Yes, it’s the Second City but it is not, I repeat, NOT, fly-over country. I will always heart New York, but Chicago is definitely my kind of town. We spent last weekend there and loved every minute. My top ten:
10. How about ‘dem Cubs
Proof positive that it’s not nice to insult someone’s goat, the Cubbies have not won a World Series since 1945, when Billy Goat Tavern owner Billy Sianis was ejected from a game due to his cloven-hoofed companion’s pungent odor. Sianis pronounced a curse upon the team and they’ve come up empty-handed ever since.
In case you think no one remembers, I met a local friend for lunch last Saturday, and before the napkins were even unfolded she told me her favorite Cubs joke:
Q: What did Jesus say to the Cubs last time he was on Earth?
A: “Don’t do anything til I get back.”
Still, there’s no place like Wrigley Field with its ivy-covered walls, hoagies, brats, brews and die-hard fans. It’s a win-win, regardless of the score.
9. The Bean
Officially called “Cloud Gate” the Millennium Park sculpture by British artist Anish Kapoor has been unofficially and affectionately dubbed “The Bean” by the steady stream of visitors who pose for photos and gaze at its “omphalos” (that’s Greek for navel). They keep it clean by wiping it down twice daily with a Windex-like solution. Made of welded stainless steel plates, The Bean is projected to last 1,000 years, so you’ve got plenty of time to see it.
I haven’t seen “lightning bugs”since I was a kid, but as we walked back to our hotel from dinner one evening at dusk, the shrubs and parking strips came alive with a crepuscular display courtesy of the humble Coleoptera. These winged beetles were simply putting the moves on for one another in a none-too-subtle pick-up maneuver, but to us humans, it’s a magical performance. I’ve never seen them in Los Angeles or in Manhattan, so Chicago wins the light-show prize in my book.
I have no scientific proof, but I’ve never heard anyone dispute the fact that people in the Midwest are just nicer than anywhere else. Maybe they’ve been worn down by those harsh winters and have no energy left to scold you for breathing, but during our Windy City sojourn, people smiled and said hello without being the least bit creepy. Another bonus: Midwesterners aren’t as worried about their carbon footprint: they enjoy a good meal here and there, so you’ll feel like the thin one in the crowd.
6. Speaking of food, we had one of the Best.Meals.Ever on the Near North Side at PerennialVirant on N. Lincoln Avenue. Their motto is “Eat what you can, can what you can’t”, which is a cryptic way of explaining that they make down-home Midwestern ingredients sing. I have a firm rule about not eating bread these days, but it was not possible to pass up their multi-grain slices of farm bread served with butter so fresh I thought I heard a moo coming from the kitchen.
5. Water, Water Everywhere
Lake Michigan. The Chicago River. They are the jewels that set off the Chicago skyline. Never mind that winter “lake effect” that operates like a snow-making machine for those poor folks who catch its drift (haha – not so funny in February, is it?) over in Indiana. Lake Michigan is looking fine and she knows it. If you go in March, you can catch the Chicago River dyed green for St. Pat’s Day. Because this is Chicago, and they know how to have a good time!
We arrived just in time for her unveiling, to the predictable wolf-whistles and catcalls. The critics roundly dismissed Seward Johnson’s icon of the iconic MM with comments of “some like it not” and “not in our front yard”, but maybe they’re just jealous because she’s drawing attention away from The Bean. Come to think of it, they hated The Bean when it first sprouted, too. I predict they’ll miss her when she’s gone: in Spring, 2012 she goes out like a candle in the wind.
3. Tribune Tower
I could go on and on about Chicago architecture. There were the stalwarts like Daniel Burnham, who oversaw the design of Chicago’s 1893 World Fair and then for kicks came up with the Chicago Plan that gave us the Magnificent Mile. (By the way, in his spare time, he designed the famed Flatiron Building in NYC, too.) Then there was crabby Louis Sullivan, who wasn’t content with being called “the father of skyscrapers” and insisted on dissing Burnham every chance he got. Oh, and there was that upstart Frank Lloyd Wright…like everything else about Chicago, its architecture is vivid, hard-working and there’s always a story.
As you view the Tribune Tower, don’t spend all your time looking up, because there are lots of little surprises embedded into the building at eye level. A number of exotic artifacts were collected by Tribune correspondents and added to the building’s relief, including a stone from Egypt’s GizaPyramid.
2. The Peninsula Chicago
We all have our weaknesses (okay, maybe I have more than the rest of you) and one of mine is a deep and abiding affection for fine hotels. Yes, I know it’s just a room for a night or two, but there’s something about marble baths and fine linens that speaks to my soul. And nowhere does it speak more sweetly than at The Peninsula Chicago.
And I’m not the only one who thinks so. Travel+Leisure just named it as one of the World’s Best Hotels for 2011.
And as if they needed to make it any more perfect, The Peninsula offers a fabled Chocolate Bar in the lobby dining room on Fridays and Saturdays from 8-11 pm. We did not partake, but we looked at it, which probably caused me to gain five pounds on the spot.
1. The Chagall Windows
As a lover of the finer things in life, I can attest that among the very finest are the Chagall Windows at the Art Institute of Chicago. I remember them (correctly or incorrectly) as having been in a stairwell before and must admit I preferred that lofty location, but even a less-than-perfect reset cannot detract from these transcendent panels representing the whole gambit of cultural arts: music, painting, literature, architecture, poetry and dance.
The beloved windows were under wraps for five years during the construction of the Art Institute’s new Modern Wing. It was worth the wait. The building is beautifully dovetailed into the Millennium Park walkway and is filled with breathtaking treasures. One of my favorite old friends there is the second version of Van Gogh’s “The Bedroom”, painted in 1888 during his turbulent stay in Arles, France.
I try to make a “new friend” each time I visit an art museum and the one that caught my eye this visit was The Pardon by Gatson La Touche, a French post-Impressionist painter. La Touche was so spectacularly unsuccessful during his lifetime that he burned most of his paintings in 1891. C’est tellement dommage!
All in all, you gotta’ love Chicago. It’s not always refined, and it probably worries too much about not being Manhattan, but it has a roughneck charm all its own. There’s no place quite like it.
"HOG Butcher for the World, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler; Stormy, husky, brawling, City of the Big Shoulders" - Carl Sandburg