Chicago Relocation
 

Chicago’s Loop – Make No Small Plans

March 17, 2014

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Chicago neighborhoods
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John D’Ambrogio

Ah, the loop. Downtown. The Windy City. Urbs in Horto. The City of Big Shoulders. Chi-Town. The Second City. Well, it all starts here – The Loop. My Kind of Town. Downtown Chicago, our business district, the only place 90% of tourists (and a fair number of suburbanites) see. And well, if you could only see one area, this is it. The Loop rocks.

The Loop is the center for commercial, theater and finance in the little village on the water once called “Shikaakwa.” That’s the 17th century French interpretation of the Illini word for “The Stinking Onion.  This eventually evolved into the word Chicago. So there’s your history lesson for the day.  Second largest business district (thanks Manhattan), hence “Second City.”

Love architecture? Well, look no further my friend. Thanks (unfortunately) to the Chicago Fire of 1871 (witnessed by my firm’s founder Lyman Baird) the city by the lake had a clean slate just in time for the arrival of the world’s first high rise – 1884′s Home Insurance Building. As I crane my head to the corner of my window I can see one of the most historically significant structures in the city the Rookery Building.  It’s importance extends beyond it’s housing the architects Root, Wright, Sullivan, & “Make No Small Plans” Burnham.
You want cool bulidings? Try the Auditorium Building, the Art Institute, the CBOT, Chicago Theater, Chicago Cultural Center, Fine Arts Building, the Palmer House, the Sears Tower (no, it’s not the Willis Tower), Symphony Center. After you visit those, we can give you 25 more…. actually, try the Chicago Architectural Foundation for some extremely cool info and bus/walking/El/bike tours! The river is a particularly great way to see The Loop.

The Loop is narrowly defined as the area inside the elevated trains that literally “loop” around the business district.  The trains make up the pink/green/orange/brown/purple lines -or the area more broadly defined as Congress Ave./The Lake (Michigan Ave.)/ and The Chicago River.  And as you’ve already read about “South Loop”, “North Loop” and “West Loop” we pretty much like to overlap neighborhoods whenever possible.

Compared to pretty much anywhere else in the city, you won’t find much residential real estate in The Loop.  And what is there is pretty much exclusively high-rise and expensive. Which makes sense, especially since it’s surrounded by many areas where you can easily walk to within 10 minutes.
That being said, Chicago’s first non-native resident was Jean Baptiste Point Du Sable, often cited as a French Canadian of African descent (although little is known to verify this claim). Fort Dearborn eventually followed as this became a small village where the river meets the lake.

So lace up the gym shoes (that’s what we call sneakers out here in the Midwest), put on multiple layers based on weather, and take a lovely walk around the world’s most beautiful city!

 
 
 

Wicker Park – A Grown-Up Hipster

March 10, 2014

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Chicago neighborhoods
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John D’Ambrogio

As mentioned earlier, it’s really hard to separate Wicker Park from Bucktown. It’s not as easy as “north or south of North Ave.” But I’m giving it a go…..

Originally Wicker Park was a northern European enclave – Germans, Scandinavians and later Poles (hence the remaining Zimne Piwo signs under that Old Style beer light on so many neighborhood joints). Believe it or not, the provisional Polish government had their meetings in WP during the Great War.

People lament that Wicker Park has changed.  That it’s not as cool and hip as it was “back in the day.” I’ll admit, as a relocation counselor 20 years ago I did describe it as a cool, hip, up and coming, “gentrifying” artist community. It still is – it’s just way more gentrified!  Neighborhoods change and evolve and get reborn like a Phoenix all the time. Wicker Park (and Bucktown) are now “mature” neighborhoods and great places to live.

Being closer to the Loop,Wicker Park’s commute is a little easier than Bucktown. Really, Wicker Park’s an easy place to live without a car.  Housing wise, there’s better values than their eastern neighbor (Lincoln Park, Near North) primarily based on the proximity to the lake. Lots of lofts in this community, both classic (reclaimed from the manufacturing world) and those created specifically for residential use. Search some here.

