We all love New York, but Chicago holds its own with the “Big Apple” boasting a lofty skyline, superb culture, food and shopping. As Louise Beggs finds out it is a city with all the buzz of Manhattan, but without the attitude.
There’s no doubt about it, Chicago has it all; architecture, theatre, restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and shopping. It’s a compact city and easy to to get around.You simply cannot fail to be bewitched by its energy. As someone once said, Chicago is perhaps the most typically American city in America - it’s well worth a visit! Whatever the weather its hard not to be blown away! So here are just a few of my recommendations to help you get started should you decide to travel here and experience Chicago for yourself, especially as the Ryder Cup is being staged in the city this year.
Where to stay
THE place to stay has to be The Drake on East Walton Place (www.thedrakehotel.com) where the magnificent mile begins. The location is perfect and it boasts some very prestigious guests, past and present. It’s top of the range, small, luxurious and classy. Donald Trump’s International Hotel is another possibility (www.trumphotelcollection.com/chicago). You might even catch a glimpse of the man himself, as he uses the whole of the top floor as his private living quarters.
Restaurants worth a visit include Joe’s Steak and Stone Crab House on East Grand Avenue. It’s part of a chain, but the food is fantastic, and the atmosphere is so traditional you wouldn’t be surprised if Al Capone walked through the door, puffing on a fat cigar, surrounded by a gang of his cronies. At Spiaggia on Oak Street, reputed to be President Obama’s favourite, you can enjoy gourmet Italian cuisine surrounded by beautiful frescos. Not cheap, but romantic and an experience worth having. Nomi in the Hyatt hotel on North Michigan Avenue is another gastronomical delight with amazing views. The restaurants are busy, so you need to book. If you want to go casual you’ll find a cosy little pizza place on every other street.
Whether you’re a serious or a lightweight shopper, you will be blown away by the retail opportunities in Chicago. On North Michigan Avenue, which includes the city’s famous Magnificent Mile, you can buy anything from a milk jug to a mink coat. On the adjoining Oak Street you will find the high end designer stores. The Premium Outlets are only an hour away. A good time to plan a shopping trip is over Thanksgiving, around the third week in November, when many shops have amazing holiday bargains and Christmas is in the air. The downside is that it can be very cold but the good news is that most of the big shops have a cloakroom service so you don’t have to walk around carrying your coat, scarf, hat and umbrella. When you visit the big department stores go to customer services first and get a visitors discount card (you usually need to produce photographic ID and your hotel key). You’re likely to get about 15 percent discount on top of any sale discounts.
Ride up to the Signature Room Bar on the 95th floor of the John Hancock building (875 N Michigan Ave, 312 787 9596; signatureroom.com), order a Goose Island beer and watch the sun go down and lights come up. The clubs start late and open until late. Three of the top dance clubs are Eclipse on West 127 Street, Crobar Chicago on North Kingsbury and Soundbar on West Ontario. As the home of the blues, you have to experience one of the most famous Blues clubs, The House of Blues on North Dearborn. Most of the theatres are to be found in the North Loop and the shows cater for every age and every taste.
Seeing the Sights
The best way to get to grips with the variety of the Chicago skyline is to take one of the river cruises run by the Architecture Foundation, which offer a wonderful perspective on many of its major landmarks (architecture.org/tours), or the Chicago Greeter service which is free and a great way to see the city www.chicagogreeter.com
Ryder Cup 2012
Golf enthusiasts can support Team Europe at the Medinah Country Club (www.medinahcc.org), a short 35 minute trip from down town Chicago, from 25th to 30th September.
With direct flights from Dublin and slick, friendly and painless pre-clearance at the airport, as long as you have completed your online ESTA visa waiver form in advance, travelling to Chicago is a piece of pizza pie!