Chicago is "The City that Works" and "The City of Big Shoulders." It boasts the United States' tallest building and one of the world's largest office buildings. With the ubiquitous elevated trains creating a continuous clatter, the city looks, feels, and in fact is, big.
At first glance, Chicago can be overwhelming. But, like any city, it is the sum of its parts, and its parts are diverse. Also known as "The City of Neighborhoods," Chicago comprises more than 75 official neighborhoods. Each features its own distinct quality and character.
So, when trying to digest Chicago, don't try to take it all in with one big bite. Break it up into manageable portions.
This area takes its name from the elevated train, the "El," that loops around the city's central core. While the downtown area stretches beyond these boundaries, much of the lifeblood that invigorates the rest of the city also pumps through the Loop. The
When it's time for the city that works to relax, the Loop does not disappoint. The city's magnificent
Thanks to a burgeoning theater district, the Loop is increasingly becoming a place to visit when the workday ends. The restored
While technically just outside the Loop's borders,
Near North Side
Just to the north of the Loop, bordered by the Chicago River on the south, the Lake on the east and North Avenue on the north, is Chicago's Near North Side neighborhood. This area is in turn made up of several other smaller districts.
The city's early monument to modernity, the
If you are wondering where the people who can afford to shop at the more expensive stores on Michigan Avenue live, head east to Streeterville, or the adjoining Gold Coast neighborhood. Theoretically, the Gold Coast is named for the African coast of the same name, but the moniker also describes the area's opulence. The neighborhood is the nation's second wealthiest, surpassed only by New York City's Central Park East.
Just north of the Chicago River and a few blocks west of the Mag Mile is River North, home to an eclectic mix of swanky galleries, trendy cafes and theme restaurants like the
In stark contrast to the garish designs of the chain restaurants, the South Loop offers a quaint, Old World charm, neighborhood bars and smaller restaurants. Once home to one of the largest publishing centers in the Midwest, the warehouses left behind have been renovated and taken over by young, affluent professionals who wish to walk to their jobs in the Loop. The area's focal point,
Lake Shore Drive, one of the city's major north-south arteries, runs along the picturesque lakefront. While the Drive will take you to many of the city's attractions, do not forget that this boulevard is an attraction in itself. The lake view, the bold skyline and even the Drive's own tree-lined medians offer some of the most breathtaking views in the city.
Once you pass North Avenue, you will enter Lincoln Park, one of the city's more gentrified areas. Tree-lined Fullerton Avenue, with its brownstones converted into condos, gives you a feel for the neighborhood residents. Lincoln Park also surrounds the DePaul University neighborhood. A variety of bars, dance spots and inexpensive restaurants cater to the college and just-out-of-college crowd.
Not all of Lincoln Park hustles and bustles. In fact, the park from which the neighborhood takes its name is one of the city's largest and most pastoral. Designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, who also drew up the blueprints for New York's Central Park,
Heading further north brings you to Lakeview, a neighborhood that serves as a popular nightlife center for both the straight and gay communities. These groups tend to party separately, with the standout exception being
Halsted Street between Belmont Avenue and Irving Park Road serves as the headquarters for gay nightlife. The area is not hard to find; just look for the gigantic rainbow-colored pylons that line the streets. For dancing, head to
If partying is not your thing, don't despair. The area also offers its share of restaurants, from
For the straight set, head a few blocks west to Wrigleyville, a bar area that gets its name from the nearby
Diners can satisfy a variety of tastes in Wrigleyville, including Asian, Cajun, Italian and Mexican. Those who prefer to stick with the bar scene can eat well at
For more live music, head farther north, where you'll find the
A hot spot for artisans and heavy drinkers alike is the Wicker Park/Bucktown area. Hang out at bars like the
The South Side
If you are visiting the city, do not make the mistake many North Siders do by forgetting that Lake Shore Drive also runs south of downtown.
As you cruise south on Lake Shore Drive, admire the Museum Campus where the
Just south, you will pass
Further south, the charming Hyde Park neighborhood has a quaint, old-world look to it. Home to the world-famous
After visiting the museum, push away thoughts of industriousness long enough to take a leisurely stroll through
Chicago is a destination that has so much to offer visitors. Come and explore the diversity and variety that is Chicago.