What should you check out? Don’t miss the world famous Double Door, where the Stones played their “secret” concert back in ‘97 (Mick wasn’t even 60 yet!). It’s located at the famous six corners of North/Milwaukee/Damen (where WP and BT meet). Hear rock, punk, funk, you name it! For something different, but still a very cool experience, walk around the corner to Subterranean. If you want a true Indie Chicago music experience, go a little south to Empty Bottle. I know, I know that’s not officially Wicker Park.  Please forgive me Ukrainian Hipsters.

Each summer the Wicker Park Fest (usually in July) is an explosion of music, food, beer and crafts. The Trib named it best fest last year. Like most neighborhood fests these days, they’re “free” with “a $5 donation.” Which I think is really funny.

For an on-film glimpse at Wicker Park, watch High Fidelity” with our own John Cusak.

For some food, check out the incredibly hip Bongo Room with a great brunch and fantastic joe. There’s a bit of a dual for favorite pizza joint in Wicker Park (don’t forget, I’m an Aurleio’s guy so I’m not voting). If you like New Haven style pizza with some great micro brews, check out Piece.

There also Roots.  Their pizza is really good, but their “build your own salad” is KILLER – 50 choices. Go for some goat cheese with pistachios, and avocado cream…

 
 
 

January 2014 Chicagoland State of the Real Estate Market

January 27, 2014

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Chicago neighborhoods
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John D’Ambrogio

It was a cold December, but not for Chicago’s Real Estate Market. The hot market in 2013 finished the year with increases in sales prices, units, sales volume and steady mortgage rates. John D’Ambrogio shares January 2014′s State of the Real Estate Market.

 
 
 

Lincoln Park – The other epicenter

January 21, 2014

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Chicago neighborhoods
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John D’Ambrogio

If you’re new to Chicago, you probably know of two neighborhoods – The Loop and Lincoln Park. A Chicago truism is that everyone (I know) has probably worked in The Loop at one point (or said they did), or lived in Lincoln Park (or said the did). Lincoln Park is such an iconic Chicago neighborhood that it’s sometimes tough to get your arms around it. It set the standard for being the cool neighborhood so long ago and it (arguably) inspired the renaissance of so many other northside communities. (Think, Lakeview to Wicker Park, to Bucktown).

But Lincoln Park does not rest on its laurels, although virtually any address in Lincoln Park is a perennially desirable one. It’s a vibrant community (that may skew a little young), with major thoroughfares of Clark, Halsted, and Lincoln. It’s jammed with pubs, restaurants, shops….anything and everything that a heavily populated, public transportation-heavy, mobile community needs. It’s an easy El or bus ride to downtown, easy access to LSD and the major highways, you can walk to the world class Lincoln Park zoo – it truly is a pedestrian urbanites’ paradise.

Hitting back on the ‘three neighborhoods for the price of one” thing that Chicago likes, “greater” Lincoln Park includes the Old Town community (which merits its own blog), Old Town Triangle, DePaul, West Depaul, and more. But a very general rule of thumb would dictate that price inches down and space goes up the further west of the lake and north of downtown. So it’s a trade-off: smaller housing close to the lake or “more for your money” a bit further north or west.

You can really find all types of urban housing in beautiful Lincoln Park. From luxury high rises along the lake, to traditional Chicago brick or frame flats, corridor buildings, courtyards, as well as some pricy single family homes it really has such a variety. Try a search and see for yourself.

The nightlife scene is a bit overwhelmed by the college and “young professionals” crowd, which is a great thing if you’re in that demographic. You can certainly find quality cuisine of any time – Thai, Sushi, Italian, American, French, fusion of any type! It’s hard to name a few without naming 50, but If you want a classic post bar hot dog experience, you need to go to Weiner Circle.  Toast for an exceptional and creative brunch at Noodles at Penny’s (multiple locations). Incredible tapas and sangria at Cafe Ba Ba Reeba – Chorizo wrapped dates with cheese – need I say more? Craft beer and the best homemade potato chips around – it’s Goose Island.

I tremble to think about what to advise people to do in Lincoln Park. It literally has everything.

Want to see great live Theatre? 2nd City, hands down.

