My last two days in North America were spent in the windy city herself, Chicago, which at this particular time would be best labelled the scorching city, with temperature touching the 35 degree mark (centigrade). Here were some of the highlights from a very speedy, and sticky stay.
If you do one thing when you are in Chicago, I would suggest this boat tour hosted by a certified guide from the city’s architecture foundation. There is enough information on architects and eras of design to sink the little cruise ship that carries you down the Chicago river. Starting from opposite the Trump Tower (the city’s tallest scraper), the cruise sheds light on the city’s jungle of scrapers, with little anecdotes relating to the quirkiest of the buildings, such as the charcoal grey Carbide and Carbon Building, embellished at the summit by a tapering tip plastered in 24 carat gold, designed to resemble a champagne bottle.
Featured on the Anthony Bourdain episode on Chicago and open since 1907, this legendary (Al Capone was allegedly a regular) music and cocktail lounge is, as the yanks would say, a real blast. The drinks are cheap and rather good, while the music when we were there was live, jazzy and chilled. Pretentiousness is left at the door, and one of the biggest appeals is the lack of hipsterness here; it’s a total mix of young and old, sporty and bespectacled types, tourists and locals. You name it.
3. Chicago Hot Dog
We have all heard of the Chicago version of a pizza, but somehow their hot dog missed out on the press. This version comes choccablock with garnishes, including jalapenos, pickles, tomato, you name it. Beware of a gastronomic faux pas, apparently ketchup is not an acceptable condiment for this dog.
4. The Publican
Like The Green Mill, most people know of The Publican. The place is a massive operation, with a brightly lit interior resembling a beer hall filled with big sociable tables, questionable high backed chairs and noisy chatter. I opted for sitting outside away from the blast of the a/c and in the sticky Chicago night air. Provenance is important here, with the origin of each fish and piece of meat clearly listed on the epically long menu. (They also have a butcher shop over the road so items like the boudin noir are house made). Everything we sampled was pretty tasty, but the chef selection of oysters and the green and wax beans with hazelnuts get a special shout out.
5. Beach & Millennium Park
I was advised to avoid the uber touristy Navy Pier jutting out into the lake, but I somehow ended up at anyway, and I can now advise from personal experience, that it is indeed, not worth the hype. The beach around the corner on the other hand, on the North Lake Shore, is a great place to cool off on a hot day, and experience an urban beach with a backdrop of skyscrapers. The Millennium Park in town is also worth a visit for its impressive Art Institute, Anish Kappor’s reflective Cloud Gate, and the very pretty hideaway that is the Lurie Gardens. In the summer there is a great line up of free events in the summer months.
P.S. You might notice that deep pan Chicago pizza didn’t make the cut of highlights. Just can’t match the real deal, a thin crust, a wood fired oven, perfect Italian tomato sauce and fresh buffalo mozzarella. Sorry Chicago!