Updated: 5 days ago
The Windy City in January?!
1. Lodgings: We stayed at a one-bedroom apartment (797 sq. ft) at Aqua at Lakeshore East via booking.com for $100/night (Apartment #3012). Aqua is a mixed-use building, hotel (Radisson Blu) on the bottom (floors 1-18), apartments in the middle (19-52), and condo on top (53-81). It has an undulating exterior and was awarded the Emporis Skyscraper Award as 2009 skyscraper of the year. Great location (just outside the Loop) and a very good price.
-the building is connected to the Chicago Pedway, which connects to the Loop via underground passageways. If the weather is inclement then give it a try (even if it is not, still give it a try) as it is an interesting world filled with Tiffany stained glass, more Tiffany stained glass, an excellent Italian cup of coffee, and two enormous LED art displays. See detailed map).
-Mariano's is a nearby grocery store (if Krogers and Whole Foods had a love child). Pick up a Mariano's Rewards Card at customer service.
2. Tony Bourdain's Chicago: I try to watch an episode of one of Tony Bourdain's tv shows (Parts Unknown, The Layover, No Reservation, A Cook's Tour, etc.) to get a New Yorker's feel for the city I'm visiting. The Chicago episode of Parts Unknown while not spectacular was interesting in that he focused on one establishment, The Old Town Ale House.
-The Old Town Ale House: you might want to pair with a visit to Topo Gigio and then Second
City like we did. We visited before the show, but you may want to go after - maybe one of the cast will stop by for a beer. The walls are covered with paintings of world and Chicago famous personalities like Mike Royko, Rod Blagojevich, Sarah Palin, Vladamir Putin, and of course Tony Bourdain, painted by the owner Bruce Elliot (who goes by the self-appointed nickname "The Genius"). If you‘re lucky he may even make an appearance. This is a shot and a beer type of place, so order accordingly and bring cash (for the tab and the jukebox, which is especially eclectic). Also before you visit take a look at Bruce Elliot's blog.
-Topo Gigio: The best Italian food I've had since Angelo's in NYC Little Italy. May I recommend the Spiedini Adriatica (Grilled scampi & sea scallops on a skewer, served on a bed of spinach in garlic & oil) or the Spaghetti ai Frutti di Mare (spaghetti with calamari, mussels, clams & sea scallops in marinara sauce). Pair with the Chianti Carpineto ($37).
-Second City: We saw Algorythm Nation on the main stage. No problem buying tickets (@$33.00) a few hours before the show on a Wednesday night. Three acts - the first one was quite funny.
-Ricobene's: Caloric food well suited to the clientele, which during my visit included multiple members of Chicago's finest. An excellent meatball sandwich and of course their famous (breaded) steak sandwich - though for two, I would recommend sharing one large (breaded) steak sandwich with a pitcher of Bud.
-Sze Chuan Cuisine: Over-lit, overpriced, and under-serviced (like every Chinese restaurant I've ever visited). A quarter of the light bulbs were out, but the restaurant was still too bright. Menu prices were a little on the high side (Steam Whole Fish: $24.95, Bottle of Tsingtao beer: $6.00). Service was impersonal and rushed (while my wife was in the bathroom I failed to notice her beer was removed before it was empty, which left my wife none too happy. I told her life was too short and she needed to redirect her ire . . . at the wait staff).
-Longman & Eagle: A Logan Square gastropub (across and up Kedzie Street from the "L"¹). We visited on a Tuesday specifically for the Bone Marrow and were disappointed to realize that it has "Limited Weekend Availability" - an optimist (like myself) might think that this meant that during the week there would be plenty but were informed by the barman that Bone Marrow was only served on the weekend (something that Tony, unfortunately, did not disclose). As a substitute may I recommend the Berkshire Pork Shank, Char Siu, Salted Cabbage, Parsnip & Bacon Fat Salad, and the Baby Squash, Farro, Goat Cheese, Pine Nut, Roasted Turmeric, Red Kale paired with a Llenca Plan (2016) red wine and an Old Milwaukee (2018).
-Girl & the Goat: the best food we had in Chicago. This place is on numerous top ten lists (and it should be on yours). Since we didn’t make reservations weeks in advance, we wound up with 11:30 pm reservation on a Friday. To be honest, we’re too old to eat this late, but the wife’s plan was to go to the restaurant early and use this as an angle to get an earlier seating. Well, it didn’t work, but we did get a seat in the lounge area and ate dinner there (at a very adult 9:30 pm) - it actually worked out quite well. May I recommend the:
*the Firestone Walker Lager and the Villa Wolf Pinot Noir (off of an extensive beer & wine list)
*Gemelli (pasta in braised pork tomato sauce) - outstanding!
*Fried Walleye (a la fish and chips, but much better)
-Billy Goat Tavern (on Lake Street): what else, get a Cheezborger, coke (no pepsi), chips (no fries).
-an excellent restaurant serves excellent, food. This is the type of place that serves excellent food, but after tasting each dish you will say to your dining companion "this is incredible, what is in this that makes it taste so good!?"
3. Chicago Athletic Association: this place was an unexpected score. The Chicago Athletic Association went bankrupt in 2007 and has since been turned into:
-Fairgrounds Coffee (1st floor): Excellent (if pricey) coffee made to order for each customer (it takes a few minutes to grind your selection and brew it). If you like a medium blend go with the Stumptown or Collectivo, then take your coffee and nosh up to . . .