Oh, real theater, not improv? Try Steppenwolf among dozen other places

Get some sun? Walk to the beach. Exotic Animals? Late night bars (hundreds) or the famous Lincoln Park Zoo. Blues? Kingston Mines …. B. L.U.E.S.  Creepy? 2122 N. Clark St., site of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (behind Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder), or The Biograph Theater where Dillinger was gunned down Museums – Chicago History Museum, Peggy Notebart Nature Museum.  The list goes on and on…..and on. 

So spend a day, spend a weekend, spend a year. You’ll enjoy every minute.

 
 
 

Old Town – 2nd City and NOW WE GET TO THE SO MUCH MORE (Part 2)

January 6, 2014

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Chicago neighborhoods
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John D’Ambrogio

Speaking of beer (I think we were last week), there is no shortage in Old Town – The Pour House, Old Town Ale House, Declan’s, Burton Place. All filled with cool hipsters and multiple taps. Can’t go wrong at any of them. Restaurants include classics like O’Brien’s for steak, Topo Gigio and Orso’s for Italian; Bistro Margot for le Francais; you’ve got to try the ribs at Fireplace Inn; Kamehachi is an old town favorite, including their restaurant and of course the “old” restaurant, now a very cool lounge; ah you won’t go hungry in Old Town. One more place! The Hotel Lincoln’s rooftop bar, J. Parker! The view, oh my….

And once you’re full you can laugh it off. There’s Zanie’s Comedy club just off North/Wells with great stand up. And of course Old Town is really known for SECOND CITY and their improv training school and performance centers. A little cabaret opened in 1959 and now is a mecca to comedy and improv. I can’t even start on about them or I’ll rave and start talking about Belushi, Farley, Radner, Murray, Arkin, Rivers, Long…..

Oh, heck, here’s a very abbreviated list – Thanks Wikipedia.com for supplying it:

(1960) Alan Arkin (The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming, Little Miss Sunshine)
(1961) Joan Rivers
(1961) Avery Schreiber (My Mother the Car)
(1961) Del Close (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off)
(1965) Fred Willard (Fernwood 2Nite, Roseanne, Everybody Loves Raymond, A Mighty Wind’)
(1967) Peter Boyle (Young Frankenstein, Taxi Driver, Everybody Loves Raymond)
(1969) Joe Flaherty (SCTV, Freaks and Geeks)
(1969) Harold Ramis (SCTV, Ghostbusters, Stripes)
(1971) John Belushi (SNL, Animal House, The Blues Brothers, Neighbors)
(1973) Gilda Radner (SNL, Gilda Radner Live from the Winter Garden Theatre)
(1973) Bill Murray (SNL, Groundhog Day, Lost in Translation, Caddyshack, Ghostbusters, Meatballs, Stripes, Where the Buffalo Roam)
(1973) Betty Thomas (Hill Street Blues)
(1973) Dan Aykroyd (SNL, Ghostbusters, Driving Miss Daisy, The Blues Brothers)
(1974) Eugene Levy (SCTV, A Mighty Wind, American Pie)
(1975) Dave Thomas (SCTV, Strange Brew, Grace Under Fire)
(1975) George Wendt (Cheers)
(1976) Shelley Long (Cheers)
(1978) James Belushi (SNL, According to Jim)
(1978) Tim Kazurinsky (SNL, Police Academy)
(1979) Mary Gross (SNL, Hot to Trot, Feds)
(1983) Richard Kind (Mad About You, Spin City)
(1986) Dan Castellaneta (The Tracey Ullman Show, The Simpsons)
(1986) Bonnie Hunt (Life With Bonnie, Cheaper by the Dozen, Cars, The Bonnie Hunt Show)
(1988) Mike Myers (SNL, Wayne’s World, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, Shrek)
(1989) Chris Farley (SNL, Tommy Boy, Black Sheep)
(1989) Tim Meadows (SNL, The Ladies Man, Mean Girls, The Bill Engvall Show)
(1991) Steve Carell (The Daily Show, The Office, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Little Miss Sunshine)
(1991) Jeff Garlin (Curb Your Enthusiasm, I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With)
(1993) Stephen Colbert (The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, Strangers with Candy, Exit 57)
(1994) Scott Adsit (Mr. Show, 30 Rock, Moral Orel)
(1994) David Koechner (SNL, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, The Office, The Naked Trucker and T-Bones Show)
(1994) Nancy Walls (SNL, The Daily Show, The Office)
(Tour) Amy Poehler (SNL, Baby Mama, Parks and Recreation,Upright Citizen’s Brigade)
(Tour) Matt Walsh (Upright Citizen’s Brigade, Veep)
(1995) Rachel Dratch (SNL, 30 Rock)
(1995) Adam McKay (SNL, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby)
(1995) Jon Glaser (Delocated, Late Night with Conan O’Brien)
(1996) Tina Fey (SNL, Mean Girls, Baby Mama, 30 Rock)
(1996) Horatio Sanz (SNL, The New Guy, Fillmore!)
(1997) Jim Zulevic (Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm)
(1999) Jack McBrayer (30 Rock)
(Tour) John Lutz (30 Rock, SNL)
(2003) Dan Bakkedahl (The Daily Show)
(2004) Frank Caeti (MADtv)

