Consider theWit for a downtown holiday staycation

Ice skating the Ribbon in Millennial Park is easy when taking a staycation. (City of Chicago photo)
Ice skating the Ribbon in Millennial Park is easy when taking a staycation. (City of Chicago photo)

You’re in The Loop when you stay at theWit.

Well situated at State and Lake Streets, the hotel is close to Macy’s shopping, Walnut Room tree and holiday windows, Goodman Theatre’s “A Christmas Carol,” Millennial Park’s Caroling at Cloud Gate and ice skating rinks, the Chriskindle Market, a visit to the Art Institute of Chicago’s holiday-decorated Thorne Miniature Rooms and a short bus ride to the Auditorium theatre to see Joffrey Ballet’s “The Nutcracker.” Continue reading “Consider theWit for a downtown holiday staycation”

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.

 

Five things to do in Chicago for Spring Break

Here are some ideas of where to go and what to do whether visiting Chicago from out of town or planning to take advantage of the city if living in its metropolitan area.

 

Take an architecture tour

Chicago is known for its architecture – whether it’s the fabulous Louis  A. Sullivan Auditorium Theatre at Congress Parkway west of Michigan Avenue, the Rookery designed by Danial Burnham and John Root, with a grand atrium redesigned by  Frank Lloyd Wright on LaSalle Street or the Aqua Tower, an undulating multi use building designed by Jeanne Gang and her Gang Studios on North Columbus  Drive that includes the Radisson Blu hotel.

The Architecture Foundation does excellent art deco and other walking tours and has a good boat tour on the Chicago River. There are also other good architecture boat tours such as those done by Wendella.

The Marina Twin Towers on the Chicago River are on architecture boat tours and the Chicago Film Tour. Photo by Jodie Jacobs
The Marina Twin Towers on the Chicago River are on architecture boat tours and the Chicago Film Tour. Photo by Jodie Jacobs

 

See movie and TV filming sites

Chicago is a popular movie and TV location site. A really great way to see the city is to take the Chicago Film Tour.

More than 80 movie and TV shows have been filmed in Chicago including The Dark Knight, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Sting, Spiderman, The Fugitive and North by Northwest so the tour goes from Wrigleyville on the Northside to China Town south of the loop and lots of places in between.

It takes close to two hours but while on the bus you also get movie shots on a TV monitor and background information from very knowledgeable guides.

 

Combine  Millennium Park with a lunch break

You’d never guess that any eyesore once used by the Illinois Central Railroad could be turned into the gorgeous 24 plus- acre park of gardens, walkways, remarkable sculptures, fountains, art work and public concert spaces that is Millennium Park.

The park stretches along Michigan Avenue from Randolph Street on the North to Monroe Parkway on the South. But what first catches the eye is the interesting stainless steel ribbon-like top of the Jay Pritzker Pavilion designed by Frank Gehry.  Its lawn is covered by an artistic sound grid.

Stroll the park to see the Lurie Gardens, the sculptures by Chaikaia Booker in the Boeing galleries section of the park (up now through April 2018, the 50-foot high towers of the Crown Fountain desiged by Jaume Plensa (the towers have changing faces of Chicago residents and the tower spits water into a wading area and the park’s famed Cloud Gate, better known as The Bean.

A 66-foot long elliptical sculpture by Anish Kapoor, The Bean is where visitors go to take selfies. Chicago’s clouds and skyline are beautifully reflected on the Bean’s polished stainless steel surface.

The Bean is a popular selfie site in Millennium Park. Photo by Jodie Jacobs
The Bean is a popular selfie site in Millennium Park. Photo by Jodie Jacobs

Leave the park by way of the Nichols Bridgeway, a long pedestrian bridge going from the park up to the Renzo Piano restaurant and the Bluhm Family Terrace in the Art Institute of Chicago’s Modern Wing. The restaurant, named for the architect Renzo Piano who designed the Modern Wing and the Bridgeway, is a terrific lunch spot with a view of the city. But you need a reservation.

If you haven’t snagged one go out onto the Terrace to snap photos and go back down to the park where you might be able to get a table at the Park Grill below the Bean.

