T+L's Definitive Guide to Chicago
Published: February 2014
By Nate Storey
Thanks to a red-hot food scene, innovative hotel projects, and exciting design and architecture, the Windy City is the perfect urban escape.
Lay of the Land
Gold Coast: High-end boutiques border Magnificent Mile, the main artery of this upscale downtown neighborhood.
Lincoln Park: In the heart of the North Side, you’ll find a mix of professionals and university students; the area is known for its eponymous park.
Logan Square: Welcome to Chicago’s Brooklyn, where streets are lined with record stores and cafés run by young baristas.
River North: A decade-long renaissance has transformed this once-seedy enclave into a center for restaurants and nightlife.
West Loop: The fast-changing West Loop has great art galleries and culinary hot spots.
Wicker Park/Bucktown: Come here for the city’s cool creative scene: unique bookstores, thrift shops, and coffee roasters.
Taxis are easy to hail; otherwise, the El railway is efficient and expansive.
Our picks of Chi-town’s new properties. Plus, two classics.
ACME Hotel Company: This hipster hotel in River North is filled with quirky design touches (red lips on the bathroom mirror; mannequin trapeze artists suspended in the courtyard). $
The Godfrey: The tall glass-and-steel structure cuts a commanding figure against the Chicago skyline. High-tech rooms come with iHome docking stations and RFID key cards. $
Hotel Lincoln: A Mad Men–meets–The Brady Bunch–style lobby, with tweed upholstered furniture and bow-tied bellhops, welcomes you to this refurbished 1928 property opposite the park. $
The Langham: In a landmark Mies van der Rohe building, the Langham is awash in mid-20th-century grandeur, from the Dirk Lohan–designed lobby to the Bauhaus artwork by Judy Ledgerwood and Anish Kapoor. $$$
Public Hotel: Ian Schrager’s Chicago hotel remains a local favorite: the revamped Pump Room restaurant is one of the hottest tables in town. $
Thompson Chicago: The latest entry in the Thompson Hotels roster is the work of British designer Tara Bernerd. Industrial-chic interiors are done up in concrete, brick, and wood; guest rooms have turquoise velvet sofas and black marble-topped tables. $
Trump International Hotel & Tower: Everything here is over the top: the 23,000-square-foot spa, 24-chair salon owned by celebrity stylist Anthony Cristiano, and personal attaché service (which includes access to a Cadillac). $$$
Park Hyatt: Occupying 18 floors in a 67-story high-rise overlooking Chicago Avenue, Park Hyatt has a covetable central location. The renovated rooms incorporate reproduction Eames furniture and oversize soaking tubs. $$$
Peninsula Hotel: At this stately property, the concierge greets you by name; classical music plays when you enter one of the 339 rooms; and your bedside table has a control panel to deactivate the doorbell for privacy and alert housekeeping when you want service. $$$
Perched atop a seven-story luxury shopping center along the Magnificent Mile, the Ritz-Carlton's 435 rooms all have panoramas of the cityscape, but it doesn’t get much sweeter than the view from the new rooftop lounge, the Dec, where guests can indulge in milk chocolate push-pops from an ice cream sundae cart. fourseasons.com. $$
Culture buffs already love the stellar art collection (Warhol; Picasso) have a new reason to stay at this Gold Coast grande dame—the 46th-floor Author Suite. It’s a literary sanctuary that looks the part: Midcentury Parisian interiors, walnut writing desks, and a library filled with personalized editions from past guests such as Stephen King and Anne Rice. fourseasons.com. $$$
On The Horizon: Richard Branson's first Virgin hotel and the London-based Soho House both debut this year.
Hotel Pricing Key
$ Less than $200
$$ $200 to $350
$$$ $350 to $500
$$$$ $500 to $1,000
$$$$$ More than $1,000
Four treasure troves across the city.
Ikram: With clients like Michelle Obama and friends like Thakoon Panichgul, it’s no wonder Israeli retailer Ikram Goldman has become an icon among the city’s style set. Her 16,000-square-foot fashion emporium in the Gold Coast carries daring statement pieces (Viktor & Rolf ruffled black leather jackets; flirty Lanvin dresses).
Modern Cooperative: A new home in the historic Thalia Hall has doubled the size of this Midcentury Modern furniture and housewares store. Best bets: cutting boards by locally based Solo Home Design, created from reclaimed wood and recycled bike parts.
Scout: For Chicago’s finest selection of antiques, head to this beautifully edited shop in Andersonville. Owner Larry Vodlak turns over half his inventory each weekend—on any given day you might find a bespoke Edward Fields rug or a lamp made from vintage dumbbells by designer Ted Harris.
Sofia: Among this young entrepreneur’s rapidly expanding fan club: Rachel Zoe, LeAnn Rimes, and other Hollywood fashionistas. The racks at her Gold Coast boutique are filled with lesser-known American designers such as Nicholas K and Timo Weiland. Look out for her signature candle collection.
See + Do
Chicago’s top cultural pursuits (beyond Cloud Gate).
Art Institute of Chicago: The Renzo Piano–designed Modern Wing at the renowned museum showcases contemporary art and design. The original 1893 Beaux-Arts building has a great collection of European, Impressionist, and Post-Impressionist paintings (including Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte), as well as photography and Asian ceramics.
Aspect Ratio: Avid collector Jefferson Godard curates forward-thinking installations by emerging and established talents at his new West Loop gallery, which has the city’s only video art space. Highlights include Spanish artist Casilda Sánchez and Tel Aviv–born Einat Amir.
