When it comes to culture, Chicago gives New York a run for the money.
By Charlie Huisking
The Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park
Whenever I want to immerse myself in big-city culture for a long weekend, I head to New York. What can compare with a couple of Broadway shows, a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and maybe a ballet performance at Lincoln Center?
Well, after an exhilarating midsummer sojourn to Chicago recently, I have to acknowledge that the place gives Manhattan some stiff competition. The Second City? Maybe not.
The first stop on my cultural tour was the recently opened modern wing of the Chicago Art Institute. Designed by Renzo Piano, this elegant three-story structure has a sleek flat roof Piano calls a magic carpet. And the building is so light and airy it looks as if it could take flight. After spending hours exploring a provocative, sometimes bewildering array of 20th and 21st century art, I stepped onto Piano's pedestrian bridge, which links the museum with the glorious Millennium Park.
Quickly becoming one of Chicago's most popular tourist attractions, the 24-acre park is a dramatic mix of green space, public art and performance venues. Its most spectacular feature is the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, an amphitheater designed by Frank Gehry, with massive stainless-steel ribbons that cascade down from above the stage.
The next night, I caught a free performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony at the pavilion, performed by the Grant Park Orchestra and a chorus of 150. We were early enough to snag a couple of the 4,000 seats. Meanwhile, twice as many people spread out blankets and picnic baskets on the Great Lawn. The acoustics were perfect (though I don't think Beethoven had police sirens in his orchestration).
Chicago's most famous theater company, Steppenwolf, was dark during my visit. But there were still plenty of intriguing shows to choose from at other spaces. I went to the tiny Timeline Theatre to catch a mesmerizing production of "The History Boys," the Tony Award-winning drama by Alan Bennett that's set in an English boys’ school.
The next day I craned my neck for an hour and a half during a fascinating boat tour on the Chicago River. Run by the Chicago Archictecture Foundation, the tour glides past dozens of landmark buildings, from the Art Deco-style Merchandise Mart to the Tribune Tower.
The Trump International Hotel
My headquarters for my three-night stay was the newest Chicago landmark, the 96-story Trump International Hotel and Tower. I would never stay at the Trump New York, a monument to the Donald's bad taste and excess. But the Chicago version is sleek and understated. The rooms are done in soft tones of gray and cream and brown, and there's not a hint of gold leaf.
I was upgraded to a spa level room, which had a huge soaking tub in the bathroom, a yoga mat and floor to ceiling windows offering dramatic views of the Tribune Tower and the Wrigley Building
The views are just as spectacular at Sixteen, a 16th floor restaurant and open-air bar, which is a happy hour hot spot
No Chicago visit would be complete without a trip to Wrigley Field, of course. Even though the Cubs had faded out of contention by mid-August, they scored 12 runs in the first two innings in the game I saw.
For Cub fans, its "wait 'till next year" again. But I can't wait until next year to return to Chicago.