On June 4, 2013Lauren Viera answered the question:The list is long but varied both in cuisine and location—good news if you’re interested in trying a few on your next visit.
At the top is Grace, perhaps the most anticipated opening of the past year. At Grace’s helm is chef-owner Curtis Duffy, whose resume reads like a punch card of the top restaurants in Chicago’s culinary history (Charlie Trotter’s, Trio, Alinea, Avenues), and who has since risen to recognition as one of the top chefs in the country.
Selling itself as “new gatherer” cuisine (everything is foraged, whether from forests or farms or really good provisioners elsewhere), Elizabeth opened last fall and has been slowly met with fondness among the local dining elite. Reservations are handled via a ticket system—the same one used by Grant Achatz’s nonpareil restaurants Next and Alinea—and dining experiences are staged based on the number of desired courses.
Brindille (pronounced brawn-DEE) is the follow-up to renown chef and restaurateur Carrie Nahabedian’s Naha, which over its decade in business has not faltered with Chicago’s increasingly discerning tastes. In the same neighborhood is Nahabedian’s just-opened French bistro, a sexy yet refined addition to the white-tablecloth dining scene.
Chicago is no longer wanting for Macau cuisine thanks to Fat Rice. A blend of its owners’ heritage—Chinese and Portuguese, the same cultures celebrated in this special far-eastern region—Fat Rice was the sleeper hit of last fall’s new-openings season, and has become a destination dining room on a busy corner in Logan Square.
A kind of a sequel to chef Ryan Poli’s Tavernita, the Gold Coast’s Little Market Brasserie is the new go-to for casual bistro fare in a neighborhood overrun with white tablecloths and lounges. Deviled eggs and charged cocktails—housemade sodas mixable with spirits of your choice—present win-win choices.
On June 4, 2013Lauren Viera answered the question:The place to go skating in Chicago is downtown in Millennium Park, at the McCormick Tribune Plaza and Ice Rink. Situated smack in the middle of downtown with views of the Frank Gehry–designed Pritzker Pavilion, this is arguably the most popular rink in town. It's full-service with $10 skate rentals, and warm-up hot chocolate--or a full, sit-down lunch--are steps away at the adjacent Park Grill Chicago.
Another popular and lovely skate rink is in Hyde Park on the South Side, at Midway Plaisance Park. It’s massive (83 acres!) and there’s a warming center on site, and the picturesque University of Chicago campus is just across the boulevard. Perhaps the most quaint ice skating rink I’ve ever seen is hidden away on the terrace of the Peninsula Hotel Chicago, a Five Star award winner whose mini-rink opened last winter. There’s a fee ($10 adults, $5 children), but it’s worth it to whirl across the ice in this intimate setting. Ask concierge for details.
On June 4, 2013Lauren Viera answered the question:If you're interested in watching local sports in person, scoring tickets to baseball games is your best bet, as Chicago has two major league baseball teams (the North Side Cubs and the South Side White Socks). There's almost always a game on, and baseball tickets are easier to come by than tickets to Bulls, Bears or Hawks games.
The next best thing, of course, is hanging out at a great sports bar--which infiltrate just about every neighborhood. The Cubs play at historic Wrigley Field, and the surrounding area, named Wrigleyville, is freckled with sports bars of all stripes. One of the most popular is The Cubby Bear just across from Wrigley, but I’m more partial to Vines on Clark for its roomy beer garden. For White Sox fans (or anyone else who’s not into the Cubs), Wrigleyville is the antithesis of a good place to seek out sports bars. Instead, head to an all-embracing sports bar like The Anthem in Wicker Park, one of the city’s hippest ’hoods. Soccer fans: Your HQ is The Globe in North Center, or Map Room in Wicker Park. As for football season, just tune-in to the nearest flat screen: the Bears are everywhere.
