JUNE IS A GRAND MONTH TO VISIT Chicago. Everything is back in its proper place now that the showers of spring have washed away all traces of winter. In the miles and miles of parks along the lakefront (the reason Chicago’s nickname was once “Paris on the Prairie”), trees are dressed in their full-leaf finery and colorful, elegant beds of flowers are everywhere. All along the lakefront, towering masts of sailboats spike the clouds. Bicyclists and joggers (many with dogs in tow) appear in miniature against the majestic skyline of the city. The towering buildings washed by the bright summer sun look freshly scrubbed. In 1885, Chicago sported the world’s first skyscraper. Granted, it was only nine stories tall, but this city has set the standard for tall buildings ever since. Chicago is beautiful and fun. In 1997, the city council actually absolved Mrs. O’Leary’s cow of all blame for the great fire of 1871. Chicago is festive, too; it doesn’t simply flirt with food and music but carries on a deep and passionate love affair so intense it would make the moon blush. All summer long, Grant Park and Millennium Park serve up a tasty stew of music that feeds both the soul and the mind. The spirited Gospel Music Festival (June 2–4) and nothing-quite-like-it Blues Festival (June 8–11) will whet your appetite for more. And your appetite truly will be sparked—and sated, too—when you take in the great picnic in the park, Taste of Chicago, which starts June 30. June is a portal month in Chicago, a perfect doorway to a great season in one of the world’s greatest cities. It’s a cultural grand vista that goes on and on until millions of Italian lights are strung on the trees of Michigan Avenue just in time for Christmas.
Author Pat Bruno Photography Dave Lauridsen
DAY ONE / Conveniently located, your home for the next three days will be the Park Hyatt Hotel on North Michigan Avenue. In the lobby of the hotel, don’t miss Gerhard Richter’s magnificent painting Piazza del Duomo. In the shadow of the Park Hyatt is Chicago’s famed Water Tower, one of only a handful of buildings left standing after the 1871 fire. The tower, built from limestone blocks and Gothic in style, is no longer in use (though the pumping station across the street is). Before breakfast, walk around this magnificent structure, noting the small towers that accent various levels. And, while you’re at it, soak up the colors of the thousands of flowers in this parklike setting.
Then head two short blocks north of your hotel to Tempo for a bountiful breakfast in a haunt for visiting celebrities. Dine alfresco on omelets, eggs in a skillet, fluffy pancakes, or thick French toast.
After breakfast, take a brisk, breezy walk south on Michigan Avenue. At the point where the Michigan Avenue Bridge crosses the Chicago River, study the sidewalk plaques that mark the location of Fort Dearborn, where early settlers staked their claim to this part of Lake Michigan. Cross the bridge to the southeast corner of Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive and board Chicago’s First Lady for a stunning and informative 90-minute architectural tour from the top deck of this perky, white boat. You’ll cruise quite a stretch of the Chicago River and learn the history and design of more than 50 great Chicago buildings. Then retrace your steps north on Michigan Avenue (Chicago’s Magnificent Mile) and shop as you head back to your hotel.
Drop your purchases at the hotel, freshen up, and cross the street to the Ralph Lauren store for lunch at RL, a restaurant that is posh but without the circumstance. The service is first-rate. Try Chicago’s best haute hamburger (with fries to match). If you want something more elaborate, have the delicious chicken hash with black truffles and poached eggs. And check those Chicagoans strutting by.
After lunch, hail a cab. Have your driver head north on Michigan Avenue, then onto “the drive”—Lake Shore Drive. Take in the gorgeous lakefront (Oak Street Beach and beyond), exit onto Fullerton Avenue, and go two blocks to the Notebaert Nature Museum. In this museum for all ages, some 1,000 live butterflies will flit above you in a kaleidoscope of glorious colors. Take the Wilderness Walk and experience a prairie, savanna, and dunes, complete with sounds and, in some instances, real animals. The museum also is noted for its “River Works,” an exciting exhibit that illuminates how rivers support plants, animals, and humans.
After a respite at your hotel, take off for an early dinner at Gene & Georgetti, one of Chicago’s most venerable steakhouses and a treasure that dates back to 1941. G&G is a haunt for Chicago’s power hitters and politicians. Steaks and chops are prime here, and if you listen carefully you’ll hear the muted rumble of the “L” as it trundles by just outside.
Grab a cab to nearby Steppenwolf Theatre. One of Chicago’s finest performing arts institutions, it was founded in 1976 as an ensemble of nine actors and today is a renowned company of thirty-five artists whose talents include acting, directing, playwriting, and filmmaking. Current performances include The Sunset Limited, a play by Cormac McCarthy, through June 25 in the Garage Theater. M.Proust by Mary Zimmerman has a one-month run (June 9–July 9) in the Upstairs Theater.
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