New visitor center makes navigating Chicago easier

Visiting Chicago can be overwhelming without a little concierge help. You know to toss questions at a hotel concierge but when downtown you now have another concierge desk ready to answer those “where are” and “how do you get there” questions.

A new Chicago Visitors Center recently opened at Macy's on State Street

A new Chicago Visitors Center recently opened at Macy's on State Street

Macy’s on State Street added a terrific Visitor Information Center in June in conjunction with Choose Chicago, the city’s main tourist information bureau.

The Macy’s center has a concierge desk, maps, brochures and interactive kiosks that have dining, attractions and shopping suggestions.

When you stop in the store, ask for directions to the fountain and its main escalators. Then go down to lower level near the candy and food area to find the Visitor Information Center.

The kiosks there will not merely light up with restaurant suggestions for several types of cuisines and tell you how to get to your restaurant of choice by bus, car or walking, it will also print out the directions so you don’t have to write them down. Same goes for attractions such as museums and shopping categories.

Restaurant choices and how to get there are on interactive kiosks

Restaurant choices and how to get there are on interactive kiosks

However, you can also check at the desk for savings passes and other information.

Macy’s has the International and Domestic Savings Program that gives a 10 percent discount on most store purchases to visitors from outside the store’s shopping region. Qualifying documentation such as a government issued ID is needed. The Savings Pass can be printed at interactive kiosks or from the concierge desk. BTW, remember on your travels to ask for a Macy’s savings pass when at the company’s other stores.

Visit Macy’s State Street for more information.

Photos (C) Jodie Jacobs

Downtown show venues range from lavish to old-world casual

Chicago doesn’t promote that it is a great theater town with about 200 stage companies in its metropolitan area. But if you are merely in and out of the city for a quick visit, try to get tickets to a show downtown. At the least, you will see a grand, historic venue.

However, production companies know that Chicago audiences are sophisticated theater-goers with high expectations so you are likely to see an exceptional performance.

Don’t worry if you don’t have time to go to several shows. You can admire their venue’s architecture and, in some cases, over-the-top décor. Many Chicago’s stages are in glorious marble, gold, exotic “palaces.”

Theater venues is the fourth category in the downtown Chicago walks series that includes, art, architecture, restaurants and shopping. Some theaters conduct tours but even if a theater is closed, box offices are often open so at least you can peak into some lobbies.

Combine any of the following five theaters with restaurant suggestions or the art and architecture walks.

The French Baroque style Chicago Theatre arguably became the prototy[e for movie palaces

The French Baroque style Chicago Theatre arguably became the prototy[e for movie palaces

If in the south end of the Loop for art or architecture definitely stop by the Auditorium Theatre at 50 E. Congress Parkway, Chicago, IL 60605 adjacent to Michigan Avenue. Extending around the corner onto Michigan Avenue, the building has been home to Roosevelt University for more than half a century.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places and designated a National Historic Landmark, the building was designed by Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan. When completed in 1889, it was the city’s tallest building. Notice its arches. They are Sullivan hallmarks.

Try to schedule a tour ahead of time. Built as an opera house, its auditorium is gorgeous. Home to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from the late 1800s to the early 1900s, it has wonderful acoustics.

When walking in the central Loop area west of the Art Institute of Chicago, peer into the Bank of America Theatre in the Majestic Building.

Sitting just west of State Street at 18 W. Monroe St., Chicago, IL 60603, the building and its playhouse, the Majestic Theatre, date to 1906. A vaudeville playhouse, the theatre featured such entertainers as Harry Houdini, Al Jolson and Fanny Brice.

Closed during the Great Depression, it reopened in 1945 as the Sam Shubert Theatre. It was the place to go to see such post war musicals as “South Pacific” and “Guys and Dolls.” Later, it was the LaSalle Bank Theatre. Bank of America acquired the LaSalle and renamed the venue in 2008. The theatre is popular for pre-Broadway premieres from The Good-by Girl in 1993 to “Kinky Boots” in 2012 and hosts Broadway in Chicago productions.

To do a theater walk, start at the Cadillac Palace, 151 W. Randolph St., Chicago.  60601.

Inside, large mirrors, crystal chandeliers and violet and white marble will have you believing you have moved through space to the palaces of France.

Built during the extravagant mid-1920s, the Palace Theatre (later the Cadillac Palace) was an Orpheum Circuit vaudeville playhouse. During its many lives, the venue was a movie house, banquet hall, rock venue and playhouse called the Bismark Theatre.