On June 4, 2013Lauren Viera answered the question:In part because we have even more local teams than the typical American city (Chicago has two major league baseball teams), sports bars infiltrate just about every neighborhood. The Chicago Cubs play at historic Wrigley Field, and the surrounding area, named Wrigleyville, is freckled with sports bars of all stripes. One of the most popular is The Cubby Bear just across from Wrigley, but I’m more partial to Vines on Clark for its roomy beer garden. For White Sox fans (or anyone else who’s not into the Cubs), Wrigleyville is the antithesis of a good place to seek out sports bars. Instead, head to an all-embracing sports bar like The Anthem in Wicker Park, one of the city’s hippest ’hoods. Soccer fans: Your HQ is The Globe in North Center, or Map Room in Wicker Park. As for football season, just tune-in to the nearest flat screen: the Bears are everywhere.
On June 4, 2013Lauren Viera answered the question:True Chicagoans will point to the Sears Tower, renamed Willis Tower in 2009. Ride to the top of this iconic building and, if you’re feeling brave, step out onto the SkyDeck, with a glass-floor view from 1,353 feet.
Downtown, British artist Anish Kapoor’s Cloudgate (which locals often refer to simply as “The Bean”) draws visitors like a magnet, luring them to Millennium Park. The park, which is seen as Chicago’s front yard, is packed with other sights, too, like the Frank Gehry–designed Pritzker Pavilion amphitheater, which hosts free concerts on most summer evenings.
Just north of downtown, lush Lincoln Park sprawls along the lakefront connecting the Magnificent Mile to Chicago’s near-north neighborhoods. Lincoln Park Zoo is a great destination for children—and anyone, really—but my favorite site is the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool, tucked into a corner of this iconic park.
On June 4, 2013Lauren Viera answered the question:Divide and conquer: Spend your first day downtown exploring the stunning architecture and lakefront, then use your second day to get to know a few of the unique neighborhoods further afield.
If you’re visiting during the warmer months, one of the best ways to get a sense of the downtown skyline is via the Architecture River Cruise, which runs all day every day and offers unparalleled views of Chicago’s architecture while floating down the Chicago River. Other must-visits downtown include Millennium Park (free concerts takeover the park during summer evenings) and the Magnificent Mile shopping area from the Chicago River to the Drake Hotel, about a mile north.
On Day 2, ride the El (it’s easy!) to Wicker Park, Chicago’s hip hub that’s jam-packed with boutique shopping, fine dining, great cocktails, live music and the picturesque park itself—all within walking distance. This is one of Chicago’s most popular neighborhoods for both hanging out and going out, and it’s easy to make a relaxing but entertaining afternoon here if you have a few days in the city. Also recommended is the neighborhood of Logan Square, a quick El, bus or taxi ride northwest of Wicker Park. Famous for its tree-lined boulevards and graystone mansions, Logan Square is fast becoming a must-visit neighborhood for dining, drinking and nightlife.
On April 22, 2013Lauren Viera answered the question:Most of the best spas in town are attached to luxury hotels. The Peninsula Spa Chicago, The Spa at Four Seasons Hotel Chicago, The Spa at Trump Chicago, and the Elysian Spa & Health Club at the Waldorf Astoria Chicago are all Forbes Star-rated winners, and deservedly so, offering unique body treatments, a wide array of services for men, and top-notch standard services like manicures and pedicures.
With a nod toward Asian treatments, the Peninsula Spa offers a traditional Thai Poultice treatment focused on muscle relaxation as well as Ayurvedic rituals and experiences meant to balance spirit, mind and body. The spas at Trump Chicago and Four Seasons Hotel Chicago are both more traditional, offering seasonal facials, body treatments and hand and foot maintenance and massages. The Elysian & Health Club also offers traditional services, as well as some pre-natal services and a wide variety of men’s grooming options, all in a luxurious setting.
Beyond the Forbes Star–rated spas, Bliss is a steadfast go-to for excellent day-spa treatments in a relaxed environment with a take-home line of products to match. Finally, if you’ve got wheels, the tantalizing Kohler Waters Spa at Burr Ridge is worth the trek for booking a full day’s relaxation. The little sister of the Forbes Five-Star rated Kohler Waters Spa in Kohler, Wis., the Burr Ridge location features several of the same treatments in an easy-to-get-to suburban Chicago location.
