Architecture, art and coffee make Chi Town a not-so-Second-City
It may be called the Second City, but Chicago never takes a backseat to anyone. Chicago has always been a leader in architecture, as evidenced by the towering structures lining The Loop and the Chicago River seen from the not-to-miss architectural boat tours. It has produced some of the best music, live theater and comedians (including Bill Murray, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Bernie Mac) to emerge in the last 20 years. Sure, the city has had a reputation as a tough thug, but she always shows off her natural beauty and clean streets. If you've never been here, or haven't been in a few years, you're in for a treat. The last decade has seen an explosion in the food scene, cultural attractions and some of the best music festivals during the summer (Lollapalooza and Pitchfork lead the pack). While you're here, take the L or hop on a Divvy bike to travel around the city. Hit the West Loop's Randolph Street and Fulton Market for some of the best restaurants, Wicker Park to hear live music and chill out on the patio at Big Star and out to Logan Square for cutting-edge cocktails, hipster boutiques and even more delicious dining. And if you're really up for an adventure, visit in February. If nothing else, the lines will be shorter.
Following the trend started by the Doughnut Vault—where owners were opening tiny, walk-up classic doughnut shops in a small corner of their venues—restaurant mogul Scott Harris made it his own and has launched a sweet cake empire. Glazed & Infused first opened adjacent to Harris' popular Francesca's Forno at the Six Corners in Wicker Park right next to Double Door. It offered 12 as-big-as-your-head doughnuts like chocolate old fashioned, vanilla cake topped with lemon glaze, a maple bacon Long John and a rotating fruit fritter. It took off and has since expanded to five locations, including River North (30 E. Hubbard), Streeterville (inside the Hotel Raffaello), Lincoln Park (939 W Armitage) and the HQ in West Loop (813 W Fulton). They teamed with local toffee king, Terry's Toffee, to serve La Colombe coffee and are right off three different L stops.
Is it a trendy boutique or a grand "man-cave," where people come to escape and take away a treasure? Does it really matter? All that visitors should be concerned about it getting outside of the heavily populated Gold Coast and River North neighborhoods and trekking to the North Side. It may seem like you're heading to the middle of nowhere, but you're mere minutes from Wrigley Field. Accessible easily from the Irving Park Brown Line L, Isle of Man, which just underwent a facelift of sorts with reclaimed wood and metal, is a men's lifestyle boutique that evokes the spirits of Steve McQueen, Jack Kerouac and Bruce Springsteen—rugged, well-worn and tough. Come to shop or just hang out. Marvel at the motorcycle suspended from the ceiling while you check out the collection of vintage Playboys. Get a Barbour coat, Alden boots or a custom-made table, crafted on site at the store's workshop.
Nearly 20 years ago, after leaving a job as an advertising copywriter, Lee Allison, with no experience designing ties, embarked on an adventure and has never looked back. Now, the Lee Allison Company occupies 4,500 square feet of open loft space in a 100-year-old industrial building that once housed a tannery. Here, in the collaborative space flooded with light from nearly a dozen windows below 14-foot ceilings, the team constantly drums up new designs for the silk ties: neckties, bow ties and formal ties. Some are whimsical, others are more traditional, but they all have character and clever names like 15 Cent Cigar, Chip Shot, Fidel's Cigar, and Phish. Yes, like in the jam band. Some come pre-tied, some you have to tie yourself. While the majority of their business is handled online, via catalogue, over the phone or in select retailers around the country, if you happen to be in town, call ahead and make an appointment. You can pop by the Bucktown loft, pick up a few ties after a private viewing and then go for lunch at Hot Chocolate, drinks at Bluebird or dinner at the Bristol, all a short distance away.
It may not be right down on Michigan Avenue or in the heart of the Loop, but take one step outside or gaze from the rooftop deck and you'll understand why you're here in the heart of Lincoln Park. Hotel Lincoln opened in 2012 and sits across from Green City Market and Lincoln Park Zoo, a 10-minute walk from the lake-front and is in the intersection of Old Town and the Gold Coast. Here, you get a real Chicago experience and are surrounded by Chicagoans instead of tourists. The lobby feels like an old friend's den. The beautiful pet-friendly rooms feature comforts like plush beds, vintage-meets-modern design, iPod docks, free Wi-Fi and stunning views (ask for an east-facing room). The culinary offerings really bring it all together from Elaine's Coffee Call (serving La Colombe) to the Boka Group's Perennial Virant (serving incredibly delicious farm-to-table fare by Michelin-starred chef, Paul Virant) to the stunningly spectacular J Parker rooftop (serving up some of the most breathtaking views in the city).
The crown jewel of Chicago's art world, the Art Institute holds the second largest collection of fine art in the country. Though the museum is known for its collection of impressionist and post-impressionist works (don't miss the permanent Pritzker Galleries), the Renzo Piano-designed Modern Wing, which opened in 2009, is an experience in itself. With its vast collection of modern art by Picasso, Matisse, Ellsworth Kelly, Willem de Kooning and Gerhard Richter, its rotating exhibits showcase some of the world's most progressive and groundbreaking modern art, architecture, sculpture and photography. When all the browsing has made you peckish, visit Terzo Piano, award-winning chef Tony Mantuano's gorgeous Italian restaurant offering views of Millennium Park and the Chicago Skyline. Or grab a quick coffee and pastry at Cafe Moderno and marvel at the museum's Griffin Court's minimalist beauty.
