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Chicago

Chicago

By bridgetteabendroth
Destinations: 
Chicago,
Illinois,
North America,
United States

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See + Do

Architecture

The downtown Loop is a living museum of beautiful and significant buildings. Two great periods of innovation mark Chicago's architecture. The first followed the 1871 fire, when young architects including Louis Sullivan and Daniel Burnham rebuilt the city with modern "skyscrapers." The second began after WWII, when Mies Van der Rohe's International Style had its heyday with such buildings as the Lake Shore Drive Apartments and Crown Hall.

The best way to appreciate the city's fabulous skyline is by boat. From a 90-minute river cruise aboard Chicago's First Lady, you can see the landmark IBM Plaza building, designed by Mies van der Rohe, and Marina City, built in the 1960s by Bertrand Goldberg, with the maxim "there are no straight lines in nature." Its two round, 61-story towers, known as "the corncobs," are Chicago architectural icons.

The Chicago Architecture Foundation runs a gazillion bus, bike, river, and walking tours. All are led by volunteers, and no reservations are required for walking tours. Many depart from the CAF's storefront across Michigan Avenue from the Art Institute. Chicago Neighborhood Tours offer an up-close-and-personal look at the city's local tapestry. Chicago Trolley Charters stop at all the downtown attractions. Another don't-miss: A guided tour of Frank Lloyd Wright's home and studio, conducted by the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust.

Shop

Ikram, Illinois

873 N. Rush Street
Chicago, Illinois 60611
Tel: 312 587 1000
Website: www.ikram.com

Owner Ikram Goldman refined her impeccable if sometimes quirky taste at Ultimo, Chicago's most famous fashion house, before opening her eponymous boutique. Her moodily lit, 4,000-square-foot space features a mix of sophisticated women's clothing and accessories from the most coveted designer labels—from flirty Robert Clergerie footwear to extravagant, one-of-a-kind Rochas gowns. There's also a small selection of vintage wares handpicked by Goldman.

Open Mondays through Saturdays 10 am to 6 pm and by appointment.

Nightlife

Billy Goat Tavern, Illinois

430 N. Michigan Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60611
Tel: 312 222 1525
Website: www.billygoattavern.com

The classic Saturday Night Live skit where native Chicagoan John Belushi played a harried Greek line cook—shouting, "Cheezborger, cheezborger, cheezborger. No Pepsi. Coke!"—brought this Chicago institution (which the skit was based on) to national fame in the late '70's. But it's been a local landmark since its original owner, William Sianis, was forbidden by the Chicago Cubs management from bringing his house goat—yes, a real live goat—to Wrigley Field during a 1945 World Series game. Located across the street, and practically beneath, the stately Tribune Tower on a gloomy stretch of Lower Michigan Avenue, the place is immensely popular with tourists. Even so, it's still a haunt for local reporters and advertising execs, and it still serves good, greasy cheeseburgers on fluffy buns. Take time to peruse the yellowed newspaper clippings and Hall of Fame photos that decorate the walls—they're a crash course in Chicago history.

Open Mondays through Fridays 6 am to 2 am, Saturdays 10 am to 3 am, Sundays 11 am to 2 am.

Nightlife

Big Chicks, Illinois

5024 N. Sheridan Road
Chicago, Illinois 60640
Tel: 773 728 5511
Website: www.bigchicks.com

Don't be fooled by the name: This unpretentious uptown bar caters equally to lesbians, gays, and straights of all sizes (many are students from nearby Loyola and Northwestern). The narrow main room is awash in red light and decorated with artwork—some of it by extraordinary artists like Diane Arbus—featuring women in various stages of undress. (It's the personal collection of owner, and namesake big chick, Michele Fire.) Bartenders pick the tunes during the week, but DJs take over on the weekends, and the side room, called the Salon, morphs into a dance floor. Though there's no food served (except on Sunday afternoons), Fire's organic restaurant, Tweet, is right next door and open through dinnertime most evenings.

Open Mondays through Fridays 4 pm to 2 am, Saturdays 3 pm to 3 am, Sundays 10 am to 2 am.

