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 TWO / Breakfast is at a window seat at NoMi in your hotel. From the seventh floor, you’ve got a bird’seye view of the Water Tower and pumping station. Indulge in one of NoMi’s specialty omelets, such as the terrific Peekytoe crab omelet with asparagus.
A short cab ride and you’re in the heart of Chicago’s River North art galleries, where the distance from one gallery to another is a brushstroke or two and the oeuvre is complete from abstraction to wildlife. Wander as you please—there are galleries galore to explore. Three in particular are worthy of your attention.
Ann Nathan Gallery displays established and emerging painters and sculptors in all media. Jean Albano Gallery concentrates on contemporary paintings, drawings, and constructions. Zygman Voss Gallery deals with fine art featuring 17th- to 20th-century masters such as Rembrandt, Renoir, Miró, Dalí, and Robbe.
Have lunch in the gallery district at a Chicago classic, Mr. Beef on Orleans. Italian beef sandwiches are to Chicago what pizza is to Naples, and Mr. Beef puts together one fine Italian beef sandwich. Place your order at the counter (to order like a pro, click Cyber Sidebar at hemispheresmagazine.com for our “Great Chicago Dining Guide”) and eat standing up. Or take your booty to the “Elegant Dining Room.” The name is a tongue-in-cheek appellation for a series of picnic tables strung together. It’s quite likely that you’ll be in good company; politicians, movie stars, and students from nearby culinary schools chow down here. If you can handle it, order the beef-and-sausage combo with sweet peppers (or housemade giardiniera) and fries.
After that hearty lunch, hail a cab to one of the great museums of the world, the Art Institute of Chicago, where artistic expression spans 5,000 years. Founded in 1879, the museum has a stunning array of paintings, prints, drawings, photographs, and textiles that will leave an indelible mark on your memory. The Art Institute boasts a fabulous collection of French impressionist and postimpressionist paintings. Four works not to miss: The Child’s Bath (Mary Cassat), American Gothic (Grant Wood), A Sunday on La Grande Jatte (Georges Seurat), and Nighthawks (Edward Hopper).
Tonight it’s dinner at Japonais, one of Chicago’s newest restaurants, where the contemporary Japanese cuisine moves magnificently from sushi and sashimi to teriyaki and Peking duck. The atmosphere is cool, and the scene is hot. Weather permitting, ask for a table on the deck overlooking the Chicago River.
After a day heavy with art, it’s time for a peek into the lighter side of Chicago. The valet at Japonais will hail a cab for a short ride to Second City, where comedy and improv have been on the menu since 1959. John Belushi, Gilda Radner, John Candy, and Bill Murray are but a few of the stars who started their careers here. You can expect your evening to be full of laughs.
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