Three fun Valentine ideas

 

Instead of a heart-shaped box of candy, be original and think Portillo's justly famous chocolate cake. (Wagstaff Chicago photo)
Instead of a heart-shaped box of candy, be original and think Portillo’s justly famous chocolate cake. (Wagstaff Chicago photo)

Ask a friend, ask a lover or ask a few people to join you to celebrate the Feast of Saint Valentine Feb. 14. It’s just nice to have a fun day in the middle of winter. Since Feb/ 14 comes on a Friday in 2020, celebrate the end of the week or the beginning of a fun weekend.

The ideas listed here are for Chicago but they could be adapted anywhere by substituting  a local cooking class for No. 1, a decadent chocolate dessert for No. 2 and a different activity for No. 3. They range from pricey but yummy to free.

Peninsula Chicago Couples Cooking Classes

The Peninsula Chicago’s Shanghai Terrace is doing a Dim Sum for Lovebirds cooking class and dinner from Feb. 10 through Feb. 16. It includes a Chinese tea degustation, a class led by Chef de Cuisine Elmo Han and ends with a three-course dinner.  The cost per couple is $888 but there is a less expensive option Feb. 15 only. It’s the two-hour Valentine’s Day Cooking Experience. At $480 a couple it includes tortellini making and a three-course lunch of oysters, pasta and dessert in The Lobby. (Gratuity and tax not included).

Peninsula Chicago is on Superior Street at Michigan Avenue. To make reservations or for more information call (312) 573 6620, toll-free at 1 866 288 8889, visit  Peninsula Chicago or email reservations

Portillo’s Chocolate Cakes 

The restaurant is not just among Chicagoan’s fave when it comes to hot dogs or Italian beef. It’s chocolate cake ranks among the town’s top dessert choices. So Portillo’s is shaping it famous cake into a heart for Valentine’s Day. A the single-layer chocolate iced cake, the treat will be available at Chicago area locations Feb. 7-16, but can be pre-ordered beginning  Jan. 14, 2020 by visiting portillos.com or calling 1-866-YUM-BEEF.

In addition, 100% of the purchase price of each Portillo’s Heart-Shaped Chocolate Cake sold between January 14 and February 16 (capped at $25,000) will be donated to the American Red Cross. Portillo’s is supporting the American Red Cross Biomedical Services to ensure a safe and reliable blood supply is available for patients in need.

Heart-Shaped cakes will be available for purchase in-store February 7-16. Guests are encouraged to pre-order the cakes beginning on January 14 by visiting portillos.com or calling 1-866-YUM-BEEF.

Ice skating in Millennium Park

Skate against the Chicago skyline or skate under the stars. Ice skating at Chicago’s Millennium Park below Cloud Gate (The Bean) is a popular winter activity encouraged by background music and a concession stand of hot chocolate. The skating is free. Visitors can bring their skates or rent, or use the rental free of charge if staying at a Hilton.

The historic Palmer House at Wabash and Monroe Streets, just west of the Art institute  and Millenium Park is a Hilton. So is The Wit, a popular millennial hotel by Doubletree at State and Lake, a couple of blocks west.

Up the experience by doing lunch at Terao Piano which is a short walk up the bridge from the park to the third floor of the Art Institute of Chicago or an elevator ride up from the museum’s Monroe Street entrance. Those entrances to the restaurant don’t have a museum charge. Or do dinner in the Park Grill right there at the skating rink.

 

 

Chicago holiday weekend guide

 

Ice rink in Millennium Park in front of the Park Grill below Cloud Gate (The Bean).( Photo courtesy of City of Chicago)
Ice rink in Millennium Park in front of the Park Grill below Cloud Gate (The Bean).( Photo courtesy of City of Chicago)

 

Whether coming from out of town or the suburbs, spending a weekend downtown Chicago is such a treat you’ll want to make it an annual outing.

To help with the decisions because there’s so much to do and see, here’s a two-day guide (you probably settled in to your hotel last night) of steps and options.

 

Step 1

Choose a hotel close enough to walk to many sights shows and bus stops.