Unbelievable that all these folks walked through that little door at North and Wells and honed the art of the improv! And the best is they let regular schmoos like me take classes there. Excellent! That’s reason enough to visit Old Town!

 

 
 
 

Old Town – 2nd City and SO MUCH MORE (Part 1)

December 30, 2013

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Chicago neighborhoods
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John D’Ambrogio

Ah Old Town.  One of Chicago’s great neighborhoods. Separating the upscale high end Gold Coast with great residential “neighborhoody” neighborhoods (i.e. trees and small swatches of grass) lies Old Town.

Approximately between Division and North (OK go up a block or two) and from Clybourn/Larrabee to the park.  Many people do consider Old Town the south “sub neighborhood” of Lincoln Park – hey don’t kill the messenger. But truly, this is where the north side begins to become “residential” so to speak. Far fewer business beside those that cater to the community which is filled with young hipsters, dedicated urban cool people, and the spectrum in between.

Housing? With cool Victorians, lovely frame homes and, of course, a plethora of apartments Old Town is vibrant. It’s beautiful. It’s lovely. It ain’t cheap. But you can (arguably) walk downtown,  walk to Lincoln Park, beaches, zoo, etc. and super easy El access. Driving? Did you just pass an open parking spot?  You might want to grab it because you’ll never find parking here.

(My parking secret is LaSalle.  Something’s always open on LaSalle on the weekends. Hope I didn’t jinx myself)

In a city filled with great museums Old Town is home to the Chicago History Museum. A relatively small museum you’ll find such curiosities as the original walls of Fort Dearborn; the bed that Lincoln died in; as well as a myriad of Chicago-focused traveling exhibits.

Now some of my older friends and relatives remember Old Town from the hippie heyday.  Anyone remember the famous Bizarre Bazaar Headshop? (Am I allowed to talk about this?) Oh, how about Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum? OK I’m dating myself. If you have no idea what I am talking about you were born after The Beatles broke up. Maybe after Wings broke up….

And hey, you can always enjoy The bijou theater. I’ll let you Google that one.

This cool quirky neighborhood even spawned a little boutique furnishing company called Crate and Barrel! Now what Chicagoan didn’t register at www.crateandbarrel.com for their wedding? Hands please?

A great Church (I don’t know what it’s like inside because I’m one of those people, but outside it’s lovely) is St. Mike’s. One of only 7 churches to survive the great fire. Lovely little community and they hold a great little beer festival each summer. Isn’t that ironic?

 
 
 

Pagan symbols on my after work run…..

December 16, 2013

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Chicago neighborhoods
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John D’Ambrogio

Last time we were together I was waxing poetic about the lovely bounty of pagan symbolism in our fair city. I took you through my morning run where I find truly stunning examples.  If I’m running after work I usually head north up the Mag Mile or the lakefront. No loss of classic representation on the north side, either.

So cross the river and head north up Michigan Ave. where the beautiful Hotel Intercontinental boasts reliefs reflecting Mesopotamia in the time of Xerxes (5th century BC).  Glance across the street to see Atlas holding up the world at the McGraw Hill building.

