Chicago – where to go, what to see and where to eat

28 Dec

On my recent trip to the Us of A I went to the rather lovely (and REALLY REALLY COLD) Chicago. With New Orleans, I’d wanted to go there for a while because as a food and music lover it couldn’t have been a more perfect choice. Chicago was a more spur of the moment decision: luckily I didn’t regret it!

snow

I went in early December and in the evenings the temperatures dropped to around -17 degrees. It goes without saying that my advice is to dress like the Michelin man, look very unsexy and stay incredibly warm. I stupidly decided to go on a date in this weather… read on to find out more about how that went (hah!)

I’m going to do another shorter blog post because I did so much in Chicago – each section shows you the highlights of my trip and links to you through to each place’s website. Enjoy!

EAT
So, Chicago is home of the burger it seems. New York often gets the praise for its burgers, but if you take a look at Thrillist’s Top Burgers of 2013 list (yes, I read stuff like this) you’ll see three entries are Chicago based. I scoffed one of them, and that was at the pretty darn awesome Kuma’s Corner.

Kuma Burger: Do you like great food, rock music and dingy lighting? Do you like your servers friendly with an edge? Head to Kuma Burger. It’s quite a way out of the loop, and I’d say the easier way to get there is by taxi (cost me about $10 from the Magnificent Mile) and then you can get the bus to the Blue Line after you’ve stuffed yourself.

kuma

I wanted to go for something a little different, so I opted for the Lair of the Minotaur burger (brioche bun, barbecue sauce, poached pear, caramalised onion, pancetta and brie). Hey… I never said it was good for you. It’s more ‘good for the soul’ than ‘good for your body’. It tastes amazing and, naturally, the portion size is very generous. Go and perve over the photos of each of their burgers on the website – and make sure when you rock up you’re not wearing any kind of Justin Bieber t-shirt. This is for hard rock and hard-core burger fans only.

Gino’s East: Gino’s is the origin of Chicago’s famous deep pan pizza. Except it’s 100% NOT a pizza, it’s more like a bloody pie. However, it’s something you’ve just got to try when you find yourself in Chicago, and you’ll officially become a legend if you can finish even a small pizza as far as I’m concerned!

fries

ginos

The crust is like pastry and it’s about 2 inches deep. The pizza itself is a huge layer of tomato with an even bigger layer of cheese on top. It’s insane. Personally, I wasn’t THAT fussed about the deep pan. The sheer volume of tomato they had to put on the thing to fill it up was a bit overpowering. However, I got a free starter because I traipsed all the way to their original location which turned out to be closed (they’ve moved) – and the sweet potato fries I got were really, really good.

Bar Louie: Bar Louie is a chain (apparently) however after seeing Food Stalker Chicago’s pics from here I couldn’t resist dragging one of my hostel friends down for a burger and some tater tots. As you can tell from the photo, it was bloody delicious. The staff were a bit absent-minded, but then again it was mid-afternoon on a Monday so they probably don’t get anyone in that early usually!

barlouie

I went for the Backyard BBQ burger with chicken rather than beef (although every time I asked for beef to be substituted for chicken in America they looked at me as if I were, dare I say it, a vegetarian). It comes with bacon, friend onion strings, cheddar and BBQ sauce. I got tater tots with it and some really nice cider too. Huge portions, great value for money, give it a go!

SEE
Millenium Park: Ok, so when I went to visit Millenium Park it was covered in snow. Nonetheless – the bits which were visible were lovely. Millenium Park is located at the bottom of the Magnificent Mile (Chicago’s main shopping street) and it positioned next to Lake Michigan. One of the main highlights is what’s called The Bean. It’s an amazing structure which is reflective and distorting too. I mainly wanted to visit because 1. I loved ER as a kid (the show is based in Chicago) and the hot doctors often had deep and meaningful chats while strolling past the Bean. 2. It makes for a great photo.

bean

John Hancock Observatory: So, you have two options when you want to get a sky-high view of Chicago. You either go to Sears Tower (now called the Willis Tower, but everyone still calls it the Sears) or the John Hancock Observatory. The Willis Tower has a fun glass section which makes it look like you’re hanging mid-air over the city. However, the John Hancock sits at the top of the Magnificent Mile and is a lot closer to Lake Michigan – so I headed there.

chicago1

It has interactive maps up top and you can learn a lot about the city. I’d advise going during the day (about $20) and if you go again the same day the second time you go up you can do so for only $7. It’s a great opportunity to see ‘Gotham City’ in broad daylight, and get some great shots when the city’s lights come on.

