Chicago, "that toddling town" that keeps reinventing itself, never ceases to amaze me. The "Windy City," teeming with life and exuding an excitement all its own, is now fully grown into a sophisticated metropolitan area that rivals any major city in the world.
Chicago's twenty-nine miles of lakefront, that form the front lawn of what has become one of the world's greatest cities, make that vibrant city a shore bet. Chicago is home to an unrivalled collection of buildings that chronicle the rise and evolution of the skyscraper. Some of the world's tallest buildings backdrop its dramatic skyline and many architectural gems form a living legacy to the hometown genius of Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright.
Strange as it may seem, in this mega-structure-mad metropolis, the simple 1909 Prairie Style house of the latter, still reigns supreme. Frank Lloyd Wright's vastly influential Robie House, which the master architect said was his best residence, is not only one of the most important dwellings in Chicago but is considered one of the most important dwellings in the world.
One of the best introductions to Chicago's diverse architectural scene is on the official Chicago Architecture Foundation's (CAF) Architecture River Cruise that highlights more than 50 architecturally significant sites. The tours are led by CAF-certified volunteer docents who are drawn to the river cruise program out of a love for Chicago and a desire to share their knowledge of, and passion for, Chicago's architectural legacy.
VIEW ON CHICAGO ARCHITECTURE RIVER CRUISE
With its unprecedented combination of architecture, monumental sculpture, and landscape design, the 24.5 acre Millennium Park might well be the most glittering, jewel in Chicago's crown. Millennium Park was first conceived in 1998 to transform the unsightly railroad tracks and parking lots that had long dotted the lakefront.
The most popular, and most prominent features of this award-winning center for art, music, architecture and landscape design include: Architect Frank Gehry's Jay Pritzker Pavilion, the most sophisticated outdoor concert venue of its kind in the United States; Anish Kapoor's hugely popular Cloud Gate sculpture; the interactive Crown Fountain by Jaume Plensa; and the contemporary Lurie Garden designed by the team of Kathryn Gustafson, Piet Oudolf and Robert Israel.
Frank Gehry's 120-foot high Jay Pritzker Pavilion regally showpieces its billowing headdress of brushed stainless steel ribbons that frame the stage opening and connect to an overhead trellis of crisscrossing steel pipes. The trellis supports the sound system, which spans the 4,000 fixed seats and the Great Lawn, which accommodates an additional 7,000 people.
JAY PRITZKER PAVILLION
Inspired by liquid mercury, the 110-ton elliptical Cloud Gate is forged of a seamless series of highly polished stainless steel plates, which reflect the city's famous skyline and the clouds above. A 12-foot-high arch provides a "gate" to the concave chamber beneath the sculpture, inviting visitors to touch its mirror-like surface and see their image reflected back from a variety of perspectives.
The Crown Fountain consists of two 50-foot glass block towers at each end of a shallow reflecting pool. The towers project video images from a broad social spectrum of Chicago citizens, from whose open mouths water spouts.
Additional world-class public art sculptures, including those by renowned artists can be viewed by strolling through The Loop. Among these are: Louise Nevelson's Dawn Shadows, Chagall's mosaic Four Seasons, and Yaacov Agam's sculptures at 20 N. Clark Street and 111 W. Monroe.
Chicago's Magnificent Mile (shimmering from the Chicago River north to Lake Shore Drive, North Michigan Avenue and its neighborhoods) is an international showcase of great hospitality, style, design, and taste. The Magnificent Mile also showcases one of my favorite sculptures, "Allow me " by J. Seward Johnson Jr. on the Plaza of the Four Seasons Hotel, a landmark of refined comfort, with unrivalled Lake Michigan and city views.
" ALLOW ME" BY J. SEWARD JOHNSON JR.
The dining scene in Chicago has something for every one. However there are two culinary standards that never leave the Windy City's. The Chicago Hot Dog and the Deep-dish Pizza remain a constant.
With names like Mustard's Last Stand, The Wieners Circle, and Doggy Diner, there are over 2000 hot dog stands in Chicago. The classic Chicago hot dog consists of a hot dog and a bun. Then it is loaded with mustard, bright green relish, tomatoes, onions, pickles, cucumbers, and hot peppers. Celery salt is optional, but about one thing there is no doubt…on a Chicago hot dog there is always NO CATSUP!
Deep-dish pizza (now known to many as Chicago Pizza) may be one of Chicago's most important contributions to 20th century culture. In 1943, Ike Sewell combined some of Italy's old, authentic recipes with impressive quantities of meats, veggies, cheeses, and spices. Pizza became a hearty meal and the result was Pizzeria Uno and Pizzeria Due. The rest is history.
Beer gardens, cafes, pubs, and taverns assure visitors that one need not go hungry at Navy Pier. A virtual United Nations of dining specialties is available in the downtown area as well as in the neighborhoods. Ethnic enclaves such as Chinatown, Greektown, West Town (Polish, Ukrainian), the near West Side (Italian) and Rogers Park (Jewish), also offer a taste of the world at affordable prices.
This "stormy, husky, brawling city of big shoulders", as Carl Sandburg called it in 1916, might well be the most apple pie city of all the country's major metropolises. But, take my word for it…it's a gourmet apple pie.
JANET STEINBERG is the winner of 40 national Travel Writer Awards and a travel consultant with The Travel Authority in Mariemont, OH.