If getting into Fat Rice—the intimate buzzed-about Logan Square Macanese restaurant—was hard before, it's now nearly impossible since being named the No. 4 best new restaurant of 2013 by Bon Appétit. But it's worth waiting for. Opened by former underground supper club X-Marx partners Abe Conlon and Adrienne Lo, Fat Rice caused quite a stir when it burst onto Chicago's culinary scene in 2012 and introduced the cuisine of Macau, which draws inspiration from Portugal, India, China, and Southeast Asia. The result is comfort food by way of hearty noodle dishes, rich curries, punch-you-in-the-face chilies and other bold, eclectic flavors. Check out the linguiça with housemade pork sausage and chili cabbage; the watermelon soup with Chinese bacon and dried scallop; shaken chili whitefish with Sichuan and shisito peppers; the caramel catfish claypot with soft tofu and trumpet mushrooms; and the namesake arroz gordo (fat rice), which has a bit of everything—roast pork, linguiça, salted duck, prawn, littleneck clam, Portuguese chicken—you name it. That's listed as an XL dish so definitely plan on getting that to share with your table. Fat Rice does not take reservations or parties larger than six people, so if you're thinking of having your family reunion or big bachelorette party there, think again.
The interior of the Public—the first of Ian Schrager's more approachable and "downscale" new hotels—may be incredibly chic and stylish and attract an uber-hip crowd, but the bones of the building date back decades and once housed one of Chicago's most storied spots: the Ambassador East Hotel and the Pump Room. Schrager, knowing a find when he sees it, gave the building and its 285 rooms a $35 million, top-to-bottom renovation and opened it to much fanfare in 2011. Schrager rechristened it the Public, with its open lobby with wide tables for reading the paper or working on your laptop with free Wi-Fi and Library Bar, which doubles as a hip coffee bar serving La Colombe in the daytime and a swank lounge with an adjacent plush screening room at night. Best of all, Schrager overhauled the famed Pump Room, which had served every major celebrity from the 1940s through the 1980s, and brought in chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten to keep the party going. The hotel's location, mere blocks from Oak Street and North Avenue beaches and swank shopping in the Gold Coast, positions you in a great popping off point to head in nearly any direction to explore the city. And when you return, you'll quickly find comfort in the minimalist room with the oh-so-comfy bed and killer views of Lake Michigan and Chicago.
With a renovated 80,000 square feet of space, the Architectural Artifacts collection of treasures holds what seems to be an infinite amount of global finds. The assortment of goods includes everything from French Deco etched glass panels to glass candy store displays and even funkadelic items like a $1,850 African zebra-skin drum (or is it a table?). Located along the Ravenswood Corridor, the collection includes a store that feels like the grandest estate sale you've ever seen. Even if you're not in the market to buy anything, spending an hour or three wandering the aisles marveling at the pieces owner Stuart Grannen found on his world wandering excursions. Grannen has also assembled the15,000-square-foot Museum of Historic Chicago Architecture in Architectural Artifacts' towering 50-foot-tall atrium where pieces from Chicago landmarks constructed by famed architects like Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright and William Purcell stand for all to see. Best part? Admission to the museum is free to anyone interested in getting a glimpse into Chicago's past through these stunning pieces.
About a three-hour drive from Chicago, Madison, the state's liberal-leaning capital and home to the University of Wisconsin, is worth the drive—assuming it's not the middle of winter. When the mercury rises, head north from the city along the shores of Lake Michigan. Be sure to stop along the way in Milwaukee for a visit to the Milwaukee Art Museum, designed by renowned architect Santiago Calatrava to resemble a ship setting sail. If the weather is too nice to go in the museum, stop off at the Milwaukee Public Market to stock up on gourmet picnic supplies and stroll the nearby white sands of Bradford Beach. After a beach picnic, head east for a little over an hour and you're in the leafy, academic paradise of Madison. In the summertime, Wisconsin's capital is one of the upper Midwest's best towns. Between the bustling Dane County Farmers' Market on Wednesdays and Saturdays at the capitol square to sipping local beers on the pre-war Memorial Union on the shores of Lake Mendota, Madison is both idyllic and unlike anywhere else in the country. Stroll State Street—which extends from the heart of campus to the capital building—for window shopping for everything from vintages clothes to fine art. Grab a coffee from Espresso Royale, with two locations on State Street, rent a bike through Madison B-cycle (the city's ride share program) and ride a few miles to the arboretum, a 1260-acre urban green place perfect for getting a dose of fresh air. Grab dinner at chef Tory Miller's Graze for farm-to-table cuisine or head down to Forequarter, one of the city's hottest new eatery's from the Underground Food Collective. Spend the night at the Mansion Hill Inn or the newly opened HotelRED, but before heading back to Chicago in the morning, take in brunch at the all-things-Wisconsin Old Fashioned for an authentic local meal or Mickies Dairy Bar for a massive breakfast fit for the football players who frequent this Madison classic.