Best of Chicago
The novelist Richard Wright, who migrated from Mississippi and spent his formative years in Chicago, got pounded by the city's drama. But in time he came to admire it. Wright later wrote: "There is an open and raw beauty about that city that seems either to kill or endow one with the spirit of life."
Such is the predicament of Robert Guinan, a painter, who is one of Chicago's keenest observers. He can't decide whether to celebrate or grieve the city's passages. The city in recent years has undergone a remarkable transformation: the prettification of the Loop and surrounding neighborhoods, an explosion of new and renovated houses, the opening of Millennium Park, even gondola rides on the Chicago River. Some, like Guinan, fear that with such changes the city will become like any other, that it will no longer push and pelt the senses, that it will lose its poetry. For Guinan, Chicago has always been an exotic place—like Bombay or Istanbul—and he doesn't want anything to dampen that.
Guinan, 71, is a slender man who wears an expression of constant amusement. For nearly 30 years, he has been painting the underside of the city, sketching the homeless and prostitutes, barmaids and immigrants, hustlers and blues musicians. His paintings have been compared to Edward Hopper's and sell for upwards of $60,000. Ironically, he's been virtually ignored in Chicago, his home and the subject of his work. But he's adored in France, a place, like the rest of Europe, that seems obsessed with Chicago, America's city. (An Italian television crew is filming a series here because, the producer told me, "We want to understand America.") This summer, Guinan is being honored with a retrospective at the Villa Medici, the French Academy in Rome. He's never, though, had an exhibition in Chicago. His neglect might be reason for bitterness, but Guinan says he's just glad that his work is appreciated somewhere, and, besides, he's in good company. Chicago often turns away from its own. The novelist Nelson Algren, who always felt shunned here, and who eventually left, in 1961 wrote that "anyone in Chicago can now become an expatriate without leaving town."
I met Guinan for lunch recently at the Cliff Dwellers, a 98-year-old club for the city's painters, writers, and musicians. From the penthouse location overlooking Lake Michigan, the view may be the most awe-inspiring in the city. On a clear day you can see the aging steel mills 15 miles south, once the source of America's industrial might. Guinan and I have a table by the window, and together we take in the winding lakefront, which is what allows the city to breathe. (Bordering Lake Michigan is the equivalent of having a city butt up against a 22,300-square-mile tract of wilderness.) Just to the south is Soldier Field, the stadium that houses the Chicago Bears. It opened in 1924 as a memorial to American soldiers, and for decades resembled a Roman coliseum (leading Studs Terkel to comment, "Every time I go by it I just want to say, 'Bring out the lions! Bring out the lions!'"). But it was recently renovated, and in an effort to preserve the old, they added onto and reshaped it, so it appears as if the Starship Enterprise crash-landed on a Neoclassical structure. It is, I tell Guinan, one odd sight, especially from above. Guinan shakes his head, and while I figure this is an opening for him to riff on the loss of what first seduced him about the city, he says simply: "I love this place. I'm sure there's plenty of old Chicago left, you just have to look harder."
Guinan is still painting, and is working on a portrait of members of a motorcycle gang: meaty, self-absorbed young men in black sleeveless tees. He sketched them 15 years ago at a tavern called the Double Door, a former country-and-western honky-tonk that morphed into a rowdy biker bar and is now a more refined music venue for the young professionals and artists who have moved into the neighborhood. I asked Guinan if, in the end, he feels the exotic Chicago is lost to the past. He tells me about a 1940's Life magazine article in which an elderly musician, speaking of the city's jazz age, told the magazine: "This was Chicago then, but nothing has happened since." Guinan laughs. "What he didn't know was that the late forties was the beginning of Muddy Waters and the Chicago blues." His point is this: the city is constantly reinventing itself, and while some things pass, there's always something waiting, usually something equally real and alluring.
Guinan likes to tell people that he can't go out anymore to sketch because he can no longer drink or smoke, and so what fun would it be?But after two glasses of red wine over lunch, he recounts the time not long ago when a friend brought him to a bar on the corner of Halsted and Milwaukee; it didn't have a name, just an Old Style sign in the window. The bartender was named Rocky, and one of the men there, a union guy, started talking about Machiavelli. Guinan was taken with a young woman at the bar, and so he sketched her on the back of a pizza box. "I smoked Marlboros, I drank Scotch," he said. "God, I enjoyed that night. It was like old times." But that's the thing. Chicago will always be smoking and drinking, and it will always have bars without names, and its men and its women will forever be discussing the great philosophers and how to make a buck. It's the beauty of this place: that even with all that's new, it's always like old times. Guinan understands that better than anyone. "We're surrounded by beauty," he tells me, paraphrasing a Sufi poet. "But we usually have to be walking in the garden to notice it....Let's face it, this place is alive."
From new restaurants, bars, and shops to mini-tours of the neighborhoods most worth an afternoon—or a day—of your visit, here is T+L's insider guide to the greatest places in the Windy City in 2005
BEST NEW RESTAURANTS
Le Lan 749 N. Clark St.; 312/280-9100; dinner for two $95. This French-Vietnamese joint venture between revered local chefs Roland Liccioni and Arun Sampanthavivat at first struck some people in Chicago as almost more good fortune than we deserve. Le Lan is now drawing crowds with delectable dishes such as curried halibut with vellum-like pommes maxim.
Moto 945 W. Fulton Market; 312/491-0058; dinner for two $130. Unlike at some restaurants of its kind, Moto's hypercreative small plates—the "baked potato" is a dab of intensely flavored purée; pear-fennel salad arrives with "aromatic utensils" (thyme laced through flatware handles)—transcend their own cleverness. Every bite is a revelation.
Avenues 108 E. Superior St.; 312/573-6754; dinner for two $136. After chef Graham Elliot Bowles arrived last September, the Peninsula hotel's dining room (with one of the prettiest views in town) kicked into high gear. Settle in and savor sturgeon with smoked fingerling potatoes, and don't be surprised if the amuse-bouche is accompanied by a tiny glass of cucumber soda—top pop.
HotChocolate 1747 N. Damen Ave.; 773/489-1747; dinner for two $75. Mindy Segal's perfectly crafted pastries at MK made her the sweetheart of downtown diners; she left last year to open HotChocolate, and Bucktown/Wicker Park couldn't be happier. Her savories (green-curried mussels, rabbit rillettes with baby carrots) are excellent, but dessert is what you really come for: linger over rhubarb pot pie or one of Segal's terrific hot chocolates.
Vermilion 10 W. Hubbard St.; 312/527-4060; dinner for two $120. Chef Maneet Chauhan makes Indian-Latin fusion seem like an obvious (and brilliant) idea. Dishes like mint paneer fritters with chipotle mole are a delight, and there are fabulous desserts, too—don't miss the frozen cajeta (goat's milk) mousse.
Thyme Café 1540 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 773/227-1400; dinner for two $55. Fans of John Bubala's terrific Thyme (464 N. Halsted St.; 312/226-4300) greeted this Wicker Park offshoot with cheers. The place is much more grown-up than you might expect on such a raucous street. Try the artichoke fritters with tarragon sauce or the pepper steak with spinach.
