I spent last week in Chicago on business. I’d never been there before, so I tried to do a bit of sightseeing and sampled a few different places to eat.
I had dinner a couple of nights at the Rock Bottom Brewery. It’s a chain, but the cheese factor wasn’t too high. The food was decent and I really dug their house IPA. I sampled the seafood at Shaw’s. It’s only about a block from the IBM building, where I spent most of my time. The vibe is cool, swing music and lots of dark wood. Very ’40s. The service was great. It was a nightmare Friday night finding a place that didn’t have less than a 30 minute wait, so I ended up eating at the bar at Big Bowl. I recommend it. I had a chili pepper chicken noodle dish that was excellent. Three separate people interrupted my inhaling to ask me what I was having because it looked so good. It’s not listed on their website menu, but I’m hoping the Dallas locations carry it for my next visit to my parents’ house. Of course, no trip to Chicago would be complete without some stuffed pizza. Several of the most well-known joints are just a few blocks from each other. I decided on Giordano’s. It was good, certainly superior to Mangia, Austin’s stuffed pizza chain. For some reason, their pizza always gives me an upset stomach, but I digress. I had lunch nearly every day at Potbelly Sandwich Works. They succeed where Quizno’s fails miserably. I highly recommend the Italian sub if you’re ever in the Chicago or DC area. I’m somewhat biased by the fact that they stock IBC in a bottle. Mmmmm….IBC. I also managed to squeeze in a Chicago style hot dog at Downtown Dogs near the water tower and Loyola on my last day in town. We actually have a very authentic Chicago dog place here in Austin.
The bar tour of Chicago consisted of fewer stops than the restaurant tour. I checked out the Billy Goat Tavern of SNL fame. The ambiance was ruined by a crew from Girls Behaving Badly, some horrid show on Oxygen which was filming a short spot there. Judging from the number of times that they had to redo the same 30 second spot, the on-air talent is none too bright. I didn’t order any food there, but the Bushmills was just fine. The next night was spent at Harry’s Velvet Room. The bar had a distinct New York vibe. The clientele was annoying, but the service was good and they had Basil Hayden’s, although they ran out while I was there. It’s not pictured on the web page, but the smaller bar is a shrine to Veuve Clicquot with rows and rows of bottles lining the back wall. Finally, I was obliged to check out Delilah’s. It’s run by a college friend of Casino’s. It’s very similar to his place. It’s kind of eerie that the two of them came up with virtually the same bar independent of each other. The doorman was very friendly and the staff was accommodating. I arrived around 10, parked myself in the middle of the bar and didn’t leave until closing. It’s a bit far from downtown (about a $10 cab ride), but definitely worth a visit.
My only sightseeing stop was the Art Institute of Chicago. I highly recommend it, especially on a Tuesday as they’re open until 8 (later than the rest of the week) and admission is free. They cover a broad range of styles and periods. The photography and throne miniature room on the lower level are not to be missed. The most well known paintings in their collection are Seurat’s La Grande Jatte, Grant Wood’s American Gothic, Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, as well as Surrealist works by Magritte and Dali.