If you keep heading North to the entrance of the zoo you’ll see playful Pan the satyr. God of the forest, fields, and animals.  Pan surely belongs in this setting!

Head further north into Lincoln Park and visit Hebe (again? Two statues in our fair city?).  The Greek goddess of youth, adorns the Lincoln Park conservatory.

As for the rest of the city, if you want to get all “pagan wedding” you can tie the knot at a handful of locations.  Can’t speak from experience. There’s also always Pagan’s Liquors on West Division. Ah, maybe not.

But actually, if you’re out that way, head on over to one of Chicago’s GEMS – The Garfield Park Conservatory (Central Park and Lake). Visit their stunning outdoor garden and see our girl Ceres again (along with a Native American goddess of corn) in larger than life statues with bulls and bison.

Politics aside, I find it truly fascinating that a country that struggles so much with its identity in terms of religion and politics, secularism and fundamentalism, never seems to notice that the majority of statuary (beside ex-presidents and politicians, of course) are actually someone else’s religious symbols. Symbols of religion that carried as much weight (if not more) with as large a percent of the populace (if not more).

But that’s ancient history, now isn’t it?

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
 

Pagan symbols on my morning run…..

December 2, 2013

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Chicago neighborhoods
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John D’Ambrogio

Many of you gentle readers know my fondness for a quiet morning run to make up for all the Aurelio’s and wine I enjoy in my off hours. One thing I completely love about our city is the wonder architecture, the statues, the nature, the lake….okay that’s four things.  But it’s just such a great city!

Today let’s focus on a particular type of public art that I adore. Pagan statues. Statues that connect this most modern of American cities deep into the past. Obviously these 19th, 20th and 21st century builders and architects had some incredible respect for days gone by. But of course, the ancient Romans, Greeks, Egyptians well, they could build! Here are some of the statues I pass most mornings. You might too – look up…look around!

Let’s start just north of The Loop on LaSalle.  Take a look up at 120 N. LaSalle and see the mosaic of Daedalus and Icarus. You know these two, the guys who escaped the Labyrinth after ditching the nasty Minotaur. But don’t worry,  here Icarus isn’t too close to the sun (you may want to look up that reference). While we’re on Greek mythology, jet over to Michigan Avenue and visit the old Illinois Athletic Association building to see the big guy himself, Zues, presiding over an Olympic game, nonetheless!

Head back to LaSalle to see truly one of the most iconic views of the city – the building my kids call the Ceres Tower.”  Perched atop the Chicago Board of Trade, the goddess of grain (holding her wheat and corn) looks down on the classical buildings below on LaSalle, the center of Chicago’s finance and commerce district. The always prudent traders apparently decided not to spend the extra money to actually create a face on Ceres! Maybe they figured that hundreds of feet up no one would be able to notice? Below Ceres’ gaze more statues grace the open courtyard.  These interpretations of the goddesses of industry and agriculture have full faces (they’re at ground level, after all).

131 S. Dearborn building has simply a stunning replica of the Winged Victory of Samothrace in shining gold. The original residing in The Lourvre.

From there, I often jog east to Grant Park to the small “spirit of music” garden on Michigan Ave. at Balbo featuring the goddess of music holding a lyre. They’ve moved that statue to three different locations since 1930, or maybe she gets bored with certain parts of the park. Anyway, she is a stunning, half draped beauty in a wonderful garden. In the summer, they hold free dance lessons with a full band on Sunday nights! Thousands walk and drive past her each day. Take a look next time.

Then keep walking (or jogging) south to 11th – There’s Hebe, goddesss of youth. It was sponsored by a Joseph Rosenberg, who grew up as a newsboy in Chicago and could never get a drink of water from local merchants. He vowed that someday he would create a public water fountain for those newsboys. He did, and and Hebe stands over it with a lovely chalice.

Now go east to the lake and hang a ralph. I like to continue a bit south, past the planetarium and it’s mini stonehenge collection of rocks (just off the lake, just south of the building), not to mention the depictions of the 12 signs of the zodiac gracing the outside.