 

Enjoy Chicago’s music scene

If you like blues, jazz or folk, find out who is at The House of Blues, Andy’s, Green Mill or The Hideout. For classical programs check Orchestra Hall, the Civic Opera House and the Harris Theatre. Also look up the Pritzker Pavillion in Millennium Park, host of the Blues Fest, for free concerts.

 

Indulge in a short but wonderful “staycation”

Lots of hotels downtown Chicago have a workout room however few have the space for a good-sized pool and a great spa. Stay and book a spa treatment at the upscale, Oriental influenced Peninsula Hotel overlooking Chicago’s Magnifenct (shopping) Mile on North Michigan Avenue and swim in its half-Olymic length pool. You can also order drinks and lunch there.

Or  stay at The Langham, a five star hotel on the Chicago River with British roots. Aside from a fine lap pool and spa, the hotel is known for its traditional tea, good services and spacious rooms. Located in a former Mies van der Rohe skyscraper on Wabash Avenue, the hotel is also well situated for downtown and Magnificent Mile exploration. When reserving ask about the room’s views.

 

Chicago really is a terrific destination even for a few days. Enjoy!

 

 

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.

 

Where to ice skate around Chicago

 

Maybe now that Chicago’s Ice-Age weekend has come and hopefully, gone, we can lace up the skates and twirl to joyful music. Tip: closing dates are important so put them on your calendar. The first skating spot listed is indoors because it is part of a winter fest that leaves after the first full weekend in January. The second is outdoors but its regular hours change to extended holiday times late December except for special days and events.

McCormick Tribune Ice Rink in Millennium Park. City of Chicago photo
McCormick Tribune Ice Rink in Millennium Park. City of Chicago photo

 

Navy Pier

If you want to skate at the Chicago Blackhawks Indoor Ice Rink among the rides and slides of the Pier’s Winter WonderFest, go by Sunday, Jan, 8, 2017. It all starts to disappear that Monday. Navy Pier is the nearly mile-long entertainment arm sticking out into Lake Michigan from 600 E. Grand Ave., Chicago, IL 60611.

Check out cost and hours at Navy Pier Wonderfest or call (800) 595-Pier (7437).

 

MB Financial Park

You have likely passed Rosemont’s mega entertainment complex along the I 294 at I90 near O’Hare International Airport. There is a lot to do there including eating, seeing movies and flying (really) indoors. However, when winter comes there is also Frozemont, an outdoor Chicago Wolves Ice Rink for hockey and free skating. Skate rental is available. Tickets are sold at the rink’s box office. For the address think Monopoly game. It’s 5501 Park Place, Rosemont, IL 60018. Regular hours go through Dec. 23 but open skating has extended hours Christmas Eve and Day, New Year’s Eve and Day, Martin Luther King’s Day and Presidents Day.

Visit MB Financial Park for hours and other information and call (847) 349-5008.

Skate with the Greats (at MB Financial Park)

As those TV ads say, “wait, there’s more” re ice skating at the MB Financial Park. If anyone in the family follows the Blackhawks, consider getting a ticket to the annual Skate with the Greats, 1 to 5 p.m., Jan. 14, 2017. Sponsored by the Chicago Blackhawk Alumni Association, event proceeds to benefit Chicago area Ronald McDonald House charities. Learn more at skate event.

 

Lincoln Park Zoo

Families will appreciate the casual, no-pressure-to-show-off skating rink near the red barn at the Farm-in-the-Zoo in Lincoln Park. Admission and skate rental are each $5. Go now to also see ZooLights which continues through Jan. 1, 2017. Come back to skate some more through Feb. 26. You might not want to leave before visiting the new snow monkeys in the MacaQue Forest, the penguins in their new compound or Siku, a new polar bear in the Walter Family Arctic Tundra.  The zoo’s parking lot is at 2400 N. Cannon Drive, Chicago, IL 60614 and is on the CTA’s 151 and 156 bus routes.

For hours and other information visit Lincoln Park Zoo.