1600–1800 NORTH HALSTED STREET How much excellence can one block support?First there was Boka (1729 N. Halsted St.; 312/337-6070; dinner for two $90), a lively spot convenient to Steppenwolf that won over theatergoers with what co-owners Kevin Boehm and Rob Katz call "progressive American" food: squash bisque with toasted pepitas; grilled wild salmon with corn, tomatoes, and littleneck clams. At press time, high-flying chef Grant Achatz, formerly of Trio in suburban Evanston, had just opened 2005's most anticipated restaurant, Alinea, at No. 1723 (312/867-0110; dinner for two $150), while Boehm and Katz were aiming to follow up Boka in late June with a 10,000-square-foot late-night restaurant-bar, Landmark, at No. 1633.
RANDOLPH STREET The buzziest place on this stretch off the Loop—known for big, jumpin' restaurants such as the French Marché (833 W. Randolph St.; 312/226-8399; dinner for two $100) and the Pan-Asian Red Light (820 W. Randolph St.; 312/733-8880; dinner for two $100)—is small, jumpin' Avec (615 W. Randolph St.; 312/377-2002; dinner for two $64), next door to its sleek sibling, Blackbird (619 W. Randolph St.; 312/715-0708; dinner for two $84). Although Avec doesn't take reservations, and its austere interior is more beautiful than comfortable, the house-cured salumi, artisanal cheeses, and small bites like paillard of swordfish with beets are all stellar.
BEST NEW BARS AND LOUNGES
Japonais 600 W. Chicago Ave.; 312/822-9600. Some of the city's most popular new hangouts are Asian-inspired. This one, set in lavish quarters in an old Montgomery Ward warehouse, serves very good modern Japanese cuisine (try the lobster spring rolls), but the cushy lounge areas on the lower level are where it's really at. In warm weather, the scene spills to an outdoor space overlooking the river.
SushiSamba Rio 504 N. Wells St.; 312/595-2300. The formula that went down so well in New York and Miami—Japanese-Brazilian fusion restaurants that are as much about having fun as dining—is a hit in Chicago. Delicious eccentricities, such as fried empanadas stuffed with shiitake mushrooms, are on the menu; the room is high-energy; and the crowd is well dressed and up for anything.
Tsuki 1441 W. Fullerton Ave.; 773/883-8722. Cooler in mood and more purebred Japanese than Japonais, Tsuki is a lovely (and excellent) restaurant with a large, comfy lounge attached. There's a wide selection of sakes and sushi, all right on the money and gracefully presented.
X/O Chicago 3441 N. Halsted St.; 773/348-9696. This newcomer is lighting up Lakeview with flights of Cognac and Scotch, accompanied by well-conceived small plates such as five-spice duck breast with spaghetti squash.
Chestnut Grill & Wine Bar 200 E. Chestnut St.; 312/266-4500. It's all about good old-fashioned drinking here, in a subdued clublike room with a chanteuse in the corner. The adjacent dining room serves steaks and seafood.
BEST NEW SHOPS
In downtown Chicago you can, of course, find the same big retail names as in New York and San Francisco. Recent entrants include Bulgari (909 N. Michigan Ave.; 312/255-1313), which completed a gorgeous redo of its shop; Camper (61 E. Oak St.; 312/787-0158); and H&M (840 N. Michigan Ave.; 312/640-0060). But the city's passion for shopping is revealed in its smaller, more individualized boutiques: check out the new favorites listed below and many more in our neighborhood tours.
Clever Alice 750 N. Franklin St.; 312/587-8693. There's lots to love at this bright, cheerful shop: artist-painted T-shirts, chunky necklaces, and tailored but funky blazers from designers both familiar and on the rise.
Yu-Me 1 E. Delaware Place; 312/932-9300. This tiny spot sells one-of-a-kind women's accessories, most by local designers. Look for offbeat jewelry and great handbags (a design with seat-belt buckles was a recent hit).
Henry Beguelin 716 N. Wabash Ave.; 312/335-1222. Mingle with the city's most stylish and get a heady whiff of leather while browsing Beguelin's line of luxurious, beautifully crafted shoes, bags, and accessories from Milan.
Graff 103 E. Oak St.; 312/604-1000. Oak Street and North Michigan Avenue are still the places to go for big-name luxury goods and jewels. Among the newer faces is this dazzling store, which sells over-the-top—and expensive—diamond and gemstone jewelry.
Josephine 1405 N. Wells St.; 312/274-0359. A dizzying range of enviable women's shoes and bags (Christian Louboutin, Sigerson Morrison, Pucci) is given an opulent, glamorous backdrop in a space designed by Nate Berkus, Oprah's interior-design guru.
One O Six 106 E. Oak St.; 312/202-9600. One of the city's top outposts for women's shoes is this temple to the needle-nose stiletto, with a well-edited selection that features designers like Stephane Kélian and Cesare Paciotti.
Chicago wouldn't be Chicago without Marshall Field's (111 N. State St.; 312/781-1000), which is looking better than ever in its 112th year. The grande dame has been elegantly redone and now features stores-within-the-store from Levenger, Thomas Pink, Designer's Guild, and more. Also worth a peek is hometown retailer Crate & Barrel's newer spin-off, CB2 (800 W. North Ave.; 312/787-8329), where the snappy, colorful housewares entice a younger, hipper crowd.
River North is shaping up to be one of the best places in town for housewares and furniture. Find replated silver coffeepots and flatware from old hotels at P.O.S.H. (613 N. State St.; 312/280-1602), an early tenant in the refurbished 19th-century Tree Studios building, which once housed artists' studios. Orange Skin (223 W. Erie St.; 312/335-1033) is the place to go for European minimalism, from aerodynamic kettles and salad sets to streamlined seating. Svenska Möbler (516 N. Wells St.; 312/595-9320) sells handsome Swedish furniture that dates from 1840 to 1940. And don't miss a stroll through LuxeHome, a new paradise of high-end kitchen and bath showrooms (Merchandise Mart; 312/527-4141).
BEST NEW HOTEL
Amalfi Hotel 20 W. Kinzie St.; 877/262-5341 or 312/395-9000; www.amalfihotelchicago.com; doubles from $309. This small hotel brings a boutique sensibility to a slightly off-the-beaten-path (but still convenient) location: a short hop west of Michigan Avenue, within walking distance of the Loop, and close to River North's restaurants, bars, and shops. Amalfi's colorful, sleek décor goes beyond the predictable (linens, for instance, are in soft pastels rather than the ubiquitous white), and rooms are long on thoughtful touches, from good lighting and ottomans beside easy chairs to intriguing reading material (vintage detective novels, say). There's a great breakfast buffet set up on every floor each morning, so you can just throw on a robe and grab something to take back to your room; nearby dinner options include the excellent Keefer's for steaks and seafood.
