I would be doing you a disservice if I didn’t finish up my Chicago summary with a review of our hotel.
The Hotel Palomar: Chicago
Location: 505 North State Street
This recently completed hotel is planted in a perfect location. Right next to the red line giving you easy access to everything (and not having to carry luggage for several blocks after a flight), the hotel is perfectly positioned for people who want to experience the what the city has to offer and want to be tucked a few blocks away from the “Mag Mile” tourism.
Unlike other Palomar/Kimpton Hotels we have stayed out, this room was not the typical shoe-box space (big enough for a bed and a tv and nothing else). We had enough room for a real desk and an extra lounge chair. It was the perfect size. The hotel’s amenities included an indoor pool, a decent gym, outdoor lounge, and a nightly wine tasting.
This hotel enhanced our stay in Chicago, the staff was friendly, and the location was perfect. I highly recommend it.
After an even later start than the previous day (thanks to a very late night enjoying Second City), we didn’t get moving until Noon. We did register for our flights and get a work out in, but the morning defiantly moved slow. Since it was already lunch time, we decided to skip breakfast and an insane idea popped into our heads…
Allison and I could not decide if we should go to Big Al’s Italian Beef or Portillo’s Hog Dogs. I came up with a solution, get both…
Location: 100 West Ontario Street
Our second day in Chicago started slowly. We took our time getting up, then I hit the hotel gym. By the time we were ready to get breakfast, it was 10:30 AM. We planned on eating at the hotel, but they stopped serving at 10 AM. The hostess suggested a place a few blocks away and off we went…
Location: 35 W. Ontario
About 5 blocks from our hotel, Eggspereince Cafe was a great way to start our morning. Even though it was light and open, Eggsperience was packed with people. Since I knew I was going to be eating terrible the rest of the day, I decided oatmeal and egg whites were in order. Even with the less-than-exciting ingredients, my meal was delicious. Allison’s vegetable crapes were too much for her to handle. Our service was extremely quick and we were in and out in 30 minutes.
After our breakfast, we walked over to the tourism office to see if they had tickets for Second City again. They didn’t. They girl gave us a phone number to call and Allison managed to snag tickets to the 11 PM show (I was going to have so much fun trying to stay up). We headed back to the hotel area and I run into a used book store to get something to read on the flight home.
After buy a few books, we freshened up at the hotel and headed back to the “Red Line” to take us to Wrigley Field.
[Cubs vs. Pirates]
Like our last trip, Wrigley Field is always an interesting experience. IT WAS PACKED. PACKED doesn’t do it justice. After navigating our way through the sea of people, we managed to get to our seats, and I was pleased with our location: right behind home plate. The people around us were great, the weather was awesome. We decided to leave a little early to enjoy the weather/city and the Cubs were in the lead.
I checked the score later and they lost 10-7. Busted.
Location: 539 N. State St.
Website: Weber’s Grill
After walking around the city and enjoying a wine reception at our hotel, we headed over to the Weber Grill for dinner. Since the weather was mild (and they had outdoor heaters) my wife requested outdoor seating. While the weather was nice, the seats were TERRIBLE. They really impacted my enjoyment of the meal.
Seating aside, the food was very good. It wasn’t mind blowing. I don’t know if red meat at a restaurant will ever blow my mind since my old man is the king of steak. My brisket was cooked well, but I think it should have been taken off the grill a little sooner (and that would make sense since it took a long time for the main course to come out).
Overall, it was a good experience, not great.
After a “itis”-induced rest thanks to Webers, we headed over to Wells Street. Second City is one of the few places there isn’t easy public transportation to, but a $7 dollar cab right isn’t going to break the bank. Earlier in the day, the teller recommended getting there early since our general admission tickets could put us anywhere. We arrived at 10:20 PM and ended up getting great seats a few rows back from the stage.
The show was very much in the same template as the Stud Turkel show we saw last May. I was pleased to recognize some of the same cast as well. The show was funny, took shots at the city of Chicago, the nation, the state of the economy, education and whatever else they came up with.
