Saturday, April 2, 2016

A weekend visit to Chicago

Jamee and and her mother, Arlene Tucker, in "tropical" Chicago.
By Jamee Gregory

I recently headed out to Chicago to visit my mother in the Windy City. Expecting the cold I came to a city where the weather was unusually mild for this time of year. Visiting my mother is always a treat and here's why ...

New York is not the only city experiencing a boom. Roads and sidewalks are filled with cranes, as buildings rise all over the Gold Coast, where my mother lives. The neighborhood was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. It is a mixture of mansions, row houses and high-rise apartment buildings along Lake Shore Drive, with spectacular views of Oak Street Beach and Lake Michigan. It sits adjacent to the Magnificent Mile, Chicago's answer to Madison Avenue, the hub of elegant shopping and delicious restaurants. The Chicago Lakefront Trail, where I walk every morning, runs 18 miles along the coast, dotted with benches, chess pavilions, restaurants, boat houses, a theatre and other amenities.
An early morning view of the running trail. Chicago maintains its beachfront and is working to preserve the shoreline.
The running and biking path curves along Lake Michigan.
Lake Shore Drive offers beautiful morning views. Visitors to Lincoln Park can bike and run for 18 miles along Lake Michigan's shore.
Lake Shore Drive apartment buildings have amazing views of the lake and Lincoln Park.
Morning traffic.
A quiet place to sit, a green triangle in the middle of busy Rush Street.
Developers reclaim landmark buildings for a new generation. One of the most stunning developments is Restoration Hardware's new RH Gallery at the historic Three Arts Club, at 1300 N. Dearborn Street, built by Holabird and Roche in 1914, as a residence for young women studying art, music and painting. The 70,000 square-foot, six-floor creation, feels more like a home, or a museum, than a store.
Outside the newly restored Renovation Hardware store, formerly an arts club. The door to the former Gallery at the 3 Arts Club, new home of RH restaurant and the Restoration Hardware Store.
In the center space, under a giant glass-domed ceiling with a huge chandelier, guests dine from breakfast through dinner, sitting at small tables or on cozy couches, on a stone-covered terrace arranged around an imposing central fountain. Even on a dreary day, light streams in, making visitors feel as though they are outside in a Parisian park.
Comfortable couches in the waiting area.
Lines form early, but guests give their phone numbers and receive a text when their table is ready, allowing them to explore the store or to rest on sofas, piled high with pillows. Our lunch was really delicious, with smoked salmon, brioche toast and all the sides, beautifully presented on a board. Sweeping staircases or elevators lead shoppers upwards to peruse everything from art, furniture, and tween bedrooms, to a roof garden. This new destination is not to be missed.
Diners wait, or shop, until their phones ring ...
... before taking a table or sofa in the dining area.
My mother, seated beside the central fountain. Excited for my spread of smoked salmon, brioche toast and all the sides,
Delicious smoked salmon, buttered brioche toast, cucumbers, radishes, capers, onions, and a dollop of cheese studded with red caviar made for a delicious lunch. Inset: The prettiest Cappuccino ever!
A similar transformation takes place at the former Chicago Athletic Association, where my husband stayed in the past and where many receptions took place since the 1890s. The building, formerly a private club, was recently restored as a bustling hotel, with a fantastic rooftop restaurant and bar, called Cindy's. The grand marble stairs, the architectural detail, and the historic rooms, evoke its former history. The top-floor space is completely modern, with magnificent views of Millennium Park and Lake Michigan. The menu, served family style, on platters, appeals to the young crowd. All visitors check out the fantastic views and the vast terrace with booths and and fire pits for late-night cocktails or brunch. Wooden floors and tables offer a rustic look, alongside glass doors beneath a skylit roof. Downstairs, traditional decor brings the Game Room and Cherry Circle Room back to their former glory, with a Shake Shack at street level.
Entering Cindy's beautiful space is a surprise with its wooden floors, glass doors and high ceilings.
Cindy's restaurant, on the roof of the Chicago Athletic Association.
A beautiful bar is at the center of the action.
My mother and at one of the large wooden tables.
A great view of Millennium Park and Anish Kapoor's eye.
A view over the lake, past the Art Institute's modern wing.
Another side of the park.
Skyscrapers and a beautiful Chicago sky.
The outdoor concert space which is busy all summer.
Downstairs, in the hotel's lobby, several miniature rooms capture guests' attention.
An old-fashioned soda bar, recreated in perfect detail.
A miniature Empire room.
We walk from Cindy's, across Michigan Avenue, to the Art Institute, enjoying a show of Degas' paintings at the races, and a visit to the 68 Thorne miniature rooms, my favorite. I visited these magical rooms every Saturday as a child, after my drawing class. I never became a painter, but am still inspired by my early adventures in this incredible museum, where I fell in love with art. Narcissa Thorne was an American artist, born in 1882, who married a Montgomery Ward department store heir. She created extremely detailed miniature rooms from the 13th century to the early 20th century. After exhibits at the New York World's Fair of 1940 and London's Victoria and Albert Museum, a permanent gallery was established for her work in 1954.
The facade of the Art Institute of Chicago .
One of the grand lions that welcomes visitors.
The cheerful stairway that leads guests to the Impressionist collection.
One of the famous and well-loved Thorne miniature rooms (Georgia Double Parlor, c. 1850).
Another meticulous Thorne room (Louisiana Bedroom, 1800-50).
The Rubloff paperweight collection.
We lunch outside at RL, Ralph Lauren's original American hotspot, and snack on "Bunky's Cookies," thinking of our late friend, charming Bunky Cushing, whose friends have been remembering him a lot lately. Bunky, a gentleman and a philanthropist, will be sorely missed. A reception was held in his memory at the Ralph Lauren store, where he worked.