Looking for a refuge from the city's hubbub?Here are five places where you can see something interesting, or just relax, at no charge.
Chicago Cultural Center 78 E. Washington St.; 312/744-6630. Site of the city's official Visitor Information Center, this 1897 building, originally the main library, is a perfect place to sit, snack, use the bathroom, and check out art exhibitions.
Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows 600 E. Grand Ave.; 312/595-7437. Slip into the serene recesses of this museum, along the lower-level terraces of Festival Hall, to admire more than 175 works of stained glass.
Steps of the Art Institute of Chicago 111 S. Michigan Ave.; 312/443-3600. An easy meeting place, the steps are also a first-rate spot for people-watching. If you time it right, you can see the sun set down the canyon of Adams Street.
Rainbow Lobby of Adler Planetarium 1300 S. Lake Shore Dr.; 312/922-7827. Stop in when the sun is bright in the west and you'll see tiny rainbows dancing around the room, thanks to prism-like beveled glass in the entrance doors.
Arts Club of Chicago 201 E. Ontario St.; 312/787-3997. The main-floor gallery, a quiet retreat just off Michigan Avenue, is open to the public. Take a look at the temporary exhibits and Mies van der Rohe's "floating staircase," transplanted from the club's previous quarters in 1997.
Louis Sullivan, Daniel Burnham, and Mies are heroes in Chicago, a city that in many ways is an open-air museum of American architecture of the past 150 years. For years, the Chicago Architecture Foundation's tours have been the easiest way to see the city's most important buildings. Led by volunteer docents, the tours—by foot, boat, bus, bicycle, and train—can be arranged through the foundation's ArchiCenter (224 S. Michigan Ave.; 312/922-3432; www.architecture.org); river cruises are especially good. The ArchiCenter's shop also sells Chicago-themed merchandise devoid of kitsch.
New stores and restaurants have been popping up like crazy in Lakeview, especially along Southport Avenue. Of-the-moment shops for women include Red Head Boutique (No. 3450), Krista K (No. 3458), and Jake (No. 3740), which sells hard-to-find labels for men, too. Stop in Trousseau (No. 3543) for deliciously impractical lingerie; other style-driven boutiques worth checking out are She One (No. 3402), Flirt (No. 3449), Freesia (No. 3530), Shane (No. 3657), and Cece (No. 3729). Kuhlman (No. 3724) sells bold men's shirts and ties; Beansprout (No. 3732) has gear for kids. Fourth World Artisans (No. 3727) stocks a global selection of art and jewelry. Near the south end of the strip is Southport Lanes & Billiards (No. 3325), where human pinsetters have manned bowling lanes since 1922. At the north end, the 1929 Music Box Theatre (No. 3733; 773/871-6604 for showtimes) is the best place in town to catch art-house films. For a pick-me-up, try Julius Meinl (No. 3601), the only American outpost of the Viennese coffee company.
If edginess has an epicenter in Chicago, it's the intersection of Milwaukee, North, and Damen Avenues; Damen is a particularly good destination for shopping. Start at Jolie Joli (No. 1623), which sells fashion-forward clothes for both sexes, then move on to p.45 (No. 1643) and Helen Yi (No. 1645) for women's wear from small and up-and-coming designers. Belly Dance Maternity (No. 1647) stocks supremely flattering clothes for pregnant women; Psycho Baby (No. 1630) has stylish togs for kids. Moving north, there's Tangerine (No. 1719) and Clothes Minded (No. 1735), for eclectic selections of clothes and clutches; Apartment Number 9 (No. 1804), for men; and custom T-shirts at the T-Shirt Deli (No. 1739). For the house, you'll find exotic furniture and ornamented pillows at Embelezar (No. 1639); modern furniture and rugs at Stitch (No. 1723); and Chinese and Tibetan antiques at Pagoda Red (No. 1714). Stop for lunch at Caffè De Luca (No. 1721), a casual place with good sandwiches and salads.
Andersonville is the city's traditionally Swedish enclave; the Swedish American Museum Center (5211 N. Clark St.) is a great place to acquaint yourself with the neighborhood's immigrant past. Just up Clark there are also two atmospheric Swedish delis, Erickson's (No. 5250) and Wikström's (No. 5247); their fiercely loyal customers tend to patronize one or the other, but not both. The popular Swedish Bakery (No. 5348) is known for its cakes, butter cookies, and cardamom breads.
A beloved fixture on Clark Street is the Women & Children First Bookstore (No. 5233), an independent shop that covers all the bases but is especially strong, as its name implies, on feminist subjects and kids' books. Andersonville even has pockets of style now: find cool men's shirts and jeans at Laundré (No. 5205) and His Stuff (No. 5314), vintage furniture and collectibles at White Attic (No. 5408) and Scout (No. 5221).The area's booming restaurant scene includes Reza's (No. 5255), a boisterous Persian restaurant, and the contemporary American Tomboy (No. 5402). A Taste of Heaven (No. 5401) is a longtime standout for great chicken pot pie and other homespun treats. Want more tastes of Sweden?Go for the meatballs and lingonberries at the equally popular (and good) Svea (No. 5236) or Ann Sather (No. 5207).
Many mark the arrival of the Old Town School of Folk Music (4544 N. Lincoln Ave.), which in 1998 breathed new life into a former public library, as a turning point for this neighborhood. Other new businesses, most notably a handful of excellent restaurants, are now thriving here, including Bistro Campagne (4518 N. Lincoln Ave.), Tank Sushi (No. 4514), Acqualina (No. 4363), and Charlie's on Leavitt (4352 N. Leavitt St.).
North of Leland Avenue, Lincoln becomes a quasi-mall, with broad sidewalks and limited access for cars. This stretch is home, most famously, to Merz Apothecary (No. 4716), established in 1875, which sells European bath and beauty products. Other German outposts in the neighborhood include Delicatessen Meyer (No. 4750), with wonderful displays of sausages, cheese, wine, beer, breads, and candies, and the Chicago Brauhaus (No. 4732), which has been serving pork shanks, spaetzle, potato dumplings, and steins of German beer for decades. For lighter meals and snacks there's Café Selmarie (No. 4729); buy a whole Sacher torte at the bakery up front—or at least a sugar cookie. There are several new shops on Lincoln that are also well worth a look: Traipse (No. 4724), for playful Mary Janes and pumps; the Book Cellar (Nos. 4736–38); and the Chopping Block (No. 4747), for cutting-edge cookware.
Home to the University of Chicago, Hyde Park offers little to buy but lots to see. If you have kids in tow, the Museum of Science & Industry (57th St. and Lake Shore Dr.) is a sure hit. Otherwise, head for the Oriental Institute (1155 E. 58th St.), where the recently reopened Assyria and Megiddo galleries display an extraordinary array of decorative and religious artifacts. Just down the street is a Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece, the 1910 Prairie-style Frederick C. Robie House (5757 S. Woodlawn Ave.). Currently being restored, its distinctive golden exterior and art-glass windows sparkle once again.