The cast seemed to be having a lot of fun as they “broke character” a few times and actually laughed during the skits. I always like when that happens on SNL. My wife hoped there were more interactive parts like the Turkel Show, but I can see how that’s a gamble if you pick a lame duck in the audience. I had a great time and managed to stay awake during the show.
We got back to the hotel around 1:30 AM and I was exhausted. I am curious what tomorrow (actually today) brings since we don’t have tickets, plans, or an agenda. Free form vacation day in Chicago, tune in tomorrow to find out what happens.
Click on the link to read: Day 3
“It is hopeless for the occasional visitor to try to keep up with Chicago-she outgrows his prophecies faster than he can make them. She is always a novelty; for she is never the Chicago you saw when you passed through the last time.”
~ Mark Twain “Life On The Mississippi,” 1883
People asked me “why go back to Chicago? You were there last September!” I think Mark Twain’s quote sums my thoughts up about that matter quite well. It also helps that my wife and I scored awesome flight and hotel deals, we couldn’t say no. I went into this trip less planned and organized than the last. We saw all of the typical things you might want to see in the city last time, to me this trip was more about relaxing and seeing what the city offers.
We arrived in Chicago around 10 AM local time. No real issues on the flight, but Southwest was BUSY in Philadelphia. This was the first time we had a line going outside to check in luggage (make note of that if you are traveling out Philadelphia using Southwest). We easily found our way to the city’s public transportation in the airport and off we went. Our hotel is basically located right at the subway exit which was great, since I didn’t have to carry our luggage several blocks like last time.
We were able to immediately check into the hotel (we didn’t ask, they offered). So far, our hotel has been great (I will do a full review at the end of the vacation). After freshening up and answering some work emails (I know I am a sucker), we went to lunch. I spotted a Thai restaurant that we both wanted to try.
[Star of Siam]
Name: Star of Siam
Location: 11 E. Illinois St.
We didn’t read about this place before, we just saw it and walked in – and I was glad we did. The food was very good. I will always rate Thai cuisine based on Somsak (Voorhees, NJ) and I thought Star of Siam was very close in quality, but the food was different, more Chinese in sauces, but the combination of ingredients was very Thai.
The service was excellent, the decor was open and inviting. Great experience.
[River Tour: Chicago’s First Lady Architecture Tour]
Location: 112 E. Wacker Street
After lunch we walked over to the tourist center to see if there were any tickets for shows during our stay. Slim pickings for the weekend as we were told weekend tickets get released on Friday morning. I saw a adaption of a
Our last full day in Chicago found us scrambling to get in as much as possible; the city is truly packed with things to do and 3 night were not enough to take it all in. The weather for the duration of our trip has been outstanding – I could not have asked for better bluer days and with those clearskies in mind, my top priority on Friday was to find my way on the water. I had read a lot about the famous Chicago river boat tours and was eager to be a tourist for one of these educational jaunts down the river…
Before we could get to the river, Allison and I had to visit the Chicago Center of Tourism right on Chicago & Michigan Streets. As I mentioned on my Day 2 summary, they have a booth that sells half priced tickets, we snagged seats for the High Fidelity play at 8 PM and we wanted to see Chicago comedy at Second City; thankfully they had tickets to “Stud Turkel’s Not Working” at 11 PM. Now that we had plans for the evening, we ventured down Michigan towards the river tours.
When we arrived, most of the tours were sold out. The “most famous boat tour” – the Architecture tour – was sold out until Saturday, but there was another company running a similar tour for $5 bucks less (and 30 minutes longer). We went for it not expecting great things, but it turned out the extra 30 minutes were for a boat ride on Lake Michigan itself – it was a PERFECT day for a boat ride and we had seats right in the front. The tour was educational – ORDERED CHAOS FACT: Chicago has wider “sofa shaped” buildings instead of the “wedding cake” (famous in New York) because there was more land available. The reason they do the cut outs was because when the buildings were put up, not every section had electricity so they needed more windows to let the light in.