On April 22, 2013Lauren Viera answered the question:For those interested in the downtown luxury-hotel scene, get ready to weigh your options. The Forbes Five Star–rated Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago is at the top of that list (its restaurant, Sixteen, is also a Five Star–rated venue), and the views alone justify its awesomeness. Poised on the edge of the Chicago River with a clear view of Lake Michigan, it’s both one of the best located hotels in town as well as the one with the best site-lines.
The Five Star–rated Four Seasons Hotel Chicago and The Peninsula Chicago are both at the north end of Michigan Avenue toward the Gold Coast, each offering excellent service and dining options with views of Lake Michigan and downtown. The critically aclaimed restaurant known simply as The Lobby at The Peninsula Chicago is one of the loveliest un-dining rooms in town, while the Four Seasons recently revamped its dining room to open Allium, with classic American cuisine.
Other Forbes Star-rated places to stay include the Ritz-Carleton Chicago and the Park Hyatt Chicago, both just off Michigan Avenue, and my personal favorite is the gorgeous Waldorf Astoria Chicago, situated in the Gold Coast just off the street via a French-style courtyard roundabout entrance. (Don't miss Bernard's Bar tucked into a quiet corner on the second floor.)
Further afield, Longman & Eagle is a unique tavern-style inn in Logan Square with a handful of rooms decorated with local artists and edgy style, while Hotel Lincoln offers a boutique hotel experience with stunning views of Lincoln Park and fun dining options, just a hop, skip and a jump from downtown.
On April 22, 2013Lauren Viera answered the question:The quick-and-easy answer? From the water.
Even if you’re not big on tours (neither am I), I cannot say enough good things about Chicago Architecture Foundation’s Architecture River Cruise. While floating down the Chicago River, a well-educated docent points out the city’s most beautiful and historic buildings, and all you have to do is sit back, relax with a cocktail or local beer and take a snapshot or two. The views are unparalleled and the experience is unforgettable. Be sure to book in advance, as this is one of the most popular tours in the city—and for good reason.
On April 22, 2013Lauren Viera answered the question:One of my all-time favorite things to do in Chicago is to book a ticket with the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s Architecture River Cruise. In a boat that’s just the right size (big enough not to rock, small enough to feel like you’re not one in a herd), you’re invited to pull up a chair on the top deck and take in the sights while a non-hokey architectural docent points out Chicago’s most beautiful architecture.
Beyond that, I always encourage visitors to check out Millennium Park, even if they’re just passing through on their way to the Art Institute of Chicago (another one of the best things to experience in town). No matter what time of year you’re visiting, there’s something happening in this giant park that’s considered Chicago’s front yard—from free summer concerts in the Frank Gehry–designed outdoor amphitheater, to caroling and ice skating during the wintertime.
Finally, two of the best things to do here are to eat and drink. Chicago’s dining and drinking scenes have both skyrocketed in the past decade, positioning many Chicago chefs at international caliber. All but a handful of top restaurants save some tables for walk-ins, and especially if you happen to stop by at an off-peak time, you might get lucky. Save room for after-dinner drinks: Chicago’s cocktail scene is having a moment, and there are dozens of venues around town whose bartenders love showing off.
On April 22, 2013Lauren Viera answered the question:The biggest concentration of free activities in Chicago is housed in one of the most beautiful buildings: the Chicago Cultural Center. Situated on Michigan Avenue with entrances on both Randolph and Washington Streets, the building was home to the original Chicago Public Library and now hosts art exhibitions, dance performances, live music of all genres, film screenings and lectures—all free.
Across the street in Millennium Park, summertime means free concerts almost every evening. Locals spread blankets and nosh on picnics, or just sit in one of 4,000 chairs toward the front of the Frank Gehry-designed Jay Pritzker Pavilion. Mondays are usually pop and rock oriented, Fridays are typically classical concerts performed by the Grant Park Orchestra, and there are sometimes other genres booked between.