Mexican district/museum: Chicago is infamous for the shootings which now take place due to the fact people from the Projects were dispersed and are now fighting over space. However, head outside of the loop (the central bit of Chicago) and you’ll see some gems.

drasim

I went to the Mexican District in Chicago. The Mexican community is actually due to be bigger than Americans over the course of the next few years, and the place is great not only for food, but bright colours, patterns, street art and the Mexican Museum is also a great find. Look how beautiful a (usually) boring old drain is in this area! (above)

The Mexican Museum is free and tells you all about the colonisation of Mexico, the civil war and there are special exhibitions on the Day of the Dead (now popular in Western Culture thanks to a desperation for a unique Halloween outfit….) The gift shop is also fun to wander around and I left with some pretty amazing Mexican temporary tattoos. Yes, one will be going on my boobs for New Year’s Eve.

mexicansteps

Art Institute: If you love art, go to this museum. I knew it was home to American Gothic and ‘a few’ impressionist pieces, but there was a famous piece everywhere I looked. Renoir, Matisse, Van Gogh, Georgia O’Keefe, Warhol, Manet, Monet… the list goes on. I was particularly pleased to stumble across my favourite Georgia O’Keefe painting (above) and seeing the HUGE Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte was a highlight too (below). You really can’t get an idea of how intricate and beautiful the layers of colours are until you see it up close. I can’t recommend the museum enough.

artinstitute

The Bulls: It goes without saying that the Americans love their sport. So, naturally, when I found out the Chicago Bulls were playing (basketball) I got tickets and went along. I got a huuuuge (diet) soda, a Bulls foam finger and I was sat in front of the most hilarious fans (commentators) which genuinely added to the experience.

Choice quotes:
“Oh no you didn’t ref. OH NO YOU DIDN’T”.
“That was a $100 move and a $2 finish”
“A TIME OUT. I NEED A TIME OUT FROM THE TIME OUTS”.

bulls

LISTEN
This is a sliiiightly tenuous link, but I’m going to go with it anyway. Chicago truly is Gotham City. Just taking a quick look at some of my photos shows you how the skyscrapers work with the rest of the city’s architecture to create the impression of Gotham.
The following song does not remind me of Gotham City. However, it’s a song I heard at Chicago’s Red Head Piano bar and I love it. So… there’s the tenuous link folks. I also heard someone sing it at a karaoke bar I went to in Chicago if that makes the link better? Ha!

LOVE
So, I go on a lot of dates. Mainly because I like meeting new people and my ex wasn’t a stand-up guy (putting it mildly) so I’m being very picky this time around. Hah! When I got to Chicago I, naturally, had no choice but to find an American Boy to go on a date with.

So, with my date lined up I headed out in the evening to meet him. We met at the Chicago Christmas market and he acted as a tour guide, showing me the pier, Lake Michigan at night and we went for a stroll down the Magnificent Mile. At the time it was -15 degrees. Let’s just say I would NOT recommend going on a date in this weather! It was so cold that my scarf was wrapped up around my mouth which made conversation a little difficult. Also, the weather was so cold that my scarf began to freeze due to the fact I was breathing into it… his facial hair also got a bit frosty, which personally I found hilarious.

We finished the date by heading to the Redhead Piano bar, which is slightly north of the loop. It was quiet when we arrived but the bouncer seemed to like my red hair and the waitress seemed to dislike me due to the fact I’m English and therefore capable or ordering my own drink at a bar (hah). Aaaanyway, the piano player turned up with a singer and I was treated to Elton John, some upbeat classical music and some modern covers. I shirked my date and ended up going to my hostel alone so that I could get drunk in karaoke bar near my hostel. One of the prettiest men ever was there (his voice wasn’t so pretty but I’d had about 6 drinks and a lethal Long Island Iced Tea by the time we got talking, so he still seemed like a catch). All in all a good night.

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