Monday, October 4, 2010

Chicago: A Wonderful Town

The Trump International 
Hotel and Towers
This weekend my sisters and I got together for a 'girls' weekend in the wonderful city of Chicago. We had all passed through the city briefly in 1965 changing train stations on a family trip to Los Angeles. I had not been back but two of my three sisters had and I was perfectly willing to be 'led' around a city that I heard so much about but had never really visited.

First impression: Chicago is very clean, and I think it has a lot to do with the lack of street vendors. Though we may all decry the congestion they create street side in New York, those pesky vendors do come in handy when it's cold or nasty. Where can you get an umbrella or pashmina for $5. when you leave work unprepared on a cold, rainy evening? And lets not forget the hot dog vendor who saved Times Square from a terrorist explosion! But their absence was OK with me, maybe vendors should be exclusively New York..and yes, I'll stop my obvious biased affection for my home town!

We stayed at the Intercontinental on Michigan Avenue conveniently located across from Nordstrom's and right in the middle of the Magnificent Mile. Why had I never come back? Chicago is a shopper's paradise and I love to shop! I was soon to find out that the city is a dining paradise as well... that is if you make or can get a reservation. We had decided to eat in a restaurant called The Purple Pig on Michigan across from our hotel on Friday evening. There was an hour and a half wait but when a customer named "Al' didn't show - we were ushered in after only 15 minutes! Chicago, my kind of town!

Bill Rancic
For Saturday, my sister had recommended the Architectural Boat Tour. Chicago, it seems, was the birthplace of the skyscraper and has continued its dominance in tall and cutting edge architectural wonders that grace the river bank as well as the rest of the city. There are some noteworthy skyscrapers: the Sears Tower (now named Willis), the John Hancock Building, the Aon Center and the Trump International Hotel and Towers which was built after season one of 'The Apprentice' (remember Bill Rancic?). The tour skirted the banks of the 156 mile long Chicago River. The river is the reason why Chicago became an important location. It created a link between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi. In the 19th century the flow of the river was reversed away from Lake Michigan which it emptied into, towards the Mississippi River basin. This was done for reasons of sanitation. The river is also dyed green on St. Patrick's Day.

After our tour, we opted to regroup in the hotel lobby to discuss our dinner plans. A friendly Chicagoan gentleman sitting nearby (waiting for his wife to finish shopping!) offered a few suggestions: Gibsons, Hugo Frog's and Rosebud but all were booked. Our concierge recommended a restaurant called Sepia and it was great (all links below). Earlier that day we spotted a restaurant called The Original Pancake House and quickly decided that it would make a perfect Sunday breakfast destination! 

The Allerton Hotel and it's 'misleading' sign!
An interesting note: Near our hotel was an older hotel called the Allerton. It had a bright neon sign atop the hotel displaying the name and in smaller neon letters the word TIP, TOP, TAP, obviously a rooftop nightspot sounding for all the world like a place where Fred and Ginger once hung out! We were intrigued.  After dinner on Saturday night we decided to go for a drink only to discover that the Tip, Top, Tap has long been closed but the name remains prominently displayed because of the landmark designation of the building. Such a  disappointment! Here's a bit of the history of the hotel and the Tip, Top, Tap from Wikipedia: 

In the 1940s and 1950s, the hotel housed a swanky lounge on its upper story, called the "Tip Top Tap." Although the lounge closed in 1961, the sign proclaiming its existence is still displayed on the Allerton Hotel.[2] By 1963, the room was home to a new restaurant, the Cloud Room, when Don McNeill moved his broadcast of "Don McNeill's Breakfast Club" to the location. While the show was broadcast from the Allerton, McNeill's guests included regular Fran Allison.
After the Allerton Hotel was declared a Chicago landmark, it was closed from August 1998 through May 1999 for a $60,000,000 renovation. The restoration work reversed the hotel's trend toward seediness. When the hotel reopened as the Allerton Crowne Plaza Hotel, the twenty-third floor, which had housed the Tip Top Tap and the Cloud Room, opened as the Renaissance Ballroom. At the same time, a lounge opened on the second floor called Taps on Two, and featured one of the Tip Top Tap's signature drinks, a Moscow Mule.

Moscow Mule? An interesting history for sure and a great city to visit, just remember to make a reservation in advance!



  1. Fascinating history. Unlike me, John was quite familiar with Don McNeill's Breakfast Club and Fran Allison (before my time). But are you sure that the Moscow Mule wasn't the signature drink of the Russian mafia owned club we visited first? You should give a shout out to the fabulous dancing girls we enjoyed so much there.

  2. Tell John he's REALLY OLD!! I hadn't heard of the show either but the Moscow Mule may become a future blog post.

    I thought about mentioning the Russian place but was afraid I might be tracked down!