The third largest city in the United States boasts a rich cultural heritage and well-earned reputation for knowing how to have a good time. A beguiling blend of waterfront chic and upscale renovated urban style, you could quite easily lose yourself in its lively maze of eateries, bars, clubs and shops. Thankfully, help is at hand…
Estimated reading time: 11 minutes
Named after the elevated mass-transit trains that ring the central business district south of the Chicago River, the downtown Loop is a hub not only for finance but also for theatre, culture and design. Between Lake Michigan and the wall of Michigan Avenue skyscrapers, known as “The Cliff”, lies green Grant Park, designed by city planner Daniel Burnham as the city’s front yard, home to major cultural museums and landmarks. Site of many summer festivals, it’s where all the area desk-jockeys and high-rise dwellers come to breathe, play and party. Some of the most stylish restaurants in the city line up in the adjacent West Loop neighbourhood.
See and do
At the foot of Grant Park, facing the Loop, the ART INSTITUTE OF CHICAGO (artic.edu) cloisters prized collections of European Impressionist, post-Impressionist and modern art (in its new wing designed by star-architect Renzo Piano). A pedestrian bridge from the new Modern Wing links the museum to MILLENNIUM PARK (millenniumpark.org), 24 acres seeded with art installations including a video water fountain, sculptor Anish Kapoor’s reflective Cloud Gate (known locally as “The Bean” for its kidney shape), and a second serpentine footbridge by architect Frank Gehry. On the south end of Grant Park lies a trio of popular museums including the SHEDD AQUARIUM (sheddaquarium.org), the natural history-focused FIELD MUSEUM (fieldmuseum.org) and the nation’s first planetarium, ADLER PLANETARIUM (adlerplanetarium.org). To see all of Chicago from on high, ascend to the 103rd floor Skydeck at the WILLIS TOWER (theskydeck.com), the nation’s tallest building. To experience Chicago’s famed architecture from sea level, take a docent-led cruise on the Chicago River with the CHICAGO ARCHITECTURE FOUNDATION (architecture.org). Cap the day with a performance at one of the area’s many theatres including the dramatic powerhouse GOODMAN THEATRE (goodmantheatre.org).
Eat and drink
Several of the area’s top cultural attractions aim to feed bodies as well as minds. On the third floor of the Art Institute’s Modern Wing, TERZO PIANO (terzopianochicago.com) offers artful Italian food, plus city views in a window-wrapped room. Next door at Millennium Park, the PARK GRILL (parkgrillchicago.com) serves modern American food. South of the Loop, ACADIA (acadiachicago.com) offers upscale American fare, while in the West Loop, BLACKBIRD (blackbirdrestaurant.com) features seasonal American cuisine in a gallery-spare but convivial setting. Down the
street, GIRL AND THE GOAT (girlandthegoat.com) showcases the namesake goat as well as seasonal vegetables on the American tapas-style menu. Chef Grant Achatz’ wildly popular NEXT (nextrestaurant.com) changes its menu and theme four times each year to channel a specific time and place (ie, Paris 1912), while its adjoining cocktail lounge THE AVIARY (theaviary.com) brings molecular gastronomy to the highball.
The Loop’s main shopping thoroughfare, known as the State Street Corridor, hosts grand department stores like MACY’S (macys.com), high-street chains, including H&M (hm.com), and specialty shops, such as bath-and-body-care merchant MERZ APOTHECARY (smallflower.com). The shop at the CHICAGO ARCHITECTURE FOUNDATION (architecture.org) sells books, stationery and gifts designed by the city’s best architects.
Some of Chicago’s most historic hotels lie in the Loop, including its oldest and central THE PALMER HOUSE (palmerhousehiltonhotel.com), which features a gilded lobby, stylishly updated rooms. Nearby, the boutique HOTEL BURNHAM (burnhamhotel.com) is housed in a historic building, one of the city’s first skyscrapers, designed by its namesake, Daniel Burnham. The new JW MARRIOTT CHICAGO (Marriott.com) boosts the Loop luxury factor with spacious suites and spa. The RENAISSANCE BLACKSTONE CHICAGO (blackstonerenaissance.com) is set in a Beaux Arts building with a 1,400-piece art collection. Overlooking Millennium Park, both the elegant FAIRMONT CHICAGO (Fairmont.com/Chicago) and streamlined SWISSOTEL CHICAGO (swissotelchicago.com) offer stunning views of the lake and river. New neighbour the RADISSON BLU AQUA HOTEL CHICAGO (radissonblue.com/aquahotel-chicago) is housed in the sinuous Aqua Tower with a terrace featuring a swimming pool.
