A magnet for tourists from all over the world, the Windy City offers myriad attractions
(Editors note: This is the second installment of a two-part travel series. Last week’s article focused on Milwaukee.)
By Mordecai Specktor
In his famous poem “Chicago,” Carl Sandburg sang of the great city:
Hog Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the
Nation’s Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders.
The renowned poet saw Chicago as “wicked” and “crooked” and “brutal”; but I found the Windy City to be a
fascinating destination for a family vacation.
After spending several pleasant days in Milwaukee (7-18-08 AJW), we headed south and began shelling out periodically for the privilege of driving on the Illinois Tollway. A mere 90 minutes after leaving Brew City, we were inching through the big city traffic, heading for our hotel, The Fairmont Chicago.
Since our room wasn’t ready, we reconnoitered the neighborhood. Just a block from the hotel we found Millennium Park (millenniumpark.org), which was bustling with the Taste of Chicago crowd. We walked around the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, the Frank Gehry-designed amphitheater, with stage framed by billowing ribbons of brushed stainless steel. The late Jay Pritzker founded the Hyatt hotel chain, and the Pritzker family, among the wealthiest in the world, are major philanthropists in Chicago.
We also were attracted to the nearby artwork that Chicagoans refer to as “the bean,” Anish Kapoor’s “Cloud
Gate,” a 110-ton, 33-foot-high elliptical sculpture fashioned from polished steel plates. Viewers enjoy looking at and photographing themselves in the sculpture’s funhouse mirror reflections.
Our Chicago visit was confined to sights in the Loop, the downtown core, which can be traveled on a free trolley system during the summer months (go to: www.cityofchicago.org, and search for “free trolleys”).
Back at the Fairmont, we retrieved the car, unloaded our luggage and had the car garaged for the remainder of our stay; Chicago has a fine public transit system, plentiful taxicabs — and we mainly relied on our legs.
Arriving at our room on the 23rd floor of the hotel, I was surprised to see that the room had a number and a
name, “Ashland.” It’s been my experience that hotel rooms that have a name are usually special. In the case of the Fairmont, which recently completed a $50 million renovation, My wife Maj-Britt and son Isaac were
completely amazed by our 700-squarefoot Parkview suite (provided gratis by the hotel management), with its living room, wet bar, dining room for four, spaciousÂ bedroom, oversize bathroom with a separate walk-in shower, two 42-inch flat panel TVs, etc. We were expecting a regular hotel room and landed in the proverbial lap of luxury. Our windows looked out on Lake Michigan and Millennium Park, and we actually could watch and hear the musical acts performing at Taste of Chicago.
The Fairmont Chicago (200 N. Columbus Drive • Tel: 312-565-8000 • fairmont.com/chicago) offers several
dining options. The hotel’s Aria Restaurant, which specializes in American comfort food in a casually elegant setting, has won the food critics’ acclaim. The Aria Bar offers cocktails and expertly prepared fresh sushi. And the Eno Wine Room, in the center of the hotel’s sleek lobby, specializes in wine, cheese and chocolate.
For fans of luxury spa treatments, mySpa on the premises promises to help guests “achieve the perfect balance of mind, body and soul.” The hotel’s fitness studio features a gym, with cardio equipment, circuit training and free weights.
I shlepped my MacBook along on our Midwest tourism junket; so, I was able to access valuable Web resources on a pressing daily question: Where do we go for breakfast? In Chicago, we discovered the Bongo Room (1152 S. Wabash Ave. • 312-291-0100), a slightly offbeat, family-friendly joint that serves up omelettes, French toast, pancakes and a variety of beverages, at quite reasonable prices.
From the Bongo Room we walked over to Chicago’s Museum Campus, which is comprised of the Field Museum, the Shedd Aquarium and the Adler Planetarium. The Field Museum (1400 S. Lakeshore Drive • 312-922-9410 • fieldmuseum.org) is a sprawling natural history museum that is packed with stuffed animals, mummies, gemstones and special exhibits. Isaac and I were fortunate to be able to see the exhibit
on George Washington Carver, the African-American scientist renowned for his research on the peanut plant, on the final day of its run.
