Arriving in Chicago was exhilarating. We’d spent two weeks on the road, in mostly small towns, and before that 18 months in the low-rise, chilled, southern-style city of DC. It had been a while since we’d been in a proper city, walking at that proper city pace, dodging other pedestrians in the deep corridors between glass skyscrapers. As soon as we arrived we realized we liked it better than New York – just as much excitement, but less attitude.
We arrived with a list of places to see and pizza to try – this was tourism Chicago style. Many of our recommendations came from the new friends we’d met at the New Belgium and Great Divide Breweries, who turned out to live in Chicago. Others were from a friend who had done a pizza tour when she had visited – I guess the same one Brown Bear Travels wrote about last week: http://brownbeartravels.com/2016/01/24/a-long-weekend-in-chicago-part-2/
However, we only had one night and a day before our flight home, so this was to be a bit of a flying visit.
As time was at a premium we stayed in Chicago downtown district known as the Loop, in the ultra-modern, very urban Central Loop Hotel. I imagine that, to some, the convenient and compact rooms could seem a bit small, but we’re Londoners at heart, and we were only using the room for sleeping. We could walk everywhere we wanted to go, just using the metro to get to the airport.
By the time we arrived we were pretty exhausted, but we decided on a quick walk around, followed by cocktails at Palmer house and pizza at Giordanos. I was very excited to see the Chicago ‘L’, especially its actual ‘El’evated parts (for info on the correct terminology see the Chicago Tribune)
The Palmer House is one of Chicago’s oldest hotels (its first incarnation was built in 1871, but the current building dates from the 1920s, and its been a Hilton since the forties). Its main claim to fame is a beautiful lobby ceiling, which you can see while enjoying a cocktail at their extensive bar.
The cocktails were less impressive, but they certainly helped with the exhaustion. There was definitely something nice about spending too much money at a cocktail bar at the end of our long roadtrip through western wildernesses and small-town America. It was a far cry from the local bars of Greybull…
Giordano’s in the Loop did not immediately fill us with joy. It was a bit of a tourist trap, and we were discouraged from buying wine due to the extortionate prices being charged for bottles. However, the deep-dish pizza exceeded my expectations. I think I only tried deep dish in the UK once – one of those frozen ones, probably ‘Chicago Town’. I remember we accidentally burnt it, so the overly sweet tomato sauce had a bitter edge to it, and the dough was hard and tasteless. This was completely different, with delicious sauce and plenty of cheese at the base.
Our second day in Chicago dawned grey, chilly and threatening rain. Still we didn’t let that stop us exploring the lake front and Millennium park; in fact we quite enjoyed the edge on Chicago’s famous breeze. The city looked really great from the lakeside, and we imagined how much fun it might be to live in this city, especially during the summer months. By the time we got to the children’s park we’d almost decided to move to the city and start a family!
Sadly we didn’t have time for the gallery, which looked amazing (and was free for children). But we wandered the gardens nearby and enjoyed the sculptures. I loved Cloud Gate especially.
Our one bad experience in Chicago was the Willis tower. For a start, we couldn’t get over how arrogant you have to be to rename the Sears Tower… That aside, we had been advised that if you wanted a good view without paying for the ‘SkyDeck experience’, you could go to the floor below, which housed the bar; as long as you bought a drink you could enjoy the view for free.
I don’t know whether too many people had given out this advice, or if the staff in charge this day were just incompetent, but the bar was overcrowded to dangerous levels. When we walked in we were greeted by two lines – one, about two rooms’ lengths long, for the bar, the other, snaking around the entire floor, for the elevator to get down again. At this point I started to get panicky. We didn’t have long to spend here, as we had to go get our luggage, catch the metro and go and catch our flights. We decided it wasn’t worth queuing for drinks – by the time we’d waited in the line for the elevator we would have had our fill of the view which, though impressive, wasn’t the best on this very grey day. So we waited, and waited, and were finally released from the tower.
Happily, my main memory from that day though is the pizza we found at Pizzano’s. We went to the one north of the river, just off the Magnificent Mile, which was far less touristy than the Giordano’s we’d been at the night before. We got there pretty early for lunch so didn’t have to wait too long, and fell in love with the classic old Italian restaurant interior. Again, bottles of wine seemed ridiculously over-priced (is it something to do with local tax?), so we got glasses – it was lunch time after all… But it was the pizza that wowed us the most. The base was more like pastry than dough, and utterly delicious. It also had far more rich, Italian tomato sauce on top than Giordano’s.
We were able to fly back from Chicago, happy in the knowledge that we had managed to cram in two pizza experiences, despite our short stay. Overall, the city gave us a great ending to an amazing trip.