June 30, 2016

Travel Guide: A Tale of Two Cities Part One

So here we are in the throes of summer; picnics, sunshine, and seersucker. If you’re anything like me, when summer hits you, you’re overwhelmed by the desire to load up your calendar with trips and outdoor festivities.

I’ll admit, I was a bit too ambitious with my summer schedule this year. After three back-to-back trips, a circus, an opera, cooking for my boyfriend for the first time, and planning a 4th of July backyard bash, I was beyond ready to take a break from social media for a few weeks. Of course, I’ve been gathering bits of inspiration along the way for future posts, and I’m excited to share a few highlights from my travels with you now…

My boyfriend surprised me with a trip to Chicago for my birthday (which also happens to fall on Memorial Day weekend). Let me begin by saying that Chicago is one of the cities I find myself most nostalgic for. Many “firsts” occurred here: my first serious opera experience, my first Ferris wheel ride, my first attempt at hailing a taxi. Yet its architecture, museums, parks, restaurants, coffee houses, and theatres constantly remind my soul that there’s so much wonderment left.  

If you’re spending a weekend in Chicago, here’s my city guide, which is based on many weekends I’ve spent here over the years + future weekend goals.

Stay: Hilton Chicago on Michigan Ave

A Chicago hot spot for weekenders, the Hilton on Michigan Avenue not only boasts a grand historic lobby and chic bar and grill, the location is incredibly convenient. There were so many weddings and events going on that weekend, we were lucky to have found a room here! I’d say that my favorite memory from this hotel is listening to my boyfriend play its lobby’s grand piano. It was the first time I’d heard him play and was impressed with his mad skills…along with the small crowd of guests they lured!

Stay: The Drake Hotel

My Best Friend’s Wedding was the movie that spawned my Julia Roberts obsession. From Mystic Pizza to Eat, Pray, Love, I consider nearly every movie she’s starred in a classic, film snobs be damned. I’m thrilled to be able to say—forgive me while I geek out for a moment—that I’ve stayed at the filming locations of my top two favorite Julia Robert’s films: The Drake (My Best Friend’s Wedding) and The Beverly Wilshire (Pretty Woman). 

I was finally able to cross The Drake off my hotel bucket list last February when my mom surprised me with tickets to Tosca, my favorite opera. We made a trip of it by renting a suite, throwing in a couple of plays, and exploring the museums. It was a great cultural getaway, but unless you have a good reason to visit Chicago in February (like a Puccini opera), I’d hold off til spring or summer. My celebrity girl-crush aside, The Drake should be somewhere on your to-do list.

Eat: The Drake Hotel’s Cape Cod Room

A true Chicago classic. If you’re going to do one big dinner in Chicago, it should be at The Drake’s Cape Cod Room. Loved the old-world ambiance, loved my lobster thermidor, loved the service! If the price range is a little high, go for cocktails. The dirty martini may as well have been invented here, it’s that good.

Stay: The Palmer House

I haven’t actually stayed here yet, but it’s been on my hotel bucket list ever since Epicurious published their famous brownie recipe. Another big part of The Palmer House legend is its striking frescoed lobby. Very Insta-worthy. If you choose to stay here, consider an executive room or suite, where breakfast and evening appetizers are on the house. Pretty sweet, eh?

Eat: Bavette's Bar and Boeuf

The abundance of good steakhouses in Chicago can make choosing one difficult. 
My mom and I were recommended Bravette's Bar and Boeuf by The Drake and it exceeded our wildest expectations. Retro cocktails, speakeasy-like atmosphere, world-class steaks... Bravette's is everything a steakhouse should be, and then some. I unconditionally recommend the bone-in filet mignon with roasted bone marrow and roquefort, Brussels sprouts, and baked sweet potato. 

Eat: Gino’s East

Deep dish pizza serves for me as a metaphor for the city’s soul—relaxed, rich in history, encourages camaraderie and togetherness.  This ain’t grab-a-slice-and-go pizza. It takes time to cook a deep dish pizza here—40 mins at least—so be ready for some pre-dinner drinks and conversation. A lot of people rave about Giordano’s stuffed pizza, but Gino's East's classic deep dish pies are hands-down my favorite. You can enjoy a piece of Chicago at home, too, by ordering Gino's pizzas online!  

Eat: Yolk

The ambiance is bright, crisp, and modern. You may feel as though you’re eating inside an IKEA (with superior food, of course). This is not your average breakfast/brunch place. The menu is just fussy enough to satisfy the foodies yet accessible for anyone who loves to eat. My two favorite meals there are the challah French toast and the "South Beach;" half-pineapple filled with Greek yogurt, topped with fruit, granola, and walnuts. Num num! 

Eat and Drink: The Scout

If you’re a sports fan, you must try this place. I’m not big on sports or sports bars, but The Scout is my exception. The food is simple—burgers, nachos, grilled cheese—but they do simple very well. The grilled cheese is somewhat of a legend. It’s a foot long and browned to perfection. The craft cocktails were creative and not overly sweet (my biggest pet peeve with girly drinks). 

Shop: North Michigan Shops, The Magnificent Mile

If you're going to visit one store in Chicago (of course, that would never be the case with me...), it should be Magnificent Mile's Ralph Lauren. Like Palm Beach, I consider it a preppy wonder of the world. The entire store is a masterpiece; winding staircases, chinoiserie accents, and wood paneled walls tricked out with antique oil paintings, rustic riding gear, and old clocks. 

Do (daytime): Navy Pier, Chicago Art Institute, Shed’s Aquarium, The Smithsonian Field Museum.

The Chicago "quafecta." This list may seem overwhelming for weekenders, but it’s all about how you manage your time. My advice? Avoid the rookie mistake of over scheduling. Pick two museums and the Navy Pier. That way, you get a nice balance of culture and, if you're traveling with your S.O., romance… is there anything sweeter than kissing him or her atop the ferris wheel?

Do (evening): Theatre

Chicago is home to the nation’s best theatre scene. Here are the five theatre companies—five—who have won the Tony (and they still reside in Chicago): Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, Goodman Theatre, Looking Glass Theatre Company, Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Victory Gardens Theatre. You can’t go wrong with any of them.

The best way to catch a show is to visit the League of Chicago Theatres. What really distinguishes Chicago’s league from other leagues is its diverse membership. You get so much variety here. From boutique, non-union theatres to major cultural centers, there’s something for every budget and every taste.

My Tale of Two Cities isn't over, but part two—my Beverly Hills travel guide—will be out after my 4th of July post! Happy Independence Day!!