If you have business in what is probably this country’s most nicknamed city – Chi-town, city of the Big Shoulders, Windy city, Second City, That Toddling Town, to name only a few – be sure to make time to play as well as work. Chicago’s beguiling leisure choices outnumber it’s monikers by a hundred to one.
The city’s humming downtown, with the commercial riverfront nexus known as the Loop at its center, is packed with attractions. Landmark buildings rise everywhere – the 40-mile view from the Sears Tower’s 103rd-floor Skydeck is a must-see – and monumental outdoor sculptures by famous artists crowd the landscape. In the span of just a handful of blocks, you can clamber on a Picasso, recline against a Calder, or stroll beneath the arch of the mammoth Cloud Gate. The latter, known locally as the “bean,” was designed by Indian-born British sculptor Anish Kapoor for Millennium Park, a glorious recent addition to the city’s band of recreation areas fronting Lake Michigan. Downtown also boasts a wealth of major cultural institutions, from the 1929 art nouveau Civic Opera House to the stately late-nineteenth-century Art Institute of Chicago, and a limitless supply of luxury shops – Ferragamo, Zena, Armani, Vuitton, Chanel, and more – rub stylishly-clothed elbows along North Michigan Avenue’s Magnificent Mile.
Beyond downtown, a scattering of proud ethnic enclaves offer idiosyncratic temptations. Just west of the Loop, where the boutiques and restaurants of Greek Town cluster along South Halsted Street, you can stop at the Athenian Candle Co. to stock up on frankincense and myrrh – not commonly available at your nearest mall! – and then fill up on Mediterranean delicacies at Greek Islands. Food is also an attraction in Little Italy, where the walls of the dining room of the popular, family-run RoSal’s are crammed with framed photos of both the owners’ children and of the owners as children, and in Chinatown, where hungry customers tuck in authentic Cantonese treats at Happy Chef Dim Sum House.
Farther south, you can take yourself out to the ball game at U.S. Cellular Field, home of the 2005 World Series-champion White Sox, or take in exhibits exploring the achievements of African Americans at the DuSable Museum of African American History. To the north, big-name chefs vie for your palate’s attention: heat up with mouthwatering Mexican creations at Rick Bayless’s Topolobampo, or savor elegant, seasonal American cuisine at Charlie Trotter’s. Once you’re sated, check out Carter’s Way, a jazz-filled play “of love, lust, and an artist’s integrity,” playing at Steppenwolf Theatre through May; or head farther north to get your music served straight up at the prohibition-era Green Mill Jazz Club. Wherever you go, Chicago will live up to its newest nickname: the City (that) Has It Comin’ And Goin’ On.
Note: This article was originally published in the Apri/May 2008 issue.