Saturday, May 06, 2017

Toe-tapping in the Windy City (cont.)

Sunday - Day 3
The show room at Lincoln Park Conservatory
On Sunday morning, we decided to wake up with the flowers at the Lincoln Park Conservatory. After a filling breakfast, it was off to see what Chicago's green thumbs had wrought. We arrived shortly after they opened at 9 a.m. Admission is free, and there's plenty to see! The first large,  interior space is warm and humid, suitable for tropical plants. There's a nearly obscene-looking sausage tree there, in addition to tons of cycads (some older than the city of Chicago itself). We strolled through ferns and koi ponds, hunting for the tiny plastic dinosaurs placed strategically among flora that might have been around during prehistoric times.

After enjoying the lovely orchid room, we gasped at the giant blooms in the show room. This large, light-filled space boasted mounds of colorful hydrangeas, azaleas, hyacinth, lilies, and other flowering plants, nested amongst paths and small pools. Giant hanging baskets dripped flowers from the ceilings, as well. Loved, loved this space.

Amazing entryway at the Driehaus Museum
Still jonesing for more to do, we decided to check out the Richard Driehaus Museum, a private home that was purchased by a wealthy art collector, restored, and then opened as a museum to showcase some of his collection. Oh. Em. Geeeee!! Ok, Richard Driehaus is a very successful investor who has obviously amassed an incredible fortune. He's also a passionate arts and architecture  enthusiast. He MUST have more money than God, because this place is exquisite. Heavily ornamented and fully restored, much of the house features gorgeous surviving furnishings. Some of Driehaus' personal art collection of extremely fragile French posters (think Toulouse-Lautrec), hang in exhibits on the second floor, in what would have been the family bedrooms.

Amazing sculpture, fixtures, art, furniture, and architecture are on display throughout the house. This place reminded me a bit of the Frick in NYC. If you want to stroll around airily, pretending to be a rich, 19th-century banker, this is the place. As is so often the case, my only regret is that I wasn't wearing a sequined evening gown in which to be photographed on the marble stairs in the glimmering entryway. Tragic.

In the room where it happened . . . 
By this time, we were getting hungry for lunch. We decided to grab a bite at Cochon Volant, which was about a block from the PrivateBank Theatre (where we had tickets for the 2 p.m. matinee). As it was the weekend, the day called for brunch! I had the avocado toast and eggs, and I couldn't have been more happy with them! Large serving, delightful flavor, and completely satisfying! We savored our coffees before settling up and walking the block or so to the theatre.

Having purchased our tickets in advance, it was a quick trip to get into the PrivateBank Theatre lobby, then seated. I cannot tell you how giddy the audience was to see this show. I've been to a lot of shows. I've been to a lot of Broadway shows. But never have I seen the selfie madness that was the 20 minutes or so in the house before Hamilton! began. Everyone seemed to want to get a photo of themselves with the set in the background. Everyone was instagramming the program, the stage, themselves. In other words, folks, I had found my tribe.

The lights went down, the music came up, and for the next 3 hours or so, we all forgot every petty thing we'd been worrying about and lost ourselves in this production. It's as good as everyone says it is. The lighting is genius. The way the production uses minimal set and set pieces to greatest advantage is smart and tight. Performances are amazing. (Daniel Breaker as Aaron Burr is the deft hand that guides the whole show. Alexander Gemignani as King George is an absolute SCREAM! Chris De'Sean Lee as Lafayette/Jefferson worked the crowd. There isn't a weak link in the cast. Incredible, incredible work is being done here.) I paid more for this theatre ticket than I've ever paid for any theatre ticket. And it was worth every. red. cent. Cathartic.
The lacy light court at The Rookery

After the show, we stopped back at the hotel a bit to get off our feet. Then, it was dinner at Remington's! We trekked a bit through the chill to get there, then slid into a cozy booth. I chose the delicious branzino with a glass of red wine. Then, we *may have* split the skillet cookie for dessert.  Perhaps. Then, bed!! Aaaahhhh!!!