Chicago is a marvelous mix of awe-inspiring architecture and stunning lake views, blues houses and jazz clubs, celebrity (Michael Jordan) and infamy (Al Capone). It is home to the Willis Tower, architectural gems by the likes of Frank Lloyd Wright, and "da Bears." With this kind of diversity, it's not surprising that the city's culinary offerings are world class.
There is something to suit everyone's appetite, from the classic Chicago-style pizza at Pizzeria Uno to mouthwatering hot dogs to pound-heavy T-bones. Fine dining establishments are top-of-the-line and plentiful. Many excellent ethnic eateries also flourish here, whether you're in the mood for generous Italian, hands-only Ethiopian, Indian curries or spicy Thai.
Get to know the many charming (and tasty) areas of Chicago:
This is the heart of downtown, with its elevated commuter tracks, State Street shopping and architectural landmarks. For a taste of classic German food in a classic Chicago setting, you can't go wrong with the Berghoff. The exquisite Everest is a perfect place for big (and big bucks) occasions. And Cajun/Creole-lovers can try The Original Heaven on Seven for the Chicago version of heaven.
While many night-crawlers will want to venture outside the Loop to truly paint the town red, Kitty O'Shea's, a hotel bar in the Chicago Hilton Plaza and Towers, provides a good setting for an after-dinner drink. Another favorite is the legendary Miller's Pub.
After shopping for hours in Michigan Avenue's chic shops, you're sure to feel those taste buds kick in. If you're dressed in the designer duds you just bought, dine at the luxurious Spiaggia (its sister Café is just as popular and a bit less expensive.) The seafood and chowder at the Cape Cod Room in the Drake Hotel really hits the spot after a day of window shopping, especially on a blustery Chicago winter day. The Signature Room on the 95th Floor in the John Hancock Tower offers a meal with a breathtaking view.
Stepping just off the strip will lead you to a range of memorable dining options. Allen's Cafe features seasonal menus in an elegant setting. Popular specialty foods just off the Magnificent Mile include Pane Caldo for Italian fare and Big Bowl for Pan-Asian food.
But what the Magnificent Mile has in high-class shopping and fashionable restaurants, it lacks in nightlife. For a true bar-hopping experience, head to the nearby Rush Street bars in the Gold Coast. One Mag Mile bar to try is the Chicago classic, the Billy Goat Tavern. This subterranean institution features a full bar that will lift your spirits even if you are not in the mood for its signature "cheezeborgers."
River North/Gold Coast
The areas surrounding the Magnificent Mile are home to many innovative restaurants. The River North area, a few blocks west of Michigan Avenue, features several trendy and popular restaurants. An eclectic menu tempts diners at mk, and Frontera Grill puts a new twist on Mexican fare. Coco Pazzo offers Tuscan delights, and Tsunami showcases sushi in a sleek setting. The area is also home to many of the city's theme restaurants like The Original Rock 'n' Roll McDonald's and Harry Caray's.
The more affluent residents of the Gold Coast, a posh area north of Michigan Avenue, would probably frown at the theme restaurants. They prefer high class, as evidenced by their eateries. Steak lovers should visit Chicago Chop House or the celebrity-favorite, Gibson's. The Pump Room at the Omni Ambassador East Hotel offers a taste of glamor and Chicago tradition. Le Colonial on Rush Street features Vietnamese food with a French influence.
You will also find a popular area for nightlife in the Gold Coast. Head toward Rush and Division Streets and pop into Jilly's Piano Bar for a classy, swingin' Sinatra-esque atmosphere. Young guns on the prowl can go to meat/meet market bars like Butch McGuire's, Mother's or Bar Chicago.
Lincoln Park, Lakeview/Wrigleyville
This is a fun, vibrant community, famous for its boutiques, restaurants and bars. With so many great options, it is impossible to list them all. For starters, you might try sushi at Sai Café, a taste of Spain at Emilio's Tapas or anything on the menu at Charlie Trotter's. Theater-goers frequently start their evenings with the Italian fare at Vinci.
North of Diversey Avenue, you will find yourself in the Lakeview neighborhood with its plentiful restaurants. Enjoy fork-free Ethiopian eats at Mama Desta's Red Sea Restaurant or cozy sushi dining at Shiroi Hana. On Belmont Avenue, the Swedish Ann Sather's is a popular weekend brunch destination. Near Wrigley Field, The Outpost offers global cuisine, and the original Mia Francesca draws crowds with their classic Italian fare.
