BE PREPARED TO BE DAZZLED
Chicago sets out to dazzle- and it dazzled me! Tallest, biggest, first and newest- that’s the city’s mantra. Chicago has been fighting its ‘second city’ reputation since the late1880s ; it was this brand of self-promotion, not the breeze from Lake Michigan, that earned Chicago its nickname- the Windy City-way back when its major claim to fame was ‘nation’s biggest livestock market’. It might have been a cowtown then; it’s a wow town now.
Chicago is arguably friendlier, cleaner, and better value than that ‘first city’, New York . The skyline bristles with the ‘tallest, newest’ skyscrapers, the city centre is compact and walkable. There are blues clubs, standup comedy clubs, stunning hotels ,fabulous restaurants and lake-side beaches. Plus shopping, shopping shopping .
Five good reasons to go:
1)Shop til she drops: Chicago’s fabulous shops are strung out on the ‘Magnificent Mile’, 400 up-market stores in eight city blocks. The legendary department store, Neiman Marcus , is at one end, Bloomingdale’s at the other, and Saks Fifth and Macy’s in the middle. A challenge to the most committed shopper on a tight schedule. I solved the problem by picking just one- Bloomingdales –and letting the Personal Shopper do the work for me What I needed was a shirt for Him, a trendy jacket for Teenager, and a dinner-out dress for Me. Gave her the sizes, the ‘price points’ (discrete way of saying how much you’ll spend) and she did the rest, whisking me from department to department and getting me an extra discount, too. . The service was free, fun and (honestly!) there was no pressure to buy. In fact, I passed up a gorgeous designer dress on sale for an almost as gorgeous outfit cheaper still.. and the PS didn’t blink. For funky Chicago-only designs – clothes, shoes, jewellery- I could have joined a shopping tour of insider addresses with Shopwalk.. Cost: $70 for 3 hours combing the boutiques with an advisor.
If you’re an outlet addict, there are 120 shops in Chicago Premium Outlets ’45 minutes by car’ from downtown Chicago. For details, including transportation options, visit www.premiumoutlets.com .
Bloomingdale’s at 900 N. Michigan Avenue. For the Personal Shopper service, you can just drop in but safer to phone ‘At your Service’ for an appointment. Direct line: (312) 440 4887
Shopwalk: description of available shopping tours plus online booking at www.shopwalk.com
2)Get a perspective: Chicago’s sights are packaged in dozens of ways but the boat tour along the Chicago river is unforgetable. A volunteer from the Chicago Architecture Foundation is on board to point out the tallest, biggest, newest among the skyscrapers which jostle for space along the glorious waterfront. But if that tour’s not on when you’re there, try an open top bus, a walking tour or a bike tour. Or explore the Millennium park and the riverfront on a Segway, a 3 ½ hour whizz along on a two-wheeled powered scooter. In the summer months and at Christmas a free trolley runs along major city routes. To see some of the 77 neighbourhoods which make up greater Chicago, take a Chicago Neighbourhood Bus Tour.
www.architecture.org for details of the boat tour; for other tours see the listing at www.city-discovery.com/chicago .
3) Go Blue Chicago: According the the author of Today’s Chicago Blues, there are more blues artists living and working here than in any other city in the world. One blues club to try is Rosa’s, run by an Italian immigrant named Tony whose mother Rosa tends bar. It’s dark, narrow, noisy- with bare floors, a neon lit stage, and a pool room in the back. Don’t worry about coming in on your own. Rosa will make you feel at home. If you know your blues, check the calendar and pick your night. If, like me, you’re just having a go, choose a Thursday. The James Wheeler Blues Jam is on from 9:30pm – 2:00am . If they don’t make a fan of you, it can’t be done.
Rosa’s is at 3420 West Armitage Avenue. For the calendar:, visit www.rosaslounge.com.
Blues history buffs will love the small museum in the retro building that housed Chess Studios. This is where blues artists like Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley and Aretha Franklin recorded during the 1957-1967 heydays
Chess Studios, 2120 S. Michgan Avenue. Open Mon-Fri 12 pm-3pm; Sat 12pm-2pm. Admission $10.
Telephone ( 312) 808 1286. Tours and gift shop
4) Tuck in: Chicago, traditionally the home of stockyards and cattlemen, has over a dozen steak houses. I loved Shula’s Steak House named for its founder, ‘the winningest coach in American football history’. The man also knows his steaks. I setted for the comparatively modest 12 oz fillet but diners at the next table were polishing off 20 oz Kansas City Strips. Other options are ‘Lawry’s the Prime Rib’in a one-time private mansion, a fun place to go for ‘performance food’… beef cut off the bone at your table and a ‘spinning salad’ . Don’t ask. And save one mealtime for The Gage. The project of Galway man Billy Lawlor, it’s a runaway Chicago favourite, a ‘gastropub’ – try the elk – with great atmosphere. Chicago has its own take on the pizza., too..deep dish or stuffed .. try it where you see it.
Shula’s Steak House .301 East North Water Street. Telephone (312) 670 0788
Lawry’s The Prime Rib, 100 W. Ontario St. Telephone (312) 787 5000
The Gage, 24 S. Michigan Avenue; Telphone (312) 372 4243
5) Have a laugh: Take in a ‘Second City’ performance. A small cast of quick-witted entertainers send up everyone and everything newsworthy to the delight of a packed audience. I didn’t always know what they were on about, but when I did – it was worth it. The group started up in Chicago in the 1959 ‘when cars were big and TVs were small’ . It now plays in four other US cities and has touring companies and a training school. Check www.secondcity.com for details.
The ultimate family day out, Navy Pier, will put a smile on everyone’s face. Spectacular views of the skyline and lake on a seven minute ferris wheel ride ; an inventive Children’s Museum,a relaxing Beer Garden. Catch a performance by Chicago Shakespeare Company, winner of a Tony award for ‘best regional theater’. Free entertainment too.. .jugglers, magicians, acrobats. Fireworks Wednesday and Sunday during the summer and at Christmas. www.navypier.com for a complete rundown.
Trump International Hotel and Tower situated on a bend in the Chicago river, is a destination in itself with three restaurants, a stunning bar, state of the art spa, pool and gym. In true Chicago-style, this hotel is all about superlatives: Its rooms are the town’s biggest , the bathrobes the plushest, the pillow menu (14 kinds to choose from) the most extensive. www.trumpchicagohotel.com
The Westin Michigan Avenue is a super-friendly, comfortable, convenient- to- everthing choice on Magnificant Mile. All the luxurious amenities – gym, spa, in-room massage -along with a convivial restaurant and lively bar. A plus factor: the ‘Westin Heavenly Bed’, a bed so comfortable that so far 35,000 guests have bought one for themselves. www.starwoodhotels.com/westin
For full Chicago Visitor’s information and brochure requests: www.gochicago.ie