 

McCormick Tribune Ice Rink

A fun place to skate is below Cloud Gate (The Bean) at the McCormick Ice Rink in Millennium Park. Take photos (can you skate while doing a selfie?) of the city’s skyline and warm up with hot chocolate from the Park Grill. Don’t worry about not skating at Olympic level. Free skating lessons are offered Friday through Sunday by the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events during their Winter Workouts an hour before the rink has opend. Other lessons are available other times and dates Dec. 24, 2016  through Jan. 8, 2017. The rink is open weekdays at noon and weekends at 10 a.m. through March 5, 2017. It’s located in one of those “you can’t miss it’ places because it borders the west side of Millennium Park along Michigan Avenue between Washington and Madison Streets. Its formal address is 201 E. Randolph St. Chicago, IL 60601. Skating is free. Rentals are $12.

For full skating and lesson hours visit DCA.

Maggie Daley Ribbon Ice Rink  A Maggie Daley Park photo
Maggie Daley Ribbon Ice Rink A Maggie Daley Park photo

 

Maggie Daley Skating Ribbon

Swirling and curving on the north-east side of Millinneium Park in Chicago Park District’s Maggie Daley Park, is the unusually shaped Maggie Daley Skating Ribbon. Open now through the first week of March, the Ribbon winds through a somewhat rolling, changing “parkscape” that  is a fun place to go. Skating is free. Rentals are $12 weekdays and $14 Friday through Sunday and holidays. The park is at 337 E. Randolph St. Chicago, IL 60601.

For hours and events visit Skating Ribbon

 

Other Chicago Park District Rinks

The city has seven other outdoor ice rinks aside from the Maggie Daley Ribbon.  They will stay open through Feb. 20, 2017. To find the location nearest you or one you would like to visit and to see hours and special programs visit CPD.

 

Peninsula Chicago Sky Rink
You can skate with a city view above Michigan Avenue if eating, using the Spa or staying at the Peninsula Chicago. The upscale hotel has added an ice rink to its Terrace in a romantic setting of pine trees and snowflake lighting. Snack or warm up with hot cider, hot chocolate and other treats. The rink is open through March 1, 2017. Donations of $15 adults and $10 children age 12 and under go to children’s charities.

For other information and rink availability visit Sky Rink and call  (312) 337-2888.

 

In Chicago: Four sparkling New Year’s Eve events

Plan now for what you want to do New Year’s Eve. If in or visiting Chicago there are fun runs and cruises, count-downs and parties and delightful cultural programs. Most events require tickets.

 

1.Celebrate the changing of the year the Viennese Neujahrskonzert way. Performances take place in 24 North American cities near New Year’s Day. In Chicago, the “Salute to Vienna New Year’s Concert” will be at Symphony Center 2:30 p.m., Dec. 31, 2016.

Dancers from the Kiev Aniko Ballet in Symphony center New Year's concert.
Dancers from the Kiev Aniko Ballet in Symphony center New Year’s concert.

The program is all about wonderful Strauss waltzes and music from the Merry Widow, and Die Fledermaus by the Strauss symphony of Canada and the Chicago Philharmonic. Dancers are from Ukraine’s Kiev-Aniko ballet and the International Champion Ballroom. Singers are soprano Lilla Galambos and baritone Thomas Weinhappel from Vienna.

For tickets visit CSO or call (312) 294.3000. For other information visit Salute Vienna or call (416) 323.1403.

 

2. Celebrate with a Chi-Town Rising event.

The day starts with the Chi-Town Rise & Shine 5K race and Fun Run, check in begins at 7:30 a.m. for the 9 a.m. race beginning at Millennium Park, 201 E. Randolph St., Chicago. The run also goes through Maggie Daley Park, Grant Park and by the lakefront. The event is a Special Olympics fundraiser. Handouts include pompom hats, gloves and hot chocolate. Click here to register and see details.

It continues with the Family Count-Down from 3 to 6 p.m. at Millennium Park’s Wrigley Square.  New Year celebrations start at different times around the world so parts of the event are activity stations showing New Year’s customs in different countries.  The event is free. The Kids Countdown Spectacular is 6 p.m.

Chi-Town Rising New Year’s Eve Celebration is 9 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. Tickets are free but are required to enter the two viewing areas between Michigan Avenue and Columbus Drive. There will be food and beverage concessions and views of the midnight fireworks. The North Viewing Area, north of the river, will be the site of NBC 5’s broadcast. South Viewing Area on Upper Wacker Drive will have the main performance stage.