I had last visited the Shedd Aquarium (1200 S. Lakeshore Drive • 312-939-2438 • sheddaquarium.org) in 1962, when it was a series of fish tanks. The displays have been upgraded, and we enjoyed the Caribbean Reef, which is chock-full of corals, rays and exotic fish, and the Wild Reef, with its collection of sharks. They have sunfish, too. The final stop on our tour of museums was the new landmark in the Loop, the Spertus Museum. The new Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies (610 S. Michigan Ave. • 312-322-1700 • spertus.edu), located just north of the former Spertus building, opened last November. The new Spertus facility stands out on Chicago’s hotel row with its 10-story faceted window wall. The cantilevered faÃ§ade is built from 726 individual glass pieces cut into 556 different shapes. The new building was designed by Chicago-based Krueck + Sexton Architects.
Our first stop was the Spertus Café by Wolfgang Puck, the only kosher eatery in the Chicago Loop. On a hot summer day, the café is a cool and quiet oasis, offering an array of sandwiches, salads, desserts and beverages.
Following our refreshing repast, we joined some other tourists, including a few Chicagoans, for a guided tour of the Spertus Museum. Our guide, Abby Glogower, explained that the Judaica is shown in an “open depot” format, which means that the 1,500 items on view are presented in an “open-ended and explorative interpretation of Jewish history and culture.” The thematic displays — in floor-to-ceiling glass cases arranged in a horseshoe shape — cover Jewish observance, starting with a collection of Torah covers and crowns, and move through relics illustrating various eras of Jewish history and cultural trends. There are no cards describing each item on display; so, a personal guide or an iPod audio tour is helpful.
I should mention that the Spertus Museum recently removed one of itschanging exhibits, Imaginary Coordinates, which was curated by Rhoda Rosen, the museum’s director. Part of Chicago’s citywide Festival of Maps, the exhibit, which examined “national identity, borders, and the disparity between maps and lived experience,” drew condemnation from some quarters for its perceived criticism of the State of Israel, and for some graphic nudity. I purchased a hardbound catalogue of the exhibit in the Spertus shop, in order to see what the fuss was about.
The Spertus Institute is a center of Jewish scholarship in Chicagoland. Spertus College offers master’s degree programs in Jewish studies, Jewish education and other areas. The Asher Library houses a collection of books, music, films and digital resources; it also collects and protects the historical artifacts of local Jewish families through the Chicago Jewish Archives.
For a kosher meal and a taste of Jewish history and culture, Spertus should be on your itinerary when visiting Chicago.
In our haphazard quest for food, during our dinnertime wandering around the loop, we found Republic Restaurant and Lounge (58 E. Ontario St. • 312-440-1818 • republicrestaurant.us), a trendy-looking “pan-Asian” establishment, which offered extremely fresh, perfectly prepared, and moderately priced vegetarian and meat dishes. On another evening, we walked up Rush Street and came upon Rosebud on Rush
(720 N. Rush St. • 312-266-6444 • rosebudrestaurants.com/rest3.php), an oldschool, white linen Italian restaurant in a restored brownstone building. We enjoyed our salads and pasta dishes, and the attentive service.
Isaac mentioned that he wanted to see the view from the top of the Sears Tower; but a local suggested an
alternative: the John Hancock Center, a monster skyscraper that has the Signature Room at the Ninety-Fifth (875 N. Michigan Ave. • 312-787-9596 • www.signatureroom.com), a lounge high atop Chicago. For less than the price charged by the John Hancock Observatory, one floor below, you can enjoy a beverage in the Signature Room and a magnificent view.
Chicago used to have an immigrant landing zone on Maxwell Street, which resembled the Lower East Side of Manhattan. I was told that the Jewish community has dispersed to a number of city and suburban locales: West Rogers Park, Hyde Park, Highland Park and Skokie. Kosher restaurants and markets can be found in these Jewish enclaves.
Whatever your interests, Chicago offers a cornucopia of cultural attractions, restaurants, shopping and good
clean fun. It’s among the best of the exotic Midwest.
For tourist information, go to: cityofchicago.org and click on “Exploring Chicago.”
The Chicago Office of Tourism and the Fairmont Chicago assisted the American Jewish World with this