If you are in the mood to see live music after dinner, see who's playing at the Elbo Room, which features a mix of jazz, rock and spoken word concerts. Another area institution is Metro Smart Bar, where several local bands like the Smashing Pumpkins started their careers before making it big.
Bars line the streets in these areas. Popular destinations include the Cubby Bear and Murphy's Bleachers in Wrigleyville. In Lincoln Park, Kincade's, Durkin's and Glascott's are among the many favorites. Many in the gay and lesbian community head to places like Roscoe's Tavern for their nights on the town.
This community is known for its diversity, the University of Chicago campus and the renowned Museum of Science and Industry. The culinary offerings are limited, but it offers some gems. Mellow Yellow is a charming local spot with award-winning chili and rotisserie-chicken. The Calypso Cafe offers Caribbean cuisine under a corrugated tin ceiling. And, as one of Chicago's most popular Southern roadhouse-style joints, the Dixie Kitchen is a can't-miss with catfish, corn fritters and country-fried steak.
It may not be one of the largest Chinatowns you'll visit, but its restaurants hold their own with many authentic offerings. One perennial favorite is Evergreen. For weekend dim sum, Phoenix is your best bet. If you want more than just Chinese, Penang's extensive menu boasts an array of Southeast Asian treats.
Café Absinthe serves up creative French bistro fare, as do the intimate Le Bouchon and Cafe Matou. Located just outside the Wicker Park area, Mirai, serves sushi in a trendy metal-and-glass club setting. The funky Violet Hour serves up high-end versions of American classics. For a supper club feel and killer martinis, try Club Lucky.
It will not take you long to realize that Wicker Park is no slouch in the nightlife department. Holiday Club and The Note are just a few of the neighborhood favorites.
The first non-native to settle in the area now known as Chicago was Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable, a fugitive slave from San Domingo. By 1779, a small settlement had sprung up around his camp, and du Sable's stake was eventually purchased by another trader, who was bought out by Jonathan Kinzie in 1804. As the settlement grew, the government began to see it as a gateway to the Western frontier and erected Fort Dearborn (now the Michigan Avenue Bridge), where the Chicago River and Lake Michigan kissed. The Native Americans were quite unhappy with this situation and in 1812 massacred most of the soldiers and their families. The fort was rebuilt in 1814 and by 1833 Chicago was a lively frontier town.
The promise of a quick buck drew people, and in 1837 Chicago was officially incorporated as a city. The Illinois and Michigan canal opened in 1848. Rail lines soon followed, and Chicago became the nation's inland shipping hub. With the opening of the Union Stockyards on the western fringe of town, Chicago, as poet Carl Sandburg famously put it, became the "hog butcher to the world."
In the 1850s and 1860s, things could not have looked brighter. In just a few years, Chicago grew from a small frontier town to a booming metropolis on the lake, drawing both Easterners and European immigrants.
The summer of 1871 was a scorcher, and rain was scarce. Catherine O'Leary lived on the city's southwest side, and on the evening of October 8, a small fire began in her barn and started to spread. The cow knocking the lantern over into a pile of hay has become the stuff of legends, but no one really knows what started the blaze that would become known as the Great Chicago Fire.
The fire swept across the Chicago River and burnt the business center of the city to the ground. It continued north, destroying everything in its path all the way to Fullerton Avenue. Firefighters were powerless, but the clouds finally granted Chicago a few precious drops of rain, which started to beat the flames into submission 25 hours after the fire began. Most of the city was in rubble, 100,000 people were homeless, 17,450 buildings were burnt to ash. At the time, losses were estimated at 200 million. Chicago was rebuilt from the ground up, bigger, better and more uniquely American than any other city in the country. Louis Sullivan, Daniel Burnham, John Root and Dankmar Adler, among other renowned architects, joined local builders. "Form followed function" and buildings rose to the sky supported by gridworks of steel. Such masterpieces as the Rookery Building, the Monadnock Building, the Auditorium Theatre Building, and the Marquette Building took shape during this time. To prove its place, a group of politicians and businessmen set out to secure Chicago as the site of the 1893 World's Fair through a blustery campaign of self-promotion. A bitter rivalry ensued between Chicago, St. Louis, Washington D.C. and especially New York. In the New York Sun, editorialist Charles A. Dana warned not to listen "to the nonsensical claims of that windy city. Its people could not build a World's Fair even if they won it." Although proven wrong, Dana did coin Chicago's most common nickname, "The Windy City."