Eating

Wiener's Circle, Illinois

2622 N. Clark Street
Chicago, Illinois 60614
Tel: 773 477 7444

There are literally hundreds of places in town that serve respectable Chicago-style hot dogs: char-grilled Vienna beef topped with mustard, chopped onions, bright green relish, a sliced tomato, peppers, a pickle spear, and a few dashes of celery salt on a steamed Rosen's poppy-seed bun. But none are tastier, or served by a more shockingly rude staff, than at this beloved shack in Lincoln Park. The service here is reminiscent of Seinfeld's famous soup Nazi—and probably best experienced after a few drinks. It's all in good fun and part of the shtick, but expect to be publicly and mercilessly humiliated if you don't order promptly and decisively.

Open Sundays through Thursdays 11 am to 4 am, Fridays and Saturdays 11am to 5 am.

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Eating

Table Fifty-Two, Illinois

52 W. Elm Street
Chicago, Illinois 60610
Tel: 312 573 4000
Website: www.tablefifty-two.com

Before opening this feverishly anticipated Gold Coast restaurant in a dainty carriage house, Art Smith spent ten years as Oprah's personal chef. Dinner service is like a well-choreographed dinner party: Smith himself plays the congenial host, greeting the local movers and curious civilians seated in the snug dining room. The genteel mood befits the menu of Southern classics, including a textbook buttermilk fried chicken (served Sundays only); shrimp with feathery stone-ground grits; and pan-seared catfish accompanied by crispy okra, bacon-braised collard greens, and more grits (cheese this time). Recognizing there is such a thing as too many grits, Smith wisely offers a few global dishes as well, such as pistachio-crusted chicken breast with lo mein noodles and wood-fired pizza topped with smoked duck. The dessert menu, however, remains firmly rooted in the South—take one bite of the seductive 12-layer Smith family chocolate cake, and you'll understand how Smith won Oprah's favor.

Open Tuesdays through Saturdays 11 am to 10 pm, Sundays 10 am to 7 pm; brunch served Sundays only.

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Eating

The Publican, Illinois

845 W. Fulton Market
Chicago, Illinois 60607
Tel: 312 733 9555
Website: www.thepublicanrestaurant.com

From the team behind Blackbird and Avec, this Fulton Market District newcomer taps into the prevailing fashion for down-home dining and restaurant patrons' hunger for blue-ribbon meat. The buzzy dining room feels like a cross between a barn and a beer hall, with paintings of torpedo-size pigs overlooking a communal table lined with 100 ladder-back chairs. But there's a lot of pedigree underlying the folksy informality—starting with the expertise of executive chef Paul Kahan and chef de cuisine Brian Huston. Their serious sourcing of organic heartland swine shines in dishes such as potted pork rillettes (a bargain at $12) and sweet, woody pork ribs, while a textbook wood-roasted chicken and smoked trout dressed up with pomegranate and apple exemplify the kitchen's easy way with less manly plates. Supersized like everything else here, the long bar offers up a snaking list of American, English, and Belgian brews to wash it all down. —Raphael Kadushin

Open Mondays through Saturdays 3:30 pm to 2 am, Sundays 10 am to 2 pm.

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Eating

Moto, Illinois

945 W. Fulton Market
Chicago, Illinois 60607
Tel: 312 491 0058
Website: www.motorestaurant.com

It's fairly safe to say that no matter how much of a foodie you are, you'll never have experienced anything quite like what you'll find at Homaro Cantu's austere, intimate restaurant. Cantu practices what is known as molecular gastronomy, a postmodern approach to cooking that is often multisensory. While the menu is constantly changing, and some dishes are prepared in familiar ways, Cantu likes to shoot lasers at vanilla beans to extract their essence and then coat the inside of a wineglass with it. He's also fond of carbonating his fruit salsas by adding CO2 to them under pressure, and freezing everything from artichoke purée to flapjacks in liquid nitrogen. The surprising thing is how delicious his science projects taste, and how popular the place has become with jet-setters, who have been known to fly in just for the opportunity to sample the Pacific bass, which is baked tableside with heirloom tomato broth and served in a futuristic-looking polymer box. Even more startling, perhaps, is how affordable the dining experience is: Five-course tasting meals start at just $70 per person.

Open Tuesdays through Saturdays 5 pm to 11 pm.

