As you walk down the corridor of Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport you are surrounded by walls where panels coloured as a painter’s palette are alight and a ceiling of dancing electric neon flashes overhead. Instantly nostalgic thoughts of electric guitars and the blues occupy my mind and the excitement to see what this city has on offer churns the butterflies in my stomach.
After exiting the buzzy light tunnel, I come across a young guy welcoming his friend home with a giant sign saying, “Lindsay Welcome Home from Prison.” Good to see Chicagoans have a good sense of humour!
Donning a deck chair and letting the sun beat down on you is hands down the best way to see Chicago’s famous landmarks and beautiful architecture. Instead beating the pavements like I normally do in big cities I get to relax and enjoying the gentle lull of the river while our guide points out the unhindered views of many beautiful buildings and explains either the clever engineering design behind them or their symbolism. A favourite is the art deco Carbide and Carbon Building. It’s a dark green tower with a 24-karat gold leaf cap symbolising a champagne bottle – poking the stick at prohibition.
We frequently pass under one of Chicago’s many bridges and underground city as we meander along the three branches of the river. Chicago city is well thought out allowing service vehicles access to buildings underground. Its thoughtfully planned grid design runs alleyways adjacent to the wind and keeps trash out of sight and smell. You can see that Neal Adams had Chicago in mind when he was illustrating Gotham City back in the seventies so I guess it’s only fitting that the streets of Chicago feature in block buster movies such as The Dark Night. Shoreline Sightseeing’s Architecture River Cruise utilises the river that snakes through the cities heart as an excellent vantage point and is deserved of its status as TripAdvisor’s #1 Most Booked Tour in America.
I hate heights but I had to give “The Ledge” a go while up the Willis Tower (aka Sears Tower).
When I think of record labels I think of fame, glitz and glamour and it is a far cry from the humble reception and studio located at 2120 South Michigan Avenue (The address of Chess Records forever immortalized by the Rolling Stones)
Don’t get me wrong though, you still get the feeling magic is about to happen as you follow the stairway to heaven upstairs to the studio where great Blues and Jazz artists such as Aretha Franklin, Rolling Stones, Willie Dixon and Muddy Waters used what seems to be a common space to make something so great. This is a must for Jazz and Blues fans.
Based in Chicago’s Blues Alley is Kingston Mines – Chicago’s largest and longest running blues nightclub.
As soon as you enter this down to earth club you are inspired by the authentic blues experience of an era gone by. The stage is graced by great talents and you feel like you are invited to their private jam session. 7 nights a week this club oozes soul so get amongst and soak it up.
New York has it’s Charging Bull and Chicago has Cloud Gate … better known as the Bean. Located at yet another carefully considered feature of Chicago city, the Bean is amongst good company at the car park turned 24-acre park – Millennium Park. We utilised one of the free walking tours on offer which was the most effective way to experience Millennium Parks landscaped gardens, memorial monuments, and grand architecture. The day was hot and while we seeked respite in the Art Institute viewing pieces from many famous artists such as American Gothic, works of Monet and Paul Gaugin, one of the best moments was seeing children splashing about in the reflecting pool at the base of the Crown Fountain. That’s exactly what should go on in summertime and Chicago has managed to create an interactive, yet thoughtful space for all to commune.
On this balmy evening we listened to the free concert the Symphony Orchestra was playing at the state of the art Jay Pritzker Pavilion, enjoyed a casual dinner under the Bean and then busted a move on the dancefloor around the corner at the free Salsa Dancing classes.
As a destination Chicago offers a culture that is hard to find in America. It has something for everyone from their adored Chicago Cubs to amazing architecture or delicious deep-dish pizza to prohibition era supper clubs or even a gospel brunch.
In my opinion though the largest contributor to Chicago’s heart is its still present musical heritage and the sound of a busker’s harmonica or sax.
Food is very important to me and the food in Chicago is very good and I had to do that typical Facebook thing of taking photos of my food =/
Lou Mitchells is a traditional American Diner located at the beginning of the old Route 66. The original sign still stands just around the corner and they are still in the habit of giving away Donut holes … Yum!
Once you go deep dish you can’t go back! This is a Chicago classic. Cheers Lou Malnatis … everyone here seems to be called Lou.
Untitled Supper Club is a must. This is an upscale dining experience which resembles a Prohibition-era supper club. The food is exquisite as is the live music and entertainment. American Whiskey is at the heart of their “beverage programme” and they have the largest curated selection of American whiskeys anywhere.
Chicago as seen through the eyes of Cat Parker (09 522 3414, email@example.com)