Keep going (there’s a drinking fountain on the way) – Northerly island hosts a section featuring the lovely Daphne garden.  She was a beautiful nymph (in this incarnation made of old automobile parts!) who attracted the eye of Apollo. A truly striking figure. This is a 21st century sculpture – Nice to know that we STILL remember the old ways.

Well, that’s a baker’s dozen (plus), all right in the downtown area…..wonder what I’ll find in my afternoon run?

 

 
 
 

My Kind of Neighborhood – Goldcoast and Streeterville

October 21, 2013

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Chicago neighborhoods
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John D’Ambrogio

Gold Coast, Streeterville, Mag Mile, North Loop……yes, if you live there you have your own particular fondness for which name is most accurate.  Oops, I forgot the New East Side.   Let’s talk about these subset, adjoining neighborhoods since they all share great residential housing, a rich history and great entertainment/shopping/nightlife.

Back in the day life along Pine Street (Michigan Ave.) got pretty quiet north of the Chicago River.  Then 1871 arrived with the Great Chicago Fire which pretty much flattened the city from the near south to the mid-north.  In fact, the Gold Coast hosts the only surviving public buildings pre-fire – The iconic Chicago Water Tower and Pumping Station.

The area really began to pick up in the late 19th century and early 20th. when Potter Palmer, one of the richest guys around, made a bold statement by leaving the south Gold Coast on Prairie Ave. for life north of the river.   Speaking of the river, the coastline north of the river ran about even with Michigan at this time.  There were sand bars that extended out and, some say, rubbish from the Chicago Fire was dumped there as well.  This made the area est of Michigan ave. a pseudo inhabitable, if not wet, space.

Back to our story, enter (so-called) Capt. George Streeter  claimed that his boat which was stuck in a sandbar now owned that piece of Chicago.  Just like a 19th century Columbus.  I wish I knew the guy.  He had some gumption.  Streeter even sold and taxed portions of “Streeterville” (ah, now you see where I was going).  He waged lengthy court battles attempting to validate his claim. Guess what? In 1918 the courts ruled he did not own the land. But it was too late! The name stuck.

In the 1920s some semblance of today’s “Magnificent Mile” began to take shape.  The addition of The Michigan Ave. Bridge with the “canyon” of beautiful steel and stone emerged (check out Jack Nixon’s lovely pencil drawings of the bridge.  The bridge kicks off the mile starting at the Wrigley Building (as Old Blue Eyes sang and Sammy Cahn wrote back in ‘64).   Much of the Mile’s development was lead by real estate newcomer Arthur Rubloff.  He was new compared to the Baird Family.  I had the true pleasure of working with a student of Arthur Rubloff’s for many years while I was at Arthur’s namesake real estate firm (and now franchise). Wow, I’ve been able to work at some good companies in my career…..

As development down the Mag Mile continued, luxury condominiums followed suit. Today this is known as one of the most upscale, pricey, and truly luxurious areas in the country.

The neighborhood also hosts Navy Pier and a lovely  bike and jogging path along the lake (well, institutional concrete, but the view is lovely).  You can also drive between the Gold Coast and the lake up and down Lake Shore Drive (LSD).  Buy if you do drive, please slow down.  Us old timers remember the “S” curve at Oak but it seems many weekends some yokel fails to recall the treacherous “S” and manages to tangle up traffic.

If you want a great “from the bathtub” view of Streeterville/Gold Cost, swim along LSD among the triathlete training at Ohio St. Beach.  It’s a one-of-a-kind view.

It’s easy to enjoy this neighborhood without living here.  Stroll up North Michigan Ave all the way to Oak Street Beach where the Lake comes back into sight .  You might as well do a little shopping on the way.  Where? Burberry? Armani? Chanel? Versace? Louis Vuitton? Prada? Cartier? I bet you’ll find a place.

If you’re just visiting and need a place to stay, well you’ve got places to choose from!  Within a block or two you’ve got The Peninsula, The Ritz Carlton and The Four Seasons.   Of course if you need to get out of town quick you can buy Bentley or Lamborghini right in the neighborhood.  Not too shabby….