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Eating

Alinea, Illinois

1723 N. Halstead Street
Chicago, Illinois 60614
Tel: 312 867 0110
Website: www.alinea-restaurant.com

Rising star and culinary rocket scientist Grant Achatz (formerly of Trio and Napa's French Laundry) raises the bar on New American cooking at his techno-chic Lincoln Park restaurant. Foodies fly in from everywhere to sample his 12- and 24-course tasting menus; his plates have been known to include squab with huckleberries, sorrel, and peppercorns, and bison with Gruyère, pumpernickel, and wild leeks. Alinea, whose name comes from a typographical symbol meaning "the beginning of a new paragraph," may very well be the start of something new in exhibition cooking.

Open Wednesdays through Sundays 5:30 pm to 9:30 pm.

Eating

Café Spiaggia

While the more formal Spiaggia is one of the restaurants that helped turn the Gold Coast into an haute buffet line, its Trumpified dining room (all soaring marble columns and tipsy, tilting topiary sculptures) and stratospheric prices (more than $20 for one wood-roasted sea scallop) mean you have to be in a dressy mood. If you're not, the better option is just across the hall at Café Spiaggia, where the pizzas and pastas come relatively bargain-priced and the walls are painted with frescoes of Renaissance noblemen decked out in pageboys and pillbox hats. If they all seem to be eyeing your dinner, that's no surprise: The prosciutto and arugula pizza flaunts a cracker-thin crust, and a clean toss of pasta, olive oil, poached tuna, and capers makes for one of the best lunches in town.

Open Sundays 11:30 am to 2:30 pm and 5:30 to 9 pm; Mondays through Thursdays 11:30 am to 2:30 pm and 5:30 to 9:30 pm; Fridays and Saturdays 11:30 am to 2:30 pm and 5:30 to 10:30 pm.

Eating

Custom House

Local favorite Shawn McClain is known for tinkering with tradition. His Spring adds a subtle Asian accent to seafood, and the homely vegetable won a glamorous makeover at his Green Zebra, with dishes like roasted spaghetti squash served with crispy chestnuts and savory yogurt. But it's Custom House that truly earns the title of new wave standard bearer. The Printers' Row kitchen establishes its heartland heart quickly with a wall of Wright-like limestone that's both homespun and chic. The same double-barreled sensibility drives the menu, ­an homage to the sheer glory of meat that includes steak, of course, but also a juicy roasted Berkshire pork chop with an unexpected side of grilled plums, and braised short ribs that are so tender they slide off the bone if you look at them wrong, or right.

Open Mondays through Thursdays 11:30 am to 10 pm, Fridays 11:30 am to 10:30 pm Saturdays 5 to 10:30 pm, and Sundays 5 to 9 pm.

Eating

David Burke's Primehouse, Illinois

James Hotel, 616 N. Rush Street
Chicago, Illinois 60611
Tel: 312 660 6000
Website: www.brguestrestaurants.com/restaurants/primehouse/index.php

Celebrity chef David Burke's Primehouse (part of the James Hotel) is a playful and more sophisticated interpretation of the classic steak house formula. Translation: You won't find any iceberg lettuce salads or gloppy vegetable side dishes here, but rather crab cakes encased in layers of thin Japanese pretzels and an impressive raw bar. Nor will you find wet-aged steaks, like you do at nearly every classic steak house in town. Every cut here is dry-aged in the restaurant's Himalayan salt–lined drying room, a flavor-enhancing process that gives the meat a subtle mineral flavor. But that's not all. In characteristic headline-making fashion, Burke bought his own 2,500-pound premium Black Angus bull—­named Prime, naturally—­to be the resident stud/progenitor for all the future steaks here. Over-the-top? For sure. Tasty? You bet.

Open Mondays through Thursdays 7 am to 3 pm and 5 to 10:30 pm, Fridays and Saturdays 7 am to 3 pm and 5 to 11:30 pm, and Sundays 7 am to 3 pm and 5 to 10 pm.