One of the few commodities in great supply here is books. Bibliophiles will love the packed shelves at 57th Street Books (1301 E. 57th St.) and the Seminary Co-op Bookstore (5757 S. University Ave.). O'Gara & Wilson, Ltd. (1448 E. 57th St.), the city's oldest bookseller, is known for rare books; Powell's (1501 E. 57th St.) has less-rarefied used volumes.
The university campus is a classic of neo-Gothic architecture; its main quad runs between 57th and 59th Streets and S. University and Ellis Avenues. The soaring Rockefeller Memorial Chapel (5850 S. Woodlawn Ave.) is especially worth a stop. For lunch, try the excellent burgers at Medici on 57th (1327 E. 57th St.); be sure to scan the wood tables scarred with erudite graffiti.
Behind an all-glass storefront, Blackbird’s interior is sleek and minimalist, adorned with bare white walls, hardwood floors, and metallic chairs facing high-backed gray banquettes. Seating is closely packed, but diners are willing to overlook the loud, crowded environs for imaginative New American cuisine from award-winning chef Paul Kahan. The seasonal menu may include such highlights as the organic pork belly sandwich with garlic frites as well as unusual desserts like the almond financier with plums, curried couscous, and Thai basil. Patrons especially appreciate the affordable lunchtime prix fixe menu.
Sushi Samba Rio
An offshoot of the New York original, which was made famous by Sex and the City, Chicago’s Sushi Samba Rio is now part of a small chain (other locations are in Miami, Las Vegas, and London). The restaurant offers a fusion of Brazilian, Peruvian, and Japanese cuisines, represented by signature dishes like the miso-marinated Chilean sea bass and the Bobo Brazil sushi roll made with seared Kobe beef, avocado, and chimichurri ponzu. Inside, the three-level design more closely resembles a nightclub than a restaurant, thanks to bright red banquettes, large almond-shaped light fixtures, concave wall panels, and live DJ's.
Established in 1971, this independent shop specializes in high-quality used, rare, and discounted books. Near the University of Chicago, the store’s Hyde Park location (the other is in Lakeview) carries primarily academic and scholarly books with a strong focus on philosophy, classics, medieval studies, and art. However, Powell’s also offers a sizeable selection of fiction, children’s books, and special editions dating from as early as the 1700’s. Behind the unassuming brick and concrete façade, customers are greeted by the distinctive aroma of old books and seemingly endless rows of tall shelves, where they can browse until 11 p.m.
O'Gara & Wilson, Ltd.
Billed as Chicago’s oldest used bookstore, O’Gara & Wilson has been a preferred spot for South Side booklovers since it first opened back in 1882. The shop’s inventory runs the gamut from $1 mysteries to pricey out-of-print volumes and scholarly books covering such subjects as religion, music, architecture, history, and science. The stock is also enhanced by a selection of antiques, old magazines, art prints, and acquired personal libraries. While browsing, patrons share the quiet space with a giant bison head hanging over the center aisle as well as Jerome, a life-size wax figure of a hooded monk transcribing manuscripts.
Seminary Co-op Bookstore
Established in 1961 by a group of 17 bibliophiles, this community-owned shop is now considered one of the world’s finest academic bookstores and has expanded to two additional locations in Chicago. The flagship store, situated on University Avenue in Hyde Park, is set in the basement of the former Chicago Theological Seminary, a stately red-brick structure built in the 1920’s. Inside the shop, a maze of closely packed, floor-to-ceiling shelves house more than 150,000 titles covering everything from philosophy to literature to economics. Patrons can become members of the co-op to receive a 10 percent discount on most purchases.
57th Street Books
The non-academic sister store to the Seminary Co-op, 57th Street Books is located underground in an unassuming red-brick building in Hyde Park. Inside, five low-ceilinged rooms are connected by brick archways and hide dozens of small nooks where patrons can enjoy newfound reads. The shop sells a wide selection of both fiction and non-fiction general interest titles but is mostly known for its mystery, science fiction, and cookbook sections, as well as hard-to-find specialty magazines. Young patrons enjoy the cozy children’s corner filled with toys and lowered bookshelves, and family story hour is held every Wednesday at 10:30 a.m.
Frederick C. Robie House
Located on the University of Chicago campus, this landmark is considered one of the most significant structures in American architecture. Designed in 1908 by world-renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright for businessman Frederick C. Robie, the building is also the nation’s foremost example of the Prairie style. Inspired by the American Midwest landscape where he grew up, Wright’s Prairie style is defined by a horizontal line, low-pitched hipped roof, and wide overhanging eaves. During a one-hour guided tour (available Monday through Thursday) or self-guided audio tour, visitors can also explore the three-story interior, outfitted with built-in furnishings and art glass windows.
Part of the University of Chicago, the Oriental Institute is both a research organization and a museum dedicated to the ancient Near East. Founded in 1919, the Hyde Park museum showcases everything from art to archaeology with permanent galleries devoted to specific ancient civilizations, including Egypt, Nubia, Persia, and Mesopotamia. The exhibits are organized thematically rather than chronologically and feature such highlights as a 17-foot tall statue of King Tut, a Roman-era mummy of a five-year-old boy, and a 16-foot-tall sculpture of a human-headed winged bull from Khorsabad. A temporary gallery hosts two special exhibits each year.
Museum of Science & Industry
Spread across roughly 14 acres, Chicago's Museum of Science & Industry is one of the world’s largest museums, with more than 35,000 artifacts displayed in 2,000-plus interactive exhibits. Designed in 1892, the museum’s Classic Revival structure was first built to house the Palace of Fine Arts for the World’s Columbian Exposition. Today, the structure is home to a simulated coal mine, a fairy castle filled with real diamond chandeliers, the world’s largest pinball machine, and the only German U-boat in the country. Visitors can also watch baby chicks hatch before catching a show in the five-story, domed Omnimax Theater.
Ideal for foodies and chefs of all skill levels, the Chopping Block is both a retail store and the city’s largest recreational cooking school. At the Lincoln Park location, behind an all-glass storefront with a sage green awning, visitors enter into the first-floor demonstration kitchen and shop area. There, light wood display tables are topped with professional quality cookware as well as cookbooks, aprons, gourmet and ethnic ingredients, and kitchen-related gifts. The store also offers an extensive selection of affordable wine. Upstairs, there is a fully equipped kitchen space where hands-on classes cover everything from knife skills to sushi preparation.
Quality over quantity is the rule of thumb at this small, independently owned bookstore in Lincoln Square. Behind a glass storefront brightened by flower-filled planters, the shop’s interior is adorned with light hardwood floors, burgundy walls, and plush armchairs beneath a row of windows. The inventory emphasizes first-time and local authors and includes both fiction and nonfiction covering a range of topics, from history and art to travel and sci-fi. There’s also an excellent selection of children’s literature. After purchasing a book, customers can enjoy their new read with a glass of wine or coffee from the in-store café.