The CTA (Chicago Transit Authority has routes that can take you as close as the Magnificent Mile of North Michigan and as far as the Museum of Science and Industry near Hyde Park. St. Jane Hotel on Michigan Avenue would be an example because it is just south of the Chicago River so the North Michigan Avenue shops are within walking distance going north, it is an easy walk north to Millennium Park with its famed Cloud Gate sculpture (The Bean) where visitors take selfies, plus the Art Institute of Chicago and the Theatre District. And it is near a good bus stop.

But check other hotels and prices at the city’s tourism website, Choose Chicago.

Step 2

Figure out which shows you would like to see so you can snag tickets for those you want at times you want.

As an example Goodman Theatre is once again doing “A Christmas Carol” with terrific scene design and actors and The Joffrey Ballet is doing “The Nutcracker” with exciting choreography and sets that debuted in 2017.

Find show options at League of Chicago Theatres’ site Chicago Plays

Step 3

Remember to fit in downtime and coffee breaks so you and yours go home smiling, not exhausted.

 

 

Two-day weekend divided by location

 

Day One: South of the Chicago River

Do breakfast at Free Rein, a French brasserie with a patisserie up front that has great croissants but the restaurant also does omelets, oat meal, smoothies and other dishes. Free Rein is at  224 N. Michigan Ave. attached to St Jane Hotel.

Option One

Past scene in Macy's holiday window with a Charlie Brown theme and reflections from downtown buildings. (J Jacobs photo)
Past scene in Macy’s holiday window with a Charlie Brown theme and reflections from downtown buildings. (J Jacobs photo)

After relaxing over coffee, stroll west and south a couple of blocks to Macy’s at State and Randolph Streets to see how the department store decorated its State Street windows this year. Cross State Street to catch the #146 Museum Campus bus on the west side of State Street, and the north side of Washington Street. At he Museum Campus  you can see the dinosaurs and mummies at  The Field Museum , Penguins and dolphins at the Shedd Aquarium and the Destination Solar System show at the Adler Planetarium.

Tip: The museums have shops that are good for picking up last minute gifts.

Catch the #146 bus back to State and Randolph in front of Macy’s to go up to its Walnut Room on the 7th floor for lunch and to see its three-story tree.

If you couldn’t get a reservation for the Walnut Room, you probably can sit in the bar to the side and do lunch there.

Option Two

Walking up the bridge from Millennium Park to the Art Institute of chicago's Modern Wing affords a great view of buildings and the park. (J Jacobs photo)
Walking up the bridge from Millennium Park to the Art Institute of chicago’s Modern Wing affords a great view of buildings and the park. (J Jacobs photo)

After breakfast cross Michigan Avenue at Randolph Street to walk through Millennium Park, take photos at “The Bean,”hen walk up the Nichols Bridgeway, a walkway from the park’s “Great Lawn” that goes over Monroe Street to the 3rd floor of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Modern Wing.You have a good view of the skyline and the park if you turn around.  The Art Institute doesn’t open until 10:30 a.m. so linger over coffee or picture taking at Millennium Park.

Along with seeing famous paintings, visit the Art Institute’s Thorne Rooms. About seven of the approximately 100 miniature period rooms are decorated for the holidays. But all of them are fascinating.

Tip: Shops in the Art Institute’s main building and modern wing have great gifts.

Take a break with hot chocolate or soup on the mezzanine of the Modern Wing or do lunch at the Park Grill at street level of Millennium Park to watch ice skaters. Or visit the Chicago Architecture Center on Wacker Drive. Its diorama on the main floor shows the Chicago Fire and architectural places of interest. The exhibit upstairs is about skyscrapers. Both exhibits are superb and Chicago is internationally known for its architecture.

Return to the hotel to relax before heading out for cocktails, dinner and a show or go ice skating in Millennium Park followed by a casual dinner at The Gage across Michigan Avenue from the park.

If going to the Goodman Theatre to see “A Christmas Carol” consider making a reservation next door at Petterinos. The restaurant has excellent calamari and a reasonable wine list.

Doing lunch at Marisol at the Museum of Contemporary Art (J Jacobs photo)
Doing lunch at Marisol at the Museum of Contemporary Art (J Jacobs photo)

Day Two: North of the Chicago River

Do breakfast at Pierrot Gourmet, a European-style café and bistro similar to Free Rein but this restaurant is attached to the Peninsula Chicago Hotel at Superior and Rush Streets. If you can’t decide on ordering a dish on the menu or trying one of the pastries, eat there and take something to go. The Peninsula Chicago overlooks the Magnificent Mile

Browse the shops on the Magnificent Mile. There are individual stores such as Burberry, Louis Vuitton and Tiffany, department stores such as Bloomingdales and Nordstrom and indoor malls such as Water Tower Place, the 900 North Michigan Shops and the Shops at Northbridge.