-The Drawing Room (2nd floor): an expansive "clubby" room filled with overstuffed leather chairs, sofas, fireplaces (x2), wall art, sculptures made from old athletic trophies, and exquisite dioramas. An ideal place to sip your coffee, read the WSJ, and think about a bygone age of integrity, civility, and money.
-The Game Room (2nd floor): a hip bar with solid cocktails at reasonable prices. Filled with various games (table shuffleboard, foosball, etc.).
-The Cherry Circle Room: fine dining in an elegant atmosphere.
-The Milk Room: a speakeasy located on the 2nd floor between the Drawing Room and the Club Room. A service bar in the old days, it is now an eight-seat cocktail bar (with two seats reserved for walk-ins). Exorbitant prices for very good cocktails. The gimmick? They serve old bottles of liquor that were purchased at estate sales (basically they charge 2060 prices for 1960 liquor). Have you ever had a desire for a $40 Julep (using 1970's Fernet Branch), a shot of $900 Old Overholt 1909, or a $400 Old Fitzgerald 1960? Then this place is for you! The woman next to us mentioned that due to a recent medical condition she could not drink alcohol - I didn't hear the rest of the conversation but I'm sure the barkeep was more than glad to provide her a 1973 Coca Cola for $20. Bottom Line: The most expensive cocktail bar I've ever visited (and I've been to Tokyo). BTW: I "worked" with the bartender to get an economical $28 Old Fashioned (and still have trouble rationalizing it).
-Cindy's: Rooftop restaurant and bar. Closed for renovations when I visited, but supposedly has killer views.
-Museum of Science and Industry: you may want to buy your ticket online to save a couple of bucks.
*U 505: There are still four ex-Kriegsmarine WW2 U-Boats in existence today and this is one of them (and has the most interesting backstory; read about it here, as the movie is a bunch of horseshit). The U 505 Onboard Tour costs an additional $18. As a submariner (pronounced "sub MARE in er" if you please), I found the tour interesting, but nothing special. You can examine the exterior of the submarine as well as all of the displays/artifacts (binoculars, flags, movies, uniforms, etc) without paying the additional $18.
*The Great Train Story Diorama: This $3 million model train takes you through Chicago, Seattle, and the thousands of miles in between. Fascinating and detailed (it includes a miniature of the Picasso on Daley Plaza). Take photos of the 'L' train as it travels along the Loop - if you do it right, no one will know it‘s not the real thing.
*Spitfire & Stuka: Suspended from the ceiling is one of the few surviving Spitfires (Mark 1-A) to have flown in the Battle of Britain. It is chasing a Stuka (R2) that was captured by the British in Libya.
*The Spinning Disc: On the ground floor there is a 45° rotating Avalanche Disk filled with sand, that simulates avalanches. It's quite mesmerizing.
-Chicago Sports Museum ($10): should have known I was in trouble when I found out it was located in a Harry Caray’s bar. Some interesting stuff, but mostly fluff. Some interactive games, so if you have a child who is a Chicago sports fanatic, this just might be enjoyable.
-Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA): Limited inventory (even taking into account that one gallery was closed). An impressive collection of Calder mobiles including Little Face, Cat Mobile, Orange Paddle Under the Table, and others.
*Suggested Admission is $15 (which seems stiff, considering the limited inventory), though it is only "Suggested", which means . . . Since it is a Blue Star Museum I was able to get in for free (I'm a Veteran) - they did ask for proof of service, which I could not provide (they let me in, but asked I bring proof next time). If you have proof I would bring it, but either way, if you served and want to go, go and don't pay, you've already earned the right.
5. Self Guide Architecture Tour: After the last stop on this tour, proceed to Union Station and admire the architecture, specifically the Untouchables stairs linking the Great Hall to S. Canal St. (it’s the southern set of stairs).
6. Chicago Greeters Loop Architecture Tour: a free two-hour tour (no tips allowed) given Fri-Mon at 11:30 am and 1:00 pm. Meet at the Chicago Cultural Center (north entrance, the G.A.R. side). Our guide Joe did an excellent job bringing the architecture and the associated stories to life.
-Use the "L" to go from O'Hare (ORD) to the Loop (or anywhere else) for $5.00. Buy your ticket at the ORD "L" Station. Otherwise, pay $3.00 to travel on the rest of the system.
-Bus: You can pay in cash on all Chicago Transportation Authority (CTA) buses - $2.50 (no change given, so you may want to use three $1 bills or $2.50 exact change)
-Ubered to Midway from the Loop for $27.89 (UberX, Sunday morning @ 8:00 am).
-Chicago is the "big city", and a little alertness can go a long way. These tips from John Belushi about Chicago could be a lifesaver.
-North Side vs. South Side can be a big deal.
-Need your watch repaired (or a new battery for only $10)? Then may I recommend Chris Watch Repair at 5 S. Wabash Ave, Suite 914.
¹ The "L" is called the "L" whether it is elevated, subterranean, or runs at ground level. This is in contrast with the NYC Subway which is called the subway whether it is elevated, subterranean, or runs at ground level.