Established in 2003, this tiny Lincoln Square shop offers a unique selection of high-end shoes displayed in a bright interior with hardwood floors, colorful benches, and tomato red walls. With handcrafted insoles and outsoles designed to mold to the shape of the foot, the Cydwoq (pronounced “sidewalk”) line is the store’s most popular brand, while other favorites include Camper, Gentle Souls, Trippen, Tsubo, and Cordani. Most shoes are leather and range from kitten heels to sandals and boots. In addition to the footwear, Traipse also sells scarves, purses, handmade wool socks, and jewelry crafted by local artists.
Opened in 1983, Café Selmarie began as a small bakery specializing in European-style cakes, pastries, and breads. Now, the Lincoln Square spot is a full-service café complete with an espresso bar, although the baked goods are still a highlight. Patrons can dine inside, surrounded by bright yellow walls, rotating local art, and white globe lights, or outside on the seasonal patio. The restaurant is particularly popular for brunch thanks to signature dishes like the brioche French toast and chilaquiles casserole, made with eggs, corn tortillas, chicken, and spicy chile sauce. An interesting beer and wine list rounds out the offerings.
Since 1965, the Brauhaus has been bringing a year-round Oktoberfest spirit to the Lincoln Square neighborhood, where many German immigrants first settled in Chicago. The restaurant’s spacious interior is adorned with wood paneling, shaded chandeliers, and kitschy German statues, as well as a large dance floor where the house band has patrons performing polkas nightly. When they’re not dancing, visitors can enjoy traditional German specialties such as liver dumpling soup, bratwurst, and wiener schnitzel (a fried Vienna-style cutlet), all complemented by a stein (traditional mug) of cold Steigl or Spaten.
Established by pharmacist Peter Merz in 1875, this old-fashioned apothecary has been serving Chicago natives for more than a century. The flagship Lincoln Square location (the other is in the Loop) is set behind a wood-framed storefront lined with a row of stained-glass panels. Inside, beneath a gilded ceiling and delicate chandeliers, shoppers browse an immense selection of holistic and homeopathic products as well as personal care products like European soaps, all-natural cosmetics, and aromatherapy oils. Customers may also find such unusual items as white-peach-flavored Japanese toothpaste, unique herbal teas, and bubble bath jars wrapped with vintage French advertisements.
Charlie's on Leavitt
Bringing the freshest fish to Lincoln Square, Tank has quickly become the neighborhood’s go-to place for sushi. Sleek black furniture fills the bright, narrow dining room, which is also adorned with hardwood floors and fish-themed stained glass. Patrons especially enjoy sitting at the sushi bar where the chefs craft traditional maki rolls, such as the spicy tuna, as well as more inventive rolls like the Ocean Sundae, made with shrimp tempura, cream cheese, avocado, and tobiko chili sauce. Regulars also recommend straying from the sushi menu to savor non-traditional small plates, like the Kobe beef sliders and goat cheese tempura.
Reminiscent of a small Parisian bistro, this restaurant brings rustic French cuisine to the Lincoln Square neighborhood. Inside, the date-worthy dining room is designed with dark wood trim, large windows, and white-clothed tables set in secluded little nooks. Even more inviting, however, is the outdoor patio strung with miniature globe lights and enclosed by brick walls and lush trees. The seasonal menu, created by chef Michael Altenberg using organic local ingredients, may feature such signatures as the French onion soup, steak frites, croque monsieur, and escargots au beurre d’ail. Desserts like the fig and brown butter bread pudding receive high praise, as well.
Although it may look like a typical old-fashioned diner, Ann Sather is actually a Chicago institution. Named after its founder, who established this original Andersonville location in 1945, the Swedish restaurant has now expanded to include two smaller cafés. At the flagship diner, behind a yellow and royal blue façade, diners settle into simple wooden chairs, surrounded by original folk art from Scandinavian artist Sigmund Arseth. During breakfast hours, the famous cinnamon rolls are a must, but patrons also enjoy the eggs Benedict and authentic Swedish pancakes with lingonberries. The lunch menu offers sandwiches, salads, and a traditional Swedish sampler.
For an affordable breakfast in Andersonville, locals head to this authentic Swedish diner best known for its traditional pancakes with lingonberries. Inside, the small dining room is adorned with bright blue walls, hand-painted murals, and chandeliers hanging from rustic wooden beams. Patrons often try to snag a table by the windows where they can enjoy great people-watching along with their pancakes. Menu specialties also include the open-faced Swedish meatball sandwich, the rye limpa bread, and for especially hungry diners, the Viking Breakfast: two eggs, Swedish-style fried potatoes, pancakes, and sausage.
A Taste of Heaven
Since 1994, A Taste of Heaven has been delighting the residents of Andersonville with award-winning scones, specialty cupcakes, made-from-scratch pastries, and both sweet and savory entrées. Despite its industrial-style metal ceiling with exposed pipes, the small café is still bright and inviting thanks to bold yellow walls adorned with assorted quilt pieces and antique kitchen signs. Patrons can simply pick up goodies to go or stay for signature dishes like the brunch menu’s Katie Cakes: buttermilk pancakes topped with raspberry, blackberry, and blueberry compote. Weekly promotions include the popular Free Coffee Wednesday, available with the purchase of any pastry.
Authentic Persian and Mediterranean cuisine awaits diners at Reza’s, a small local chain of four restaurants. At this Andersonville location, the dining room is set in a former microbrewery with high ceilings, exposed brick, and widely spaced tables that are ideal for date night. On warm days, the floor-to-ceiling windows at the front of the restaurant are left open, creating a bright, airy environment. The expansive menu can be overwhelming, but highlights include the chicken koubideh kebab, ghormeh sabzi (vegetable beef stew), and dill rice. For a sampling of traditional favorites, opt for the affordable lunchtime buffet available on weekdays.
Filled with unique home furnishings, the ever-changing storefront window of Scout never fails to draw passersby in from Clark Street. Owned by design enthusiast Larry Vodak, this modernized antique shop sets itself apart by showcasing simple, clean-lined objects that have been refurbished, redesigned, and restored in order to create bold contemporary pieces that will last. For instance, customers may find reupholstered bright green chairs, sleek metal cabinets, and unusual lamps made with vintage thermoses, billiard balls, or a globe encircled by bare bulbs.
Inside this Andersonville shop, designed with whitewashed floors and coffered ceilings, owner Terry Ledford showcases hand-selected, refinished vintage furniture dating from the early 1900’s on up. With help from his team, Ledford removes all finishes before painting each piece with a low VOC paint, usually in the store’s signature white, black, or light aqua color. In addition to large furniture pieces, customers also find carefully chosen accessories such as glass art, sun-shaped mirrors, and abstract paintings. At the Lamp bar, patrons can design their own customized lamp by choosing from 17 ceramic bases, 30 colors, and 100 fabric shade options.