Take a lunch break at Marisol, a new, neighborhood dining spot that is street level at the Museum of Contemporary Art a block east of Michigan Avenue. The dishes are innovative and yummy. Marisol is at 205 E. Pearson, a block east of Water Tower Place.

Restaurant access has no museum charge. However, there is a wonderful exhibit of Enrico David’s work, “Gradations of Slow Release” at the museum that is definitely worth a look

Back on the Mag Mile, continue exploring.

 

Lincoln Park Zoo Lights (Photo courtesy of Lincoln Park Zoo)
Lincoln Park Zoo Lights (Photo courtesy of Lincoln Park Zoo)

Option One

When dusk falls, take the 151 bus north from Michigan Avenue or cab it to Lincoln Park Zoo for Zoo Lights. See more trip planning information at Visit the CTA/RTA Travel Information Center

There are restaurants and food stands at the zoo. When through saying goodnight to the penguins and polar bear, head back to the hotel for a well-deserved night cap and rest.

Option Two

Shop until ready to go into the John Hancock Center just north of Water tower Place for great views of the city. Take the elevator up to the 96th floor for cocktails and view or to the Signature Room on the 95th for dinner and a view. Reservations are a good idea.

 

First in series that updates “downtown” Chicago hotels

 

Chicago is high on the list of travelers destinations. (Photos by J Jacobs)
Chicago is high on the list of travelers destinations. (Photo by J Jacobs)

As a Chicago-based  travel writer I’m constantly receiving notices of new hotels going up, remodeling taking place at older, established hotels and changes being made regarding check-in conveniences, a TV’s room information and hotel  restaurant options.

They range from comparatively inexpensive to high end, large, convention-sized lobbies and meeting rooms to boutique size with small lobbies and little meeting space. And from casual, pick up and go breakfast bars to open-kitchen designed trendy-food emporiums.

There are about 25 ot choose from just in the Loop, another 13 hotels on and near the Mag Mile (Northern Michigan Avenue from the Chicago River to Oak Street (Oak is also considered the Gold  Coast). Another 25 hotels are in the River North Area just west of Michigan Avenue.

All of that means Chicago visitors have an abundance of choices.  Some travelers may consider that good news. Others might find it overwhelming. Fortunately, Choose Chicago, the city’s tourism website the hotel category is broken down by area type and other options.

But travelers should be aware that even when supposedly speaking the same language, hotel and room descriptions translate differently to listeners and speakers.

Having unpacked in all sorts of accommodations in the US and abroad, I have found that words such as roomy, with a view and convenient to sights and shopping, may mean one thing to a traveler and something different to hotel managers and public relations or sales agents.

I found out that a view of the Eiffel Tower in Paris or Lake Michigan in Chicago meant if you walked out onto the balcony and craned the neck you probably could glimpse the famed structure or crammed into a corner of the room and stood on tiptoe you could get a glimpse of Lake Michigan.

The big question is – are new and remodeled hotels meeting the needs and wants of business and vacation visitors today? The first quarter of the 21st century saw big changes in electronic communications and food and exercise trends.

Please give input in the comment area or send an email to jjtravelsmart@gmail.comof what you look for in a hotel. Email addresses will not be shared. Comments will be helpful when looking at other Chicago hotels.

The hotel series will look at new and updated downtown Chicago hotels starting with Aloft Chicago Mag Mile and  Hotel Julian,  two boutique hotels that opened in October 2018.

 

Aloft Chicago Mag Mile and Hotel Julian

If looking for a new boutique hotel that is near some of downtown Chicago’s sights you will find two excellent options in Aloft Chicago Mag Mile and Hotel Julian.

I liked them both for different reasons but what surprised me when visiting them when they opened was room size. They both were what people in real estate use when describing small houses – cozy.