Chicago’s First Lady: The best way to learn about the city’s historic buildings (the Tribune Tower; Merchandise Mart) is on a boat tour run by Chicago Architecture Foundation guides. It’s the most popular game in town for good reason: a knowledgeable staff, the longest running time (90 minutes), and a comfortable boat.
Second City: The 54-year-old sketch comedy club has been turning out A-list stars—Tina Fey; Steve Carell; Stephen Colbert—for more than 50 years. While outposts have sprouted up in Toronto and Hollywood, the original is still the place to catch fledgling writers and actors.
Steppenwolf Theatre: Many of the silver screen’s preeminent names (John Malkovich; Joan Allen) have performed at this legendary theater, with three venues for plays, musicals, and other events; the Garage Theatre next door stages smaller shows.
Chicago’s food scene rivals that of New York, with no shortage of standout restaurants. Here, seven not to miss.
Elizabeth: An all-white dining room in Lincoln Square with only 24 seats sets the stage for chef-owner Iliana Regan’s locally foraged dishes. The 20-course menu is divided into three sections (farm; woodlands; ponds, lakes, and seas), with crowd-pleasers like lamb loin wrapped in dandelion greens with acorn-squash gnocchi. $$$$
Fat Rice: Pioneer chef Abraham Conlon and co-owner Adrienne Lo have gained a cult following for their innovative Macanese dishes at Fat Rice. Those who brave the hours-long wait are rewarded with shareable plates that take cues from India, Southeast Asia, and Portugal: piri-piri chicken in spicy tomato sauce; arroz gordo topped with linguiça sausage, salted duck, and char siu pork. $$$
Girl & the Goat and Little Goat Diner: In an industrial space with burnt-cedar walls, Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard turns out nose-to-tail specialties, including fried pig face and kidneys stuffed with goat confit. Nearby at Little Goat Diner, Izard puts a creative spin on classic breakfast dishes; try the sourdough pancakes. $$$; $$.
Longman & Eagle: Chicago’s beard-and-flannel tribe pack this locavore temple in Logan Square for Saturday brunch. Here’s the drill: start with Stiegl-Radler grapefruit brews and cheesewurst at the pop-up sausage stand on the patio, then head inside for diet-busting platters of fried chicken and waffles with pork belly. $$$
Next: The age-old aphorism “Food is theater” comes to life at chef Grant Achatz’s follow-up to foodie hot spot Alinea in the West Loop. To get a table, you need to buy a ticket on the website—and they go quickly. But if you manage to snag one, you’re in for a treat: the seriously ambitious menu rotates three times a year and may include dishes such as pheasant smoked in hay with grilled baby leek, caramelized onion, and blanquette sauce. $$$$
Parson’s Chicken & Fish: A 1977 El Camino marks the entrance to this no-frills spot in Logan Square, opened by the same team behind Longman & Eagle. Here, young chef Hunter Moore serves cobia ceviche, and a whole fried chicken with Texas toast and coleslaw, accompanied by craft beers and negroni slushes. $
The Publican and Publican Quality Meats: For the city’s best oysters and aged charcuterie, head to Paul Kahan’s buzzy restaurant, the Publican. Across the street, his just-opened butcher shop serves a killer barbecued veal brisket sandwich. $$$$; $$.
Restaurant Pricing Key
$ Less than $25
$$ $25 to $75
$$$ $75 to $150
$$$$ More than $150
Four natives share their favorite spots in the city.
Curator of Architecture and Design, Art Institute of Chicago
“For a night out, I love the Hideout, in Bucktown; it’s a music venue where anything goes—from Baudelaire-inspired shows to performances by indie rock bands. Around the corner, Ada Street ($$) serves delicious small plates (try the crisp lamb ‘scrumpets’) and craft cocktails. In West Loop, Randolph Street Market is one of my favorite boutiques, with great vintage finds.No one should leave Chicago without a ride on the El train around the Loop—it’s the best way to see the city.”
Chef-owner, Alinea and Next
“The trek to the Far North Side is worth it for Katsu (2651 W. Peterson Ave.; 773/ 784-3383; $$$), hands down the city’s most authentic sushi restaurant. Many people think Midwestern cuisine is all about meat and potatoes, but GT Fish & Oyster ($$) proves them wrong. The seafood dishes are excellent (don’t miss the bacon clam chowder). For the best coffee in town, I personally enjoy La Colombe for its personal touch and unbeatable brews. Exploring the shoreline of Lake Michigan is a must—it’s what makes Chicago unique.”
Lisa Rigney and Liz Patelski
Owner-designers, Remi Canarie
“On Michigan Avenue, Space 519 has a selection of coffee-table books, clothing from emerging designers, and cool housewares. The Gene Siskel Film Center of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago is a state-of-the-art theater that screens independent, international, and classic films. When we need to hammer out ideas, we go to Bow Truss, in East Lakeview, a funky new coffee shop complete with sleds, canoes, and an incredible speaker installation built out of vintage suitcases.”
Where to Head After Dark
With a storied history of bootleggers and speakeasies, Chicago has always been a tippler’s town; but it’s come a long way since bathtub hooch. In Logan Square, Dan Shapiro’s Scofflaw draws crowds for its gin-focused cocktails.
Devotees of Trader Vic’s have a chic new tiki temple: Three Dots & a Dash in River North.
Behind a nondescript door in Wicker Park, Violet Hour serves handcrafted drinks (try the Hush & Wonder, made of Matusalem rum, lime, and crème de violette).
Ward Eight, in Evanston, is a saloon-style bar with well-worn church pews; get the Hemingway.