Renovated in 1999, it became the Cadillac Palace, hosting pre-Broadway openings of “The Producers and “Mamma Mia” and also other hit shows.

Walk east on Randolph past the impressive glass James Thompson Center, then north a block to the internationally renowned Goodman Theatre at 170 N. Dearborn St., Chicago, IL 60601.

When the Goodman Theatre moved from its Art Institute of Chicago space to Dearborne Street it kept the historic facades of former landmark theatres but redid the inside as comfortable and casual.

When the Goodman Theatre moved from its Art Institute of Chicago space to Dearborn Street, it kept the historic facades of former landmark theatres but redid the inside as comfortable and casual.

Housed in a north wing of the Art Institute of Chicago built for the Goodman in the 1920s and opened in 1925, the theatre moved to its Dearborn location in 2000. It is on the former site and incorporates the former landmark facades of the Selwyn and Harris Theaters.

Totally unlike the ornate 1920s theater palaces, its main stage, the Albert Ivar Goodman Theatre, is a comfortable, casual space with side balconies somewhat old-world reminiscent of the Globe Theatre.

Artistic Director Robert Falls has staged and overseen several world premieres and notable productions. Among them is “The Iceman Cometh” starring Brian Dennehy. The Goodman’s annual presentation of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” has become a Chicago area family tradition.

Return to Randolph Street, to walk east to the Oriental Theatre, 24 W Randolph St., Chicago, IL 60601.

This is the site of the Iroquois Theater, whose deadly 1903 fire led to improved theater safety standards across the country. Designed by George and Cornelius Rapp and opened by Balaban and Katz as a movie palace in 1926, the theater’s Far East carvings, color and decor has visitors oohing and aahing before the show starts.

Closed due to disrepair in 1981, the theater underwent restoration and was renamed the Ford Center for the Performing Arts in 1997. It reopened in 1998 with the premiere of “Ragtime.”

The Oriental is just west of State Street so make the last stop the Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State St. Chicago, IL 60601.

Built in 1921 for $4 million, it is arguably the Balaban and Katz venue that made the statement: movie theater lobbies and auditoriums should look like palaces. The Rapps designed this theater in French Baroque style. Make a reservation for a tour to stand on the stage and go back stage.

Great entertainers have performed on Chicago’s downtown stages. World premieres and memorable performances have taken place there. So be sure to put Chicago theaters on the to-do list.

Restaurants that complement Chicago sights

Berghoff's on Adams Street, well placed for architecture walks, is among Chicago's oldest, family-owned restaurants.the oldest

Berghoff's on Adams Street, well placed for architecture walks, is among Chicago's oldest, family-owned restaurants.

If you are doing the art and architecture walks or shopping, you need some suggestions on where to revive or take a break. If going to the theater, you’ll want to know a good place to eat within walking distance.

We could say luckily for tourists, commuters and residents Chicago is a foodie town so there are several options. But luck has nothing to do with it.

Once known for its steaks (after all the stockyards were here), expense-account, three-martini lunches, Sunday family dinners and neighborhood German, Italian, Greek and Chinese eateries, the city’s dining options began to expand about 1986-87 when James Beard award-winning chefs J Joho (The Everest Room), Charles Trotter (Charlie Trotter’s) and Rick Bayless  (Frontera Grill/ Topolobampo and their restaurants became house-hold names among people looking for exceptional dining-out experiences.

Ironically, as experimental dish combinations took hold among chefs opening their own places, steaks and ethnic eateries came back in style.

Of course, some old-time Chicago favorites such as Gene and Georgetti’s for steaks in River North (north of the Chicago River, west of Michigan Avenue) and Berghoff’s for German food in the financial district (on Adams Street near LaSalle Street) made it through the fads.

Terzo Piano on the Art Institute of Chicago Modern Wing terrace has indoor seating but when the weather allows, sit outside for a skyline view.

Terzo Piano on the Art Institute of Chicago Modern Wing terrace has indoor seating but when the weather allows, sit outside for a skyline view.

Now, new restaurants open every week in the West Loop, South Loop and River North areas that circle downtown. Arguably, the problem is that Chicago’s vibrant dining scene means there are enough good choices to fill more than a month of lunch and dinners in and near downtown Chicago.