Compared to some hotel rooms I’ve stayed at in good European hotels, the rooms probably could be described as spacious but Americans might describe them as efficient. The room sizes and accompanying narrow desk and closet space are following a trend I’ve noticed in other recently redeveloped Chicago buildings turned into hotels such as the London House.

What the two hotels lack in room size, and size is merely a judgment call, they make up in good vibes and good location.

 

Aloft Chicago Mag Mile

Aloft Chicago Mag Mile goes for modern art decor (Aloft photo)
Aloft Chicago Mag Mile goes for modern art decor (Aloft photo)

The hotel sits where the Museum of contemporary Art resided before it moved a few blocks north. It does not overlook Michigan Avenue in spite of its title but it is a few blocks east so is within easy walking distance of the Water Tower Place (indoor shopping mall), the John Hancock Building’s 360 Observation Floor, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Navy Pier (Includes Chicago Shakespeare Theater), Lookingglass Theatre and the Dreihaus Museum.

Restaurants of all cuisines and price points are also nearby.

For” time-out” from running around, the hotel has a pool, an airy fitness center that has two Peloton Bikes, a lobby where board games are set out ready to use and a bar where people in the neighborhood stop by.

Meet Corgan, a robot "bowtler" at Aloft Chicago Mag Mile. (Photo by J Jacobs)
Meet Corgan, a robot “bowtler” at Aloft
Chicago Mag Mile. (Photo by J Jacobs)

Its restaurant, Re:Fuel, is basically a pick-up and go type, self-serve food bar available 24-7 and WI-FI is free throughout the hotel. A hotel guest looked comfortable working on his lap top in the food bar area.

The vibe here is fun. Corrigan, a robot “bowtler” instead of a butler, mingles with lobby guests, tells jokes and when programed at the desk, delivers items to rooms upon request. there is also music on Friday and Saturday.

Visitors who appreciate modern art and good design that incorporates light and bright colors in halls, nooks, rugs and in room and lobby spaces will find this hotel to be a comfortable home while in the city. Aloft Chicago Mag Mile is  at 243 E. Ontario St., Chicago, IL 600611

 

 

 

 

Hotel Julian

Hotel Julian room. (Hotel Julian photo)
Hotel Julian room. (Hotel Julian photo)

The hotel has moved into and risen in the historic Atlantic Bank Building on the west side Michigan Avenue just north of Millennium Park.

Designed by famed architect Benjamin Marshall and completed in 1916, it had just 12 of its originally planned 17 floors built.

Now, the Oxford Capital Group that recently redid the London House building as a hotel at Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive, has beautifully redone the terra cotta clad structure and added five floors with floor to ceiling windows.

Confined by the building original bones, public and private spaces are narrow but from the gourmet “About Last Knife” dining space to the contemporary-designed rooms the descriptive word could be “sleek.” High ceilings make the rooms look and feel larger than they are. The fitness room is small but has a Peloton Bike.

Some rooms at Hotel Julian have a partial view of Millennium Park. (J Jacobs photo)
Some rooms at Hotel Julian have a partial view of Millennium Park. (J Jacobs photo)

A side benefit of adapting needs to space is that instead of an ironing board rooms have steamers. In our family this means not having to hang clothes in the bathroom and turning the shower to hot.

Positioned in the market as a luxury hotel, it has Frette linen and robes and Panpuri bath products designed for the hotel.

Named for the patron saint of travelers, Hotel Julian is well situated for visitors who want to see the Art Institute of Chicago or Cloud Gate (The Bean) and activities in Millennium Park while in town.

It is also near the Theatre District’s shows at Goodman TheatreChicago Theatre and the Broadway in Chicago productions at the Ford Oriental Theatre, all a few  blocks  west of the hotel.

Hotel Julian is at 168 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Illinois 60601

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Day in Chicago

 

Third in series on bucket-list towns where there is so much to see that that it is easy to miss some really good places. The series, begun with A Day in LA and continued with A Day in DC, highlights two attractions and includes a foodie stop plus an alternative attraction.

 

Combine art and architecture

Your start and end spots are Michigan Avenue from Monroe to Randolph Streets.

Modern Wing of Art Institute of Chicago Monroe Street entrance. Photo by Jodie Jacobs
Modern Wing of Art Institute of Chicago Monroe Street entrance. Photo by Jodie Jacobs

Of course you know that the Art Institute of Chicago has the finest French Impressionist collection outside of Paris.

