Last winter, as the polar vortex froze lids to lashes, I was walking miles and miles to eight, 10, sometimes 12 spots a day—hotels, restaurants, shops, museums—in my research for the new Frommer’s EasyGuide to Chicago. Seriously, my pen regularly froze if I tried to write outside, and I learned to embrace hotel lobbies as a free place to sit and work for an hour or so, unnoticed.
During that time, if Neil and I went out to eat with friends, it was never just dinner. There was always a blues lounge, a jazz club, a gay bar, a craft cocktail spot and a second dinner to tack on to the equation. It was a whirlwind, immersing myself in all that is Chicago.
Today, the fruits of my labor have hit shelves! (Or, at least, Amazon). The guidebook is now available, and I’m officially an author.
In honor of the book’s release, I thought it would be appropriate to write a series of blogs surrounding it. During my research, the most common question I got from friends was “What’s been your favorite?” So today, I’m writing about my favorite Chicago discoveries from guidebook research, places that I’ve recommended time and again to friends and family.
Check back in coming weeks for more fun blogs from this virtual Chicago tour guide. (Note: the content on the Frommer’s website hasn’t been updated to reflect the latest content, so buy the book to be in the know!)
Favorite Chicago Spots from a Frommer’s Guide:
My favorite affordable Chicago hotel: Acme Hotel Company. If this is what a hotel that caters to hipster millennials looks like, I approve. “If Acme were a beer, it would be a Pabst Blue Ribbon,” I wrote in the Frommer’s Guide. This place oozes style, but in a fun, quirky, comfortable way. The nightlight in the bathroom is a lighted pair of lips on the mirror, for example. An art display of mannequins floats in the courtyard outside. Coffee is delivered to your room for free in the morning with no bleary-eyed interaction with staff thanks to the “knock and drop” program. Centrally located, (it’s a short walk from Eataly) Acme has everything you need in a Chicago hotel, plus a sense of hipster jazz hands.
My favorite luxury Chicago hotel: The Langham. “If Downton Abbey was transported in time and place to Chicago, it would be The Langham, where a butler is at your service (if you’re a Langham Club member),” I wrote in the guidebook. This place has a team of eight butlers who will do everything from unpack your clothes to draw you a bath. Wandering around the Langham is like visiting an art museum, with more than 100 works around the property that make you want to speak in a hushed voice. Located in the iconic former IBM building, designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the rooms are absolutely stunning, with floor-to-ceiling windows, huge bathrooms and décor that feels more like a swanky home than a hotel. A weekend here may well cost the same as a rent/mortgage payment, but if you’re looking for a splurge, you won’t be disappointed (until you go home and realize Jeeves stayed behind).
Restaurant I could eat at seven times a week: Fat Rice. Holy Macau, this place is insane! The food—Macaunese—is phenomenal, and I dream of the squid ink fried rice, the eggplant with peanut, the fat noodle and the veggie curry. One piece of advice: take friends (but keep your party under six, house rules). You’ll want to try everything, but portions are big (and not cheap). More people = more plates.
Sushi that made me realize how good sushi can be: Kai Zan. You know how sometimes, when you’ve been eating a certain food for years, you think you’ve landed on a pretty darn version of that food, only to realize, when you go to a restaurant that does that food perfectly, maybe you never knew how good good can be? That’s how I felt at Kai Zan. This BYOB sushi spot is in Humboldt Park, so it’s a bit of a hike for me, but one bite of their angry crab and I have no complaints.
Swanky drinks in River North/Near North without the obnoxious bro factor: Berkshire Room. Pick a booze, pick a flavor profile, pick a glass, and they’ll customize a drink to your preferences at Berkshire Room. This bar was a revelation to me. It’s upscale enough to feel fancy, but totally comfortable at the same time. And they make a mean Manhattan. It’s in the Acme Hotel, so it’s still at least a little bit of a secret to both tourists and locals, alike.
The tour company to keep on speed dial: Chicago Detours. While doing guidebook research, I took the Loop Interior Architecture walking tour and my mind went kapow from all I learned. Cool stuff—the kind of stuff you don’t find in standard history books, newspapers and some guidebooks. Juicy bits. I was so impressed that a couple of months later, when Neil’s mom was in town, we took another Detours tour that went into Chicago’s skyscraper church, ending with a champagne toast on the pastor’s private balcony overlooking the city (seriously). Then, when his brother and brother’s girlfriend came up, we took the historic bar tour downtown. All were incredible tours, even for us locals who think they know a lot about Chicago.