After a great tour we caught a cab (the first time we used one the whole trip) to the Museum of Science and Industry. I had been fascinated with this building since reading Erik Larson’s “Devil in the White City”. The Museum was built as the centerpiece of the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago and it has withstood the Chicago winters to become a premier attraction in the city. The complex is massive – big enough to easily contain an entire train, a Nazi U-Boat, a full sized Boeing 747 and several un-used space vehicles. For Philadelphians , the Museum feels like a much bigger version of the Franklin institute. We arrived at 3:00 and were informed after waiting in line for 20 minutes that the museum was closing at 4:00 PM. We still paid full price and ran around like lunatics. This is a great place to take a kid, not so much for adults (but there were several attractions closed for renovations or due to it being late in the day). I wouldn’t mind giving the Museum of Science another go – but I will wait until I have kids who can really appreciate it.
Coming out of the museum, some drama occurred: I wanted to check out the grounds since it was on the site of the former World’s Fair. After walking around and taking pictures, we decided to skip the bus and take a taxi back and we hopped into the nearest one. As we were leaving, another taxi blocked our path. It seems that the taxi drivers expect customers to walk to the front of the line (which is a city block, maybe two) and take the taxi in the front. At first I was going to comply not wanting to break a social norm, but as another taxi driver demand my wife get out of taxi, I started to tell the other driver blocking our way to fuck off. This empowered our driver to hop the curb and get around them. Our taxi driver was a nice guy and we spent the rest of the trip discussed the Chicago climate.
Back at the hotel, I researched places to eat near second city and decided on Adobe Grill which was right next door to the second city theaters. A quick cab ride (it was a $6.00 fare) over to Wells Street and we were quickly seated. Before I knew it, our server was presenting us with delicious margaritas and had a girl come out and make guacamole right at our table – excellent. I took the waiter’s suggestion had a sampler of their lamb and marinated beef for dinner. The meat was cooked perfectly and the portions were just the right size. Allison and I ended the meal with a tres leches desert which was a nice way to cleanse the palate.
We went next door and waited for High Fidelity to open. While we were waiting, we heard and saw a man on his cell phone talking about the play’s finances (or lack there of). We saw the actors coming into the theater (you could just tell they were actors) and we both were amazed how late they were coming in. 20 minutes before the show was supposed to start and they open the doors and a crowd finally shows up (there were probably 30 people in total). My thoughts on the play? Here is my review:
*** High Fidelity: The Musical – Route 66 Production Company ***
Official Web Site: High Fidelity – The Musical: Chicago
When I purchased tickets for the show, I didn’t realize it was a musical; I thought it was a play – I hate musicals. The subject matter is near and dear to my heart, but I was getting bad feelings when I overheard the lead’s phone conversation about bouncing checks. Regardless, I cleared my head and went into the show with an open mind.
What I liked:
1. They managed to change the plot to make most of the story occur in the music shop. This worked out well and the minor differences were enough to make it feel different.
2. The two actors playing Dick and Barry (the Jack Black role) were excellent. The guy playing Barry was doing an impression of Jack Black but it was a good one and the guy who played Dick was a good singer and guitar player.
3. The stage set up – it worked out well for a small theater
4. The gentlemen playing Ian made me laugh, but my wife hated him – he seemed like he was having a lot of fun.
What I didn’t like:
1. The lead actor – every time he repeated a Cusack line from the movie it made you realize how much of a poor man’s John Cusack he was. In all honestly, this guy had all of the charm of a date rapist. The dude playing Dick would have been much better in the lead.
2. The songs – some were okay, most were not. A particular gripe – the song “Laura”
3. Most of the women in the play were not so good – the one exception was the girl playing Allison Ashmore/Ana Moss (duel role) – she had a good voice and seemed to be more natural.
4. The length: The play was longer than the movie – about 2 hours.
When the show was over, I was glad to get the fuck out of there. But my escape wasn’t very far because our next show was just a floor below…
*** Second City Players: Stud Turkel’s Not Working ***
I knew nothing about the show, the people in it, or who Stud Turkel was before seeing the performance and that was just fine. Stud Turkel was a real person – he was a Chicago humorist and radio star that passed away a few years ago; the show had nothing to do with him, they just named it after one of his books because the theme of the show was about the Chicago lifestyle, but it easily could have fit into any urban setting (not much was lost in translation to this tourist).