The following is a small sample of places to try. They are reasonably-priced gems. Reservations are strongly recommended for lunch or dinner.

When shopping Chicago’s  “Magnificent Mile” along North Michigan Avenue from Wacker Drive to Oak Street, you can walk a couple of blocks either side of the Avenue and find excellent eateries for lunch or dinner.  Two of them are Café des Architectes in the Sofitel Hotel 20 E. Chestnut St., just west of Michigan Avenue, near the Hancock Building north of the Chicago Avenue midpoint and Coco Pazzo Café at 636 N. St. Clair, east of Michigan Avenue, south of Chicago Avenue.

When doing an art or architecture walk, try to do lunch at Terzo Piano on the terrace of the Art Institute’s Modern Wing. Or go nearby to Park Grill at 11 N. Michigan Ave. under Millennium Park’s Cloud Gate “Bean.”

The Park Grill in Millennium Park is a rink-side seat to ice skating in winter and strollers in the park the other seasons.

The Park Grill in Millennium Park is a rink-side seat to ice skating in winter and strollers in the park the other seasons.

To get good, light ethnic foods in time for a performance at Symphony Center home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on Michigan Avenue near Monroe Street or a Broadway in Chicago show at the Bank America Theatre  on Monroe Street near State Street, try to get a reservation at Russian Tea Time, 77 E. Adams St.

Further south and west, is 312 Chicago at 136 N. LaSalle St. It is around the corner from the Cadillac Palace on Randolph Street which also does Broadway in Chicago shows and it’s about two blocks from the famed Goodman Theatre on Dearborn Street whose “Death of a Salesman” production traveled to New York.

Not everyone’s favorite restaurant is mentioned here and it’s OK to stumble on a place while walking and try it. There are so many good places, it’s hard to go wrong. So, enjoy Chicago!

Photos (c) Jodie Jacobs

Chicago architecture is worth seeing up close and personal

The Art Institute's Modern Wing's "flying carper" roof is an impressive sight from Millennium Park or the wing's east courtyard.

The Art Institute's Modern Wing's "flying carper" roof is an impressive sight from Millennium Park or the wing's east courtyard.

Architecture students and aficionados travel to Chicago to see its famed and ground-breaking buildings. Tourists quite often take Chicago’s architecture boat rides offered by the Architecture Foundation and other boat companies that ply the Chicago River. By the way, all the boat tours are good and have knowledgeable guides. However, to really see most of downtown Chicago’s exceptional architecture examples, you should walk.

Architecture is second in a five part series on walking destinations in Chicago that includes art, theater, shopping and restaurants. Combine them for a day in the city.

You can begin your walk anywhere downtown to gaze up or into the lobby of an architecturally important building. But because Millennium Park is a destination point for tourists, we’ll start there.

Near Millennium Park

To the south, across Monroe Drive is the Art Institute of Chicago’s Modern Wing.

From Millennium Park walk the Nichols Bridgeway over Monroe Drive to the Modern Wing’s upper level.  You have a great view of the building’s “flying carpet” roof, a computer-regulated system of blades that appropriately screen the light for art.

You’ll end up next to the Bluhm Family Terrace where you get a birds eye view and photo op of Chicago’s skyline. The Bridgeway and the Modern Wing were designed by Pritzker Prize winner Renzo Piano and opened in May 2009.

Go down a level to Café Moderno for latte, tea and a view of Griffin Court, the Modern Wing’s impressive hall.

On Griffin’s main level, walk through the double glass doors into a transition area from old to new and go left. You will pas Chagall’s “America” windows and down a few steps to see Adler & Sullivan’s Stock Exchange Trading  (1883-1896) Room. The firm of Vinci & Kenny reconstructed it for its Art Institute location 1970-77.

Frank Ghery's Pritker Pavilion lattice of pipes extend over the seats

Frank Ghery's Pritker Pavilion lattice of pipes extend over the seats

Back in Millennium Park it’s hard to miss Frank Ghery’s sculpturally-topped Jay Pritzker Pavilion, the park’s outdoor concert venue. Dedicated in July 2004, its trellis of steel pipes contains a sound system extending over the seats and concert lawn.

In Millennium Park, look north on Columbus Drive to see a building whose outside appears to ripple. It is the Leed-certified Radison Blu Aqua, a hotel designed by Jeanne Gang and her innovative, Chicago-based Studio Gang firm. Completed in 2010, its balconies create the contemporary ripple design but also shade the rooms without blocking their views.

