I think that it is pretty hard not to like Chicago, and I try to visit as often as I can. Frequently, travelling to from Europe, I will route my journey through the Windy City, named for their politicians ability to talk rather then the weather, spend a night or two, from most Canadian cities, it is an easy weekend escape.
For about ten years I had an office in Chicago at the corner of Michigan and Wacker, and got to spend a large amount of time in the city. I came quickly to realise that far from a jumble of tall buildings, the city have a pace and a smile that was inherently mid-western.
It is a city that is comfortable in its own shoes, and offers visitors a pretty clear vision of how it feels. There is none of teh challenge that has always characterised New York, or the quizzically laid-back atmosphere of the west coast … in Chicago, you get what you see.
Which is a heck of a lot! The city is the beneficiary of some most inspired urban planning; after Great Fire of 1871, the city was rebuilt, and rebuilt with vision. Its location, along the shoreline of Lake Michigan is delightful, and the insistence of the planners to leave a vast area of land adjacent to the water as public space, inspired.
One cannot imagine the pressure that the local barons applied to allow them to rebuild their mansions on the coast, but this was not to be, and today’s city offers some of the finest urban planning legacies in North America today.
The city’s buildings are alive; the juxtaposition of ages first jar the senses and then delight; one can hardly wander through the central core without gasping at some of the design inspirations, and truly, this is a city whose simple physical presence is to be inhaled.
It is buzzy, with street performers, the usual urban collection of hopefuls trying to prise a dollar or two out of you, and endless people wandering and scurrying through the city’s streets, shops and parks.
It is a delight to get around; the public transportation system is efficient and straightforward, and cabs are plentiful and reasonably priced. And, of course, one can always rent bikes or walk.
Frankly, I am not altogether sure why so few (relatively) Canadians visit. From Winnipeg, New York is the US city of choice, even though it takes at least six hours each way to fly via one connecting city or other. Chicago is two hours away on a non-stop flight and offers everything that one may want.
Its architecture is legendary, the blues music iconic, and the restaurants superb. The museums and galleries are of the first order, and the whole ambiance of the city is buzzy and exciting.
There are accommodations to suit everyone, shopping to sate the most jaded palate and frankly, I don’t know why I don’t just move here.
I love the city; from the simple, if a touch bouncy and raw, metro ride from O’Hare (or Midway) airport to the city centre to the first class public transportation system, it is easy to get around. There is the added glee of passing the swells riding in their airport limousines stuck in the freeway (there’s a misnomer) traffic, as you whizz into the city.
It is really accessible for accommodation in the Loop (I love the Palmer House), is easy, and if you are on the Magnificent Mile, a short cab ride from the Clarke and Lake will get you to the property in under an hour.
Then the decisions are tough; where to eat, what to do and where to spend your time. Whatever you choose, if you are a fan of the blues,and don’t have to get up too early, be sure head to Kingston Mines (after about 10pm) for the best in town; another place worth mentioning, although there are really too many from which to choose, is the fabulous Rosa’s Lounge.
Rosa’s might be a little out of the way, but it is well worth the effort; close to it is La Bomba, a great Puerto Rican restaurant, and the two make a perfect combination.
Walk in Lincoln Park, visit the Field Museum and the Art Institute and above all, wander. While the Loop and Mag Mile are entertaining and absorbing, it is also worth jumping on the bus or CTA and heading to one of the near suburbs like Adison where you will find some great restaurants and shops.
And then, of course, there are the fabulous buildings of Frank Lloyd Wright. Only a thirty minute ride on the CTA to the west of the city lies Oak Park, home of many homes designed by this iconic architect; some are open to the public, some can only be gazed at from outside, but a trip to the area is well worth the ride.
Finally, at the end of the day, you can simply head back to town and “Stop and Drink”