The show was a mix of sketches and improve with the audience and it was hilarious. The cast was excellent as they made funny and acute commentary on local and national affairs. I didn’t recognize any of the staff, but I wouldn’t be shocked if I saw any of these actors onSNL in a year or two. I could go into greater details, but I wouldn’t want to give the jokes or the improve surprises away should you happen to be in Chicago and catch the show. Just take my word for it, it is worth going to see.
*** End Reviews ***
By the time the shows were done, it was 1 AM and Allison and I had to be at the airport by 8 AM to catch our flights home. So back to the hotel for packing and a few hours sleep.
When the morning came, we grabbed our stuff, checked out of the Avenue Hotel, walked a few blocks to Chicago & State to catch the red line. We got off a Roosevelt to catch the orange line back to mid-way. It took 40 minutes but I don’t think a cab would have been much faster.
The luggage check-in lines were huge, but thankfully they moved quickly. We managed to get through check-in and security in about an hour and got to the gate with an hour to spare. I watched Drillbit Taylor as we waited for the plane and one of the little boys in the movie reminded me of my godfather’s son Antonio, but that has been happening a lot lately. The flight was without incident and I am now home to finish this post.
I am going to summarize my thoughts on Chicago tomorrow, but I will end this post by saying Chicago is one hell of a town and I can’t wait to go back. Thanks for reading, here are the last of the pictures I took (most are from the boat tour).
Thursday morning found us feeling more refreshed thanks to an early nights sleep. We got up early and headed up to the hotel’s “sky lounge” for breakfast. I was hesitant to start putting items on my plate once I saw the instant eggs, stale bread, and mini boxes of cereal – been to too many hotels to fall for this scam – but my wife had already started. After a brief breakfast with a lovely view and $50 dollars later, we were on Michigan Avenue trying to figure out how to kill a few hours until the Cubs game.
We happened upon the Old Water Tower and the adjoining pumping station. The water tower was a bit of a let down (we weren’t allowed in the Tower part) and the pumping station didn’t let us get far in it’s innards, but it was next to Chicago’s Tourism Department and they sell half price tickets to shows. We managed to pick up tickets to the play form of High Fidelity and have to go back this morning to snag ticket for a Second City show after.
After getting the tickets we went to the John Hancock Center to catch the crazy views of Chicago that the city of skyscrapers is known for. The building did not disappoint. It costs $30 bucks to get to the top which makes it an official tourist trap, but it was still and excellent view. After taking some pictures we came back down and headed back to the hotel to dump our stuff and head to the game.
Once again we used the city’s excellent sub-way system (the Red Line) and managed to get to Wrigley Field before the game started. Sadly the Cubs were defeated by the Brewers… there were a lot of Brewers fans in the house. Why can’t the Cubbies get love in their own stadium? It was a fantastic day to see a game and we had an official Chicago style foot-long which Allison had to take the peppers off of.
We decided to visit the Art Institute of Chicago on our way back from the Cubs game. Once again my feeling is that while it was a wonderful museum, they aren’t as good as Philadelphia’s. There was a whole wing dedicated to modernist paintings (aka color splotches) – which I am completely convinced is a total scam. To each their own. After a solid two hours, it was time to go back to the hotel.
Knowing red meat was in my immediate future, I decided to hit the treadmill and my legs were like jelly from walking around the city all day. After a shower, my wife informed me that we were going to Boston Blackies. Our friends Jack and Lorraine recommended this establishment as one of the best burgers they have ever had. That was enough for me. The burger was outstanding, the onion rings were tasty, their own amber ale brew had me buzzing and our waitress was wonderful. At one point she sat down with us and talked Chicago politics and told us what “true Southies” thoughts were about the city and the new president. Outstanding.