But you might not know that as of December 2016 with the addition of the ‘New Contemporay’ it also has on exhibit an outstanding collection of contemporary art by Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, Jasper Johns, Cy Twombly, Robert Raushenberg and Takahi Murakami and other influential artists plus important photographs by Cindy Sherman and Richard Prince.

Comparable to that at the new Broad Museum in LA, the “New Contemporary” collection is on a long-term loan from philanthropists Stefan Edlis and Gael Neeson. See it in the Art Institute’s Modern Wing.

However, the museum doesn’t open until 10:30 a.m. You don’t need to enter with the mass waiting for it to open. So think petit déjeuner at Toni Patisserie at 65 E. Washington Street, a couple of blocks north of the museum.

 

‘The People’s Palace’

You are now perfectly placed to go across the street to “The People’s Palace” as the Chicago Cultural Center was sometimes called. Its south door at 78 E. Washington Street, is across from the Patisserie and is a perfect place to start the day after your croissant and latte.

Pull out the smart phone. The outside of the building is somewhat ponderous but inside is one amazing sight after another starting with the awesome mosaics that line the entryway’s Carrara marble staircase and walls.

Designed by the renowned architecture firm of Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge, Boston in a Beaux Arts style in 1897 it reflected the taste of the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. The building housed the Chicago Public Library so look for literary and historical faces and saying in the mosaics.

Mosaics line stairway and walls in Chicago Culture Center known as the 'People's Palace' Photo by Jodie Jacobs
Mosaics line stairway and walls in Chicago Culture Center known as the ‘People’s Palace’
Photo by Jodie Jacobs

If you entered from Washington Street you might notice Roman style arches.If you walk through to the Randolph Street entrance you will see Greek influence and Doric columns.

On the National Register of Historic Places, its upstairs is filled with beautiful spaces. Look up when you reach the third floor on the Washington Street side. You are in the gorgeous Preston Bradley Hall capped by reportedly the world’s largest Tiffany Favrile glass dome. Surrounded by fish scales, the dome’s center has the signs of the zodiac.

Walk around the room to your left (west side) to get to the impressive Grand Army of the Republic Rotunda and its stained-glass dome. Go into the decorative GAR Memorial Hall.

Chicagoans come to the building for literary readings, dance and music programs, lectures, expos and concerts and to admire GAR rooms and Preston Bradley Hall.

They also come to see the ever changing art exhibits. So, take time to stroll to see what’s being shown around the building. Featured art shows are typically on the fourth floor and sometimes in the Chicago Room on Level Two. The main floor has exhibition space running along both the east and west sides of the building.

 

The ‘Modern Wing’

When ready to check out the Art Institute’s Modern Wing cross Michigan Avenue and walk south to the museum’s Monroe Street entrance. Designed by award-winning architect Renzo Piano, the wing opened in 2009 to mainly house modern European painting and sculpture and contemporary art collections. Tip: don’t try to do all of the Art Institute in one trip. The museum has nearly one million square feet.

At the Monroe Street Modern Wing entrance, you walk into the two-story, sky-lit Griffin Court.

The elevator up to Levels Two and Three take you to the museum’s 20th and 21st century collections. To see what’s on exhibit regarding architecture, go up to the café overlooking the Court. The room off the back is devoted to architecture.

 

Lunch break

When ready for sustenance, take an elevator from the short corridor on the west side off Griffin Court up to Terzo Piano, an upscale Italian restaurant guided by famed Chef Tony Mantuano. Reservations are highly recommended because lunch, from 11 to 3 p.m. fills fast (312-443-8650).

'Cloud Gate' better known as 'The Bean' in Millennium Park. Photo by Jodie Jacobs
‘Cloud Gate’ better known as ‘The Bean’ in Millennium Park. Photo by Jodie Jacobs

Even if you don’t snag a reservation go out onto the Bluhm Family Terrace outside the restaurant for a spectacular photo op. You can capture Chicago’s skyline, Millennium Park and Lake Michigan in your lens. Plus there usually are some sculptures on the Terrace.

From there take Piano’s unusual Nichols Bridgeway pedestrian walk over Monroe Street down to Millennium Park. About halfway down turn around and take a photo of the Modern Wing.