Near the Chicago River

Walk west from the hotel to see the green, art deco-styled Carbide and Carbon Building at 230 N. Michigan Ave., home to the Hard Rock Hotel.  Built by the Burnham Brothers in 1929. The building has art deco layered setbacks and sides. Stop in front to admire its decorated entry.  The brothers are Daniel Hudson Burnham, Jr and Hubert Burnham, sons of Chicago architect and city planner Daniel Hudson Burnham (1846-1912).

Carbide and Carbon Building on Michigan Avenue just south of the river is a fine example of art deco

Carbide and Carbon Building on Michigan Avenue just south of the river is a fine example of art deco

Chicago has so many art deco buildings that if you want to concentrate just on that style take the Chicago Architecture Foundation Art Deco walking tour.

Wacker Drive and the Chicago River are a few steps north. Look or go across to The Langham, Chicago on Wabash Avenue. You might not expect London’s longtime (1865) upscale hotel to occupy such a no-nonsense structure. The hotel’s lobby and dining spaces on the second floor are gorgeously elegant but the building, itself, is significant. The Langham Chicago opened in 2013 in the first 13 floors of a 52-story, 1972 building that Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe designed for IBM.

Across the road west from The Langham are two round towers you might have seen in the movies. They are Bertrand Goldberg’s Marina City. At 65-stories they were the world’s highest residential structures when built in 1964 as Goldberg’s urban mixed-use model. Their corncob-style gave each apartment a private view.

Designed on a platform as a city-within-a- city, the complex’s current commercial use includes the House of Blues, a hotel, restaurants, cleaners, realty, and convenience store, parking garages and marina.

Marina City's twin towers and House of Blues sits across Mies van der Rhoe's former IBM building that houses The Langham Hotel. Trump's hotel and tower is across from The Langham.

Marina City's twin towers and House of Blues sits across Mies van der Rhoe's former IBM building that houses The Langham Hotel. Trump's hotel and tower is across from The Langham.

In and near the Loop

Chicago’s Loop refers to buildings within the “L” tracks that circle some of the downtown. But building near the tracks are also considered in the Loop.

From the river start back south on Dearborn Street to the James R. Thompson Center at Randolph Street. Although occupants complain it is hard to cool and heat, the wrapped-in-glass building stands out instead of blending with its neighbors.

Designed by Helmut Jahn and his Murphy & Jahn firm it was completed in 1985 as a State of Illinois building. Later renamed the Thompson Center for Governor James Thompson, the structure has a 160 foot rotunda surrounded by 16 stories of government and commercial offices with a food court on its lower level.

Go inside to gaze up, then take an escalator up a level to the Illinois Art Museum and Artisans Shop that feature Illinois artists.

Back outside, walk west to LaSalle St. to admire the art deco, waterfall front and sculpture decoration of the State of Illinois Building. Located at 160 N. LaSalle St, it  was designed by the Burnham Brothers, completed in 1924 and renovated by the Holabird and Root in 1992.

The Rookery in LaSalle Street's financial district is among Chicago's architectural gems.

The Rookery in LaSalle Street's financial district is among Chicago's architectural gems.

Stay on LaSalle and walk south to see The Rookery. Designed by Burnham and Root and completed in 1988, the building’s lobby, 209 LaSalle St., was redesigned by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1905. Snap photos of its staircase. Everyone does.

The Rookery is in the financial district which is a good vantage point to admire the Chicago Board of Trade. A commanding art deco icon at the end of LaSalle Street the CBOT building is at 141 W. Jackson Blvd.

Designed by Holabird & Root, the 1930 skyscraper’s tiered set-backs and decoration have made it an art deco icon with Chicago and national landmark status.

A three-story high statue of Ceres holding a sheaf of wheat and bag of corn sits atop its copper, pyramid-shaped roof.. By the way, wheat sheaves are often used in art deco decoration.

Speaking of iconic buildings, head east to Michigan Avenue, then south to Congress Parkway to visit the Auditorium Theatre.

The Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan designed 1899 stone structure was built as an opera house and hotel with Sullivan’s distinctive arches. Known also for its excellent acoustics, the theater is a concert and show venue that is also home to the Joffrey ballet.

With all that walking you are entitled to splurge at lunch or dinner so watch for restaurants next in the series and combine them with art or architecture.

Photos (C) Jodie Jacobs

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