There are several reasons to visit Chicago, but foremost is the feeling. Chicago feels like a specific place; it resists the generic world.
“I adore Chicago. It is the pulse of America,” Sarah Bernhardt said long ago, and the actress’s words are still used today on the side of the city’s buses.
Carl Sandburg saw it as “Stormy, husky, brawling // City of the Big Shoulders”.
Its great edifices are its summary: massive concrete blocks, but often with more ornament than one might expect in a metropolis of manly shoulders, a city the docks and the slaughterhouses made great. Chicago has grace too. Maybe muscular is not the word for Chicago so much as sinewy. I have been visiting the city for four years and it does grow on you.
But for a new or newish visitor, here are five ways to get a feel for Chicago:
1. The Chicago Architecture Foundation’s cruise on the Chicago River. It lasts an hour and a half and makes the downtown’s architectural styles mix and mesh; the docents tie it all together. There is ingenuity (the new Boeing building that has support trusswork on its roof because rail lines limited what could be done at grace level), argument (the current HQ of the American Medical Association, designed by Mies van der Rohe, is an assertion about function), and collaboration (several of the buildings have lines and ornaments that refer to neighbouring buildings). (Website: architecture.org)
2. A Cubs game, duh.
3. The area north of Damen transit stop on the blue line. Hipster central. Montreal clothes shop Frank & Oak has a branch just off North Damen Ave, and you can go to trendy Toast for breakfast followed by a way-better-than-Tims doughnut from Stan’s Donuts.
4. Art Institute of Chicago. Like the skyline it harbours many styles. Its rooms cross continents and eras. You won’t like everything, and it is so vast that after a while much becomes a blur, but as with any great gallery there will be a couple of pieces that will stick in your mind (in my case, Chagall’s America Windows and Jules-Adolphe Breton’s The Song of the Lark).
5. Lou Malnati’s Pizza. Several locations. Soooo much cheese on this deep-dish pizza, such buttery crust, that many visitors come here more than once on a trip.