Chicago: a neighbourhood guide


Britt Julious, Chicago-based writer and editor.

Photography by RudyBalasko/Getty Images

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March 2018

The Windy City is a hive of museums and restaurants, with a collection of exotic neighbourhoods teeming with activity, luxury hotels and some of the country’s best nightlife. Chicago resident Britt Julious uncovers the city’s standout neighbourhoods for travellers looking to go local.

Gold Coast

This upmarket area has witnessed a slew of new hotel openings, giving this once traditional neighbourhood a fresh, reinvigorated feel.

Stay

Celebrated British interior designer Tara Bernerd has added more than a splash of style to the luxury Thompson Chicago, which features exposed red brick interiors and sultry décor, and its Italian restaurant Nico Osteria is now among the city’s finest. Among its in-house perks is the Lexus guest experience programme, where motorheads can get behind the wheel of an LX570 8-passenger SUV or an ultra-sporty ISC F Sport hardtop convertible to explore the city in style.

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Eat

Former chef to Oprah Winfrey, Art Smith has revived Chicago’s taste for Southern cuisine with his restaurant Blue Door Kitchen, a casual outfit that uses ingredients sourced from midwestern farms. If you’re after something more refined, head to the elegant 3 Arts Club Café within luxury homeware store Restoration Hardware for comfort food – try the truffle grilled cheese and hand cut fries. Come for the simple, satisfying food – stay for the stylish, custom-crafted interiors.

For a night on the town, check out Andy’s Jazz Club, where the venue’s historic lunchtime sessions have grown into nightly shows brimming with office workers winding down to instrumental jams.

Do

The Gold Coast may be known for its sprawling mansions and upmarket boutiques, but it is also home to a few unique attractions. Stop by the original Playboy Mansion, now the site of a luxury condominium, where Hugh Hefner opened the first Playboy Club at the height of the sexual revolution in 1960. If you’re after something a touch more academic, check out the International Museum of Surgical Science, the continent’s only museum dedicated to surgery, where exhibits explore 19th century apothecary, practices in pain management and ancient and modern medicines.

  • Watch as the sun gives a golden glow to Chicago’s cityscape © Getty Images.

    In the loop

    The Loop is the central business district of Chicago, named after the cable car turnarounds and railway that encircled the area in the late nineteenth century.£468 pp

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Streeterville

Boasting the newly renovated Museum of Contemporary Art, Navy Pier and some of the city’s trendiest beaches, this hotspot is popular with tourists and locals.

Stay

 If you want to be in the heart of it all, the Sofitel Chicago Magnificent Mile is the hotel for you. Primely positioned on the cusp of the city’s main shopping district, the hotel is surrounded by restaurants where you can refuel between sessions. After a long day on the town, unwind with a ‘Windy City Massage’ and a pedicure, on offer from the in-room spa menu.

Eat

In 2017, the newly redesigned Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art added Marisol, a new restaurant from local chef Jason Hammel serving dishes made with seasonal and sustainably sourced produce. Indulge in buttermilk pancakes if you’re there early, or check in later for the Hanger steak or succulent buccatini with black truffle. Neighbourhood coffeehouse Beatrix serves brews from local roasters alongside tasty plates, such as roasted cauliflower salads and kung pao Brussels sprouts – a great spot for hosting casual meetings or lunch with friends.

Do

After you’ve sated your appetite at Marisol, wind your way through the hallways of the Museum of Contemporary Art – the permanent collection is home to 2,500 pieces. Check out the new education floor and social engagement space, part of the museum’s US$16 million redesign, where visitors can get an in-depth insight to the art on show. Theatre-lovers should pay a visit to the Lookingglass Theatre, co-founded by Friends star David Schwimmer and known for its award-winning, out-of-the-box productions. The theatre is housed in one of the oldest downtown buildings to survive the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

  • For authentic Windy City jazz, head to Andy’s Jazz Club & Restaurant.

