By Jennifer Ford
I grew up visiting Chicago once a month. My mother is an interior designer in a town three hours from the Windy City and every month, on a Friday, she would take a client shopping for all of the finishes in their home at the Merchandise Mart. Thirty years ago “market,” as she called it, was a city within a city of showrooms for home decor, apparel, gifts, and corporate design. My sisters and I packed suitcases full of our best dresses, books, and art supplies to keep us occupied while our mother collected beautiful objects to fill her store and the homes of her clients. The latest trends in furniture design, fabrics, and cabinets could hold our attention for only an hour at most before we found a seat in the lobby to color and read. As a reward for good manners, patience, and quiet countenance we were treated to dinner at a steakhouse, an overnight stay at the Holiday Inn, and a trip to the museum of our choice. I always chose to visit the Art Institute, while my sister Angie loved the Natural History Museum, the Museum of Science and Industry, and the Aquarium. If our excursion was close to a birthday or holiday, we might be treated to some window shopping on Michigan Avenue or at the Watertower Shops. This was the Chicago of my childhood.
A few weeks ago my mother and sisters and I decided to take a girls trip to relive those memories, but with a few updates to the itinerary to include some of the best examples of the Chicago food scene that we could find. We had some excellent grown-up drinks, sampled the menus of world famous chefs, and shopped at boutiques in trendy neighborhoods, but some we couldn’t miss some of our favorite places. My sister took off for Michigan Avenue shopping with her daughter, and I put on my headphones and meandered around the art museum.
Dante tells us that “Beauty awakens the soul to act” and watching my mother be creative, be a business woman, and be inspired by her career is one of the main reasons that I decided to bring Elijah on this adventure around the world. She had no problem pulling us out of school to learn her trade. I accumulated more life skills on those Friday afternoons than if I had stayed in school for the three recess breaks, lunch, gym, and study hall. By involving us in her life, she created a legacy of learning, curiosity, and entrepreneurship. My sisters and I now visit NeoCon in Chicago as interior designers, and we know that her example provided us with the knowledge to navigate through the long hallways of the Merchandise Mart with style and confidence. Beauty can be attached to a place, not only because of its inherent qualities but also because of its traces of nostalgia built through years of good memories.
The Gold Coast
This area is a mix of high-end residential and retail shops which includes the Magnificent Mile. The bar and nightlife scene has recently picked up as well, so walking along Rush Street anytime during the day or night will not disappoint.
This is one of the most popular neighborhoods in Chicago. Not only does it provide excellent access to the lake, but it also features the Lincoln Park Zoo.
This neighborhood is sometimes referred to as Wicker Park. Artists have recently migrated to this community for its industrial lofts and diverse inspiration. While gentrification has erased some of the more interesting projects in the neighborhood, it is still an exciting area of town.
The Field Museum
Also known as the Natural History Museum, the Field Museum is one of the largest of its kind in the world. Dinosaur exhibits are one of the primary reasons to go, but I love the Egyptian pyramids just as much!
The Art Institute of Chicago
So many people come for American Gothic or even the Seurat, but I love browsing through the Architecture and Design rooms featuring many Frank Lloyd Wright artifacts.
If you have a kid of any age, the Chicago Aquarium should be your first stop. It is positioned on Lake Michigan and has some attractions built as much for beauty as for education.
Conceptual cocktails, drinks with a story, quality crafted imbibements...there are not enough adjectives to describe how fabulous this place is. If you are looking for a liquor experience that is similar to an art performance than be sure to get reservations a few months in advance at The Aviary.
Smyth + The Loyalist
While the atmosphere is comfortable and small, the thoughtful dishes created by chefs Jon and Karen Shields are familiar with a few surprises thrown in.
Already a staple in the Chicago food scene, I keep going back for the BBQ carrots. If a vegetable side dish can keep my attention for this many years, imagine how good the main courses and specialties are!
The Pump Room
Another Chicago classic, the Pump Room, reminds me of the “fancy” dinners we went to as children. Impeccable service, a dazzling atmosphere, and a menu of American classics make me feel like the old days of special occasion dining are not dead.
I have been in love with Ian Schrager’s style since the Delano opened in Miami many years ago. This hotel is simple, modern, and luxurious with a nod to the high design stylings that made him famous.
Merchandise Market Holiday Inn
This hotel offers pure nostalgia and convenience. Situated on the top floor of the Merchandise Mart, many of the rooms offer views of the river down below.
There are two W Hotels in Chicago, and I prefer the dreamy atmosphere of the W City Center over the stunning views of the W Lakeside. The renovated bank building satisfies my desire to see Chicago’s pride in its architectural history.