RIVER NORTH/MAGNIFICENT MILE
Chicago’s stoniest residential and shopping districts lie just north of the Chicago River in several adjacent neighbourhoods. The shop-lined stretch of Michigan Avenue running from the Chicago River north to its terminus at Oak Street Beach is known as the Magnificent Mile. Just west of Michigan Avenue and north of the river lies River North where warehouses have been refashioned as art galleries and restaurants
Eat and drink
On the seventh floor of the Park Hyatt, overlooking the Water Tower, NOMI KITCHEN (parkchicago.hyatt.com) blends regional produce and French flare. Another hotel with stellar views and fine fare is SIXTEEN (trumphotelcollection.com). On the 16th floor of the Trump Hotel, it features the crafted cooking of Joel Robuchon’s protégée Thomas Lents. A popular stop for Mag Mile shoppers, THE PURPLE PIG (thepurplepigchicago.com) combines nose-to-tail cookery and smallplate offerings at perennially packed communal tables. Another Mag Mile mainstay, RL (rlrestaurant.com) stands for proprietor and designer Ralph Lauren, whose Colorado ranch produces the burgers served at the clubby, artfilled bistro. At the north end of the Mag Mile, SPIAGGIA (spiaggiarestaurant.com) pairs highend Italian luxuries with views over the lake. Thronged newcomer TAVERNITA (tavernita.com) in River North does faithful Spanish food and barrel-aged cocktails and, in the bar BARCITO (standandeat.com), tiny pintxos Iberian nibbles. FRONTERA GRILL (fronterakitchens.com), from chef Rick Bayless, introduced the country to authentic regional Mexican cuisine. The chef takes it upscale in the neighbouring TOPOLOBAMPO. Chicago has a reputation for steakhouses dating back to its roots as a butchery site and GIBSONS (gibsonssteakhouse.com) honours the tradition with massive portions in a see-and-be-seen setting.
See and do
The city’s most-visited attraction, the former wharf-turned-entertainment-centre NAVY PIER (navypier.com) has something for everyone, ranging from carnival rides including a 14-storey Ferris Wheel and Lake-Michigan-plying tour boats, to the more sophisticated Smith Museum of Stained Glass. Its highly regarded CHICAGO SHAKESPEARE THEAtre (chicagoshakes.com) channels Stratford-Upon-the-Great-Lakes on a 535-seat thrust stage. BIKE AND ROLL CHICAGO (bikechicago.com) located here offers bike and skate rentals that access 18 miles of lakefront trail. On the Mag Mile, the landmark WATER TOWER (806 N Michigan Avenue) was the sole survivor of the Great Fire, and now houses a photography gallery. Its matching pumping station, across the street, lodges the inventive LOOKINGGLASS THEATRE (lookingglasstheatre.org). One block behind, the MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART (mcachicago.org) mounts art exhibitions in a range of mediums as well as performing arts programmes, including dance and theatre.
The MAGNIFICENT MILE (themagnificentmile.com) strings together designer shops by the likes of Ferragamo, Burberry, Cartier and Louis Vuitton with big-brand outlets including Apple and Disney, plus a series of vertical shopping malls, such as the Nordstrom-anchoring Shops at North Bridge. Take a left at the north end of Michigan Avenue to reach OAK STREET (oakstreetchicago.com), a more intimate version of the Mag Mile with smaller, but equally upscale, stores, including international designers like Hermès and Jil Sander, local start-ups, such as The Denim Lounge and the high-end department store Barneys New York. A destination stop for fashion-lovers, including First Lady Michelle Obama, IKRAM (ikram.com) showcases emerging designers in both women’s and men’s collections. Art galleries tend to cluster on Superior, Huron and Erie Streets, including the CARL HAMMER GALLERY (carlhammergallery.com), which showcases both American and outsider art, CATHERINE EDELMAN GALLERY (edelmangallery.com) for photography and the
MAYA POLSKY GALLERY (mayapolskygallery.com) highlighting Russian artists.
The majority of Chicago’s luxury hotels cluster around the Mag Mile, including the FOUR SEASONS HOTEL CHICAGO (fourseasons.com/chicagofs) with 345 rooms, including a series of suites newly updated by designer Pierre-Yves Rochon, and the modern new restaurant Allium. The Four Seasons also runs the nearby RITZCARLTON CHICAGO (fourseasons.com/chicagorc) where the atrium Greenhouse lobby is a popular spot for afternoon tea. Amenities at THE PENINSULA CHICAGO (peninsula.com/Chicago) include a sprawling top-floor spa, featuring a lap pool with floor-to-ceiling windows, and several dining options from a French café to an Asian restaurant. An arresting art collection, including a centrepiece by Gerhard Richter, introduces residents to the PARK HYATT CHICAGO (parkchicago.hyatt.com), which also houses the popular restaurant NoMI Kitchen, a seasonal terrace and a popular boutique spa. The INTERCONTINENTAL CHICAGO (icchicagohotel.com) combines modern and historic halves, the latter hosting a clubby wine bar and a tiered, 1920s-vintage swimming pool. The TRUMP INTERNATIONAL HOTEL & TOWER CHICAGO (trumphotelcollection.com) with its exterior glass walls provides stunning views over the Chicago River and surrounding cityscape. There are 339 rooms, an amazing 11-treatment-room spa and popular river-view cocktail lounge.