Visit Chi-Town Rising details. For tips on clothing and other viewing areas visit FAQ.

 

3. Navy Pier is headquarters for two New Year’s Eve Parties.

Navy Pier New Year's Eve fireworks start at midnight. Navy Pier photo
Navy Pier New Year’s Eve fireworks start at midnight. Navy Pier photo

The 5th Annual Chicago Resolution Gala celebrates with several drink bars and buffet stations and dancing in the Pier’s Grand Ballroom. There is also a good fire works viewing spot. For tickets and details visit Resolution Gala. Visit tickets and details.

There is also a party in the Crystal Garden, the Pier’s six-story glass botanic atrium. There will be several bars and champagne for a toast. For tickets and more details visit Crystal Gardens.

 

4. New Year’s Eve Cruises go from Navy Pier. Watch the fireworks after partying aboard the Mystic Blue, the Spirit of Chicago or the Odyssey. Each cruise ship hosts a New Year’s Eve Party. Times and prices vary so see which one fits your budget. Visit Mystic Blue Cruises, Odyssey and Spirit of Chicago.

Have a happy, safe New Year’s Eve!

 

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

Chicago architecture is worth seeing up close and personal

To really see most of downtown Chicago’s exceptional architecture examples, you should walk.

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

Five top things to do now in Chicago

Chicago simply does not stay still long enough to make any experience old or boring.

It doesn’t matter if you have visited Chicago or are now thinking of putting the city on your summer vacation list. Chicago simply does not stay still long enough to make any experience old or boring.

A tourist notes the "Bean" arch and reflections
A tourist notes the "Bean" arch and reflections

Millennium Park, home to the city’s famed “Cloud Gate” (“The Bean”) and Jay Pritzker Pavilion, keeps adding and changing sculptures and concerts.

The Art Institute of Chicago, connected to Millennium Park by the Sky Bridge over Monroe, moves from one block buster exhibition to the next. The theater scene, home of 200 live stage companies including Goodman and Steppenwolf Theatres and Broadway productions, keep turning out Jeff and Tony award winners.

Just as important, new restaurants pop up weekly and new and remodeled hotels cater to today’s plugged-in generation and suburbanites who want to take advantage of Chicago’s downtown attractions.

With so much going on, planning a weekend can either be fun or a challenge. Here are five top Chicago destinations that can be centerpieces of a great vacation minus the confusing what-to-do part.

Look for Marc Chagall's windows at the east end of the Art Institute of Chicago
Look for Marc Chagall's windows at the east end of the Art Institute of Chicago
  1. You don’t have to know anything about art to find something fascinating at the Art Institute of Chicago.  The world-class museum happens to be showcasing French Impressionism from the Musee d’Orsay, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and its own collection now through Sept. 29, 2013. However, adults and youngsters ooh and ah at the miniature furniture and interiors in the Thorne Rooms and Medieval arms and armor.
  2. If you make it to Chicago before Aug. 18 you can still catch Goodman’s beautiful production of “The Jungle Book.”  Another hot 2013 ticket is the “Book of Mormon.” At the Bank of America Theater through Oct. 06, 2013. This is  the writers’ and director’s recently revised production which many critics think is even better than the original.
  3. Visitors often talk about and recommend the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s river boat tour. However if the price or times don’t match your pocket book or schedule you’ll do fine with the other boat companies’ architecture tours.  If you don’t mind walking you’ll like the Architecture Foundation’s tours that go inside buildings.

    If you can't ID these Chicago landmarks now you will be able to after you take the Film Tour or an architecture boat ride.
    If you can't ID these Chicago landmarks now you will be able to after you take the Film Tour or an architecture boat ride.
  4. Movie and television producers love Chicago. To see where some of the 80 movies set in Chicago were shot such as “Dark Knight” and “Blues Brothers” take the Chicago Film Tour. The guides are knowledgeable. You see parts of Chicago that even locals have not visited. And you see clips on the bus while traveling.
  5. You’ve heard of China Town, which is fun and interesting. But other Chicago neighborhoods also have their own character and unique restaurants. You can learn more about the city and explore some of its culinary scene with Chicago Tours and Sidewalk Tours.

Enjoy Chicago!

Photos (C) by Jodie Jacobs

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