Beyond the classics in Chicago

Screen shot 2014-04-30 at 9.48.20 AMI have already lauded the wealth of art and culture in Chicago. I love this city and have yet to understand why it is known across the globe, yet so few people have actually been there on holiday. I say this without ever having visited when the weather was nice enough to enjoy the classic architectural tour along the Chicago river.

We had a special treat on this visit, being able to share a meal with Joseph the Butler. Ok, not just a meal, but crab cakes by the fire place in the cosy, wood paneled bar at Ralph Lauren on The Miracle Mile. Leave it to a butler to get you the best table in the house. Not only is it a pleasure to be with Joseph, but he shared some great local tips. Like, sending us to the Richard Grey Art Gallery on the 29th floor of the John Hancock Tower, turning me on to the insanely expensive, but eye candy-licious Ikram store/art gallery/restaurant, giving us a heads up about the regular, dependable programming at the Blue Chicago Jazz Club on Clark Street and reminding me to take Mr French to the Chagall wall. He also recommended taking the water taxi to Chinatown and cycling along the water. We didn’t get to see it all on this visit, but his ideas are at the top of my list for the next time we head west.

Screen shot 2014-04-30 at 9.47.49 AMWe felt super cool when we found ourselves in the hipstery hip Wicker Park neighborhood with its used record stores, haute couture bike bags and peanut flavored cappucinos. After not buying any albums in that part of town, Mr French went into some serious lp withdrawal, forcing us to hike through the (FREE and fantastic!!!) LIncoln Park zoo to Dave’s Records on Clark Street, where we also dove into a total dive called Frances’ that has been serving locals since 1938! When we whined that there were no desserts on the menu, the very charming girl next to us leaned over and and whispered, “Molly’s Cupcakes”, its next door. And so it was! Featuring très français inspired cakes like an eclair cup and a crème brûlée cake.

Screen shot 2014-04-30 at 9.51.34 AMThe one tour that has been on the top of my list since our first visit a year ago, is Frank Lloyd Wright’s The Robie house on the University of Chicago campus. This time we made it and I really recommend making the trip to Hyde Park for a visits. I then made a point of showing Mr French the gothic Rockefeller Memorial Chapel and the modern Mansueto Library. The library looks like a crystal Easter Egg buried in a luscious lawn, light streams into the reading reading room, enlightening the space as the books stacked below enlighten the mind. After the visit, we made a bee line for Obama’s favorite rib joint, Ribs N’ Bibs on S Dorchester.

On the morning before his flight, we took Mr French downtown to see the Chagall Wall Joseph had mentioned. Taking a Chicago classic (the downtown monumental art tour) Mr French made it an original by walking into random buildings, leading us to the reverent interior of the Chicago Tribune and the astonishing mosaics of the Marquette building.

The more we visit Chicago the longer the list becomes for our next visit; The Girl and Goat, Tru (another Joseph recommendation), and A10 in Hyde Park for restaurants, a visit to Frank Lloyd Wright’s studio in the ‘burbs, an afternoon at the beach with skyscrapers soaring above, and more spontaneous incursions into the lobbies of downtown’s architectural gems, as well as the art gallery district and the Pilsen neighborhood (and yes, those are my personal notes I am posting so it will be easy for me to look up the next time we are in Chicago, because there is sure to be a next time!)





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8 thoughts on “Beyond the classics in Chicago

  1. As a lifelong Chicagoan, I must say you definitely made the most of your time in our fair city- kudos especially for also squeezing in time in the neighborhoods- a much under-appreciated aspect of our wonderful town! You should know that those mosaics in the Marquette Building were done by Tiffany’s, as was the dome in the Chicago Cultural Center (the largest Tiffany dome in the world!)- I’m glad you were able to take an architectural tour along the river, but next time try getting on a boat on the lake to truly appreciate the beauty of Chicago’s skyline- the best in the world, in my (not-so-)humble opinion!

    For your next visit I’d strongly recommend spending an evening in Andersonville- it is about as far north as Hyde Park is south (5200-5600 N. Clark St. roughly speaking), but even more accessible by public transportation, being a short walk from the Red Line. There are a whole host of unique restaurants, bars, and even natural ice cream/sweet shops, the Swedish Bakery (another neighborhood institution!) and live theater (Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind at the Neo-Futurists on Foster & Ashland – 30 plays in 60 minutes – is a Chicago improv classic! and very inexpensive). The Hopleaf has an amazing beer selection and at Lady Gregory’s you can have your pick of scotch whiskey flights in case you want to become more well-acquainted with that family of spirits. They even have an amazing breakfast place- M Henry’s- that is worth a visit in and of itself!

    As for Pilsen, make sure you get a map of the neighborhood murals from the National Museum of Mexican Art (formerly known as the Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum) and check out the Cafe Jumping Bean- they feature local artists’ work on their walls- it is high quality and you can buy it on the spot! It’s also across the street from a classic 20s-era Chicago theater. Another one- the Thalia Hall- is nearby, newly-restored but if you want to experience authentic Mexican food the way the Mexican immigrants in Chicago do, visit Los Comales on the corner of Ashland and 18th St.- and make sure you order some horchata with your food!

    A third neighborhood I’d strongly recommend visiting is Logan Square. It is just up the street along Milwaukee Ave. from Wicker Park, right off the Blue Line, named after Civil War General Logan whose monument is at the center of the park and traffic circle after whom the neighborhood is named. You can see many beautiful homes along Logan Boulevard as this was historically the posh neighborhood for “new money” that wasn’t ritzy enough to be accepted on Prarie Avenue (which, you also definitely need to see the Prarie Avenue Historic District in the South Loop! 😛 ). It has plenty of fine restaurants, classic diners, indy music shops and other entertainment very much akin to your experience in Wicker Park- but less expensive! But if you do go back to Wicker Park I strongly recommend Big Star Tacos- a wonderful spot that helped earn Chicago the People’s Choice Award for Best Food City!

    Finally, if you really want a truly unique drinking experience, I’d recommend checking out the Aviary
    It’s like a restaurant for alcohol, where bartenders are trained as chefs who develop unique creations that you won’t find anywhere else. And for a different historic experience, you definitely need to see the Green Mill- an old Al Capone speakeasy in Uptown whose interior remains unchanged from the 1920s and which features jazz and other events on the weekends (it was also the place where Slam Poetry was founded by Mark Smith in 1982!)

    Thank you again for spreading the word about our wonderful city! It is still only the 9th-most visited city in the United States, behind Las Vegas, Miami and even Orlando! Can you believe that? Nobody who visits would make the mistake of going to Vegas or Florida over Chicago, but many millions have and still do 🙁 I’m not a tourism promoter or anything, just a proud Chicagoan who has lived in Paris and visited many other cities around the world, but who will always love my hometown with all my heart! 🙂

    • WHAT??? Orlando gets more visitors than Chicago??? That amazes me. I know its the mouse, but still…
      Merci for this most excellent and appreciated list. I believe we owe you a drink next time we’re in town.
      And you’ve reminded me that Second City is high on our list for next time, and the Joffrey Ballet!!!
      You really do have so much to boast about in Chicago!

  2. Ah, it was fun having you here. I wish I hadn’t been in the middle of planning and setting up a party for 150. And on your next visit, we’re taking the water taxi to Chinatown together, and maybe bike home along the lakefront. And I have to make sure you see the Japanese Garden in Hyde Park. And to the top of Marina City.

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