Chicago is our kind of town

When most of us conjure up Broadway plays, fine dining, and strolling the streets of a dazzling, fun-filled American city, we think of NYC. After all, it’s only an hour away by plane.

Who would have thought that Chicago was the place to equal NYC in many respects and outdo her in several others. And it’s less than two hours away.

What a beautiful downtown! It’s full of timeless and inventive architecture, broad avenues, museums, great shopping, hundreds of restaurants, and fine hotels all within easy walking distance.
We stayed at the Palmer House, a Hilton Hotel, ($160 CDN a night) with its exquisite lounge featuring a gorgeous sculpted ceiling and inviting bar, and several entrances on each side of the square block that the hotel covers.

People are very friendly in Chicago, we observed, and eager to direct you to a site, a sculpture garden, or their nearest favourite breakfast place. The concierge at the hotel was incredibly friendly and helpful, giving us a choice of four sushi restaurants within a two-block radius without consulting Google or a guidebook.

The architecture can be appreciated everywhere. Much of the downtown was destroyed by a massive fire in 1871, and rebuilt in a planned way, with some of the most innovative buildings being erected there, and that tradition of great architecture continued into the booming 1960s. The only building marring the downtown area for us was Trump Tower, which was in full view from our hotel.

This is definitely an Obama city and the made-to-order hamburger haven a block from the Hilton featured the Obama Burger on a large sign outside. We loved this place, owned by Spike Mendelsohn, a Montreal expat who said he was inspired by the burgers his grandfather made for the family during their summers in the Laurentians. They made us burgers (mine was veggie) on lettuce in a bowl with all the trimmings.

A site highlight was The Bean. We couldn’t figure out why it was called that until we found ourselves in front of it, reflected in it and on it. It’s hard to explain so we’ll let the pictures do it justice. It’s bean shaped, and its curved and reflective surfaces offer great possibilities for fun distorted photos. In fact its official name is The Cloud Gate Sculpture, designed by Anish Kapoor. It consists of 168 highly polished stainless steel plates that resemble liquid mercury. Up close, it reflects the magnificent Chicago skyline.

We saw a fabulous play on our second night after accidentally coming across a venue for half price tickets.  Called Destiny of Desire, it’s a comedy about two girls who are switched at birth, an old theme with a Latino twist. It’s also both a spoof of the over-the-top Telenovela, soap operas that are popular throughout Latin America. And the script is laced with commentary about the growing importance, at least in terms of numbers, of native Spanish speakers in the U.S., now totaling 41 million. Full of fun, incredible sets, flawless and intricate choreography, even singing, we both agreed that it was the highlight of our theatre experience this year. Set in a small but elegant theatre three blocks from our hotel, called Theatre Goodman, this performance left us wanting more theatre and more of Chicago.

The only downside is the long and expensive ride from the airport to the town’s commercial core, called the Loop, and the slight discomfort I had walking around at night. But who says you have to walk around at night?

We would definitely return for more of Chicago’s culture and sites, and next time, we may even visit a museum or two.

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