“I don’t even like relish, but I love THIS,” my daughter Emily said as she bit into the impossibly messy hot dog, topped with mustard, onions, neon-green relish, pickle, tomato, pickled peppers and celery salt, loaded on top with fries. Amanda, my other daughter, tried in vain to eat daintily. Her “dawg” at Devil Dawgs was simple - mustard and sauerkraut. Mine was the sloppiest of all, leaving my face and hands with chili sauce and cheese all over. Laughing, we licked our fingers and lips and kept on going. Scarfing down authentic Chicago hot dogs was just one of the iconic tastes of the Windy City on our must-do list.
The last time I was in Chicago, I was 27, attending a work convention. This particular weekend, I returned there, with my twin daughters, now 27 themselves, on a much anticipated mom and daughter weekend getaway.
“Hey, what about Chicago?,” one of them asked me. I smiled to myself, since I had thought of a big city destination since they first invited me to do this, months ago. I agreed happily to Chicago. Frankly, I didn’t care WHERE we went, I just was so thrilled that my “girls,” both recently married, wanted to be with me, their mom, on a vacation. Still, I did have fond memories of the Art Institute, the Field Museum and of the immense and beautiful Lake Michigan, my first Great Lake experience.
We landed early on a Friday and within moments, were holding on to each other in a laughing-out-loud three-way hug on the subway, headed to our downtown hotel. The Warwick Allerton, an Italian Renaissance high-rise, was built in 1924. The hotel is very well-situated for a walking holiday, on the so-called Magnificent Mile, the city’s premier commercial district. Here, we found upscale shops, restaurants, hotels and many top attractions, such as the historic Chicago Water Tower, the neo-Gothic Tribune Tower, the Wrigley Building skyscraper and the 100-story John Hancock Center. The hotel was recently designated a Chicago landmark and underwent a multi-million dollar renovation. Spacious rooms and suites, with a cream and taupe color scheme, crown moldings and a 1920’s vibe, the Allerton was a perfect home away from home for our short stay.
We decided, after much discussion, to walk the streets and experience the Chicago vibe, rather than visit the various renowned and excellent museums. Those would wait for another time, or maybe a winter visit. Now, in the glorious summer, best to take advantage of the surprisingly lovely temps and stroll. And we did stroll and stroll, so much that at night, we’d plop into our beds and immediately drop off.
That first afternoon, we walked over to Navy Pier, the city’s top attraction, and people-watched. Completed in 1916, the pier stretches into Lake Michigan, and hosts fireworks displays, live music, theatre, and cruises setting sail daily. Our favorite, however, was Crystal Gardens, which we happened upon: This one-acre indoor garden oasis, filled with some 80 live palm trees and other tropical plants, delightful leapfrog fountains and hanging twinkling lights, is housed in a six‐story glass atrium, with amazing views of the lakefront, we spent hours on the banks of seats overlooking the very pleasant Riverwalk, with its European feel, replete with cafes and bistros along the banks and all kinds of watercraft passing by.
As expected, Chicago is renowned for beloved foods, such as the afore-mentioned hot dogs, deep-dish pizza on just about every block, ethnic cuisine found in neighborhoods such as Greektown and the Mexican area of Pilsen. Chicagoans seem to walk around eating ALL the time - and we followed their example, happily! However, no one should pass up the chance to dine at a riverside bistro as the evening lights come on and the boats pass by.
The city abounds in enormous, beautifully landscaped parks, which we explored with delight. We’d never heard of Millenium Park’s Cloud Gate sculpture, nicknamed “The Bean”, which is one of the world’s largest permanent outdoor art installations, built in 2004. But after the Pier, we somehow found this wildly popular place to selfie and socialize. Indeed, we cozied up to a friendly young pilot on layover from Panama who took the requisite whimsical funhouse-like photos of us, reflected in the uber shiny stainless steel sculpture. Then, we did one of the most touristy things of all. We chose to visit the 360 CHICAGO Observatory, located in the John Hancock building on Michigan Avenue, just moments from our hotel. The enclosed platform affords breathtaking views of all four directions, including skyscrapers, Lake Michigan, boats and ships, neighborhoods, even other states, far off in the distance, as well as drifting clouds. The interactive and changing exhibit in the center of the room told much about the city’s history and was worth a look as well.