Women & Children First Bookstore
Founded in Andersonville in 1979, Women & Children First is one of the largest feminist bookstores in the country. Behind a glass storefront with a bright purple awning, the shop houses more than 30,000 books by and about women, as well as unique children's books and the city’s best selection of lesbian and gay literature. The stock covers a wide range of topics, including gender studies, politics, ecology, parenting, and feminist theory. While browsing with a cup of freshly brewed coffee in hand, patrons can also find an assortment of gift items, such as candles, CD's, mugs, and jewelry.
The Swedish Bakery
Since the late 1920’s, the Swedish Bakery has been serving European-style pastries, cakes, and breads inside a standalone red-brick building in Andersonville. The bakery’s interior is lined with glass cases brimming with homemade favorites such as cardamom braids, lemon rolls, cherry strudel, butter cookies, and marzipan, previously featured on Food Network’s “The Best Thing I Ever Ate.” The cartoon-like marzipan frogs are particularly popular, as are the moist cupcakes and the traditional limpa bread. Seating is limited, so most patrons take their treats to go.
After nearly five decades of brick-and-mortar business, the Chicago retailer of Scandinavian goods has switched to an online presence only. Have hard-to-find specialty goods like Arvid Nordquist Swedish Coffee, Danish Lurpak Butter, and Finnish sweet licorice delivered right to your door. There’s talk of the owners’ daughter taking over the business and setting up shop in a new location sometime In the future.
As the black and white sign above the glass storefront proclaims, Erickson's Delicatessen has "everything for the smorgasbord." Established in 1925 in the historically Swedish neighborhood of Andersonville, the tiny shop carries a wide array of Scandinavian delicacies as well as products imported from Denmark, Norway, Italy, and Holland. Inside, patrons find lingonberries in all forms, including fresh, syrup, and juice concentrate. Other specialties include marinated herring, havarti cheese, Finnish licorice, knäckebröd (crisp bread), and deli meats ranging from smoked ham to Swedish meatballs. The mother-daughter duo running the shop provides expert guidance for those unfamiliar with traditional Scandinavian fare.
Swedish American Museum Center
An homage to Swedish-American history and culture, this three-story museum is located in Andersonville, one of the country's most concentrated areas of Swedish culture. Established in a small log cabin in 1976, the museum is now a 24,000-square-foot facility housing a special exhibit gallery as well as a permanent exhibit entitled "The Dream of America – Immigration to Chicago." There, visitors find authentic artifacts, including passports, folk crafts, and household items. The Brunk Children's Museum of Immigration features hands–on exhibits just for kids, such as a replica of a century–old Swedish farmhouse where young patrons can milk a cow.
Caffé De Luca
Located in Bucktown, Caffé De Luca offers authentic Italian fare in a setting that resembles a Tuscan alleyway thanks to its high ceilings, rust-colored walls, and overhead clotheslines hung with vintage dresses. The café's front sidewalk seating and back patio are also popular during warmer months. An all-day coffee bar and a breakfast menu served from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m. enable patrons to stop by anytime for oversize mugs of Italian coffee paired with homemade pastries, omelettes, or French toast with mascarpone and berries. A lunch menu of salads, panini, and pizza is also available.
Inspired by her time spent living in Beijing, design enthusiast Betsy Nathan opened Pagoda Red in 1997 to sell 19th-century Chinese furniture and decorative arts. Several times a year, Nathan travels back to Asia to locate home and garden furnishings from China as well as Tibet, Thailand, and Japan. In the Bucktown showroom, an open loft space with an adjacent courtyard, visitors may find an antique bamboo-top table, mid-17th-century stone column bases, fu dog architectural floor lamps, painted fabric lanterns, and Chinese Deco carpets. The store also carries a collection of contemporary artwork from emerging Chinese and Asian-inspired artists.
Men’s and women’s accessories and bags, furniture, and ceramics sit side-by-side in this design-driven boutique. Inspired by Colette in Paris and New York City’s Takashimaya, Pamela Hewett opened Stitch in 1998 to share some of her favorite lifestyle trappings. Stocking everything from $16 bangles to $3,500 ottomans, the store promises eclecticism at varying price points. Favorite finds include Kooba handbags and Missoni robes, plus Fantome clocks and Lampe Berger candelabras (often hidden in the rear).
With its white deli cases, waxed butcher paper, and gingham-patterned walls, you might be tempted to order a corned beef on rye or pastrami, but the setting is actually the backdrop for this customizable T-shirt shop in Bucktown. Whether you want to create your own attire or pick from an array of humorous slogans (e.g. Key West or Bust; Madonna Is My Religion), all shirts are made to order, packaged in a brown paper bag, and served up with a bag of chips.
Tip: Can’t make it here?Place your order online.
Apartment Number 9
Style-savvy men frequent this Bucktown clothing boutique to find the latest fashions from both established and emerging designers. Owned by sisters Amy and Sarah Blessing, the spacious wood-and-concrete shop showcases everything from patterned button-downs and well-tailored blazers to raw denim jeans and basic black trousers. The store specializes in clean, classic pieces by designers like Paul Smith, Michael Kors, and Nicole Farhi, although it also carries more eccentric, hard-to-find brands such as Dries Van Noten and Martin Margiela. A variety of accessories, including ties, socks, bags, and cufflinks, rounds out the inventory.
Ideal for shoppers seeking reasonably priced wardrobe basics, this small clothing boutique sells what owner Sandy Horwitz calls "every day wear for the urban girl." Behind the all-glass storefront in Bucktown, the bright, airy shop features well-organized displays of Michael Stars tees, Neesh sweaters, Sanctuary blazers, and other pieces by mid-priced lines like Three Dots and IT Jeans. Trendy, cutting-edge designs are balanced by more classic pieces, and a wide range of prices makes it easy to find viable purchases. Clothes Minded also carries a limited selection of jewelry, purses, cosmetic cases, and fragrances.
Floor-to-ceiling windows create a bright, open atmosphere at this Wicker Park clothing boutique. Inside, patrons find an ever-changing selection of stylish, feminine garments from designers like Sophia Reyes, Myne, Poleci, Graham & Spencer, and Genetic Denim. As eye-catching as the clothing, the shop's displays are enhanced by fresh flowers, white linens, and glass-top tables; for instance, bright blue suede pumps by Rebecca Minkoff may be showcased beside a tall vase of purple and yellow blooms. The store sells a limited number of each hard-to-find item, but the unique selection comes with high-end price tags, typically starting at $100.
An alternative baby and children's boutique, Psycho Baby sells unique clothing, toys, and books for kids ages newborn to six. The 2,000-square-foot Wicker Park shop is filled with funky garments from designers like Appaman, Imps & Elves, Honest Baby, Micro Me, and Sourpuss. In addition to classic rock band tees and Vans slip-on shoes, the store offers hard-to-find specialty items like glittery zebra-print pacifiers, skull-design trucker hats, and unusual toys by Melissa & Doug. Parents can also bring their children along for the shop's story time held every Wednesday at 10:30 a.m.
