The Crowne Plaza is only a few blocks from West Loop Studio, just west of downtown. We've reserved a block of rooms for our guests, so be sure to mention the Compernolle/Jiang wedding to get a discount when making your reservation! From their website: "Enjoy a wonderfully convenient downtown Chicago location close to pulse-racing nightlife, flavorful dining and exclusive shopping. Experience the best Chicago, Illinois attractions from our hotel in the heart of downtown Chicago. Located within a few blocks from Oprah Winfrey's Harpo television studios, and just a mile from the Sears Tower Union Station and the United Center."
The Allerton Hotel on the Magnificent Mile - 312.440.1500
The Allerton is located in the heart of the Magnificent Mile, the home of some of Chicago's finest entertainment, restaurants, and shopping. Only a few blocks from the John Hancock and the famous Water Tower Place. Take the CTA Blue Line or a taxi to get to the West Loop Studio. From their website: "Stay at our dazzling downtown Chicago upscale boutique hotel and be at the center of it all with world-class shopping, dining, sightseeing, and entertainment beckoning from right outside our doors."
Just a few blocks from Wrigley field, those of you looking to find the neighborhood feel of Chicago, or perhaps just the best pubs in town, may consider staying here. The Majestic is right on the lake, and only a few minutes walk from the el. From their website: "For years, visitors and locals alike have branded The Majestic Hotel the pre-eminent boutique hotel in Chicago. Offering the atmosphere of a well-appointed, upscale English country estate, this 100 percent, non-smoking Hotel offers the perfect haven of relaxation amidst the bustling, energetic city life found in the every popular Lakeview neighborhood."
We recommend you make reservations sooner than later.
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Things to know about Chicago
First of all, Chicago is quite possibly the greatest town in the world. September is a month when the heat from the summer is fading, and the rain from the late fall hasn't started yet. The breeze coming off the lake is itself worth taking a trip to Chicago. If you find yourself chatting with a local, it's best you avoid saying or even suggesting any of the following in conversation:
- Anything about Chicago's pizza, unless it is that Chicago makes the best pizza in the world
- Anything about New York, unless it's some form of mockery
- Anything about the Cubs or the Sox, unless you're confident that your new friend is a fan of the same team you are
The name "Chicago" comes from a French interperetation of the Potawatomi tribe word "shikaakwa", or "smelly onion", because the city used to be on swampland. Names of several neighboring cities in "Chicagoland", as well as streets and neighborhoods, come from either Native American or French.
Most of the city burned down in 1871 in what is now called the Great Chicago Fire (also the name of the horrible local soccer team). Legend has it that Mrs O'Leary's cow kicked over a lantern. One of the only buildings that survived the fire was the Water Tower on Michigan Avenue. It was because of this fire that Chicago was able to rebuild itself into the city it is today.
After second Michael Jordan or Oprah, much of Chicago's world wide fame comes from Al Capone, gangster and prior the owner of half the politicians in the great city. In fact, the nickname "the windy city" comes not from the wonderful breeze that comes off the lake, but rather from all the hot air the politicians are notorious for blowing. Since Al Capone's reign, Chicago has fortunately kept many of his hangouts in a fashion similar to when he was around. The Green Mile, for example, still has small booths at the entrance, from where Capone's cronies stood watch.
The loop is what we call downtown. The "el" (short for elevated, and also some people say because of the Loop) loops around it. This is a business center, but also has great restaurants. This is where most of the cool buildings are.
For the best introduction to, and perhaps the most accurate representation of, Chicago culture, you should probably watch The Blues Brothers.
Things to eat/drink in Chicago
- The most famous place to get pizza is probably either Uno's or Due's, the sister restaurant of Ono's. My favorite of the two is Due's.
- If you want some of the best pizza in the world, go to Bacino's in Lincoln Park. It's in a nice area, right near the park, and close to DePaul University. You can get there via the Fullerton red/brown/purple line stop (purple only during rush hour). It may be a nice afternoon/evening to wander in the park before going there. I'm not crazy about deep dish pizza, but if you want some authentic Chicago pizza, this is the place to get deep dish.
- Most of the good pubs are in Wrigleyville (near Wrigley park), which is in the north on Addison. Very hip area, lots of younger folk. Generally pretty wealthy, though they all claim to be roughing it. This is definitely a t-shirt jeans kind of place, and on weekends maybe a bit nicer.
