Chicago: the Windy City
Just a couple days after leaving Greece, we were on a flight to Chicago, as a friend of mine was getting married there in a few days’ time. Roser had never visited the city before and the last time I had been there to see more than O’Hare Airport was when I was sixteen and taking a summer course with the Art Institute. We were in for a busy week – although we admittedly didn’t get much done the day after the wedding and its open bar reception. 😉
We stayed in Lakeview, which, while not downtown Chicago, is an interesting area in its own right. There are two independent cinemas – the Brew & View and the Music Box Theatre (where we watched the rather bizarre documentary The Wolfpack) – and if you are a baseball fan (or a bit curious about the sport), you can head to Wrigley Field. There are also a number of great bars, restaurants, and cafés (in addition to almost constant food-tasting markets and festivals in the summer). For your morning caffeine fix, you can try Argo Tea or Intelligentsia, or if you’re looking for something more substantial, head to Kanela for an American-style brunch with Greek influence. The Chicago Bagel Authority has steamed – and slightly soggy, but nonetheless tasty – bagel sandwiches and open mic nights on Thursdays, and later on in the evening you can try one of the cocktails (and order a bowl of the fantastic guacamole) at Barcocina or hang out at Schubas.
We spent a significant amount of time (and money) browsing the Lakeview bookstores that week: Graham Crackers Comics (where we saw a talking Jabba the Hutt cuddly toy and the on-duty staff member seemed to be rather fond of the Frozen soundtrack) and Chicago Comics, Bookman´s Corner (one of those secondhand places with piles of disorganized books everywhere – this tends to drive me a little crazy because I like being able to find things, but some people swear by it), The Bookworks (a much tidier secondhand bookshop with a great selection), and Unabridged Books (possibly our favourite). In the last, there were many newbooks that were less than half price, the fiction and travel sections were fantastic, and the recommendations cards were some of the best I’ve seen in a bookstore. We also stopped by Reckless Records, which, in addition to a wide selection of music, had DVDs, books, and even old VHS tapes.
One evening, we headed north of Lakeview to see the Neo-Futurists perform Too Much Light Makes the Baby Goes Blind, which was absolutely fantastic. If you are ever in Chicago, go. Then we had shrimp rolls, pho, and noodles at Tank Noodle, just a short walk away from the performance venue.
Needless to say, we didn’t ignore downtown Chicago either. We walked south through Lincoln Park and visited its zoo (small but well laid out – and free), before heading to Portillo’s (a cafeteria-style restaurant whose decorations make it feel like a theme park) for a bacon burger and Chicago-style hotdog. After lunch, we visited the Museum of Contemporary Art, which in addition to hosting a couple fantastic exhibitions (including The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now) also had an unusually interesting museum store.
It’s impossible to see all of downtown Chicago in a day, so we went back, once for sushi and cocktails at Roka Akor (though we preferred the less expensive Kamehachi, in Lakeview) and again for the Architecture Foundation Boat Tour (pricier than some of the other boat tours but recommended to us by almost every Chicagoan we talked to and widely agreed to be the best one in the city).
We also visited the Chicago Cultural Center, a former library that now hosts a number of free temporary exhibits (when we were there, they were showcasing house music, Archibald Motley, and Valmor product ads), before walking through the Millennium and Grant parks and having beer at the Artist’s Cafe across the road (overpriced, but still nicer and cheaper than many places in the very touristy vicinity).
Our last day, we took the train to the south side of the city to see the University of Chicago campus and its Oriental Institute, a great little museum with free entry (we were planning to head to the Smart Museum, too, but it was temporarily closed).
We walked through Washington Park and visited the Fountain of Time on our way, and then had bagels and a smoothie at Robust Coffee Lounge. We also headed to Jackson Park with the goal of heading to its Japanese garden, unfortunately closed off for renovations.
Our final stop was Oz Park, just south of Lakeview, which is home to the Emerald City Gardens and statues of Dorothy and her friends (not a must-see, but fun if you’re in the area).
If you know Chicago at all, you’ve probably noticed there are some obvious things missing from this blog post, like the Art Institute of Chicago (often considered one of the best museums in the world, with a price to match), the Museum of Science and Industry (ditto), the Field Museum, and Navy Pier. Nor did we head to Chinatown, get Indian food on Devon Street, or attend one of the many summer open air concerts. But one of the great things about the city is that there is always more to do, and we are looking forward to going back at some point and picking up where we left off.
I’ll end this post by saying that it’s a real shame that (from what I’ve seen) many people seem to forget Chicago and focus on the US coasts. This city is easily as great a place to visit as San Francisco and New York, so if you are heading to the US in the future, consider adding the Windy City to your itinerary!