If you’re still looking for a lunch spot see if a table is available in Millennium Park’s Park Grill. It is street level (behind the ice rink in winter) at 11 N. Michigan Ave.

You’ll want to end near there anyway because “The Bean,” Anish Kapoor’s stainless steel “Cloud Gate,” is directly above the Park Grill. You have to take a selfie at The Bean and a photo of Chicago’s reflected skyline on it. Everyone does.

 

Celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. Day: Some Chicago area options

 

From top museums to university programs and volunteer projects there are lots of places to spend time off work or school on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Jan. 16, 2017.

MLK Day celebrates the birthday of the famed civil rights leader (Jan. 15, 1929-April 4, 1968) on the third Monday of January. It is a federal holiday so most schools and banks are closed and there won’t be any U. S. Postal deliveries.

 

The Field and most other Chicago museums have free general admission for Illinois residents On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Photo by Jodie Jacobs
The Field and most other Chicago museums have free general admission for Illinois residents On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Photo by Jodie Jacobs

Museums

However, Chicago’s museums are open and several are offering free general admission to Illinois residents. In addition, some of them have extended free general admission to other days the third week of January.

On the Museum Campus, that arm sticking out from Lake Shore Drive in Lake Michigan at 12th Street, look for the Adler Planetarium at the far eastern end at 1300 S. Lake Shore Dr.

The Shedd Aquarium sits  in the middle of the arm  at 1200 S. Lake Shore Drive and The Field Museum is  by the entrance to the campus at 1400 S. Lake Shore Drive.

The Art Institute of Chicago has free programs in its Ryan Learning Center from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.. They range from performances and stories to art projects. Check out the day’s schedule here. Visitors for these programs enter the Modern Wing entrance at 159 E. Monroe St. to go to the Learning Center.  The museum is also free all day for Illinois Residents. Main entrance is at 111 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago.

The Museum of Science and Industry also has free general admission. MSI is in the Hyde Park neighborhood at 5700 S. Lake Shore Dr, Chicago, IL 60637

 

Community projects

Several suburbs have volunteer projects taking place on MLK Day. Check your  suburb.

On the North Shore, Highland Park has invited Illinois Secretary of State Jess White who was a student of Dr. King, and the Jesse White Tumblers to appear. In addition, the town has several service projects. The Recreation Center of Highland Park is the headquarters for the events. They run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. See HP for details.

The Village of Deerfield  is collecting supplies for the homeless  and has organized service projects. The Deerfield  Village Hall is headquarters for a Day of Service from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. For details click Deerfield.

 

Northwestern University

The university has programs at its Evanston and Chicago Campuses

In Evanston
A play by Allie Woodson about what it means to be young, gifted and black is performed Jan. 13 at  7:30pm and Jan. 14 at  2and 7:30 p.m. at Shanley Pavilion,  2031 Sheridan Rd.

“Social Movements for Racial Justice: From the Chicago Freedom Movement to Black Lives Matter” is Jan. 21, 10  a.m. in Fisk Hall 217, 1845 Sheridan Rd. The program is an intergenerational presentation and discussion about racial justice movements in Chicago over the last 50 years. Authors of the book The Chicago Freedom Movement: Martin Luther King and Civil Rights Activism in the North will share personal experiences marching with Dr. King..

NASA astronaut Mae Jamison, a member of the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine, gives  a keynote address Jan. 23, at 6 p.m.p.m. in the Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, 50 Arts Circle Drive.

 

Chicago Campus

NASA astronaut Mae Jamison will speak Jan. at noon at the Hughes Auditorium, 303 E. Superior St.

 

Fun holiday sights offer an unusual shopping bonus

The big Thanksgiving weekend shopping spree is now history but there are still gifts to get and some fun outings still on the to-do list. Combine them!

The Field Museum has an awesome gift shop. Photo by Jodie Jacobs
The Field Museum has an awesome gift shop. Photo by Jodie Jacobs

For one-of-a-kind gifts, there are hardly any better places to look than in museum shops.

 

At the Art Institute of Chicago, the stunning ‘Moholy-Nagy: Future Present’ exhibit fills Regenstein Hall. A retrospective with more than 300 works of László Moholy-Nagy who influenced everything from advertising and manufacturing to art movements and design, the exhibit is reason enough to plan an outing before it leaves Jan. 3, 2017.