Eating

Frontera Grill/Topolobampo, Illinois

445 N. Clark Street
Chicago, Illinois 60610
Tel: 312 661 1434
Website: www.fronterakitchens.com

Locals and tourists line up for gourmet Mexican fare at these lively River North twins (Topolobampo's the upscale one). Rick and Deann Bayless have been wowing diners with their pioneering new takes on tacos, beans, and sauces since 1987. The dishes, all made with fresh organic ingredients, include made-to-order tortilla chips with two salsas, pato pibil (slow-roasted duck cooked for hours in banana leaves with sour orange and achiote), and arroz a la Tumbada (a brothy Mexican paella of fresh Florida shrimp, Dungeness crab, scallops, and baby octopus simmered with roasted tomato salsa). Don't miss the fabulous raw bar, Saturday brunch, or Topo's $75, five-course tasting menu. A local crowd also gathers for the wide selection of margaritas and Mexican beers. Not surprisingly, the Baylesses have built a mini empire around their award-winning cuisine; you can buy cookbooks, sauces, and more in their on-site stores.

Frontera Grill open Tuesdays 11:30 am to 2:30 pm and 5:20 pm to 10 pm, Wednesdays and Thursdays 11:30 am to 2:30 pm and 5 pm to 10 pm, Fridays 11:30 am to 2:30 pm and 5 pm to 11 pm, Saturdays 10:30 am to 2:30 pm and 5 pm to 11 pm.

Topolobampo open Tuesdays 11:45 am to 2 pm and 5:30 pm to 9:30 pm, Wednesdays and Thursdays 11:30 am to 2 pm and 5:30 pm to 9:30 pm, Fridays 11:30 am to 2 pm and 5:30 pm to 10:30 pm, Saturdays 5:30 pm to 10:30 pm.

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Eating

Harry Caray's, Illinois

33 W. Kinzie Street
Chicago, Illinois 60610
Tel: 312 828 0966
Website: www.harrycarays.com

Steaks are secondary to sports at this old-timey "clubhouse," named after the Cubs Hall of Fame broadcaster. Only Cooperstown boasts more baseball tchotchkes than this veritable museum of the game, with its own walk of fame out front and four seats from the original Comiskey Park inside. After the 2003 playoffs, the restaurant paid $114,000 for the infamous foul ball that eliminated the Cubs—then blew it up during its 6th Annual Worldwide Toast to Harry Caray. The shards are now displayed in a permanent case. The restaurant actually serves a decent slab of meat. But many fans prefer to kick back with a beer and homemade chips in the 60-foot 6-inch Bar (the distance from pitcher's mound to home plate) and watch a game on one of many big-screen TVs.

Open Mondays through Thursdays 11:30 am to 3 pm and 5 pm to 10:30 pm, Fridays and Saturdays 11:30 am to 3 pm and 5 pm to 11 pm, Sundays 11:30 am to 10 pm.

Eating

Lou Malnati's, Illinois

439 N. Wells Street
Chicago, Illinois 60610
Tel: 312 828 9800
Website: www.loumalnatis.com

While eating deep-dish, Chicago-style pizza with a fork is an equally novel experience at Gino's East and Giordanos, Chicago's two other famous pizza places, what sets Lou Malnati's apart is the spicy-sweet sauce and sausage. According to local lore, Grandpa Malnati started making pies here in the 1940s, and his family has been guarding his top-secret crust and sausage recipes ever since. It's served the family well: You'll now find more than 24 Lou Malnati's in Chicagoland. Still, there's no need to hop a cab; this centrally located, casual joint, with its red-and-white checkered tablecloths and posters of Ryne Sandberg, is as Chicago as it gets.

Open Mondays through Thursdays 11am to 11pm, Fridays and Saturdays 11am to midnight, Sundays noon to 10 pm.

Nightlife

Chicago Blues

Chicago blues music is justifiably famous; some of the best-known living blues performers—including Buddy Guy, Howlin' Wolf, Koko Taylor, and Junior Wells—cut their teeth in the music clubs here in the '50s and '60s. These days, there are still plenty of places where you can catch top-notch blues acts.

Downtown, you can get two clubs for the price of one at Blue Chicago's two locations. The Blue Chicago store holds an all-ages set every Saturday. On the South Side, Buddy Guy's Legends presents live blues acts seven nights a week. In Lincoln Park, bands play on two stages till 5 a.m. Sunday morning at Kingston Mines, one of Chicago's largest clubs, with the tagline "Hear blues, drink booze, eat food".

The annual Chicago Blues Festival, the largest free-admission event of its kind, attracts 750,000 fans to Grant Park each June.

