Snow. I’d forgotten all about it. But it’s beautiful, it’s soft and it’s very, very cold. But that’s what you get when you decide to visit Chicago in February, I guess. And whilst the rest of the Chi-town population is wrapping up against more days of the blimmin white stuff, Suzy and me are like kids cause we’ve not seen snow in four years.
Chicago is a city with seemingly endless possibilities for entertainment, sight seeing, eating and drinking and it’s great to land somewhere where nobody knows your name.
After a quick trip up the Willis (formerly Sears) tower we spend our first evening in the Illinois city watching the Chicago Bulls at the mighty impressive United Center along with 20,000 other people. Whilst we may be up in the gods at least we’re near the beer; that, allied to the fact that the Bulls ease past the challenge of local rivals Milwaukee Bucks by 110 to 91 with a triple-double from Joakim Noah, makes a very happy bunch of visitors. And whilst Derrick Rose remains the team’s star, I’ve got a new hero – Carlos Boozer. We return to our brilliant, centrally-located Hampton Inn & Suites Chicago Downtown in the River North district, the choice of which proves a smart move on our part due to it being right in the heart of downtown, just north of The Loop.
It’s also near the Red Line of the easily navigable El Train underground railway system; we buy day passes and start to make our adventures the next morning. It’s always much easier to get an idea of a city’s layout and size during the day and so it proves.
Checking the bean
We end up at Millennium Park, which is something of a centre of entertainment, nature and art. Because it’s winter there’s an outdoor ice rink and we toy with getting our skates on, but we have more important things to do, one of which being checking out the famous Cloud Gate.
It’s a sculpture by Anish Kapoor, a British artist born in India, and it’s a masterful, huge, distended, polished steel jelly-bean blob in which the downtown scenery is beautifully reflected. The skyline looks quite extraordinary and lends the city a contemporary regality. Of course, the colloquial nickname is The Bean, which shows the humour of the locals. But it’s a brilliant piece that plays with perception – so much so that my wife Suzy clonks her head into it whilst trying to take a video. Oops! But no harm done, so we skip through the rest of the park – no music on the Great Lawn today, but in the summer you can tell that open-air concerts would be awesome there. It gets lovely and warm come July here, with temperatures kissing the 80s with some ease.
Back to the frozen icicle dripping from my chin, however. It seems we need to warm up which we duly do with a visit to the excellent Art Institute of Chicago which for 150 years has presented the good stuff.
It’s a comprehensive museum with Old Masters alongside plenty of contemporary, decorative and visual arts and the one million square feet make it the second-biggest in the States (only the Met in NYC is bigger). Of the many famous works, Edward Hopper’s study of aloneness, Nighthawks, and Grant Wood’s American Gothic are highlights as is the ancient Egyptian gallery. Best of all, I buy an awesome pen in the shape of the heavy metal salute on the way out.
There’s one thing you have to eat in Chicago and that is pizza. Famous for its deep dish, buttery crust, this is a long way from the mostly traditional Italian thin crust style. It truly is a wonder to behold and a wonder to eat, too. We round off the evening with a visit to the cinema to watch The Artist; a couple of post-movie drinks and we’re done – despite planning to head to one of the many awesome blues clubs which are just getting started. But that will have to wait for another visit.
Despite my best efforts, our third day is spent downtown shopping on the Magnificent Mile – every store you could want is here for clothes and stuff apparently. I’m more interested in trying to find a decent set of darts to bring back to Cayman, but sadly I fail. I do, however, manage to snag a pretty sharp set of Nike trainers that I didn’t know I was looking for until I saw them, so it ain’t all bad.
A bit about food
We lunch at Crisp, a North Broadway eaterie that is famous for its Korean-tinged fried chicken. I’d seen it on one of those celebrity cooking shows previously and if it’s good enough for Guy Fieri then it’s gotta be worth a shout. And it comes up trumps; the Seoul Sassy adds a great ginger/garlic slight heat to the very tender chicken which, yes, is crispy on the outside. The salad that comes with it – Buddha Bowl – is a mix of vegetables with rice and topped with a fried egg. Strange, but outstanding nonetheless. A quick trip to the ace Myopic Books yields brain food that afternoon and we round off our trip with a final-evening visit to another awesome food place.
The Purple Pig is located on the Magnificent Mile and can be best described as a kind of pig-worshipping tapas-type bar. We’re a little late due to unforeseen wine, so we have to wait, salivating, for half an hour before the table is ready. But by god it’s worth it; plate after plate of extraordinary dishes are brought out for us to sample and share. There’s fried pig’s ear with crispy kale, braised pork shoulder and mash, turkey leg confit and the absolute star of the show – roasted bone marrow. The interior of the bone is a buttery delight; smeared on brioche it is delicate, rich and something that everyone needs to taste at one time in their lives. The Purple Pig’s menu is great but this is something very special.
And so, a quick few beers later, we’re packing to come back. Yes, it’s cold in the winter, but that’s no bad thing in itself; when you live in beach paradise it’s great to get a dose of opposites once in a while. Chicago is as fast and furious as you want to make it, the inhabitants are friendly and the food is great. With the direct Cayman Airways flight taking around three hours, it could well be the ideal city break.