    Play that sax

    Grab a spot at the bar and order yourself an Andy’s Jazzerac, made with Drambuie, rye and absinthe.£338 return

    Fly to Chicago
  • Enjoy a week of wellness at The Langham, Chicago.

    Get steamy

    Available for those even without a spa booking, make the most of The Langham’s Himalayan Salt Stone Sauna, Herbal Sauna and Oriental Steam Room. £468 pp

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  • Go wild for Peruvian flavours at acclaimed eatery, Tanta © Galdones Photography.

    Tanta-lising

    Book a spot on the restaurant’s exclusive rooftop terrace and take a tasting tour of South American-inspired cocktails, including the restaurant’s signature pisco sour.£468 pp

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The Loop

Chicago’s business district draws crowds thanks to an injection of new boutiques, concert venues and cocktail lounges, keeping tourists and office workers entertained all week.

Stay

Blurring the old with the new, LondonHouse Chicago, Curio Collection by Hilton is situated within a 1920s landmark merged with a sleek, glass extension on North Michigan Avenue. Unwind at the hotel’s 22nd-floor rooftop bar, where the city views, coupled with a glass of Chianti, are the perfect antidote to a hectic day out.

Eat

Chicago has welcomed a host of new food halls, among which Revival Food Hall was one of the first featuring outposts of local favourites such as Antique Taco and Black Dog Gelato. Michelin-recommended restaurant The Gage was one of the first restaurants to revitalise the downtown area, and continues to draw punters for its selection of hearty sharing plates, such as bison tartare, baked St Albans fondue and house poutine. Wash these down during happy hour (from 20.00) with a Gage Old Fashioned, made with Old Forester, sherry demerara, angostura and orange.

Do

Established in 1879, the Art Institute was founded in an effort to rebuild the city following the Great Fire eight years earlier. Today, the museum is home to more than 300,000 pieces of art, from Byzantine jewellery to Amerindian sculptures, and photography by the likes of Georgia O’Keeffe and Paul Strand. If you’re after a more literary experience, check out the American Writers Museum, where visitors can explore the work of America’s greatest writers, or delve into the mind of a writer, revealing the ‘story behind the story’

  • Walk amongst thought-provoking installations at the Art Institute of Chicago.

    Rocky road

    Visit the Art Institute’s Morton Wing to glimpse Izumi Masatoshi’s Islands, a three-piece rock formation designed to convey the Japanese reverence for natural materials.£483 pp

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River North

Across the bridge from the Loop, this artsy, design-inspired pocket is a hub for creative types, with art galleries and high-profile clubs.

Stay

If you’re after some proper pampering, check into the Langham where rooms feature tasteful décor, deep-soaking tubs and luxury Chuan Spa toiletries. Sip on cocktails at the Travelle bar overlooking the Chicago river, or loosen up in the hotel’s hydrotherapy whirlpool before catching some restorative shut eye on the Langham’s signature Blissful bed.

Eat

Known for its classic steakhouses and pizzerias, Chicago introduced new blood with Peruvian joint Tanta joining the ranks of its top restaurants. Must-haves include the chalaco ceviche, which features the chef’s selection of fish, squid, rocoto and calamari, and the tamal empanada, with choclo, sweetcorn, coriander, queso fresco and huancaina sauce. Another of the area’s best lunch spots is Bohemian House, a purveyor of hearty, central European cuisine serving up German and Polish favourites such as spätzle, schnitzel stein and beef cheek pierogi.

Do

For a night on the town, check out Andy’s Jazz Club, where the venue’s historic lunchtime sessions have grown into nightly shows brimming with office workers winding down to instrumental jams. If you’re looking to carry on the night, Studio Paris is one of the Chicago’s choice nightclubs, frequented by the likes of Tiesto, Eric Prydz and Chance the Rapper. Expect to cough up a hefty cover charge, but you’ll be treated to a fair few celeb sightings if you’re there on the right night.

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