We dine al fresco at Le Colonial, my pal Bill Bartholomay's French-Vietnamese restaurant and at Hugo's Frog Bar, venturing inside only once, for yummy tartines of caramelized onion and fig and avocado and shrimp at Fig and Olive on Oak Street. We shop until we drop at Nordstrom, Barney's, Neiman Marcus and Saks, finding chic things at Ikram, an eclectic store with red-lacquered doors and a treasure trove of unique designs. We share a mushroom pizza at Fred's, and lots of conversation. The week passes too quickly.
Lunch at Le Colonial with mom.
Studying the vast array of Vietnamese offerings, from spring rolls to dumplings and beyond.
My husband, Peter, flies in for the weekend. We move to the recently re-done Peninsula. At night we go crazy, trying to use the state-of-the-art iPad to control the lights and temperature. One wrong touch and the lights are back. We cover the multiple screens with magazines and pillows but they glow in the dark. The new technology causes much angst and ends with calls to the concierge and the iPads being buried face-down, under the bed. Light switches are a lot easier!
Chicago's famous water tower in the twilight hours.
The Donald's name in lights.
Crossing the Tribune Bridge.
Elaborate flowers and art installations decorate the Peninsula lobby.
Peter, my husband, straight off the plane, dining at the Peninsula's elegant Shanghai Terrace, facing an illuminated outdoor garden.
My mother, the following morning, waiting for her squash and goat cheese tart at Pierrot Gourmet, the cozy brasserie at the Peninsula, known for the best brunch in town.
And lunch the day after on the terrace at Pierrot Gourmet.
Our favorites for dinner are Table 52, the cozy carriage house run by Oprah Winfrey's former chef, Art Smith, and Shanghai Terrace, a sleek, sophisticated spot in the Peninsula, facing a garden. There are few men in blazers or women in dresses, but the food at these establishments is first rate.
Peter waiting for the amazing cheese muffins at Table 52.
My mother enjoying dinner at Table 52.
The fabulous French Market, a new destination. Cafe tables dot the entrance.
Inside booths offer everything from cheese, to wine, to bread.
Produce inside the market.
Authentic French products tempt commuters and locals at this new market.
French pastries and macaroons at Vanille.
Bouquets of blooms.
Nellcote's welcoming doorway, a popular restaurant on Randolph Street.
Inside Nellcote.
Chicago is ablaze with flowers. Michigan Avenue plantings are exceptional and colorful. New York could emulate the seasonal displays. The second city is looking good.
Michigan Avenue, the chic shopping street, boasts beautiful fall plantings.
Even the Michigan Avenue bus stops are beautiful.
Flowers in bloom on Lake Shore Drive.
Click here for NYSD Contents