Nightlife

Green Mill Cocktail Lounge, Illinois

4802 N. Broadway Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60640
Tel: 773 878 5552
Website: www.greenmilljazz.com

If we had to pick one place in all of Chicago that epitomizes the city's rich and gritty history, it'd have to be the Green Mill. Al Capone used to hang out here in the 1920s, when it was a speakeasy during Prohibition. Then and since, the smoky, dark-wood-paneled, and dimly lit joint has been one of the best places in the country to see every flavor of jazz—Dixieland, traditional, bebop, contemporary, progressive, you name it—by local and legendary outfits alike. The seasoned bartenders are consistently cranky and it's elbow-to-elbow by 8 p.m. most nights, so get there early and snag a booth opposite the bar—it's the best spot to see and hear the music but still be able to have a (hushed) conversation. As it has since 1986, every Sunday night the lounge hosts the fabled Uptown Poetry Slam.

Open daily noon to 4 am.

Nightlife

I.O. Theater, Illinois

3541 N. Clark Street
Chicago, Illinois 60657
Tel: 773 880 0199
Website: www.iochicago.net

Formerly called the Improv Olympics, the I.O. is the city's "other" famous comedy club (it plays second fiddle to the better-known Second City). Upstairs you'll find stadium seating in the Del Close Theater, where the set shows are performed, while downstairs, the Cabaret Theater's tables have room for around 100 people. It's here you'll find the improv for which the club is famous. The experience here is far more intimate than at Second City; you feel like you're practically on stage with the comedians. Drinks and pizza are available in both theaters.

Performance times vary; call ahead.

Nightlife

Rockit Bar and Grill, Illinois

22 W. Hubbard Street
Chicago, Illinois 60610
Tel: 312 645 6000
Website: www.rockitbarandgrill.com

As advertised, the latest offering from local nightlife maven Billy Dec and his savvy band of successful associates (together they have given Chicago several of its hottest clubs, including Le Passage, The Bedroom, and The Dragon Room) really is a bar and grill, albeit a Western-inspired and upscale one. Designed by local celeb interior decorator (and Oprah chum) Nate Berkus, the backdrop has comfy ambience that feels simultaneously rustic (antler chandeliers and tree-stump tables) and modern (flat-screen TVs). You may spot David Schwimmer or Jeremy Piven shooting stick upstairs, but more likely you'll find a well-heeled crowd downstairs noshing on French-inspired cuisine like lamb hot pot with radicchio or chicken paillard. A modified late-night menu is served until 1:30 a.m., but it can get too loud and crowded to think about eating after 11, especially on weekends.

Open Sundays through Fridays 11:30 am to 1:30 am, Saturdays 11:30 am to 2:30 am.

Nightlife

Second City, Illinois

1616 N. Wells Street
Chicago, Illinois 60614
Tel: 312 337 3992
Website: www.secondcity.com

If you only go to one comedy club in your life, this should be it. Yes, you'll find Second City franchises scattered about the country, but there's no matching the original. A perusal of the framed photos in the foyer is a who's who of funny: Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, John Candy, Steve Carrell, Stephen Colbert, Mike Meyers, and Amy Sedaris are just some of the comedians who started their careers here. The casual main theater—officially called "The Second City Mainstage"—seats 290 and is as classic as comedy clubs get; you'll likely be seated randomly at a table and plied with drinks and appetizers until the show begins. Big names and alums still perform here periodically, but both the Mainstage and Second City e.t.c. (a smaller, second stage) have resident troupes that write and perform original comedy revues.

Performance times vary; call ahead.

Nightlife

The Violet Hour, Illinois

1520 N. Damen Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60622
Tel: 773 252 1500
Website: www.theviolethour.com

This posh Wicker Park lounge is the place for a hip, dressy night on the town. The unmarked door recalls a speakeasy, the name (a line from T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land) suggests romantic drama, and the interior follows suit. Designer Thomas Schlesser (the man behind Avec and Blackbird) took a break from his signature pared-down style and opted for velvet drapes, high-backed blue chairs, and crystal chandeliers. The surprisingly ambitious canapé menu includes duck meatballs and fried banana, but make sure to leave room for the Violet Hour's raison d'être: cocktails, painstakingly prepared—at times with an eyedropper—by the in-house mixologists.

Open Sundays through Fridays 6 pm to 2 am, Saturdays 6 pm to 3 am.

Information may have changed since the date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.