Tip: The museum’s huge gift shop in the main building and the selective gift shop in the Modern Wing are definitely places to find special items you likely won’t see elsewhere. Plus, you will benefit the Art Institute.

 

Dec. 3 and 4, 2016 are free admission days at The Field Museum and The Field’s regular exhibits are fascinating any time. But China’s Terracotta Warriors are there only through Jan. 8, 2017 so go before they head home.

Tip: The Field has an amazing gift shop of items from all over the world. It would be hard not to leave there with a gift (including something for oneself).

 

Christkindlekarket Chicago downtown on Daley Plaza, is designed to emulate Nuremberg’s holiday market, begun in the 16th century. The market opened in Chicago as a trade event in the 1990s. This is a place to visit for fun and food.

Tip: The vendors sell items not easily found in the United States such as Bavarian glass and pewter. It has expanded to include items from other countries such as Ireland and Poland so have fun browsing.  BTW, Naperville also now has a Christkindlemarket.

Long Grove Confectionery Photo by Jodie Jacobs
Long Grove Confectionery
Photo by Jodie Jacobs

 

Historic Long Grove, a north suburban village that dates from the mid 1800s, dresses up Dickens fashion for the holidays. Go for a carriage ride and to hear carolers or take a selfie by the covered bridge.

Tip: Pick up treats at the town’s famed Long Grove Confectionery, gifts at the Olive Tap and check out other boutiques for specialty items.

 

Be of good cheer, holiday fun is here.

 

Holiday Happenings when not interested in Black Friday or Cyber Monday

Macy’s Windows, Walnut Room Tree and SantaLand

Macy's Great Tree Photo by Debbie Jacobs
Macy’s Great Tree
Photo by Debbie Jacobs

Youngsters and adults press their noses to the windows of Macy’s on State Street to see holiday stories and wonderful winter animation scenes. Already attracting passers by, the scenes will be up through Jan. 8, 2017. While there go up to the 7th floor to see the Great Tree in the Walnut Room. It’s a dazzling two-story-high tree emblazened with 6,600 lights and 2,000 ornaments. Walnut Room lines can be long but there is quicker seating in the bar area where you still can see the tree. Youngsters who want to visit Santa at his Cozy Cloud Cottage, go to SantaLand on the 5th floor. It’s open until Dec. 24, 2016.

Macy’s on State is 111 N. State St., Chicago, IL 60602. For other information call (312) 781-1000 and see visit Chicago Macy’s.

 

Art Institute Thorne Rooms

First take a selfie outside the museum with the museum’s famous lions. They are wreathed for the holidays. Inside, go downstairs to peek into 68 tiny, doll-house-sized rooms. Holiday decorations added to nearly a dozen of them on Nov. 22, 2016 will stay there through Jan. 8, 2017.. Constructed to mirror different styles and periods in Europe and the United States, furnishings are sized one inch to the foot. Tip: Look for Frank Lloyd Wright’s William Martin House’s breakfast room that is included for the first time this year.

The Art Institute of Chicago is at 111 South Michigan Ave.,  Chicago, Illinois 60603. For other information call (312) 443-3600 and visit AIC Thorne Rooms.

 

Wonderland  Express

See millions of lights glistening as you approach the Chicago Botanic Garden from Lake Cook Road in north suburban Glencoe. Inside the Regenstein Center, tiny trains pass through miniature villages in the first room. But save lots of time for the great room where trains rush overhead and ground level past Chicago landmarks. Gently falling snow indoors sets a festive, winter mood. Continue through to see more trains and landmarks in what looks like a train station. But don’t forget the greenhouses. Decorated with gorgeous poinsiettas they are back by the Wonderland’s entrance. Everything is up from Nov. 25- Jan. 2, 2017. However, for special events go to hear caroling mornings Nov. 25-27 and see ice sculpting mid-day Dec. 11.

Chicago Botanic Garden Wonderland Express. Photo by Jodie Jacobs
Chicago Botanic Garden Wonderland Express. Photo by Jodie Jacobs

The Chicago Botanic Garden is at 1000 Lake Cook Road, Glencoe, IL 60022. For other information call (847) 835-5440 and visit Wonderland Express.

 

Restaurants that complement Chicago sights

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.

