Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Chi-ca-go, Chi-ca-go, that toddlin' town.

Yep, couldn't resist a little Frank Sinatra in there. Well, I am back in T.O. after 5 glorious (and partly rainy) days in that great burg.

Chicago makes a great first impression - taking the "el" from Midway airport it's like you're on an archictectural amusement park ride - but what a fun way to enter the city - above street level, winding in and around the buildings. A taste of what the city offers...and more to come.

I stayed at the Inn of Chicago which dates from around the 1920s I believe, on Ohio Street just off the so called Magnificent Mile - featuring such stores as Nordstroms, Neiman Marcus, Macy's and many fine upscale boutiques if say you want to pick up a bauble or two from Cartier or Tiffany's. At the Inn of Chicago there is a great rooftop terrace on the 22nd Floor which provides a wonderful cosmopolitan view. After settling in it was time for some jazz...

A few streets over on the appropriately named Hubbard Street - for Freddie, I wonder? It's Andy's a local institution featuring a large central bar area and tables around it - the band onstage were students from a local post secondary institute - Harold Washington College and I enjoyed a great set - the place seemed to be an after work destination - a relaxing spot to unwind and enjoy some tunes. Couldn't resist a walk down to Navy Pier and another elevated view - this time atop the Ferris Wheel. Did you know that ride originated at the Chicago World's Fair of 1893? Spectacular views over the lake and looking downtown...the views enjoyed even further up when I took the lightning fast ride up the John Hancock Tower a couple of days later.

Day 2 - A trip to Chicago wouldn't be complete without one of it's most famous residents' works - Frank Lloyd Wright. The Chicago Architectural Institute runs a number of walking, bus and boat tours - we selected the bus tour out to Oak Park which featured a peek inside his studio and home. It's astounding to think that he built this when he was merely 21 - no wonder he is such an icon. Throughout the neighbourhood you can see a number of examples of his "bootleg" commissions - i.e. those houses he designed on the side while he was still working and being mentored by Louis Sullivan.

Here is Unity Temple - a Unitarian church he designed in the neighbourhood - pretty convenient to have a famous architect as a member, no?

Even the light fixtures are cool. You can't help but have a reverent and warm feeling in this space - so bright, clean and modern. That's Barbara our tour guide. Oak Park itself is a gorgeous neighbourhood - there was even a friendly dog to greet us at one of the houses - how cool would that be to actually live in a work of art?

We ventured out to Wicker Park - taking transit especially trains is super easy in Chicago and the staff are very helpful to confused looking out of towners. Tried out Native Foods - a veg restaurant and part of a California chain - Gandhi Bowl and Crispy Kale Salad, finished off with a Peanut Butter Parfait. Yum. If I had one wish to make my Chicago experience perfect I would like a restaurant like our own Fresh downtown - juices, bowls and great veg meals...I think there's a niche there waiting to happen. We also ate at the Protein Bar - a fun little spot and mini chain - lots of smoothies, juices and love of quinoa - it isn't strictly veg, though.

Day 3 - time to see Chicago by boat and the Shoreline Tours Architectural Tour - a must many told me when visiting. I have to agree - in spite of inclement weather, a few sprinkles it was very fun and informative 90 minute tour - coffee, beverages and cookies and muffins were provided. Later that afternoon another trip on the "el" to the famous Chicago Diner - comfort food - veg style. "Chicken Fried Steak" and a "Turkey, Bacon and Avocado Sandwich" - I guess a club sandwich if you will...no room for dessert. That evening instead of a "Second City" show...which was sold out we went to "The Joynt" - having picked up a promo card for a one man comedy show featuring Azhar Usman - a Muslim comedian - who provided humour and insight into his world and ours. I had one enormous martini there and felt the effects for a couple of hours afterward.

Day 4 - A visit to the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art - or as we called it "Nuit Blanche" in one building. The featured show was Joseph Cornell "Pandora's Box" - featuring the work of that artist and artists he influenced...the most fun aspect was two short films "The Tenant" - about the adventures of a soap bubble in an abandoned apartment building - engaging and suspenseful and another short which consisted of a number of set-ups and executions of  an obstacles course featuring tires, boards, fire, buckets, water, balloons, chemical foams - I can't even describe it - sort of a Rube Goldberg performance art. It most definitely was created by guys - I wonder how long it took and how much delight they had in creating it. To the left is the staircase at the museum - there is a koi pond at the bottom....

We ate at an Armenian restaurant across from our hotel - they were very veg accommodating and the food was really good - especially their marinated red cabbage.

Last day - time for some more jazz and taking the bus out to Hyde Park. The Hyde Park Jazz Fest is in its' 5th year - and this year has expanded to 2 days both Saturday and Sunday. Hyde Park is sometime home to a certain lawyer - one Barack Obama...and the University of Chicago.

We listened to Tatsu Aoki's Miyumi Ensemble - a cross cultural melange which included taiko drummers and a didjeridoo. Also Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Ensemble - she is a renowned flautist and composer who recorded a CD in tribute to Michele Obama. The group featured cello, sitar, guitar, trumpt drums, sax and bass...with a couple of guest vocalists.

 What would a visit be without a trip to Millenium Park? Here's "Cloud Gate" or as we called it The Bean.

Last meal in Chicago - at "Volare" in the hotel neighbourhood - a bustling bistro that looks like Al Capone could have dined there - white tablecloths, great Italian food, a low corner building that looks Art Deco.

We didn't make it to the Green Mill - I do have to somethings for another visit of course!
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