The Windy City has recently become one of the most enticing metro areas in North America for hoteliers, top chefs and affluent travelers. Richard Branson chose Chicago for the opening of his first Virgin hotel, George Lucas tapped the city for his new museum opening in 2018 and, once again, Alinea has been crowned the nation’s best restaurant. Neighborhoods are reinventing themselves, and the entire metropolis is experiencing a major boom in tourism. With so much going on, we’ve narrowed down some of the most important things to keep on your radar when you blow into town.
STIFF POURS AT THREE DOTS AND A DASH
This flamboyant watering hole, opened in July 2013, pays tribute to Chicago’s golden age of tiki bars. Celebrity bartender Paul McGee designed the bar to be fun, lively and somehow stylishly campy, although the main allure is the number of punchy, unique and stiff tiki cocktails that you’d be hard-pressed to find… well, anywhere else in the world.
EXPLORING THE WEST LOOP
Great neighborhoods abound in Chicago, but the most progressively gentrifying is the West Loop. Locals will attest that it was a bit unsafe to walk down these streets just a handful of years ago, but the area is now chockablock with cool boutiques and cafés. In fact, the district is now considered the new “Restaurant Row,” thanks to award-winning eatery Girl & the Goat (by Stefanie Izard of “Top Chef” fame), which was among the first establishments to brave these formerly dilapidated streets in 2010.
Old warehouses are being converted into pizza joints, trendy bars are opening by the dozen, theaters are breaking ground and Hyatt is opening its fifth Chicago location in a 1920s office building. It looks like the West Loop has really come around!
CARB-LOADING AT DO-RITE DONUTS
Chicago may be notorious for deep-dish pizza, but doughnuts and fried chicken have recently cracked the culinary scene, and now you can kill two birds with one stone at Do-Right Donuts, opened this summer by notable chef Jeff Mahin of Stella Barra, Summer House and M Street Kitchen.
Load up on classic sandwiches like egg breakfast and fried chicken, then finish off with some sinfully delicious, gourmet handmade doughnuts, like the Valrhona Chocolate Cake and the Candied Maple Bacon.
CHICAGO CHIC AT SOHO HOUSE
The fifth North American location for the brand opened this past summer in a six-story, historic belting factory warehouse dating back to 1907, and it’s the largest Soho House to date. Tricked out with stylish quarters and lavish amenities (think leather ottomans for every plush seat in its signature screening room), the hotel has managed nonetheless to preserve original structures like exposed beams and high ceilings.
On hand are 40 guest rooms; a Cowshed spa; two restaurants; a 12,000-square-foot gym with old-school boxing ring; an outdoor pool terrace; and, naturally, the Club Floor for members. For the first time ever, several spaces are open to nonmembers (like the restaurants and lobby lounge), although hotel guests have priority when it comes to soaking up all of the amenities.
PUBLIC ART FLOURISHES
While I highly endorse the Art Institute of Chicago, the Field Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art, I also suggest taking to the streets to explore the wealth of artwork throughout the city (beyond the famous architecture).
Chicago is littered with countless public murals, sculptures and art installations, including recent public works by Christopher Wool, Robert Lobe and Alice Aycock that join preexisting public art from the likes of Orly Genger and Hebru Brantley in cool outdoor spaces like Kenwood and Palmisano Park. Get ready for a picture-perfect stroll.
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