21st May 2009
Some might argue that Chicago's moment in the sun has just passed, given all the attention the city received in the two year run-up to the election of Barack Obama as US president. The city's favorite son had come to symbolize a kind of 'can-do' spirit embodied in Chicago, where a solid middle class is big on civic improvement and the buzz of the big city combined with traditional values creates an altogether nice atmosphere.
None of those views would be wrong, nor any less relevant, now that the Obama's have moved on to Washington D.C., taking the spotlight with them. Chicago's principal drawback is its location - making it absolutely freezing in winter. Your bones ache the minute your feet hit the gangway off a plane at O'Hare, the body fighting off sudden onset hypothermia as you shiver past the sports bars that line the terminals.
That makes spring and summer the time to go!
Plan your business stay for now, as the weather is warming up and the place comes alive with activity.
Unfortunately, Chicago's public transportation remains a bit of a disaster, so the best thing to do on arrival is to hop a car service. The local taxis are quite dilapidated, so try Concierge Car Service for rentals delivered to the airport (ranging from Minis to Smarts to BMW 7 Series) (+ 1 312 408 0800) or Car and Driver for a serviced pickup (+1 312 925 3739) one of the more reasonable booking services available. After navigating 24 cracked cement exchanges and the odd flyover, one arrives into the heart of the city.
The Chicago River basin forms the core of the new areas here, capped by the newly completed boom icon, Trump Tower. The Peninsula Chicago inhabits the building and was recently voted the best hotel in North America. Best comes at a price, so while the Peninsula is of exemplary standard, the prices are too, so we're going to direct you west toward Lake Michigan, where the W Lakeshore offers reasonable rates and some stunning views. Don't mix this up with the downtown W, which has less to offer in every way. Another hotel worth consideration is brand new Dana Hotel and Spa - which features a GREAT bar on the roof and is currently all the rage with the beautiful people.
Chicago is a town that operates best between Memorial Day and Labor Day - the two American holidays bookending the summer season. Running and rollerblading are big here (the city is sooo flat) - so join the crowd and take a sprint down the shore of Lake Michigan, where a boardwalk and path stretches for miles along the sandy shore. South of the city core, a visit to the Shedd Aquarium (which is soon completing extensive renovations) and the Adler Planetarium offer fun diversions with a natural bent.
Across the way is the beautiful Grant Park, a great place to spend an afternoon walking around, visiting Chicago's famous zoo or gazing at your reflection in Anish Kapoor's Chicago Bean. During summer evenings the city screens movies in the park, ranging from classics to out-of-date blockbusters. Nothing beats a bottle of wine, some blankets and a few friends, all snuggled down on the grass waiting for the start of Back To The Future as the city's lights twinkle on around you.
For the designer in you, try the Architecture River Cruise, which winds up the Chicago River and provides an eyefull of competing architectural styles - a diversity of design for which Chicago is well known.
Chicago is very much a meat and potatoes kind of town. Lots of steakhouses and the afore mentioned sports bars dot the city. The traditional diner experience is alive and well at Chicago's best breakfast spot, the West Egg Cafe. Sit at the diner bar and stuff your face for breakfast, then come back for a deli lunch!
For finer dining with a more modern flare try Sepia, a well known, trendy spot downtown. Beautiful lighting and great service complement the food, with hearty selections ranging from delicate shellfish to exotic meats.
At sunset, try grabbing a drink at the Signature Room, a beautiful lounge with even more beautiful views.
Chicago is best seen as a collection of neighborhoods, places where the living is easy and something of a cafe society exists. Head around Michigan Avenue for cute little cafes and good shopping, or jet north to Boystown for a bit more edge and a younger crowd. Up and coming is the upper north west. It is still a little seedy but your chances of wandering into a local jazz bar with a great sound or hitting a trolley full of drunks out on the town for a party are best here, as there is a high concentration of bars, pubs and clubs.
As Chicago is a leading contender for the 2016 Summer Olympics, a bid is underway to improve the nightlife and present a green face to the city - both good excuses to have a little more cosmopolitan fun in the run up to the announcement.
It might sound silly, but ever been drinking at the mall? In an effort to attract a younger crowd, department stores like Neiman Marcus and others are experimenting with cool little events, including small fashion shows, invitation only previews, and private cocktail parties. Call the stores to find out about access and event calendars, then rock up for an interesting night!
Local DJs, fashion runway moddles and bartenders at the ready tend to loosen up the crowd, and there's nothing quite like roaming around the accessories department with a martini in one hand and four faux fur hats in the other. Just be sure to set a spending limit! It gets messy, which is why they do it.
Afterall, what could be more solidly middle class and all-American than mall weaving?!
PS: Hub member Andrea Memenas adds:
It's ALWAYS been a completely kick-ass city. Nothing better than summers in the City by the Lake.
-To get a true Chicago experience you need to attend one of its many neighborhood street fairs - live music and cold beer. You will feel like everyone there is your friend.
-Go see a Cubs game - historic park, amazing fans. Then, hit one of the bars on Clark or Sheffield. (Head down Sheffield a couple of blocks to 'Sheffields' bar - great beer on tap, plays awesome tunes and has a terrific beer garden out back.
-If you want to take in some of the city's rich history, take the Chicago architectural boat tour on the Chicago river.
-Stay away from Navy Pier which is ridden with tourists.
-Definitely check out Bucktown and Wicker Park for the hipster scene. Hit Double Door for some live music. And go have the Pad Say Ew at Penny's Noodle Shop
-Greektown is less of a hotspot, but the food is amazing and the Greek waiters are entertaining. Opa!