Saturday, September 12, 2020

Sweet (3-Day) Home, Chicago

Last summer Zac and I took a long weekend trip to Chicago, scheduled around seeing the Rolling Stones at Soldier Field.  What a trip!  Zac scored us awesome Cubs tickets that included club access to the 1914 club.  WOW, that was snazzy.  And lots of food.   We had both been to Chicago before, but not for leisure so didn't really experience it much.  I have family ties to Chicago as well with my grandmother's family living there briefly, and so it was also fun to see parts of Chicago where they lived and she went to school.  And the food. Of course.  No shortage of good eats in Chicago. 
We stayed at the Palmer House Hilton.  Gorgeous hotel and building.  Great location for access to several L stops as well.  

Our first day we arrived late afternoon with time to check in, explore a bit, and grab some dinner.  Our first stop was Wicker Park.  We hopped off the Blue line at the Damen metro stop.  Nearby was Bonci Pizza, not at all traditional Chicago pizza, it's Roman pizza.  This restaurant's only other location is in, you guessed it, Rome, Italy.  Bonci has attracted national attention and won a few awards, and was a supposed favorite of Anthony Bourdain.   We can see why! We got a sampling of several things.   The deep fried arancini was really really good.  

After our quick bite we walked up N Milwaukee Ave for quite a while to explore more of Wicker Park, Bucktown, and ending in Palmer Square/Logan Square area.   After that, time to head back to the city for our evening plans = head to the top of the Sears Tower! (It's called the Willis Tower now technically....).   Our goal was to head up to the Skydeck in time to catch the sunset and then view the city lights at night from above.   It all worked out perfectly.  I love heights, and city views, and nighttime city views, and tall buildings, and so this really checked all the boxes! 

This is "The Ledge" at the skydeck.  There are a few bump-outs on the side of the building that you can go out on, and then look straight down to the street below through the clear floor.  Worth the wait in line and ticket price!  Photos below are from various vantage points from the observation area at the skydeck as the sun set and city lights came to life.  (It's all indoors).  

The next day we set out to explore the city.  We'd heard great things about the River Boat Architectural Tour.  We picked up the boat near where the river meets Lake Michigan, where some of the older buildings in the city are located.  The weather was perfect for us, clear sunny skies and not too hot.  The tour lasted 75 minutes and was not just informative but a great way to see the city buildings.   At the end they took us out into Lake Michigan so we could see good city skyline views.  

Time for some lunch after the river boat tour.  The boat dropped us off near N Michigan Avenue, so no time like the present to head north and explore the Magnificent Mile.  We walked almost all the way to the lakefront, and stopped at Cafe Spiaggia.  This is the more casual version of Spiaggia, an award winning Italian fine dining restaurant.  We were happy to stumble upon it and enjoy a nice lunch! 

We ordered an assortment of dishes to try.  We go the Burrata, Artichoke, and Meatball Antipasti plates, then shared the Pappardelle with duck confit and Gnocchi with wild board ragu pasta dishes.    Quite the feast! 

One fun thing about big cities is how ornate everything is, even the subway stations!  I love this picture, primarily because of the person in it 😉.  This is in the E Chicago Ave / N State Street subway station.  

We leisurely made our way back to the hotel after lunch, explored around the hotel a bit, rested, and got ready for the evenings main festivities - The Rolling Stones!  Mick Jagger had some health issues, which postponed the tour that spring and summer.  Lucky for us, they rescheduled it, but kept our date as the first concert of the tour.  We were pumped! 

Chinatown is near Soldier Field, enough to walk between the two, so we headed there for dinner before the concert. 

I took this picture because I like the sign. Don't have to be able to read the language to know that that is a store I want to go in to.  

For dinner we went to Lao Sze Chuan in Chinatown.  Zac had heard great things about it, and they were true.  

And now for the concert!  It was a short walk to Soldier Field.  We didn't get even all that close when we started seeing these on the sidewalk.....

The concert was so great!  We were supposed to see them again this summer (2020), but due to the current events of a global pandemic, it was canceled.  We are hoping to be able to see them again! 

Our final full day we went to a Cubs game at Wrigley Field.   The Cubs played the Mets (the Mets won).   Zac got the tickets for us from a work colleague, right behind home plate on the 2nd row, PLUS access to the 1914 Club that was recently renovated.  Now THAT is the way to go to a baseball game! 

There was SO MUCH FOOD in the club.  All buffets, and more than pizza, burgers, beer, and wings.  We sampled it all, of course.  

In our seats we were also waited on like royalty, with more unlimited food and beer.  We had a great time. 

They changed out the desserts part way through the game.  Had to go sample them!  Plus it was getting a little hot, so the AC was nice.  

We figured out quickly that when you sit behind home plate during a nationally televised game, you end up on TV!  These are photos of a few family members' TVs, and texted to us in real time....We are the two people on the right down front.  (the people on the first row were rarely in their seats).

The Club stayed open post game as well.  Great experience! 

After the game we explored the area around Wrigley Field, heading south.  We caught a subway for a few stops and got out in old Town/Lincoln Park Zoo area.  This is where my grandmothers family lived in the mid to late 40s.  She graduated from what is now Lincoln Park High School (was a different name back then).  The building in the photo was built in 1899.  

The Second City comedy club in Old Town. 

After an afternoon break, for our last night in Chicago we went west of the city to the Fulton Market area. It was a happening area with lots of restaurants.  One of the most interesting things is as soon as we got off the train, we smelled cookies!  For blocks and blocks, the air smelled of cookies.  I had to get to the bottom of that.  Thanks to the internet and iphones and Google, quickly found out it was actually chocolate that we smelled from the Blommer Chocolate Factory in the West area of the city.  What an interesting thing.  

Below is the view of the city and Sears Tower from W Fulton Market.  

All the restaurants were PACKED.  We didn't have reservations, so waited but not too terribly long to eat at the Little Goat Diner.  If you are a Top Chef fan like we are, this is a restaurant by Stephanie Izard, winner from season 4, and now a James Beard Winner and Iron Chef winner as well! 

Not quite ready to turn in, we decided to explore our hotel more, the Palmer House Hilton.  It was built in 1873 (rebuilt after being burned in the Great Chicago Fire).  Much to my surprise, we could freely move all around the hotel to the ball rooms and meetings rooms.  So ornate and pretty!  

Our last day we flew out midday, so had time to grab lunch before heading to the airport.  Zac's company has an office in Chicago, so we met some of this work buddies.  On the way passed some interesting buildings.  In the 2nd photo below, the block that is run down and not someplace you'd want to go,  notice the "Hotel Men Only" sign.  It's from a movie. Hint: it's a Harrison Ford Movie.  Ok, it's the Fugitive!  

For brunch/lunch we went to the famous Manny's Deli near South Side, a hot spot for Chicago politicians that's been around for over 75 years.   Great way to end a great trip!! 

We can't wait to go back.  It's so easy to get to for us with a non-stop flight out of Birmingham.  Lots left to do and see!  We just love big cities, the tall buildings, and ease of getting around   So much variety in restaurants with food from all over the world.  Can't wait for our next big city adventure! 

Fast forward a year to Global Pandemic of 2020 - we have found some EXCELLENT deep dish Chicago pizza, sent frozen through the mail to your home.  Lou Malnati's.  We've ordered it twice and it is so worth it.  Guess as close as we'll get to Chicago again for the time being.   We now know one place we will definitely go visit in person when we do return......