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

Five downtown Chicago walks to do starting with art

It is nearly impossible to be downtown Chicago without seeing a sculpture on a corner, tucked into a plaza and defining a park.

"Coud Gate" (The Bean) reflects people and skyline in Millennium Park
"Coud Gate" (The Bean) reflects people and skyline in Millennium Park

Chicago has a good bus system and taxis are within waving distance. But the “city that works” is also the city that walks. This is a five part series of walks to see art, architecture, theater, go shopping and try different restaurants for different times of day. Even better than doing one walk, is to combine a few destinations for a full, fun, vacation day in the city.

First in the series: ART

It is nearly impossible to be downtown Chicago without seeing a sculpture on a corner, tucked into a plaza and defining a park. And that is just outside public art. Peer through the glass of office buildings to see their lobby sculptures.

Frank Gehry's metal top to the Pritzker Pavilion is as much sculpture as it is architecture.
Frank Gehry's metal top to the Pritzker Pavilion is as much sculpture as it is architecture.

Inside or out, they are on or near east-west streets that when followed come within a couple of blocks of the Art Institute of Chicago at Michigan Avenue.

You really need a whole day to do the Art Institute of Chicago, a double building that showcases older, traditional art in the main section that fronts Michigan Avenue at Adams Street and contemporary pieces in newer, Modern Wing facing Monroe Drive and Millennium Park.

So let’s look at what is within walking distance of the Art Institute. You do have on comfortable shoes, right?

Too often residents and visitors bustle by the art museum’s North Stanley McCormick Memorial Garden, sometimes known as the North Garden, at Monroe Drive and Michigan Avenue.

But this is a good place to sit and contemplate, Henry Moore’s “Large Interior Form,” Alexander Calder’s “Flying Dragon” David Smith’s “Cubi VII” and Ulrich Ruckriem’s “Untitled” sculptures. You can drop references to this almost secret garden when talking about hidden Chicago gems you found. A "beast" stands outside the Thompson Center

Not so hidden are the pieces across Monroe in Millennium Park. They are definitely worth seeing and snapping with your phone or camera.

Indeed “Cloud Gate,” typically called the “Bean,” almost rivals “The Picasso” near City Hall in fame. Done by British artist Anish Kapoor, the 110 ton polished stainless steel structure reflects Millennium visitors and Chicago’s skyline.

Now, look around and ponder when does an architectural structure get mistaken for a giant sculpture? When it is the billowing steel ribbons atop the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park that was designed by architect Frank Gehry.

Another, larger-than-life Millennium sculpture, is the two-piece, 50 foot high, Crown Fountain designed by Jaume Plensa. Made of glass blocks that face each other with a walk-in catch basin between them, the blocks reflect the faces of hundreds of Chicago residents.

If you want to do a broad arc, you can go west from Millennium Park on Randolph to see Jean Dubuffet’s “Monument with Standing Beast” at the State of Illinois’ James R. Thompson Center (100 W. Randolph Street).

The Picasso sits on Daley Plaza as a Chicago ID
The Picasso sits on Daley Plaza as a Chicago ID

Then head south a block to Washington Street for “The Picasso” at Daley Plaza. It has that title by default because Pablo Picasso supposedly didn’t name it.

Look for Joan Miro’s “Chicago” sculpture in concrete, mesh, bronze and tile on the narrow Brunswick Plaza across Washington Street.

Continue south a block to Madison Street to look inside Three First National Plaza (70 W. Madison) at Dearborn Street for Henry Moore’s “Large Upright Internal/External Form.”

Stay on Dearborn going south to see Marc Chagall’s “Four Seasons,” a mosaic wall on the chase Tower Plaza.

The next block south is Adams Street where you’ll see Calder’s bright “Flamingo.”

Adams ends east back at the Art Institute. You’ve made a loop but you might want to walk into Grant Park on the museum’s south side to see dozens of other walkers.

Calder's Flamingo brightens a plaza
Calder's Flamingo brightens a plaza

Or, from a distance, its appears they are people walking. They make up “Agora,” a group of headless, cast iron figures by Polish sculptor Magdalena Abakanowicz. No one will believe you unless you take a picture.

Watch for the Restaurant series for ideas of places to stop while walking downtown Chicago.

Photos (c) by Jodie Jacobs