Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

November 7, 2012

Chicago - Still that 'Toddlin' Town'


CNHI

— By Dave Zuchowski

CNHI News Service

The last time I was in Chicago, Millennium Park, the 24-1/2 acre state-of-the-art collection of architecture, art and landscape design that straddles Michigan Avenue in the Loop, was still under construction.

Intended to celebrate the turn of the millennium in 2000, the park was completed four years behind schedule, but has really caught on since becoming one of Chicago’s top three attractions.

After my first, but amazing, visit to the top of Willis Tower, formerly Sears Tower, which once held the title of the world’s tallest building for 25 years and, at 110-stories, is still the tallest in the Western Hemisphere, I strolled into Millennium Park.

Located on what was once an industrial wasteland, the park offers hundreds of free cultural events, including many in the Frank Gerhy-designed Pritzker Pavilion, a colossal elliptical structure made of stainless steel.

Another popular installation, Cloud Gate, is a 12-foot tall concave sculpture with a highly polished surface that distorts the images of its surroundings. I joined the throng of visitors who walked up to and around Cloud Gate to watch their reflection change shapes, much like the trick mirrors at an amusement park or carnival.

Not to be overlooked, the Crown Fountain is made up of two, 50-foot glass block towers built at the ends of a reflecting pool. Faces of Chicago residents are projected onto the towers, and the designer positioned holes where their mouths are located to make them look like they’re spouting water.

Five acres of the park are devoted to the Lurie Garden, enclosed on two sides by a 15-foot tall hedge. As I made my way through the horticultural setting, I spotted a young lady crouched on her hands and knees plating bulbs.

"You’ll have to come back this spring when 100,000 of them will be in bloom," she said.

For lunch I headed across Michigan Avenue to The Gage, a gastro pub with an amazing list of hand-crafted beers. I liked the lively Chicago vibe of the place named for the Gage Group of late 1800 buildings whose facades were designed by Louis Sullivan in collaboration with Holabird and Roche, a Chicago architectural firm.

A couple of Gage menu items that enticed me included vindaloo mussels and a copious venison burger with all the fixings. 24 S. Michigan Avenue. Phone 312-372-4243 or http://www.thegagechicago.com/.

With a couple hours to spare, a friend and I popped into the Art Institute of Chicago, founded in 1879. I had no idea the place was so huge (it has eight buildings totaling a million square feet, nearly 500 employees and 300,000 works of art in its permanent collection).

For those in a hurry, the visitors guide suggests a list of 12 works that include Seurat’s "A Sunday on the Grande Jatte," Van Gogh’s "The Bedroom," Marc Chagall’s "America Windows," Dali’s "Venus de Milo with Drawers" and Grant Woods "American Gothic."

Armed with the museum’s audio guide, I wandered along on my own and an hour and a half later, sensed that I had merely touched the surface of the holdings.

As I waited for a table at the Palmer House’s Lockwood Restaurant, I sat in the lobby, abuzz with activity, due partly to the presence of a film crew making a documentary. Sitting on a cushy sofa, I took in the eye candy of the 141-year-old grand dame of a hotel’s four-diamond rated elegance. They just don’t make them like this anymore crossed my mind as I gazed at its famous frescoed ceiling.

Dinner at the Lockwood (where the brownie was invented) proved memorable from start (an amuse bouche of cauliflower mousse with foie gras) to finish (wild Alaskan halibut with trumpet mushrooms and artichokes) followed by pear fig tatin with Port ice cream.

I ended my day with a concert by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra performing the work Beethoven considered his crowning achievement, "Missa Solemnis." The before concert lecture by William White, assistant conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony, gave me valuable insights into the work. Led by conductor Bernard Haitink with four soloists, the massive Chicago Symphony Chorus and the orchestra, the "Missa" was 90 non-stop minutes of unbridled classical music bliss.

If You’re Going

For more information on Chicago, phone Choose Chicago at 312-567-8500 or choosechicago.com.

For a place to stay, the Flemish House was built in 1892 as a single family greystone rowhouse. Located on quiet but elegant Cedar Street just off Michigan Avenue in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood, the Flemish House takes its name from the building’s exterior Flemish Revival detailing.

The owners have chosen an English Arts and Crafts interior decor and have undertaken a sensitive restoration program since purchasing the property in 1997. Guests can choose between furnished studio, one and two bedroom apartments complete with stocked kitchens. Phone 312-664-9981 or www.innchicago.com.

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Dave Zuchowski is a travel writer for CNHI News Service. Contact him at owlscribe@yahoo.com.