rough of Halsted St. In short: the kind of restaurant you wish you lived around the corner from. 2119 S. Halsted Street, Pilsen, Tel: 312-526-3385
Terzo Piano: this super elegant venue on top of the Renzo Piano addition to the Art Institute of Chicago offers modern Italian and seasonable, local produce by local chef Tony Mantuano. Reservations are a must. Open daily for lunch 11:00–3:00 and for dinner Thursdays, until 9:00 p.m.
Bongo Room: the cheery decor and Mexican-influenced breakfast menu is a treat – the main challenge is to actually finish a meal the size of one’s head. If you’re planning to brunch on a weekend, well, be prepared to queue…and queue some more. There’s a slightly grungier branch in Ukranian Village. 1152 S. Wabash, South Loop, Tel: 312 291 0100
Monadnock Coffee Bar: Intelligensia is Chicago’s indie-coffee biz and their coffee bar in the gorgeous Monadnock building is like stepping back in time into an Italian-style espresso bar circa the 1920’s. Wear a hat and carry the Tribune, but leave your violin case at home. Open: 6am – 5:30pm Mon-Fri. 53 W. Jackson Blvd. The Loop. | Chicago, IL 60604, Tel: 312.253.0594
The Violet Hour: Home to the ‘Oldest Living Confederate Widow’, cocktail (Bombay Dry, lemon, honey syrup, pernod absinthe and house orange bitters) you can’t go past the The Violet Hour for an new fashioned, speakeasy. Don’t be put off by the website carrying on about valour and unicorns – that’s just the absinth talking. Open 6pm till late daily. 1520 North Dame Ave
Empty Bottle: It’s very far from chic, but this is the place to head for underground music and bands of the moment. What’s wrong with sticky tables? (Afterall, they keep your elbows in place.) For gig schedule and detailed transport directions see: 1035 N Western Av. Ukranian Village. Tel: 773 276 3600
ART & ARCHITECTURE:
Art Institute of Chicago: The institute has so many impressionist masterpieces I began to feel uneasy. (Does France know about this?!). Renzo Piano was charged with designing the elegant new wing for this maze-like museum. I’m pretty sure that high up on the brief was the requirement ‘must connect with the original building and facilitate visitor movement between the two’.’ Too bad it dropped off the checklist. Undisputed highlights: American Gothic (Grant Wood), Sky Above Clouds IV (Georgia O’Keefe) and the Architecture & Design rooms. Strangely, there seems to be very little representation by America’s native population.
Alexander Calder: check out his immense Flamingo sculpture in Federal Plaza, on S Dearborn Street near the corner of W Adam St.
Chicago Architecture Foundation: the foundation runs boat tours of the city’s architectural highlights along the river. The tours are led by architects, so the quality of the commentary varies according to who you score on the day. Our architect had a chronic mumble but this didn’t stop him from rambling non-stop into a malfunctioning speaker system. This proved strangely incompatible with the hangover we’d acquired hanging out with some of Chicago’s street artists. Despite this, we recommend it.
Millenium Park: If the weather permits, is there anywhere in Chicago that makes for a better breakfast site? Grab a muffin and coffee and sit down to enjoy Anish Kapoor’s ‘Cloud Gate’ aka ‘The Bean’. One of Chicago’s best-loved sculptures the Bean is already an icon of this forward-thinking design city – and it makes Frank Gehry’s concert venue (aka Jay Pritzker Pavilion) look all fussy. We’re also fond of the prairie-style garden landscaping – try this at home! Millenium Park, the Loop.
KICKING AROUND, SHOPPING:
Ukranian Village: Chicago’s emerging boho district, to a visitor it feel a little overhyped, though we appreciate the local flavour. Try fitting in by borrowing a pram or a dog.
Florodora: small but perfectly formed contemporary ladies fashion with a vintage twist in the historic Monadnock building. If nothing else it’s a good excuse to stop by and admire the lobby. 330 South Dearborn Street, Tel: 312 212 8860
Sandmeyers Bookstore: This beautiful book store in the cinemagraphic Printers Row area specialises in art and design but has a kicking fiction section too. Pick up a copy of local author Michael Harvey’s gripping, hard-boiled Chicago-based detective series. We got started with the Fifth Floor. 714 S. Dearborn St. (between Polk and Harrison). Open from 11am to 4pm or so depending on the day.
Permanent Records: hip, impassioned, independent music store that holds live in-store events, guest DJ around town and remind us of the Violent Femmes every time we walk past. If there’s something going on in town, they probably know about it. 1914 W Chicago Ave, (773) 278-1744
What’s on, arts & culture: Gaper’s Block
Hot bikes, hot locals, hot pics, hawt: Bike Fancy
Music, bands, interviews, everything audio in Chicago: Windy City Rock
Art, reviews and ‘what’s on now’ art calander: New City Art
There’s no shortage of great Chicago bands, so there’s absolutely no excuse to be plugging the Violent Femmes, but now they’re in our head, we just can’t get them out.