Chicago won the contest and built the fair. Under the guidance of Daniel Hudson Burnham, whose motto was "make no little plans, for they have no magic to stir men's blood," a gleaming city of white was erected in Jackson Park. Today, the Museum of Science and Industry stands as the sole survivor of the fairgrounds.
For years, the Levee District was the seat of the corrupt First Ward, run by two of Chicago's greatest characters, Michael "Hinky Dink" Kenna and John "Bathhouse" Coughlin. Theirs was an empire that consisted of the riches of the Loop and the spoils of vice. For years, they reigned as the "Lords of the Levee," but changing social tides brought their empire to an end.
The late 1890s were a time of social reform, and Chicago was in need of reforming, even though one politician screamed that "Chicago ain't ready for reform yet." Under the leadership of Jane Addams and her settlement house movement begun at The Hull House, the lives of thousands of immigrants were made better. At the same time, former baseball player turned minister Billy Sunday, with the support of the Women's Christian Temperance Union, turned his eyes to the Levee. Increasing public outrage at Hinky Dink's and Bathhouse's shenanigans ended in the breakup of the Levee.
While unions and social workers, with the aid of such writers as Upton Sinclair and Theodore Dreiser, alleviated some of the conditions of the poor, the vice that had been contained in the Levee spread through the city. With no centralized base of control, gangs formed to stake their claims. Chicago was about to enter its bloodiest era, one that still stains the public imagination.
During Prohibition, Al Capone had almost a stranglehold on the liquor supply to the city, and he used any means necessary to keep that control. Prohibition ended in 1933, but the fear and violence did not end. Even though Capone was in jail, "The Outfit" continued to run vice in the city. With the coming of the Great Depression in 1929, things only got worse.
Bright moments emerged in the 1930s, though. In 1933, Chicago once again hosted a World's Fair. Chicago pioneered in the broadcasting industry, and would go on to pioneer in television a decade later. Chicago was also a musical innovator. Jazz had crept into the city from New Orleans, along with the likes of Louis Armstrong, and Chicago put its own spin on the music. Benny Goodman learned to play the clarinet at Hull House and in the 1930s ignited America with his brand of swing.
World War II shook America and Chicago out of the Depression. Chicago was a big player in the manufacture and repair of war ships. Municipal Pier, now Navy Pier, became a temporary Navy base and hundreds of Rosie the Riveters could be seen bustling to work each day. The end of the war brought another boom-time, and Chicago prospered with new building projects. 1968 was a notorious year. The Democrats met in Chicago to nominate their presidential candidate. A large group of protesters assembled near The Congress Plaza Hotel on Michigan Avenue. Fearing a violent uprising, Mayor Richard J. Daley cracked down hard. Film footage of Chicago cops clobbering protesters is still hard to watch. Dissatisfaction set in, and many once proud neighborhoods began to crumble. The 1970s saw a period of great urban decline. Things looked bleak. And then the 1980s hit.
With the upsurge in the economy, building began once more in the Loop, with huge office towers springing up everywhere, joining the ranks of the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) and the John Hancock Tower. It was the busiest time for building in the Loop since Mies van der Rohe erected his steel and glass buildings 20 years before. An influx of people returned to the city from the suburbs. Neighborhoods that had been in decline, such as Lincoln Park and Lakeview, had new life breathed into them.
Today, Chicago stands as a thriving metropolis, the proud home of millions and a popular destination for travelers.
Chicago may have more neighborhoods than any other city in North America. While many of them have begun to look similar, each maintains distinct features. Whether looking for the exotic or a bit of the city made famous by novelist Nelson Algren, you can find what you need in Chicago.
Four of Chicago's neighborhoods offer most of its best hotels: the Loop, North Michigan Avenue, the Gold Coast and Lincoln Park. Each neighborhood has its pros and cons, but you can be assured that you won't have to worry about stray bullets coming through your window or the elevated train clattering by, à la The Blues Brothers.
