Easy Escapes: Chicago

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  • Nigel Tisdall recommends a short break to President Obama's hometown

    Nigel Tisdall recommends a short break to President Obama’s hometown

    Why go? One of America’s great metropolises, Chicago has given the world all manner of wonderful things including The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, mail order catalogues, the Pill, the beehive hairdo, house music, Oprah − and, unmissably, the skyscraper.

    When? Set on the southwest corner of Lake Michigan, Chicago is a city of climatic extremes with sub-zero winters and baking hot summers. It’s worth a visit any time but your experience will vary considerably according to the season.

    Pictured: Cloud Gate by Anish Kapoor, Millennium Park

    You really must… Take the high-speed elevator to the Skydeck of the super-tall Willis Tower (theskydeck.com) then step out onto a transparent ledge set 1,353 feet above the street. Too scary? Then whizz up to the equally panoramic Signature Room on the 95th floor of the John Hancock Center (signatureroom.com) where, thank goodness, there’s a bar… Be sure to ride on the city’s rattling old ‘L’ (elevated) railway − the Brown Line offers a cheap scenic loop. For an introduction to the many great buildings join an expert-led tour run by the Chicago Architecture Foundation (architecture.org), or for something more off-the-beaten-track check out chicagodetours.com.

    Stay at: If you want to do things in style, the 339-room Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago (trumpchicagohotel.com, doubles from £287) is set beside the Chicago River in a gleaming building that soars to 92 storeys and offers knockout views, faultless service, a lavish spa and huge rooms. For somewhere new and buzzy, check into the 334-room Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel (radissonbluchicago.com, from £115), set in a sensational tower block that resembles a rippling wave. If the budget’s tight, the three-star Holiday Inn Chicago Mart Plaza (martplaza.com, from £78) is on the river with 521 rooms − those on the south side have the best views.

    Pictured: Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago, North Wabash Avenue

    Dine at: For smart eats that won’t break the bank, Michelin-starred Blackbird (blackbirdrestaurant.com) offers a three-course prix fixe lunch for £14. Just around the corner, Sepia (sepiachicago.com) is housed in a cosy 1890 printing house and serves comforting fare such as crawfish boudin with white beans. Thanks to its solid jazz/blues/Prohibition heritage, Chicago is well-stocked with basement cocktail bars and dimly-lit boozers serving terrific micro-brewed ales. Kick off the evening with a ‘Death’s Door Vodka’ at the popular Gilt Bar (giltbarchicago.com) then wrap it up with a ‘Shrub-a-dub-dub’ (if you can say it) at The Drawing Room (thedrchicago.com) which is, oh my, open till 4am on Saturdays…

    Bring home: Dubbed ‘The Magnificent Mile’ (themagnificentmile.com), North Michigan Avenue is a glistening parade of big name stores that stretches for 13 blocks. For something more boho, ride the Blue Line northwest to Damen, the gateway to the low-rise neighbourhood of Wicker Park where vintage stores and one-off boutiques are mixed with laid-back cafés selling over-complicated coffees. Need something for Mum? The Chicago Architecture Foundation Store (architecture.org) stocks an above-average range of Chicago-themed gifts and souvenirs.

    Pictured: Sepia Restaurant, West Loop

    Book now: United Airlines (united.com) has direct flights from London Heathrow from £551 return including taxes − flying time is around nine hours and you’ll need a visa-style authorisation (esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta). The easiest and cheapest way into the city centre is to ride the ‘L’ train which takes around 40 minutes − for information on travel passes see transitchicago.com.

    Info: For more information and a free city guide app visit choosechicago.com. Frommer’s Chicago (£15.99; Wiley) is a comprehensive guide. Chicago-set movies worth a re-watch include High Fidelity, The Blues Brothers and Road to Perdition.


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