Monday - Day 4
On our last full day in the city, we took our time getting ready in the morning. We had a late breakfast at the hotel, then made our way to The Rookery for an 11 a.m. tour. I'd been wanting to tour this space ever since I read Devil in the White City, a riveting book by Erik Larson about the Chicago World's Fair and the calculating serial killer who worked its edges. If you do much touring around Chicago, you'll see this book pop up in all sorts of gift shops, and I highly recommend it. Fascinating. (FYI - I read a while back that Scorcese and DiCaprio have optioned the tome's film rights. We shall see . . . )

The offices of Burnham and Root
At 11 floors, The Rookery was one of the first skyscrapers in Chicago. Its architects, Burnham and Root, put their office space on the top floor to demonstrate that it was safe. The two architects went on to design and build all of the buildings for the Chicago World's Fair of 1893. During the tour, you learn about the building's history, including Frank Lloyd Wright's renovation of the building's light court entryway in the early 1900s. The knowledgeable guide talks you through subsequent renovations and restorations, and the tour ends in a restored office space of Burnham and Root's on the 11th floor. I loved this building and our tour, and you could tell our guide did, too! Such an amazing piece of Chicago history. The Rookery is still being used as an office and commercial space today, and I'm glad it's being preserved and enjoyed all these years after its construction.

We decided to go old-school for lunch, stopping at The Berghoff for weiner schnitzel! Service was quick, prices were reasonable, and we left with full, satisfied tummies! And we were going to need the fuel. Our next stop was the Art Institute of Chicago, and it takes stamina to explore a museum of such size.

After paying admission, we had about four hours to devote to it. Because we enjoy different types of art, we split up to maximize our time. I headed straight for the Thorne Miniature Rooms on the lower level. Such detail! Such craft! So unbelievable! While there, I also explored the shimmering paperweight collection.

Chagall's America Windows
(the theatre panel)
Then, it was off the the first floor, where I took in the Indian, Southeast Asian, and Himalayan collections before tracking down Chagall's America Windows and testing out the acoustics in the Chicago Stock Exchange Trading Room (which I had all to myself). I admired the Greek, Roman and Byzantine art spaced around McKinlock Court (Hellooooo, Bust of Antinous as Osiris!) and tried to be really, really quiet in the Ando gallery before heading to the second floor.

Must-sees for me on this trip were Hopper's Nighthawks (contrasted with Motley's Nightlife, which hangs nearby), Whistler's Mother (which wasn't here the last time I visited), and Seurat's A Sunday on La Grande Jatte. There was a new armory since my last visit (and you know how I love fancy weapons), so I checked that out, and I also spent time in the medieval and Renaissance galleries.

I'm not much for modern art, but I did swing by there for Mitchell's City Landscape. And somewhere in here, I accidentally stumbled across a special exhibit - Helio Oiticica. There's an Eden installation there in which you take off your shoes and then walk through a series of created rooms, over sand, water, rocks, straw, all kinds of things. You encounter small, private spaces, You brush against flora. You hear birds. This is totally NOT the kind of thing I'd normally do, but I threw myself into it and LOVED it. Immersive. Unique. Interactive. Genius.

Whistler's Mother! New since my last visit!
After spending all afternoon at the museum, we were POOPED! We decided to rest our barking dogs at Russian Tea Time, where I had the lovely fruited quail (served with mashed potatoes and garlicky spinach) with a nice glass of red. I finished up with a napoleon for dessert, then we called it a day!

The next morning, it was shower/breakfast/pack/fly, and I was home! What a great trip in a great town! I can't wait to come back to Chicago (though I WILL hope for better weather next time)!




Toe-tapping in the Windy City

The gorgeous lobby at the Palmer House Hilton. 
So, anyone who knows me knows I am a HUGE theatre nerd. I love, love, love live theatre. I love being entertained and letting shows wash over me. I love thinking about the choices the director, technicians, and actors made to produce the show I'm watching.

As you can imagine, I've been swept up in the Hamilton  mania. Now, I've had NO problem waiting to get a chance to see the show. Let's face it - Broadway shows rarely make the leap off the arts page and into more widespread popular culture. I was more than happy to wait and let people who rarely go to live theatre file through, in hopes that they might become theatre devotees and help keep the arts alive.

But frankly, it was time. Around the first of the year, a work colleague reached out to me, inquiring if I'd like to make a quick trip to Chicago to see the show there. Happiness! I'd been to Chicago before and love the city, so it was an easy choice.

We added a few days to make a mini-vacation of it. Here's what we did:

Friday - Day 1
Cloud Gate in Chicago's Millennium Park
I got into town just before lunch and headed to the hotel we booked - The Palmer House Hilton. We chose this hotel because it's in a fantastic location (heart of the tourist district, nearly across the street from the PrivateBank Theatre, where Hamilton is playing) but also because my traveling companion loves history. In addition to being a lovely property, the hotel has a long and storied history that is tied tightly to the story of Chicago. The famed peacock doors and opulent lobby are a sight to behold, and the rooms are comfortable. (We chose a room with two double beds and two bathrooms, a genius selection for two women traveling together. Plenty of space for getting ready in the morning.)