- The other place for bars, a bit ritzier, is on Rush street. I like this area a lot, especially around dusk/dinner time. It's also the place to be for clubs and such. Take the red line there, taxi home. The wife of my good friend owns the Blue Agave. Mexican place with the best margaritas north of the mason Dixie line. May not be up to Houstonian standards, but I think it's pretty tasty.
- Chicagoans are very proud of their local brews. I recommend you check out Goose Island. There are a couple of these. The brewery itself is on Goose Island (a bit dirty). The most popular is in Wrigleyville, and the one I frequent the most is just off North & Clybourn on the red line. My favorite of their brews is Honker's ale, and 312 (the Chicago area code) is also pretty delicious.
- The best hamburger in the world, probably (and I've been veggie for 11 years, so that says something!) is at the Billy Goat tavern. It's called the Billy Goat because it's under the Michigan Ave bridge. Really good food. It was made really famous in SNL because the owner used to take your order and then disregard it and give you a cheeseburger (for example, "I'll have a double burger with lettuce and tomato." "Okay! Cheeseburger!"), and if you ordered a Pepsi he'd kick you out. I haven't been there in ages, but I remember it was one of three or four times I truly enjoyed eating meat. [Also interesting: the owner was once invited to a cubs game, and he brought a goat for good luck. The cubs have lost almost every game since then. That was in like 1918 or something.]
- There's a really great restaurant just around the corner from Second City (see below) called Topo Gigio. Putting the two of them together is a great way to make a full night of it!
Things to do in Chicago
- A super duper highly recommended thing to do is go to Second City. Second City is a comedy club that has a few shows every night. It really gave birth to SNL, and all of the good people from SNL started at Second City. It's cheaper on Mondays, which is when you should go if you can, but the tickets sell out beforehand. I'd check them out sooner than later. Well worth going. (Also, make sure you get tickets to the main stage. The other one is a bunch of students, which is still funny, but not nearly as good.) Second City is near the Sedgwick station, which during rush hour is the purple or the brown line, and only brown at other times. If you catch the 8pm show, you may plan on taking a taxi home, because that stop gets a little shady late at night.
- The lake. I promise, you have never seen a lake this beautiful. It gets prettier and more people-friendly the farther north you go. I don't generally go to beaches in the city (I go way up north in Evanston or Wilmette), so I can't recommend any place specifically. But worth investigating.
- Do the architectural boat tour. I've been a Chicago native for a long time, and only recently did this when Daze & I were there not long ago. It was incredible. About $30 for 90 minutes, but I learned a lot and saw Chicago like I’d never seen it before. Any of the tours are good, I assume. We did one with a second floor, so we sat downstairs in the shade and appreciated it.
- The Art Institute of Chicago (AIC). I don't care if you like art or not, this place is amazing. I try to go there every trip to Chicago I make. All of the Chicago Museums, some of the best in the world, are in one area. Many people take a full day to go to see all of them, but that makes for an ambitious day!
- A lot of people like Navy Pier. It's a big tourist destination, and probably a lot of fun. Especially worth checking out if you're staying on Michigan Ave.
- Shopping is all on Michigan Ave. From there, I recommend you check out Millennium park. They just built it a few years ago, and it's pretty impressive. "The Bean" (officially called "the cloud gate") is really neat. This is very close to the AIC as well. The park has lots of stuff to see, and is otherwise very beautiful. The big fountain is in Grant park, which is across the street.
- There are some pretty neat shops on Belmont (3200 N). Lots of thrift shop-esque places that because fancy. Red/brown/purple line (purple during rush hour). This is close to Wrigleyville, so you could make a day of it.
- Check out some good jazz clubs if you like jazz. There are some good piano bars too. A bunch of my friends used to play at Pop's all the time. It's not cheap, but some of the best musicians in the world have come out of that scene. Also, The Green Mill is where Al Capone used to hang out.
- Lots of good blues. I'm not a blues expert, but it may be worth researching if you're into the blues.
- Sears/Hancock. These two buildings really are pretty impressive. I'd check out one of them. Clever trick: don't pay to go to the top of the Hancock. Go to the bar at the second to top floor. It'll save you a bunch of money, and the top floor is flooded with people. If you only go to one, I'd say Hancock, but only because of the location. Sears is higher. Daisy tells me the best view of the city is in the women's bathroom.
Our celebration will be smart-casual. We aren't very picky.