When people think of Chicago, the Loop is often what first comes to mind. This district encompasses towering skyscrapers including the Willis Tower, the Chicago Board of Trade and the Art Institute of Chicago, along with numerous theaters, restaurants and universities. The Loop is the historic heart of Chicago and offers a wealth of buildings rich with architectural and historic significance. However, while it teems with life during the business week and on weekends, outside of the theaters, little nightlife can be found.
If you want to stay in the heart of the city with easy access to every neighborhood and attraction, consider booking a room at the Palmer House Hilton or the W Chicago City Center (formerly the Midland Hotel). Each of these hotels has historical significance, but the Palmer House really takes the cake. This is actually the hotel's third incarnation. The first building was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, and the second was torn down to make way for the present building. Check out the Hotel Burnham or Hotel Allegro for posh alternatives adjacent to the theater district.
North Michigan Avenue
As two of the few surviving buildings from the fire of 1871, the Water Tower and the Chicago Water Works look out proudly over the growth that has occurred around their home on North Michigan Avenue. A post-World War II boom turned this strip into the Magnificent Mile, Chicago's preeminent shopping and tourist district. The Mile begins at the Chicago River near the Wrigley Building and continues north to ritzy Oak Street. Along the way, you will find not only upscale stores and theaters, but entertainment ventures like the ESPN Zone. Just off Michigan Avenue there are lots of themed restaurants for families including old favorites like the Hard Rock Café.
Most tourists opt to stay in this district because of its location and proximity to attractions. Staying in this area will cost you, but you can find weekend rates and more moderate prices at hotels such as the Lenox Suites. Business travelers and families alike find reasonable rates and welcome amenities at the centrally located Hilton Garden Inn Chicago Downtown North and the Chicago Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile. For those wanting to flex their credit cards, the Four Seasons Hotel consistently ranks as one of the best in the country, and it has the prices to prove it. The Drake Hotel, the stately and luxurious home of the famed Cape Cod restaurant, has offered a four-star experience since 1920.
Some people might want to stay on North Michigan for the convenience it offers, but at the same time avoid the tourists and weekend shoppers who congest the area. The Tremont Hotel offers the perfect hideaway, located just a block off Michigan Avenue.
The Gold Coast
People thought Potter Palmer was crazy when he uprooted his family from their Prairie Avenue home and moved them to the wilderness of the North Side. For years Prairie Avenue was synonymous with wealth, but Palmer's move marked the beginning of the end for this once fabulously wealthy street. Not long after his departure, the poverty of nearby immigrant neighborhoods began to encroach upon the homes of Chicago's wealthy. So they joined Potter Palmer in the part of town now called the Gold Coast.
To this day, it remains an elite place to live, the mark of wealth and sophistication. Walk along Astor and North State Street to admire the gorgeous brown and red stone buildings. Perhaps you will even decide to stay at a first-class place like the Omni Ambassador East Hotel. It is home to the Pump Room, where celebrities such as Frank Sinatra drank and talked the night away. Some of its 1940s glamor still survives. You may need to rely more on taxis or buses if you're staying in the Gold Coast, but for seclusion, elegance and a piece of the high life, this area can't be beat.
It is hard to believe that Lincoln Park was once a cemetery. Nothing is left of those days except the Getty Tomb. Instead, Lincoln Park is a thriving community that borders the park of the same name on the east, Ashland Avenue on the west, and North and Diversey Avenues on the south and north. If you want to stay in a real Chicago neighborhood that has all the convenience of the Loop, look no further. Bus and train routes cut across Lincoln Park at several points, making it easy to get just about anywhere in the city or suburbs.
A number of moderately priced hotels are available, and for a rock bottom rate you can't beat the Days Inn Lincoln Park on Diversey. Check out the Willows Hotel or the Majestic Hotel if you want to stay on a quiet residential street. For a more invigorating, Art Deco atmosphere, check into the City Suites Hotel, located on Belmont Avenue. A frequent haunt of gangsters and mobsters during Prohibition, the hotel now caters to both tourists and business travelers.
From the lake to the park to museums, restaurants and transportation options, Lincoln Park is probably the best place to stay in Chicago if you don't mind being away from the throngs of North Michigan Avenue or the history of the Loop. Get up early to jog along Lake Michigan, or sit on Belmont Rocks to watch the sun set over the city. Lincoln Park is truly a great place to experience city life at its best.