Once, Chicago was a meat-and-potatoes town, the City of Broad Shoulders.
Chicagoans still brawl over who has the best deep-dish pizza and Chicago-style hot dogs, which come with no ketchup but so many condiments they're “dragged through the garden.’’
But these days locals are just as likely to seek out the best macarons and gelato, and on special occasions, they dine at Michelin-starred restaurants with avant-garde chefs who are more Jeff Koons than Betty Crocker.
One Memorial Day weekend, my friend Grace and I went to tour "ethnic'' Chicago. But we'd only been there a few hours before we realized everything about Chicago is ethnic.
Chicago is a mosaic, a city of neighborhoods settled by waves of immigrants who arrived to dig its waterways, build its railroads and work in its slaughterhouses.
One of its first neighborhoods was Bridgeport, settled by Irish canal workers in the 1840s and the stronghold of Mayor Richard J. Daley and his son Richard M. Daley, the current mayor.
In Chicago, there’s great people-watching — but the building-watching is even better.
The city is best known for humongous buildings — the Willis (Sears) Tower, Hancock Center, Aon Building. But clustered around their knees are others that attract tourists from all over the world, buildings with so much flair it’s tempting to give them personalities.
There’s Helmut Jahn’s Thompson Center, the brassy showgirl with the heart of gold, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Federal Plaza, the geek with the thick black glasses.
Chicago is on a roll. Millennium Park is wildly popular, and the city has been crowned the western White House.
But long before Barack Obama made Chicago cool by association, people had noticed that it's a whole lot of fun. These days, tourists have to compete with hordes of conventioneers and suburbanites fleeing back to the city. Prices, of course, have gone up.
But Chicago is a populist town, and there's lots to do for free. Here are 10 tips for making a trip affordable.
Chicago has come a long way since it was hog butcher to the world.
There was nothing very appetizing about early Chicago. The factories and slaughterhouses that made it grow also made it stink. Rotting carcasses made the Chicago River bubble; a glass of water came with a side of cholera.
But the city grew up. The immigrants who packed its meat, dug its waterways and built its railroads moved on and were replaced by new immigrants, who settled in places that became known as Little Italy, Andersonville, Polish Village, Ukrainian Village, Chinatown, Greek Town and Pilsen.
Chicago is like one big theme park. The thing is, you have to bring your own theme.
I have one every time I go there: Blues and bicycling. Museums and dim sum. Skyscrapers and food tours.
That's because the possibilities are endless. There's so much to do in Chicago that it's easy to bounce around like a kid in a candy store, overwhelmed by choices, as time runs out.
Visiting Chicago during the holidays, I'm always bowled over by how merry everyone is.
Can it be . . . Chicago Nice? It's either that or pixie dust.
Chicago is an exciting place to be any time, but at Christmas, it pulls out the stops. The Magnificent Mile sparkles. Ice
skaters do pirouettes in Millennium Park. There are free concerts everywhere.
In high-spirited Chicago, Halloween is the most spirited weekend of the year.
We didn’t know that before we arrived last year, but then a few thousand Smurfs, zombies and cowboys bicycled past us
on the monthly Critical Mass ride through Lincoln Park.
A pirate skull was perched on the turnips the next morning at the farmers market, and we saw oversized ghouls and witches waving from the windows of mansions. Downtown, orange gushers rose from the fountain in Franken Plaza, known as Daley Plaza the rest of the year.
The Chicago River never has run clear.
Before settlers arrived, it was a lethargic prairie river that ran through a swamp the Potawatomi called Checaugou — for “swamp weed,’’ or “wild onion.’’
Then factories and slaughterhouses turned it into a sewer. At the confluence of the main branch with the north and south branches, Bubbly Creek was named for the methane gas that rose from decomposing carcasses on the river bottom.
To a would-be tour guide, Chicago is as shifty as a kaleidoscope.
The city has so many facets, in so many splendid configurations, that no one can predict what anyone — especially
children — will like best.
During spring break, my friend Rebecca and I took our children to Chicago, with an itinerary that cunningly alternated visits
to museums with visits to zoos and parks.
If you love to visit Chicago, as we do, you have a compelling reason to look for discounts when you’re visiting — the more you save, the sooner you can return.
We traveled there over Memorial Day weekend, but we started looking for savings months in advance. First, I arranged a home
exchange, so we didn’t have to pay for a hotel.
Then we signed up for the Chicago Dealradar, a digest of dozens of daily coupon deals. Then we started looking for free things to do.
Everything that’s worth doing, you can do along Chicago’s lakefront.
Seniors in Speedos climb out of Lake Michigan after swimming laps. Chess players hunch over boards in a 1957 pavilion that looks like the Jetsons’ carport. College girls fumble with kayaks in the shadow of yachts, and boys play beach volleyball.
Overhead, a biplane pulls a flapping beer banner through the sky.