A wonderful long weekend in the Windy City with American Sky
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Savouring the home of deep-dish pizzas
used to picking up pizzas from the supermarket freezer cabinet or as an
occasional treat from the local takeaway, where they come in light portable
boxes, so it’s certainly a surprise to see a small team of wait staff surround
us and set up circular folding tables.
when in Chicago do as the Chicagoans do, and we’ve just ordered the classic
deep-dish pizza topped with sausages at Lou Malnati’s, the historic home of
Italy’s most famous culinary export. As couple of us are vegetarians we’ve
ordered a non-carnivorous option for good measure. Before long the waiters and
waitresses return to the table; it takes two of them to carry each of the
pizzas in heavy dark pans. Welcome to the world of the real deep pan pizza.
rite of passage on any trip to Chicago, I now realise my ones back home are
decidedly lightweight. Indeed, I’m feeling the same when I can barely finish
two slices of Lou Malnati’s trademark pizza made with a buttery crust,
Mozzarella cheese and vibrant red vine-ripened tomatoes from California. Lou
started working in the city’s first pizzeria in the 1940s before opening his
own restaurant in 1971, which remains family-run today.
a fun introduction to a city which definitely has its own take on things. We’re
in town at the start of a trip to the Great Lakes region along a section of
Route 66 which begins in Illinois, the state where Chicago is the largest city.
However, it’s also a fantastic destination for a short break, particularly for
anyone who has ‘done’ New York, Orlando, San Francisco and other popular US
it comes to first impressions you can’t miss the distinctive skyline and one of
the best places to see it is from the SkyDeck where you can ‘step outside’ the
tallest building in the Western Hemisphere at a height of 1,353ft. The
attraction is on the 103rd floor of the former Sears Tower, which now goes
under the name of the Willis Tower. The views through the windows are fantastic
enough, but for the ultimate sightseeing thrill you can step out onto The
Ledge, a series of glass boxes that extend more than four feet from the side of
the building. On a clear day you can see four states - Illinois, Indiana,
Wisconsin and Michigan - and it is, quite literally, breath-taking.
you haven’t got a head for heights you can still admire the skyline from a less vertiginous perspective. The Chicago
Architecture Foundation was founded in 1966 to save the historic Glessner
House, which marked a radical departure from traditional Victorian
architecture, and is now one of the city’s largest cultural organisations.
interactive model of Chicago is one of the main attractions, with than 4,000
miniature buildings telling the story of a city that has reinvented itself many
times in its relatively short history.
in 1837, connections to inland waterways and railroad networks positioned
Chicago as a transportation hub for the entire nation. Our guide tells us that
as the United States modernised in the 19th century Chicago kept
itself ahead of the game with ground-breaking solutions for buildings and infrastructure,
even more so when the catastrophic fire of 1871, which started in one of the
wooden buildings of the time, destroyed more than three square miles of the
city. This lead Chicago to be the first American city to grow upwards, with the
world’s first skyscraper built in 1885; a fact that surprised several of us who
assumed New York took the accolade. There’s even a raised train network, called
the L line, which is short for elevated.
Chicago River remains a focal point of life today
and we set off on a 90-minute boat tour. From the big-name Trump Tower which
needs little introduction and Wrigley Building built by the chewing gum
magnate, to the wave-like balconies of the modern Aqua structure and neo-Gothic
grandeur of the Tribune Building, it’s a fascinating cruise through
architectural history from 1890 to the present. Another misconception is
corrected when we learn that the Windy City didn’t earn its moniker from the
weather. It originally derived from the scorn heaped on early politicians who
were said to be full of hot air.
on dry land we visit Millennium Park to see ‘the bean’, a futuristic silver
sculpture by British artist Anish Kapoor with the official name Cloud Gate, not
that anybody seems to call it that. Despite
its size, Chicago is a very walkable city with many attractions to be found in
and around the Magnificent Mile which starts at the river and runs along a
section of Michigan Avenue.
after a bit of searching, we find another Chicago dining institution, the Billy
Goat Tavern & Grill. Tucked on a lower level beneath the grand boulevard,
it’s a world away from some of the fancy restaurants nearby and great fun. It
was founded by another enterprising immigrant, in this case William Sianis from
Greece, who opened his original Lincoln Tavern in 1934 and renamed it after a goat
somewhat incongruously fell off a passing truck, wandered inside and found
itself a new home. Resembling an old-fashioned diner, the mainstay on the short
and inexpensive menu is the ‘cheezborger’, served in paper, with cheese and
dill pickle. Don’t ask for lettuce or tomato or you’ll be told the goat ate
them. And if you want chips you’ll have to make do with the American version -
a packet of crisps.
we make tracks to our base at the Omni Hotel, which occupies a central spot on
the Magnificent Mile, and it’s tempting to go straight to the cocktail happy
hour which starts at 3pm and extends to a generous 7pm.
you’ve got the energy Chicago can provide the entertainment, with a nightlife
scene that includes around 100 theatres, including the landmark Chicago
Theatre, along with live music venues open every night of the week. We decide
to take a cab go the city’s North Side, which is home to Kingston Mines, the
largest and oldest continuously operating blues club in the city with two live
stages. On Saturday night it’s open from 7pm to 4.45am, with a very reasonable
entry fee of $15 for all those hours of music. Unfortunately, like the deep
dish pizza, we had to admit defeat and went to bed well before closing time.
Nevertheless, it was another great experience in a city that’s full of surprises.
Sky offers a three-night break at the Omni Hotel Chicago from £629 per person,
based on two sharing a room and including flights. To book or for more
information call 01342 331798. For information on Chicago and the Great Lakes
region visit www.greatlakesusa.co.uk.
Travel Advisor recommends American
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