We were drawn to Chicago by our national rugby team of all things. After living in North America for two years we had been missing some familiar Kiwi rough and tumble. The All Blacks vs. the Irish rugby team was a perfect excuse to visit a new city (not that we need one). I didn’t have high expectations for Chicago. After some thorough research on Wikipedia I discovered the city has some of the highest murder and homicide rates, a high level of violent crime and street gangs – no sweat. Instead, we experienced beautiful neighbourhoods, a plethora of sunshine and warmth (in November) and swarms of passionate Cubs fans who were celebrating their first World Series win since 1908.
Deep dish pizza – this is a claim-to-fame, and I’m slightly embarrassed to admit before visiting had never heard of “Chicago-style” pizza before. We indulged in a greasy, rich, moreish pizza pie at Giordano’s – conveniently located near Magnificent Mile and a huge establishment with plenty or bar space and booths (my favourite). There are heaps of different restaurants serving deep-dish, and I would highly recommend giving it a taste. Just make sure you are ready for a heavy meal. I couldn’t stomach any beverages or even look at a dessert menu after dinner!
Military Latte – only at Sawada Coffee. It’s a green tea latte, with a shot of espresso, a dash of vanilla syrup and cocoa powder. We made a special trip to the West Side to try these famous bevvies, and it was totally worth it – I wish I could find somewhere locally that could replicate! The café itself is a great space, with a laidback chill atmosphere, minimalistic and rustic. The staff were super friendly, our lattes were the perfect temperature and aesthetically perfect.
We checked in to our accommodation early and wandered the nearby streets looking to fill our bellies. We stumbled across The VIG Chicago who were still serving brunch at 2pm (um, yes please and thank you!) They have a cute little patio on the side walk, their indoor space is inviting and spacious, and again plenty of space at the bar too. I had an omelet and Neil had eggs benny. Our meals were served quickly, were huge portions and delicious. This gem in Old Town Chicago was one of those “we took a gamble and it paid off” dining experiences.
Chicago is beautiful on a good day. I have no opinion of the city on a bad day as we didn’t experience any. The public transport is great – we mostly walked or trained everywhere. I would recommend visiting Old Town Chicago, Navy Pier and the waterfront, Crystal Gardens, Magnificent Mile and the Chicago River (hard to miss). We took an architecture cruise down the river – I am always skeptical of touristy activities as I like to avoid the crowds and get a local’s perspective, but every now and then an organized tour is useful for a quick overview of a large city. To be honest, I’m not sure I would have noticed, let alone appreciated, the unique architecture of the city had we not taken the tour. From street level it just feels like another modern city with towering structures blocking sunlight. It’s easy to forget to look up, but you’ll regret it if you don’t.
The jazz scene in Chicago is a big deal. We stopped in at Zebra Lounge – a little jazz bar we wouldn’t have noticed walking by it had it not been for the moody tunes belting out of a window of what looked like just another old townhouse. It was everything a soulful jazz bar should be – dark, poky and an amazingly talented guy on the keyboard taking requests and seemingly able to play anything and everything. Needless to say, I could have stayed there all night. In. My. Element.
We stayed at an AirBnb in Old Town. I would highly recommend the location – an easy train ride from MDW airport, great neighbourhoods to explore on foot, lots of cafes, bars and restaurants, tree lined streets and close enough to walk to downtown if you’re game. We love staying at AirBnb’s as opposed to hotels. Usually the location is slightly more relaxed, out of the hustle and bustle; they are often cheaper, more spacious (perfect for some morning yoga) and include a kitchen so we can make breakfast at home before venturing out for the day’s explorations.