Belly Dance Maternity
Even celebrities like Julia Roberts and Naomi Watts have relied on this boutique for stylish, non-frumpy maternity clothes. Located in Wicker Park, the shop carries a range of trendy mom-to-be garments from more than 70 designers, including Olian, NOM, Ripe, Ingrid & Isabel, Michael Stars Maternity, and Japanese Weekend. Customers also find a wide range of jeans from J Brand Maternity, Paige Premium Denim, and Citizens of Humanity, as well as hard-to-find items like swimwear, lingerie, tights, and nursing bras. Belly Dance carries items for post-pregnancy shoppers, too, such as designer diaper bags, nursing covers, and baby carriers.
Located in Wicker Park, this high-end boutique sells styles from both established and up-and-coming labels, including local talent like handbag designer Susan Fitch. The minimalist, loft-like space, outfitted with dark polished floors, light gray walls, and a miniature tree with necklaces hanging from its bare branches, perfectly complements the small yet well-edited inventory. Highlights may include Alexander McQueen scarves, Isabel Marant boots, high-collared Derek Lam trench coats, cocktail dresses by Chloé, and limited edition Bernardo Vintage Couture sandals, handcrafted from Italian leather. Garments range from casual to formal, but price tags are high across the board.
One of the first fashion boutiques in Bucktown, p.45 was founded by Tricia Tunstall and Jessica Darrow in 1997. Since the day it opened, the shop has offered cutting-edge women's clothing and accessories from both established and up-and-coming designers. The merchandise is displayed in a simple, narrow interior adorned with pale hardwood floors, eco-friendly grass wallpaper, a sleek white checkout counter, and color-block dressing room curtains resembling Mondrian paintings. The handpicked garments range from structured jackets to minimalist dresses, and featured designers include 3.1 Phillip Lim, Jeffrey Monteiro, Obakki, Ulla Johnson, and local jewelry makers Sarah McGuire and Winifred Grace.
Situated in Wrigleyville, this European-style coffeehouse is one of three Julius Meinl locations outside of Vienna, Austria (the other two are in Chicago, as well). First established in 1862, the company is known for its bold, well-balanced coffee, served here on a silver platter with a small cookie and glass of water. In addition to the imported coffee, patrons also enjoy more than 20 loose-leaf teas, homemade pastries, and casual European fare such as baked eggs and Austrian goulash (meat and vegetable stew). The coffee house is simply adorned with hardwood floors, wooden tables, and loveseats set in little nooks.
Fourth World Artisans
This Lakeview shop is ideal for women who want the unique selection of a boutique but with more affordable price tags. Located beneath an appropriately feminine black and pink awning on Southport Avenue, She One offers colorful T-shirts, flirty dresses, and unusual accessories from brands like Free People, Sweet Pea, Kensie, Nick & Mo, and Tulle. Garments range from casual to formal, and the accessory selection includes lingerie, purses, and handmade jewelry. On weekdays, there’s even a store dog, Brody, to keep patrons company while they shop.
The first upscale women's clothing store in Lakeview, Krista K was established in 2002 and quickly became a go-to shop for fashion-forward Chicagoans. The boutique features styles from both emerging and well-known designers, including Helmut Lang, Haute Hippie, Elizabeth and James, Twill 22, and Alexis Bittar. An extensive designer denim collection is displayed alongside casual wear on the lower level, and patrons can also browse a selection of jewelry by Lana, handbags by Lauren Merkin, and shoes from Coclico. The merchandise is housed in a spacious interior with hardwood floors, pale blue and gold wallpaper, and shaded glass bead chandeliers.
Red Head Boutique
Housed in the 1904 Santa Fe Building designed by Daniel Burnham, the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s ArchiCenter features temporary exhibits as well as a permanent display entitled Chicago: You Are Here. This exhibit highlights the defining structures of the city, such as the Sears Tower and the Illinois and Michigan Canal, as well as the people who built them. The display incorporates a scale model of downtown and recordings of Chicago-related sounds, like the crowds at Wrigley Field. The ArchiCenter also offers world-renowned architectural tours and a gift shop selling photography books, Frank Lloyd Wright merchandise, and unusual toys.
Arts Club of Chicago
In operation since 1916, the Arts Club of Chicago hosts three public art exhibits each year in its gallery space on East Ontario Street. The building, which opened in 1997, was the first venue ever owned by the club and features a famous Mies van der Rohe-designed steel staircase. Aside from traveling exhibits, the club showcases works from its permanent collection, which includes pieces by Henri Matisse, Francis Picabia, Alex Katz, and Pablo Picasso, whose first U.S. show was presented by the Arts Club. Exhibits emphasize cutting-edge contemporary work and cover a range of media, including painting, sculpture, and fashion.
Rainbow Lobby of Adler Planetarium
One of three venues comprising the lakefront Museum Campus, the Adler was established in 1930, making it the first planetarium in the nation. Today, the museum houses two planetariums, a 3-D theater, and 10 hands-on space science exhibits. However, one of the Adler’s most memorable features is its main entrance, known as Rainbow Lobby. The 1,400-square-foot space is lined with beveled glass doors that act as giant prisms, filling the lobby with dozens of tiny rainbows when the sun is in the west. Here, patrons can also view a large marble panel bearing a quote from founder Max Adler.
Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows
The country’s first museum dedicated solely to stained-glass windows, the Smith Museum is located inside Festival Hall on Navy Pier. The museum’s collection, which spans from 1870 to the present, consists of 150 windows created by both world-renowned and lesser-known artists, including Louis Comfort Tiffany, John LaFarge, and Ed Paschke. Highlights include a contemporary window made from soda bottles, a stained-glass portrait of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Richard H. Driehaus Gallery, which houses 13 original pieces from Tiffany’s New York studio. A darkened atmosphere and dramatic backlighting enhance the displays.
Chicago Cultural Center
Located in the Loop, the Chicago Cultural Center is known for both its impressive architecture and its free programming, which includes more than 1,000 events each year. The building, originally constructed in 1897 to house the Chicago Public Library, is a Neoclassical structure featuring Carrara marble, colorful mosaics, gilded coffered ceilings, and the world’s largest Tiffany glass dome, consisting of more than 30,000 pieces of glass. Special events range from concerts and art exhibitions to dance performances, plays, and family events like the annual Dance-Along Nutcracker. Visitors can also dine in the lower-level café and unwind in the reading area.
The world’s largest collection of boutiques geared toward home furnishing and renovation, LuxeHome is a 100,000-square-foot space lined more than 30 shops selling everything from appliances to tile. Located on the first floor of downtown’s Merchandise Mart, LuxeHome attracts both homeowners and interior designers with retail favorites like Anne Sacks, The Kohler Store, and Clive Christian Furniture. Each boutique hosts its own special events, which range from cooking demonstrations to trunk shows, so calling or checking online before visiting can prove beneficial. Also, make sure to stop by the LuxeHome Concierge upon arrival to create a well-planned, customized shopping experience.