It was dark, so we decided to head back to the hotel to plan the next day because if things go according to plan, it is going to be a long day packed with Chicago theater and tourist attractions.
To Be Continued….
We had to wake up earlier than I had mentally prepared myself for yesterday and that cost me on our first day in the Windy City. The guy we use for airport service was booked solid and had to pick us up at 5 AM. When he says 5 AM, he normally means 5:30, but in this case, he meant 5. I couldn’t get to sleep before midnight so I was left with exactly 4 hours and 15 minutes of rest. I was tired when I woke up and I wouldn’t shake that feeling all day.
The Philadelphia airport was relatively empty and provided no obstacles (this is our of character for our fair city’s only major airport), so we actually manged to land in Chicago 15 minutes early. After reading very complimentary articles of Chicago’s public transit system, I wanted to forgo using a taxi from the airport, but Allison had her doubts… until her uncle Rusty (who has traveled to Chicago often for work) not only encouraged it, he said it was the best way to get to the hotel – Allison agreed. The train leaving from the airport is the Orange line and we found it with no issues. It cost $2.25 to get on (and this includes any transfer). Once we reached the loop, we had to get off and board the red line (which is a traditional subway) – we managed this very easily (well my wife did since she didn’t have to carry the heavy suitcase). Once we got off at Chicago Ave, Allison – who was acting as a navigator, got a little confused and we ended up going several blocks in the wrong direction. After 6 blocks of lugging the suitcase, I hailed a cab – by this point we were way off – so the taxi was a good idea. Five minutes and $5.68 later we were at our hotel. I should note that a taxi from Midway to the heart of the city is $50.00 flat fee and we ended up paying $10.18 and it was much faster (this city is all stop and go traffic).
We got to the hotel at 10:00 AM central time and they didn’t have our room ready. Instead of aimless wandering, I suggested we hit one of the museums, so the clerk told us how to take the bus to the Field Museum on Lake Shore Drive. The bus stop was around the corner from the hotel and a very helpful girl informed us which bus we had to take (the 146 line for those keeping score at home). Being on the bus, I got a feeling for Chicago traffic in the city and I think having a car in downtown would be impossible. The subway and train system is the way to go. The bus took about 30 minutes to get to the museum which reminded me very much of the Philadelphia art museum in appearance and in the interactive displays (but I think Philadelphia’s museum is better than the Fields – sorry Chicago).
The exhibits were great and we actually visited on a free basic admission day. One thing I didn’t like about the museum is that all of their special exhibits were extra cost (individually I might add). I think they should just charge you the cost to get in to see everything. We opted for an exhibit about pirates. It starts with their origins in slavery and the slave trade and then takes you through to the end of the “Golden Age” of pirates. It was educational and interesting. I felt that as a whole – the museum tries to hard to be interactive and kid friendly, Philadelphia does a better job at being interesting but letting the pieces speak for themselves. But as a whole – excellent start to the day.
Walking around for a few hours – and I was exhausted. It was almost 2:00 and I was hoping our room was ready, so back on the bus and to the hotel. Once we got back, our room still wasn’t ready, so we went into the attached bar for a drink or two to wait. And hour later, our rooms were done. Allison managed to get us an upgraded suite which is awesome and has panoramic views of the city. I decided to rest for a while, so I popped in a movie and vegged out (Watched Knowing based on a friend’s suggestion – FTP – we got to talk).
Once the movie was over, I felt rested so I hit the gym for a little cardio knowing that Chicago style pizza was next. A nice run and a shower later, we were off to the famous Gino’s East. It takes 45 minutes for a pizza to be made and there is always a line (our hotel clerk gave us a special skip to the front card – which I felt like an asshole for using, but I wasn’t standing in a line if I didn’t have to). 50 minutes later the monster came out. After eating one, I have trouble calling it pizza. It is excellent and tasty, but I think it is a meat pie not a pizza, but that is just me – I will also calling it filling – I could only handle two slices before I tapped out.
We walked back to our hotel and went to bed pretty quickly to rest up for the day head…
TO BE CONTINUED