City slicker: Chicago

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The Windy City, home of Barack Obama, is gearing itself up for one of the most exciting presidential elections in many years, says Kate Simon

Why visit?

The place to be this week is Chicago, home of Barack Obama, for it's likely to turn into Party Town USA. If the polls are correct, the Illinois senator will become the first African-American to be elected to the Oval Office.

This tough, industrial Midwest hub is an appropriate backdrop for the man accused by his rival John McCain of perpetrating "class warfare". The lakeside city was built on commerce, establishing itself as a mid-continental hub for the railroad network in the 1830s and growing into a booming business centre. Today's visitor comes to enjoy the fruits of that labour in the shape of the great Art Deco skyscrapers commissioned by the industrialists who built this town.

But Chicago's attractions aren't confined to its past. Frank Gehry's audacious Jay Pritzker Pavilion and Anish Kapoor's mesmeric Cloud Gate reveal a willingness to embrace the zeitgeist. And this city isn't all about work either. Chicago has a flourishing art scene, from the world-class sculptures on its streets and the fine collections in its museums and galleries to the clubs where jazz developed and house music was born.

Don't miss...

Gazing at the Art Deco architecture, such as the Jewelers Building at 35 East Wacker Drive, with its car-size lift so the rich could literally drive to the door of their jewellers. Al Capone ran a speakeasy at the top;

Millennium Park, for a turn around the ice rink in winter, to stand beneath Anish Kapoor's Cloud Gate sculpture and spot your reflection, and to see Frank Gehry's symphony in steel, the Jay Pritzker Pavilion;

Joining the outdoor-loving Chicagoans down by Lake Michigan – it looks like the sea, but it's just one hell of a pool of water;

Strolling around the open-air Frank Lloyd Wright museum, aka Oak Park;

Touring the sculptures in the Loop to see works by everyone from Miro to Moore;

Giving the credit card a workout on the Magnificent Mile;

Taking a Greeter Tour to see this town from the perspective of a local;

Catching an open-air festival in summer;

Listening to some live jazz at Buddy Guy's Legends – with luck, the great man might be performing.

What's new


Working-class Pilsen is the new place to be. First settled by Polish, Czech and German immigrants, it's now home to the city's working-class Mexican community and, latterly, a host of boho types. The arty crowd has been hanging out here for some years, but Pilsen is now seriously gentrifying, which isn't universally popular because of the inevitable rise in house prices. But this new cool neighbourhood is being embraced by visitors who love its cheek by jowl mix of galleries, vintage shops and authentic taquerias.


Trump Tower

It's no surprise that billionaire Donald Trump has bagged a prime waterfront site on North Wabash for his new hotel and residential complex. And if that wasn't enough, he's built a structure to rival its neighbours in sheer scale. When Trump International Hotel and Tower pops a 22-storey spire on its top floor later this year, it will be the city's second tallest building after the Sears Tower. Within its walls, guests enjoy spacious suites with kitchenettes, one of the classiest hang-outs in town, Rebar, and a luxurious spa.



The view

The trouble with admiring the view from the highest building in a city is that you don't get to see the very structure that you're standing at the top of. That's why locals will tell you to head for the John Hancock Observatory – to gain a great view of the Sears Tower. Of course, there's plenty more to take in too through its windows, all of which you can find out about courtesy of new multimedia tours for adults and kids narrated by Chicago resident David Schwimmer, aka Ross in the TV show 'Friends'.


Skylark Bar

Chicago's dive bars may not be so popular with Sarah Palin since one displayed a 4ft-high gun-toting nude portrait of the ambitious hockey mom. But the vibe's somewhat different at the Skylark Bar in Pilsen, where an alternative crowd is served good beers and hearty burgers at decent prices, and can chew the fat with friends in the 1930s booths or enjoy some all-American fun on the pinball machine and jukebox.

Details: 2149 South Halsted Street, 001 312 948 5275


Drawing diners to trendy Bucktown, Mado is making a name for itself with its Med cuisine. The husband and wife team behind this recent arrival on Chicago's culinary scene puts the emphasis on flavour, rustling up local and sustainable ingredients, and have created a rustic chic atmosphere with the bare brick and chalk boards and BYOB policy. Must eat: the hanger steak.



This gritty city has its indulgent side? You'd better believe it. Check it out at mySpa, a day spa that's as easy on the eye as it is on the body. Massages, rituals, skin care and beauty treatments for men and women, teens and pre-teens, are applied by top-notch technicians according to individual needs in a vast luxurious space tucked away from the hubbub at the Fairmont Chicago.


Insider's secret: Abina Manning

"My favourite place is the Velvet Lounge (above), home of free jazz and Fred Anderson," says Abina Manning, director of the Video Data Bank at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

"It's my idea of a jazz club – not fancy. Fred is at the door; he serves drinks and sometimes plays music with the guests, too."


How to get there

Virgin Atlantic (08705 747 747; flies from London Heathrow to Chicago daily from £330 return.

Trump International Hotel & Tower (001 312 588 8000; offers double rooms from $525 (£320) a night.

Further information

Chicago and Illinois Tourist Office (08700 503 410;

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Bid / Tender Writing Executive

    £24000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in Manchester, Lon...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Executives / Marketing Communications Consultants

    Competitive (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a number of Marketi...

    Recruitment Genius: Marketing Executive

    £20000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This well established business ...

    Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester

    £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester...

    Day In a Page

    Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

    The secret CIA Starbucks

    The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
    Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

    How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

    The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
    One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

    One million Britons using food banks

    Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

    The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
    Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
    Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

    Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

    They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
    Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
    The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

    The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

    Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
    How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

    How to run a restaurant

    As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
    Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

    Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

    For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
    Usher, Mary J Blige and to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

    Mary J Blige and to give free concert

    The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
    10 best tote bags

    Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

    We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
    Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

    Paul Scholes column

    I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...