The Art Institute of Chicago is by far Chicago’s must-visit museum, and it has a crowded but fun free night: Thursdays from 5-8pm. Beyond downtown, there are a ton of free entertainment events sprinkled throughout the neighborhoods. Wrigleyville’s renown iO (formerly Improv Olympic) hosts free comedy shows several times a week, and regular free concerts take place at seminal venues like the Hideout on the Near North Side, and the Empty Bottle in the Ukrainian Village.
On April 22, 2013Lauren Viera answered the question:Presuming you’re visiting between April and October, you can’t go wrong with a sunset cruise along the Chicago River. Several tour companies offer themed cruises that make it possible to do just about anything while floating down river (brush up on Chicago history, learn about local breweries, etc), but my favorite line is Chicago’s First Lady, which partners with the Chicago Architecture Foundation for its docent-led Architecture River Cruise. Or, opt for a dinner cruise on Lake Michigan. Several charter cruise companies depart from Navy Pier in time to catch the sunset on the lake.
A lot of romance can be lent to a simple evening stroll in the park, and Chicago has a ton of beautiful settings. (Our 19th century nickname “City in a Garden” still rings true.) Downtown, Lurie Garden in Millennium Park is comprised of a maze of hedges, making for several private corners to sit a spell by the sculptural stream winding through it. In Lincoln Park, just north of downtown, the beautiful Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool incorporates prairie-school design into water sculptures, with swans swimming in the background.
Back in the city, one of the most romantic date spots for drinks and hors d'oeuvres or an intimate light meal is RM Champagne Salon in the West Loop, a short cab ride from downtown. Opened in 2012, the delicately French hideaway is tucked behind popular restaurant Nellcote, and its exposed brick, candlelit patio feels like provincial France.
On April 19, 2013Lauren Viera answered the question:The closest thing downtown Chicago has to an amusement park is Navy Pier, which is easy to spot from pretty much anywhere, thanks to its ginormous Ferris wheel. (Fun fact: It’s modeled after the original Ferris wheel designed by George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr., which debuted at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exhibition on Chicago’s South Side.) Navy Pier has an IMAX theater, bike rentals and a lengthy arcade with carnival games and vendors, and is open year-round. Entry is free, with ticketed games and experiences.
During the summer, you can’t beat an old-fashioned splash in a fountain at Millennium Park, where towering Crown Fountain spouts water from LED-projected mouths of everyday Chicagoans into a shallow pool perfect for wee ones. It’s free, of course, and sits on the south side of Millennium Park adjacent to the Modern Wing entrance of the Art Institute of Chicago, which also has lots of kids and educational programming throughout the year. Another kid-pleaser? Free summer concerts at Millennium Park, which start around sundown during the week, but sometimes include a special kid-focused program at noon on select dates.
Of course, Chicago is also overrun with incredible museums catering to the pint-sized set. Just south of downtown is Chicago's Museum Campus with stunning views of Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline. The campus is home to the Shedd Aquarium, Adler Planetarium, and the The Field Museum where "Sue," the largest T-Rex skeleton in the world, is on permanent display.
On April 19, 2013Lauren Viera answered the question:In a city as big as Chicago, there’s always something new going on. The hot theater ticket right now is Book of Mormon, written by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. The show opened in Chicago last winter in its first permanent production outside New York City, and it’s run here has been extended so many times at this point, it might as well be here to stay.
In the dining scene, perhaps the spring’s most anticipated opening is renown Chicago chef and restaurateur Carrie Nahabedian’s Brindille (pronounced brawn-DEE), scheduled for a late-April opening in River North, just down the street from Nahabedian’s decade-old classic, Naha.
On the hotel and spa tip, I’m especially curious about the opening of The Langham, currently is in construction at Mies van der Rohe’s landmark-designated IBM Building facing the Chicago River. The luxury hotel and spa is scheduled for a summer 2013 opening.