Established by two architects in 2001, Orange Skin is dedicated to providing American customers with access to modern international design. As such, the store’s ever-changing collection of home furnishings features the work of more than 200 designers from across the globe, including Piero Lissoni, Aldo Rossi, Philippe Starck, Carlo Bartoli, and Michael Graves. The inventory is defined by a minimalist aesthetic, clean lines, and mostly neutral tones accented by pops of bright color. While visiting the River North showroom, patrons may find sleek gray Jensen armchairs and white, legless coffee tables contrasted with quirkier items like milk carton clocks.
Proprietor Karl Sorensen travels to Europe and South America three times a year to bring back rare finds for his home and tableware shop. Whether it’s a vintage belt from the Italian army or a Victorian-era teapot, Sorenson has a flair for unearthing items that aren’t mass-produced. Don’t be afraid to shop impulsively; most likely whatever it is won’t be there next time.
Tip: Sorensen also sells his wares through his Web site.
Tip: Don’t overlook the little baskets throughout the store; they often contain some of the coolest objects.
The younger, trendier sister store to Crate & Barrel, CB2 was founded in Old Town in 2000 and is now an ever-growing American and Canadian chain. Behind an all-glass storefront, this flagship shop houses a wide array of stylish, affordable home furnishings, including what CB2 calls “one-of-a-finds,” limited time only items handcrafted by skilled artisans from around the world. Shoppers may find sleek gray loveseats, colorful area rugs, graphic pillows, unusually shaped sea glass vases, shower curtains, and a wide array of kitchen items, such as asymmetrical, stainless-steel serving bowls.
One O Six
A satellite of the flagship London store, Graff specializes in fine diamonds sourced from mines around the globe. Established by award-winning jeweler Laurence Graff, known as the “King of Diamonds,” the company is involved in every step of the jewelry production process, resulting in unique, high-quality pieces. The jewelry is handcrafted in the London workshop and then shipped to this Gold Coast store, designed in the Neoclassical style with tapered columns and marble floors. Here, customers find stones in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors set in chandelier earrings, spiral pendant necklaces, and of course, dramatic engagement rings.
Now a world-renowned brand lauded for its high-quality leather goods, Henry Beguelin originally began as a group of friends designing belts from leather and salvaged materials on the Italian island of Elba in the 1980’s. Today, the ever-growing international chain still maintains a commitment to producing handcrafted goods made with archetypal tools, resulting in pieces that are timeless, sturdy, and unique. At this Magnificent Mile outpost, shoppers find classic men’s loafers, women’s pumps, belts, beaded jewelry, cardigans, and handbags adorned with braided handles or tassels. Each piece is embroidered with the brand’s trademark stick figure, which symbolizes “low-key elegance.”
In a neighborhood full of high-end retail, this women’s clothing boutique sets itself apart with an inventory of relatively affordable styles from both local and international designers. Inside, fashion-forward shoppers are delighted by a variety of edgy yet feminine clothing, including Lola & Sophie draped tunics, Casting dresses, asymmetrical cardigans from Left on Houston, Bella Dahl jeans, and Mike Gonzalez coat dresses. The shop also carries a limited selection of Anouk boots, belts, handbags, and locally made jewelry. A popular line of eco-friendly garments and a well-stocked discount rack round out the offerings.
Chestnut Grill & Wine Bar
Upon entering this modern Japanese restaurant, patrons are wowed by a Jeffrey Beers-designed interior adorned with a water wall, oversize mirrors, red leather chairs, and an undulating wooden ceiling hung with copper chandeliers. Visitors can dine at the sushi bar or head to the couch-filled lounge which opens onto a seasonal patio overlooking the Chicago River. As impressive as the restaurant's setting is the menu of traditional and contemporary Japanese dishes from executive chefs Jun Ichikawa and Gene Kato. Signatures include the lobster spring rolls and Le Quack Japonais: house-smoked duck with hoisin sauce, mango chutney, and moo shu wraps.
At the forefront of the groundbreaking molecular gastronomy movement, Alinea offers meals that are quite simply unlike any others. Dedicated followers eagerly await chef Grant Achatz’s scrupulously deconstructed innovations, which are always as delicious as they are surprising: venison is served atop a pillow of scented air; tiny spheres explode with familiar flavors in the mouth; and bite-size courses of sweet potato and bacon are served on a spike. The staff, as expertly choreographed as the Bolshoi Ballet, instructs patrons on how to eat the exquisitely constructed and artfully presented concoctions (the serving ware is created by an accomplished sculptor), while offering hints as to ingredients. Although this is clearly a temple to experimental cuisine, the atmosphere in the elegantly converted, dramatically lit town house is decidedly laid-back. You won’t find starchy waiters or icy attitude here, where all that’s required is an interest in extraordinary dining and an open mind.
Located in Lincoln Park and recipient of a Michelin star in 2010, this restaurant offers inventive New American cuisine from Italian-born chef Giuseppe Tentori, previously of Charlie Trotter’s. The sleek main room is adorned with decorative white sails, brick walls, and leopard-print chairs, and additional seating is available outside on the enclosed, tree-shaded patio. After starting with creative handcrafted cocktails, which can be customized to suit personal flavor preferences, move on to seasonal specialties like the braised beef short rib ravioli and Alaskan halibut with poached prawns. The eclectic yet unobtrusive background tunes can range from contemporary hip-hop to Simon & Garfunkel.
An innovative fusion of Indian and Latin American cuisine delights diners at this River North restaurant. Executive chef Maneet Chauhan, also a judge on Food Network’s Chopped, offers a menu of small plates, such as the duck vindaloo arepa (fried unleavened bread), alongside signature entrées like the tandoori skirt steak. Adventurous diners especially enjoy the “Heat” section of the menu, which features extra-spicy Indian dishes, as well as Vermilion’s unusual, spice-infused cocktails, such as the blueberry cardamom fizz. Works by famed Indian photographer Farrokh Chothia and a cabinet filled with Latin American artifacts reflect the restaurant’s regional inspiration.
A contemporary American restaurant and dessert bar in Bucktown, Hot Chocolate is the brainchild of Mindy Segal, a former pastry chef at Spago and a three-time James Beard Foundation nominee for Outstanding Pastry Chef in the Country. In an open dining room adorned with simple round mirrors, disk-shaped light fixtures, and chocolate brown hues, patrons begin with signature dishes like the macaroni and cheese made with gruyere and mammoth cheddar. Of course, the dessert selection is the primary focus, and it includes warm brioche doughnuts and seven kinds of hot chocolate, each served with homemade marshmallows.
Situated inside Chicago’s Peninsula hotel, Avenues is a feast for the senses, combining flavorful contemporary cuisine with a lush, elegant atmosphere. Diners enjoy an impeccable menu of seasonal fare courtesy of Chef de Cuisine Curtis Duffy, formerly of Alinea fame. Dishes like Cortez Bay scallops and Wagyu beef ribeye dazzle with their deceptively simple flavor profiles, and the posh dining area shimmers with shades of gold, welcoming diners for special occasions and romantic meals. The restaurant’s extensive wine collection is showcased in two large cabinets, and expert wine recommendations are available.
Formerly the Amalfi Hotel