Chicago GetawaysChicago - Sweet Home
Like Ferris Bueller, take your own day off in CHICAGO. Keeping it close to home during the holidays is easy when there are cities like this in our own backyard. Not just the Second City, Chicago stands proudly on its own, with some of the finest restaurants, nightlife, and hotels in the country.
For world-class service with Midwestern hospitality, make The Elysian boutique hotel your home for the weekend. From the doorman to the bellman, they don’t accept tips – their philosophy is that good service is fundamental. Whereas most hotels won’t automatically upgrade, here if the room is available, you’ll find yourself in one of their fat suites. The Elysian is like a slice of Paris in the middle of Chicago, where each of the spacious rooms resembles Coco Chanel’s boudoir – gorgeous fireplaces, plush furnishings, and bathrooms that could double as Parisian pied-à-terre. At their spa, manicurist Ming is one of the absolute best, while the excellent Ria restaurant has two Michelin stars. The Elysian is formal and elegant yet warm and comfortable, and will undoubtedly become of your domestic favorites.
An update: The Elysian was recently acquired by the Waldorf Astoria/Hilton. There may be changes in store, so we’ll be watching closely and will keep you updated. Check with us on www.galavante2go.com, our daily travel logs for the latest updates. Luckily, Chicago has many luxury hotel options; we’ve stayed in most of them and they are plush. The Peninsula is a standout and the Park Hyatt is oh-so-chic, and even better if you can use those hard-earned points. All of these hotels are smack-dab in the middle of the Gold Coast, which is the place to be for an out-of-town guest. Skip the boutique hotels in Chi-Town, which have consistently disappointed.
Chicago has a whole lot of museum culture, with its impressive Impressionist collections at The Art Institute, modern art at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCAand Museum Campus, where the Adler Planetarium and Field Museum are favorites. If museums are your shtick, a weekend won’t be enough to experience all Chicago has to offer. In the summer, don’t miss the Architectural Boat Tour on the Chicago’s First Lady.
For a taste of local culture, venture beyond the glitzy Gold Coast. Bucktown and Wicker Park, once gritty neighborhoods, have long since become gentrified. Begin your field trip at the intersection of Milwaukee, North Avenue, and Damen. These stylish neighborhoods are home to the city’s chic boutiques, like long-time P45, and cool restaurants, including Prasino, where you can feast on lobster-stuffed avocado with beurre fondue. In the residential and high-end Lincoln Park neighborhood, stroll the quiet town home-lined streets around Fullerton and shop at quaint boutiques along Armitage and Webster. If you wander into an open house for sale, don’t be surprised if you’re very tempted to take out your checkbook and move to this charming city.
And charm is one of the best parts of Chicago. It’s the kind of city where friends gather every weekend at local bars like Mo’s Cantina or John Barleycorn to watch the Bulls, Bears, Blackhawks, Cubs, or Sox games in their respective seasons. Compared to the museum scene, you’ll get as much, though an entirely different type of culture doing, a pub crawl through Wrigleyville. The bars are generally dives but that’s part of the experience.
A Guy (or Girl) Has Gotta Look Good
When it comes to shopping, the Gold Coast more than holds its own. Oak Street is populated with the most expensive brands, including Harry Winston, Prada, and Agent Provacateur, while Michigan Avenue has the bigger department stores. Ikram, Intermix, Barneys, Marc Jacobs, and Marlowe are some of the standouts in the area. In Lincoln Park, Lori’s Designer Shoes – the “sole of Chicago” – caters to the Lincoln Park trixies, and nearby Kaveri features cutting-edge fashions. The end-of-season sales offer some of the best selections; it’s worth making a shopping trip in January or August.
Not Just Chicago Pizza
Chicago has some serious food. Gibsons, an old-school Chicago steakhouse, and Le Colonial, a seductive French-Vietnamese restaurant, have been on the culinary circuit for years, and will continue for many more. If you want to try the new cool kid’s steakhouse, head to Mastro’s, where they not only make a mean filet and have a killer raw bar, but also feature a side dish menu that’s an encyclopedia of comfort food. A standout is the King Crab gnocchi with truffle.
If you’re going to splurge on a full-blown tasting meal, this is the city to do it in. Chicago knows how to put together a grand dining experience, most famously at Alinea. Choose your flavors, and for the modest price of $195 per person, Alinea’s talented team creates a culinary work of art. For dessert, the brilliant mastermind and chef, Grant Achatz, literally goes Jackson Pollack on your table with chocolate and other seasonal flavors. It’s the best $1000 you’ll spend on food- especially now El Bulli in Spain is near its end.
Classicists love Charlie Trotter’s,the eponymous restaurant of the first celebrity chef to put Chicago on the dining map. The cuisine at his discreet townhouse in Lincoln Park has been wowing diners for over 23 years. The best table in the house is in the kitchen, where you can watch the disciplined crew create every meal in the house, including your own. For slightly scaled back but still five-star dining, try Naha, with a perfectly executed Mediterranean-inspired menu in a very grown-up scene. It’s also relatively reasonable on the pocket. If you want to go off the map, feast on Thai at the insider’s gourmet restaurant Arun’s, touted by chefs as the best Thai in the U.S.
The hipster spots like Girl and the Goat and Next are a step down in price, but not in experience and food. Making reservations is near impossible, so either plan far in advance or challenge your concierge to pull in those favors. The best sushi in Chicago is at Roka Akor, where the service – – is right in line with what you’d get in Tokyo.
Besides all the chi-chi food, you can’t leave Chicago without having an Italian beef sandwich at Portillo’s or the legendary pizza at Lou Malnati’s. Do not pass go, and do not collect $200 at the other pizza places, which will leave you with self-loathing and regret. For dinner, indulge in crazy good Mexican at Frontera Grill or its higher-end sister, Topolobampo, the favorite of our Mr. President.
Hit up Pierrot Gourmet for top-end cappuccinos, lobster bisque that’ll warm you up nicely from the Chicago winds, and too-pretty-to-eat macarons and desserts. Fill up on down-home brunch and lunch all day at John’s Place, where you can just tell the food is prepared with pride. Next door, the coffee shop Floriole serves beautiful macarons and sandwiches. For a quick bite to eat in front of your fireplace at the The Elysian, shop at Chicago’s premier gourmet market, Trotter’s to Go.
After Hours, Chicago-Style
Chicago knows how to have a good time, and there’s a little something for everyone. The most outwardly raucous area for a big night out is what the locals call Viagra Triangle in the Gold Coast, the reason for which will be perfectly clear on any Friday and Saturday night. Chicago’s lounges and clubs rival any large city, but here you don’t have to be Abe Froman to get in. On the upscale side, knock back cocktails at The Drawing Room and Privet, with a bordello-style scene. Enjoy low-key drinks at the lounge NoMI in the Park Hyatt, where the pretty people congregate. Mingle with the working jet set crew at the Wit Hotel, which has a stunning view of the city.
No visit to Chicago is complete without a night of blues. Buddy Guy’s Legends is the best of the commercial options, but for the real thing, head to Rosa’s. The neighborhood is on the rougher side, but there’s no better place to listen to Melvin Taylor, who has been performing there for decades. Chi-Town is all about its late-night grub, from gyros to burritos to the dogs at Chicago institution Wiener’s Circle. If you’re lucky (or unlucky), you may even see the famous “chocolate shake.” For more of a true local’s Chicago, check out our Interview with a Local this week.
With all these temptations – plus that down-home Midwestern charm – you’ll find it hard to leave. It’s a city where once you’ve been, no matter where you’re from, it’ll feel like Home Sweet Home.