Following the Lake Michigan shore northward, the North Side hosts a patchwork of eighbourhoods
ranging from affluent Lincoln Park to the nightlifefocused district around the baseball stadium Wrigley Field, known as Wrigleyville.
Armitage Avenue hosts VOSGES HAUT CHOCOLAT (vosgeschocolate.com), which features various exotic truffle combinations, PAPER SOURCE (paper-source.com) for arty stationery and ART EFFECT (shoparteffect.com) for creative home accessories. The Ferrari dealer LAKE FOREST SPORTS CARS lies just to the north of the city (990 North Shore Drive, Lake Bluff).
The best hotels on the North Side reside near Lake Michigan, including PUBLIC CHICAGO (publichotels.com) where Ian Schrager brought his clubby, minimalist style to a former 1920s-vintage hotel. Opposite Lincoln Park and the Lincoln Park Zoo, the new HOTEL LINCOLN (hotellincolnchicago.com) is another stylish rehab, this one housing 184 cosy rooms and a rooftop lounge overlooking the lake and park.
See and do
The popular LINCOLN PARK ZOO (lpzoo.org) is one of the last remaining free zoos in the country. Sports fans hail WRIGLEY FIELD (chicago.cubs.mlb.com) as one of the oldest, most intimate baseball parks in the country, despite the Chicago Cubs’ losing record. Chicago is the nation’s home of improvisational comedy and SECOND CITY (secondcity.com) is its ground zero, featuring improv shows on three stages.
Eat and drink
Chef Grant Achatz creates molecular gastronomy at ALINEA (alinea-restaurant.com). Italian fare is served at BALENA (balenachicago.com). Opposite the Green City Market, PERENNIAL VIRANT (perennialchicago.com) offers contemporary American fare. In Lincoln Park, NORTH POND (northpondrestaurant.com) serves up elegant American cuisine. The PUMP ROOM (pumproom.com) updates a traditional dining room, while in Andersonville, BIG JONES (bigjoneschicago.com) specialises in Southern and Creole fare, HOPLEAF (hopleaf.com) focuses on Belgian specialties and beer, and GREAT LAKE PIZZA (1477 W Balmoral) serves creative, daily changing artisan pizzas.
NEAR WEST/OAK PARK
Chicago’s West Side includes the Bucktown and Wicker Park neighbourhoods, a bohemian mix of artists, urban gentry and Polish and Latino communities. Logan Square has some of the city’s most exciting restaurants. Oak Park is home to the world’s largest concentration of buildings designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright
Eat and drink
Dining in Bucktown, Wicker Park and Logan Square means digging into adventurous fare. BIG STAR (bigstarchicago.com) brings some quality ingredients to a taco-and-margarita-focused roadhouse. THE VIOLET HOUR (theviolethour.com) shakes up inventive, pre-Prohibition-era cocktails. GREEN ZEBRA (greenzebrachicago.com) gives vegetables the gourmet treatment in artful and delicious dishes. LULA CAFÉ (lulacafe.com) serves market-focused rustic food to a loyal bohemian tribe. YUSHO (yusho-chicago.com) is the city’s best yakitori, or Japanese tavern, with delicious dishes. Chicago’s finest brewpub is REVOLUTION BREWING (revbrew.com) pouring six seasonally rotating, house-made beers accompanied by upscale pub fare, spanning bacon fat popcorn and pork belly and egg sandwiches.
See and do
One of Chicago’s chief attractions, ironically, resides just outside the city limits in suburban Oak Park. Tour the FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT HOME AND STUDIO (gowright.org) to see where the founder of the Prairie School of Architecture got his start in 1889. A separate audio tour walks you around the adjacent neighbourhood, past a string of Wrightdesigned homes. Wicker Park and Bucktown are nightlife hotspots with live music clubs led by the DOUBLE DOOR (doubledoor.com). Local troupes perform at the CHOPIN THEATRE (chopintheatre.com), including THE HOUSE THEATRE (thehousetheatre.com) and THE HYPOCRITES (the-hypocrites.com), known for reinventing classics from Gilbert and Sullivan to Shakespeare.
Small shops cluster around the Division and Damen intersections, including spa shop RUBY ROOM (rubyroom.com) and fashion boutique ROSLYN (roslynboutique.com). At the intersection of Milwaukee, North and Damen, brands such as MARC JACOBS (marcjacobs.com) meet local boutiques including P.45 (p45.com) and STITCH (stitchchicago.com). Don’t miss Asian antique specialist PAGODA RED (pagodared.com).
The celebrated gastropub LONGMAN & EAGLE (longmanandeagle.com) has six rooms decorated in retro style with exposed brick walls and wood floors. The salon and spa shop RUBY ROOM (rubyroom.com) also offers eight cozy and stylish rooms with downy bedding and garden.
Published on The Official Ferrari Magazine, issue 18, September 2012