72 Hours in Chicago
by Jennifer Olvera
Chicago exudes big personality, from a murky history filled with gun-running gangsters and free-flowing speakeasies to the countless comedians who have launched their careers here. Often dubbed the "Heart of America," the windy city of Chicago is where East Coast speed meets Midwestern manners, and musicians like Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker and Louis Armstrong pushed the envelope of what we now know of blues and jazz.
Chicago is a thriving metropolis chock-full of forward-thinking food and fashion, tall buildings, bright lights and those bone-chilling winter winds sweeping off Lakeshore Drive. Chicago's dining scene rivals the nation's best destinations, and with a public transit card, ravenous travelers can trek along the banks of Lake Michigan to the culture filled streets of the South Side in no time. Second City? Not if you ask anyone in this town.
On your first morning in Chicago, make sure to wake up early and hurry over to Brendan Sodikoff's always-bustling Doughnut Vault; when the piping-hot wonders run out, that's it for the day.
From there, head to some of the must-see tourist hubs. The city's rich museum culture promises endless educational opportunities, and a stop at the Museum of Contemporary Art is essential. Lauded for its collection of art of our time — from painting, sculpture and photography to video, performance and film — the museum features many thought-provoking exhibitions; its permanent collection includes works from Franz Kline and Andy Warhol. When weather permits, be sure to check out the terraced garden, which affords great views of Lake Michigan.
Of course, the comprehensive collection — particularly the array of Impressionist and American art — at The Art Institute of Chicago, is unparalleled. Originally constructed for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, it began as a joint museum and school, and remains one of America's preeminent museums and educational art institutions today. First, make your way to the recently unveiled Renzo Piano-designed, 264,000-square-foot Modern Wing, which houses European works from 1900 to 1950. Depending on how long you hang out, you might want to relax at Tony Mantuano's Terzo Piano, a sedate, stylish spot serving local, organic and sustainably produced Italian fare.
When lunchtime arrives, keep things casual but cool with a stop at The Gage, Irish-born Billy Lawless' pub with upscale grub from Dirk Flanigan, or grahamwich, Graham Elliot's ode to inexpensive hand-helds.
Next, visit the Willis Tower Skydeck located on the legendary building's 103rd floor. Here you'll delight in the panoramic views of the city's architecture, as well as glimpses of Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin on a clear day. Should you dare, step onto the enclosed, glass-bottom ledge. Of course, if something more traditional is your thing, a meal at the Signature Room at the 95th in the John Hancock Center will more than suffice.
Afterward, mosey on over to Gibson's Steakhouse for some of the city's finest prime cuts, football-sized lobster tails and über-cold martinis. As if the walls decked with autographed publicity photos didn't clue you in upon your entry, you might want to keep your eyes peeled for the smattering of in-town celebrities, famous tycoons and local athletes who frequent this haunt.
Now that you're on a roll, it's time to take in some of the city's legendary nightlife. Most Chicagoans would tell you blues and jazz are where it's at. Although there are more frequently treaded spots like Buddy Guy's Legends and Green Mill, for our money Kingston Mines is the place to go for a non-stop tune fest. Live music is kicked out on two stages every night, and the cover charge is surprisingly affordable.
* Images by Choose Chicago