By ROBERT ELIAS DEATON
Chicago, Chicago, that toddlin’ town,” Frank Sinatra sang in his 1957 recording. It was quite the popular hit at the time, though we’ve always been hard pressed to understand what a toddlin’ town actually is. One thing we do know is that Chicago has earned every bit of its reputation as an exciting, sophisticated and dangerous place to live. Yes, dangerous. So far this year, there have been over 400 murders in Chicago—more murders than the much larger cities of New York (312) and Los Angeles (212).
That aside, it’s fortunate that the charm of this town continues unabated, particularly for those with an interest in architecture and the arts. The Art Institute of Chicago (111 S Michigan Ave) is the second largest museum in the United States (the largest is the Metropolitan in New York). It has a truly amazing permanent collection, particularly focusing on impressionist and post-impressionistic painters. Additionally, the African American Art Collection found here is well known for its assortment of paintings by Archibald John Motley, Jr. There’s a roof-top terrace that provides a great break from the art, and offers a fantastic view of the city. For those using public transportation, head for the Adams/ Wabash Station via the Brown, Green, Orange, Pink, or Purple Lines.
Architecturally speaking, Chicago is a Whitman’s Sampler of tastes and style. Some of our favorite buildings in this city on Lake Michigan include Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica (3121 W Jackson Blvd.); the former Sears Tower—now officially called the Willis Tower (233 S Wacker Dr)—at one time the tallest building in the world; the Chicago Avenue Pumping Station (821 N Michigan Ave) that survived the Great Chicago Fire of 1871; the CNA Center (333 S Wabash Ave), whose major claim to fame is its sunset red paint; and the 311 S Wacker Dr. Building that holds two distinctions. Until recently, it was the tallest reinforced concrete building in the world, and it remains the tallest building to be known by its street address alone. The city devotes over eight percent of its land area to parks. Of these, Lincoln Park holds a special place for us since it is not only the largest of Chicago’s parks (with 1,200 acres), it is also the only park to span many different neighborhoods throughout the north side, as it is nestled between Lake Shore Dr. and Lake Michigan. As such, it has many different entrances, but the one located at 2001 N Clark St. will get you to the front of the Lincoln Park Zoo—always a fun place to visit. Any time of the day or night, Grant Park, located in the downtown business district along Lake Michigan, is showcased by the famed Buckingham Fountain, dedicated in 1927. A water show operates in the Rococostyle fountain from April to October, with decorative lighting taking the stage when the weather turns cooler. For those into trivia, the fountain was featured in the opening credits to the TV hit “Married.with Children.”
Our favorite new hotel in Chicago is the PUBLIC (11301 N State Pkwy.). The one-time Ambassador East Hotel, home of the famous Pump Room, has been re-invented by Ian Schrager (of Studio 54 fame). While the Pump Room remains a fragment of its former self, the guest rooms in PUBLIC are incredibly efficient, lovely, and beginning at $135 a night, they’re a bargain.
Next week, we’ll cover the bar and club scene of the Windy City. Hold your breath. It’s worth the wait.