I had a lovely lunch in the hotel restaurant, the Lockwood, as I waited for my friend to arrive (mushroom pasta, with creme brûlée to finish). We routinely ate breakfast at the Lockwood during our stay, as the weather was chilly and rainy. (Morning is a tender time. I'm not traditionally up for cold rain until I've got something delicious in my belly in the a.m.)

Once she arrived, we settled our things at the hotel and then headed out for a quick walk. She'd not been to Chicago as a tourist, so we had some basic sights to see. We started at Millennium Park and Cloud Gate, otherwise known as "the bean" for obvious reasons. Like every other tourist, we walked up to the bean, observed how it reflected us, the city, other people. We walked underneath it into a fun house of reflections. I've experienced the bean before, but it never gets old!

Thirsting for knowledge at the Chicago Cultural Center
We also checked out the concert pavilion and Crown Fountain. To keep our history vibe going, we took a turn through the Chicago Cultural Center to admire the Tiffany dome. After stopping for a quick drink at Tavern at the Park (We tried the CloudGate cocktail, minus the expensive jewelry surprise!), we headed down Michigan Avenue. We took in the bridge, the really cool base of the Chicago Trib building, the Wrigley building, and all of the lovely spring plantings along the Mag Mile.

We ended our short hop at the historic Water Tower, one of the only structures in Chicago to survive the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Then, it was back to the hotel for a break before dinner. That night, we had a quick dinner at a nearby Italian restaurant - Vapiano. You go in, get a card, then order pizza, pasta, salads, or antipasti at the front. Then, they cook your food and bring it to you. It's like a deli, but more substantial food. Portions are HUGE, and prices are low. The only tough thing - it's loud and crowded in here! Nevertheless, we enjoyed our pasta (I chose a delicious, creamy chicken carbonara.) and wine and then hit the hay.

Saturday - Day 2
GIANT sculpture from Middle Eastern temples at
the Oriental Institute Museum
After another delicious breakfast at the Lockwood (spendy, but yummy, and so comfortable and easy - I chose an omelette this time), we hopped in a cab to check out the Oriental Institute Museum. I'd never been to this museum before, and indeed, I'd never even been to this part of Chicago before. It's gorgeous! The museum is on the campus of the University of Chicago, a lovely place full of brick and stone buildings, climbing ivy, and pedestrian paths. Flowering trees were already in bloom, and if the day hadn't been so gray, drippy, and chilly, I would have loved to explore this part of the city more on foot. As it was, we hustled into the museum for some interior discovering.

The museum owes much of its collection to the scholarly partnership is shares with historic sites throughout the Middle East. Students and scholars from the university participate in excavations in the region, for which they are allotted some of the items uncovered. The museum has a large collection of pots, tools, seals (I thought these were really cool.), and sculpture, in addition to some truly huge and impressive pieces recovered from temples and palaces. They also have an Egyptian collection, with a few mummies, some airy papyrus, and stone friezes. We spent a couple of hours here, taking in the collection and browsing the gift shop.

One of Wright's famous stained glass
windows at Robie House
As the weather was still miserable, we abandoned our plan of eating lunch in a nearby Italian restaurant and walked the scant block to the Plein Air Cafe for lunch. The tiny cafe was packed, but we lucked out with a table, settling in for salad and sandwiches. (I can vouch for the prosciutto and manchego baguette, served with fig jam and arugula - delish! And the vanilla latte I had with it warmed my very soul.)

We relaxed a bit over our warm cups, then popped right across the street for our 1 p.m. tour of Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie House. I'd toured Taliesin West back when hubs and I visited Arizona, but other than that, I hadn't toured any of Wright's buildings. This private home is a little gem, sheltered by trees and open to its surrounds. The tour starts in the gift shop/courtyard area, then winds around the house to the lovely front porch, and then to the entryway. The outside of the structure has been fully restored, and efforts are underway to restore the home's interior as well. Gorgeous wood paneling and stained glass, coupled with Wright's penchant for close spaces that open into large ones, make this a lovely stop.

Light, open sitting room at Robie House
After soaking in the architecture a bit, we hopped a car back to the hotel for a quick break. We wanted to be well-rested for dinner at The Gage, which I was very much looking forward to. It was a delight! I had the roasted elk rack entree with roasted brussels sprouts and a big glass of wine. I finished it off with a piece of sweet strawberry pie. YUM. Prices aren't cheap here, but you get what you pay for. My food was amazing (and the wine pour was generous), our server was attentive without being annoying, and we left the restaurant full and happy!

More to come . . .