Grant Park is just one piece in the stunning puzzle that is Chicago, a city proud of its green spaces that offset its impressive skyline â€“ one made possible by a remarkable roster of illuminaries who have contributed to Chicago's importance today as one vast open-air museum. Much of the city's architectural legacy can be traced to the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 which reduced a huge swath of the city to cinders. Architects seized the opportunity and would create one of the world's great centers of innovative buildings by literally reaching for the heavens with a style known as the Chicago School. One of its hallmarks was the use of a new technology, enabling them to push buildings to unprecedented heights and gave birth to a new form: the skyscraper.
Louis Sullivan, who thought buildings should reflect America's democratic identity, joined the German-born engineering genius Dankmar Adler in a historic partnership. The late 1800s also saw the arrival in Chicago of a young Frank Lloyd Wright, who worked for Adler and Sullivan and would conceive the Prairie School of design (It all started in Oak Park, 10 miles west of Chicago where you can visit the architect's House & Studio). In the mid-20th century, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe made his mark on the city with minimalist structures of steel and glass. You can wander about on your own or let the Chicago Architecture Foundation enlighten you. The foundation conducts a variety of walking tours, and in good weather they offer leisurely tours by boat down the Chicago River.(Chicago Architecture Foundation: Tel 312-922-3432;www.architecture.org. Walking tours daily; cruises Aprâ€“Nov.)Â
For a bird's-eye view of Chicago, visit the observation decks of two of the tallest skyscrapers in America, the Sears Tower and the John Hancock Center. This will put you conveniently in the folds of Chicago's finest retail offerings. Shopping in Chicago is synonymous with The Magnificent Mile, the 14-block stretch of North Michigan known for its flagship retail establishments and posh hotels, where the city's dynamism and bustling commerce are omnipresent.
Chicago's eating scene makes this one of the country's premier eating cities. Ranking among the finest chefs in the land is Charlie Trotter, chef, cookbook author, television personality, and tireless entrepreneur. A food luminary for two decades, thanks to a combination of sterling technique and minimalist sensibility, Trotter is known for his highly inventive approach at the restaurant that carries his name.(816 W. Armitage Ave. Tel 773-248-6228; www.charlietrotters.com.)
But for all the finesse and top-drawer artistry to be found at Chicago's best restaurants, the average Chicagoan is just as likely to wax poetic about the humble pizza or hot dog, two iconic items that belong in the American Culinary Hall of Fame. Pizza is to Chicago what strudel is to Vienna, the dominant style being deep-dish â€“ a kind of pizza-meets-casserole well over an inch thick that is generally what people mean by Chicago-style. Pizzeria Uno opened in 1942 in a Victorian brownstone in the River North section of Chicago. It became so popular that, 12 years later, they opened Pizzeria Due in another Victorian a block away. Both have the same 1940s-vintage walnut veneers and black-and-white-tiled floors, and both are still immensely popular (the line can be long, but you're never very far from any of the 2,000-some pizzerias around town).(Pizzeria Uno: Tel 312-321-1000; www.unos.com. Pizzeria Due: Tel 312-943-2400.)
No roll-call of the city's indigenous specialties is complete without the mention of hot dogs, or "red hots," as they're known hereabouts. Most everyone agrees on the recipe â€” a boiled or steamed all-beef frank on a poppy-seed bun, with dill pickle, mustard, chopped onion, relish, sport peppers, tomato wedges, and a dash of celery salt â€” but what you're not likely to get consensus on is where to find the city's top dog. Several contenders vie for Chicagoans' loyalty, but for a complete experience, there's nothing quite like Superdawg, opened in 1948 by Maurie and Flaurie Berman. Superdawg is one of the last of the classic drive-ins: You place your order through "Order Matic" speakers and have your tray delivered by a carhop who attaches it to the side of your car with a smile.(6363 N. Milwaukee Ave. Tel 773-763-0660; www.superdawg.com.)
Patricia Schultz is the author of 1000 Places To See Before You Die (Workman) and 1000 Places to See in the USA & Canada Before You Die (Workman)
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