Destination Chicago Mar01

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Destination Chicago

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WHAT | A quick, chill (or chill-y, if you go in the winter) Michigan Avenue-based getaway

WHY | Chi-Town – The Windy City, the home of America’s largest Polish population, Chicago-style hot dogs and pizza, Chicago blues music, and of course the Broadway musical that bears its name – is perhaps the best (only?) true “Big City” in the Midwest.  And the location of its main shopping district just off of Lake Michigan’s shoreline – urban, yet scenic at the same time – makes it even more unique. There are loads of different, quirky neighbourhoods in Chicago proper, but the Michigan Avenue area, known as The Magnificent Mile (of shops and cafes, that is), is perhaps the most accessible spot in town for a short visit, especially for a first-timer.

chicago-the-magnificent-mile1Chicago’s Magnificent Mile shopping district. Wear comfortable shoes or suffer the consequences.

STAY | Just a couple of blocks from Grant Park (aka “Chicago’s Front Yard”), Michigan Avenue, and the always-worth-a-stop Intelligentsia Coffee (which is headquartered in the city), the Hampton Majestic teams up old-school theatre district charm with chain reliability and reasonable prices (our rate: $159 US.) For our stay, we had a cushy room with plush linens that looked out an upper-level window surrounded by sculpted flourishes, the concierge was attentive and friendly without being either elitist or overbearing, and we easily walked to pretty much everything, including what claims to be “Chicago’s Oldest Italian Restaurant,” the vintage-y Italian Village.

intelligentsiaEspresso in the making at Chicago’s Intelligentsia Coffee.  Free hipster conversation with every purchase.

LOOK | Navy Pier is fun… but crowded, the Sears Tower (sorry – Willis Tower – we still can’t get used to that) is fun… but overpriced – so instead, head over to Grant Park’s sculptures and outdoor amphitheatre, both free for the looking and extra-wonderful if you bring along a picnic lunch. The many little bridges that span the Chicago River throughout the city also make for a picturesque walk, as do the sneaky paths that run underneath Michigan Avenue, one of which leads to more downriver views and the infamous underground Billy Goat Tavern
which was featured in a Bill Murray/Dan Aykroyd/John Belushi skit on Saturday Night Live.

7D5B48744E38337E5DD846D0A57C9281Chicago’s Grant Park and Lake Michigan shoreline, an oasis in the Windy City.

LISTEN | Chicago is an indie-rocker’s delight, whether old-school or cutting edge. Tune in before you go to the likes of OK Go, The Sea and Cake, Smith Westerns, Andrew Bird, Wilco/Tweedy, and who could forget Chicago’s elder statesman, Billy Corgan and his various Smashing Pumpkins projects. If you’re heading to Chi-town in July, pencil in the Pitchfork Music Fest – if you’re going in August, don’t miss Lollapalooza for an energetic, mobbed smorgasbord of pretty much every genre of popular music you can think of.

aerials_NS-4741Lollapalooza rocks Grant Park each summer – bring your sunscreen and (with 300,000 people attending) your patience.

DINE | BUDGET PICK – A unique spin on falafel sandwiches is the newbie mini-chain cafe Falafill (we like the one at 72 E. Adams St.) – choose your falafel, and then “fill” it (get it? Ha) with items from the extras buffet bar for an eclectic, spicy, and far from generic meal that’s kind to the wallet, too. MID PICK – Chicago’s Grand Lux Cafe (also part of a chain, but doesn’t feel like it) offers a gigantic menu on which you’re sure to find something you like, since it spans a wide range of cuisines. All of the food is beautifully presented and prepared, the prices aren’t crazy, and the decor is just modern enough to be fun without being annoying. Try and get a table directly over Michigan Avenue, and your meal will be accompanied by views of the shopping mecca, pedestrians, and cars all from its second story.  LOCAL PICK – Chicago’s signature deep-dish pizza can be found at a wide variety of locales (Gino’s East and Giordano’s being two near the Mile)  – although don’t be taken aback (as we were) if it’s more like a thick, dense tomato pie than the “real” pizza you’re used to (we’re talking to you, New Yorkers.)

falafillFalafill’s fresh, fast food is (you guessed it) fantastic…

DRINK | Founded in Lincoln Park almost ten years ago, Argo Tea has been stealthily gaining fans (and locations) for years, with that Chicago hometown feel and an quirky, delicious range of both hot and cold tea drinks. We’re a bit biased, as we discovered them years ago – but there isn’t a better tea stop in the city. Whether you like black tea, herbal teas, green tea, or even mate, you’ll most certainly find something to like here, whether you get it brewed to drink in the cafe or to-go – you can also snag a bag or jar of their teas to prepare later at your hotel room or at home.  TIP: buy one of their stylish reusable tea tumblers, and you’ll get a drink discount.

argoAll manner of fresh-brewed teas at Argo (the tea shop, not the Ben Affleck movie.)

SURPRISE | And make sure you stop in to the Chicago Cultural Center and look for the Art-O-Mat, an old-school vending machine with pull levers that will dispense a tiny, original piece of art that you can keep for a mere $5 bucks. It’s a perfect, cheap Chi-Town souvenir.

art
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Pyxis Magazine’s PyxTrips focus on low-budget getaways to make you feel like you truly are on vacation without breaking the bank.