I could rattle off the A-List restaurants there, including classic Chicago institutions like the 95th at the Hancock, Spiaggia, Tavern, Le Colonial, or the myriad of great steak houses (think institutions like Cap Grille, Gibsons).  OR I could go on about Viagra Triangle’s night life at State/Rush/Bellevue  (I’ll let you look that up).  Just don’t forget the more quiet places, like the BASEMENT at the Hancock where you can grab a slice or a fantastic arancini at L’Appetito. Or head over to Pizanno’s Pizza and Pasta on State.

Finally, raise your hand if you ever had “one of those nights” in Rock and Roll Heaven at Ye Olde Hanggee Uppe. OK, put your hands down.

 

 
 
 

Take me down….to Chinatown

October 7, 2013

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Chicago neighborhoods
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John D’Ambrogio

A neighborhood that embraces its culture – Chinatown

My early morning runs often take me down past the South Loop to CHINATOWN. I really dig Chinatown. It’s a very urban, very cool area. Many of Chicago’s ethnic communities have in large part dispersed (Little Italy, Ukrainian Village, etc.).  But Chicago’s Chinatown still has largely maintained its culture and heritage and still has a vibrant residential community.

According to hearsay, our Chinatown is the second oldest in America.  Originally it was settled by Chinese fleeing from persecution in sunny CA. Wikipedia says that in 1869 the Chinese originally settled in Printer’s Row – on MY BLOCK actually. In 1912 things migrated a bit further south to Chinatown’s current location.  Oh these neighborhood overviews are so intertwined.  Of course now my block just has a hair salon and the Fed Building.  Obviously things have changed.

As usual Chinatown lives in multiple Chicago communities – i.e. it’s a part of the greater Armour Square community area.  The main drag starts at Wentworth and Cermak (22nd) and goes on about 4 blocks south. Wentworth and Cermak is the big corner for the New Year’s Parade – always a blast.  That’s the touristy piece (not to say it’s not cool and authentic).  There is also “Chinatown Square” which is really a space (32 acre community) anchored by a very 80s looking two story mall.  The mall is filled with every type of Chinese cuisine you can imagine plus some other little shops, beauty parlors, etc. Something tells me it’s more like what you’d find in….well in a town in China.  I cannot, however, say for sure.

On Cermak there is a GREAT piece of artwork you’ve just gotta see – the Nine Dragon Wall.  It’s a shortened version of a glazed tile wall in the Forbidden in City and one of only three replicas around the world. The original wall was created to highlight Chinese imperial power since nine is a prestigious number in Chinese culture and the dragon is a revered figure.

What to eat, where to eat? Well, everywhere and anywhere. You’ve got Chicago institutions like  Three Happiness, and Phoenix.  But don’t forget to go a block or two in and just wander Chinatown Square.  You can always walk in somewhere where no one speaks English and just point to stuff on the menu. That’s what Chinatown (and Chicago) is all about – exploring and embracing the culture.

There are also a number of “gift shops” – which are just what you might think. Touristy gift shops. But hey, they’re fun. The few little grocery stores  are great. Play it safe with an affordable bag of fortune cookies (or better yet, almond cookies) or live it up by asking what the heck those crazy green vegetables are over there – and buying some!

Now, a cool place where I hang with my kids is Ping Tom Park, over on 18th Street. It’s NOT touristy. It’s a huge park that runs along the river. There is this guy there who is a PRO with kites. Kind of scared the kids (and me) the first time since he talks a lot, but not in English. But he gently took our kites and brought them to new heights, with the addition of an official Chinatown Walgreens bag as a tail! It made for a great spring afternoon.

And in addition, Chinatown is the southernmost stop on the Chicago Water Taxi.  If you’re um..frugal…like me (and you’ve already taken the fantastic Chicago architectural boat tours) $7 will get you an all day pass on the water taxi. Start at Chinatown and ride all the way to Michigan Ave. and the bridge (and back….and forth….and back). Kids love it.  Of course I give free lectures on all the buildings so my kids kind of hate it now….  Regardless, chugging up and down the river is a great way to see the city, and this is the hands down most affordable way to go.

So come by boat, by train, or by car.  Check out Chinatown.