You won’t believe you can find this in Chicago
The Magnificent Mile is Chicago's go-to strip for commercial shopping and eating, but it has more hidden gems on offer than you might realise. A few steps from the Millennium Knickerbocker Chicago, which is located at the mouth of the Magnificent Mile, will land you at these secret spots: think concealed gardens, a World War II submarine and a private yacht.
In the early 1800s, the Windy City’s government embraced the motto ‘Urbs in horto’ (or ‘City in a garden’). While iconic green spaces like Lincoln Park and Grant Park are well loved, only a handful of parks and gardens remain mostly hidden.
The two-hectare Lurie Garden is such a place. This out-of-sight garden is a beautifully landscaped spot with textural layers of mostly local plants and is a safe refuge for migratory birds, bees and butterflies. Beautiful at any time of year, it's particularly exquisite during summer when its flowers are in bloom in a myriad of colours.
Modernist lakeside stretch, Milton Lee Olive Park, on the other hand, offers breathing space from the city while keeping a close eye on Chi-Town's stupendous skyline. The park's best angles include a walkway lined with mature honey locust trees as well as luscious green patches that provide a rich contrast to Lake Michigan’s deep blue hues.
Get your sea legs
Cruise down Chicago's Lake Michigan onboard your own private vintage mahogany yacht with Chicago's First Lady. Built in 1961, the stunning one-of-a-kind Lady Grebe can sit up to six. Have a gourmet meal prepared to your tastes and help yourself to top tipple such as Grey Goose and Macallan. You may also wish to hire a Chicago Architecture Foundation-certified docent for an architectural tour for the river portion of your cruise.
For an educational outing, visit the largest science museum in the western hemisphere, the Museum of Science and Industry, to encounter a perfectly intact World War II German U-505 submarine which was captured by the United States in 1944. This is the only such submarine in the US, and it's here where you can join tours inside the vessel and learn more about its history and importance during the war.
Let the beat drop
Chicago has played a pivotal role in America’s soul, jazz and blues culture. For a taste of Chicago's music scene, head to a discrete basement off West Ontario Street. Here you'll find The Redhead Piano Bar, a site for all things rock and blues. This no-frills joint, which has been in operation for more than 50 years, is home to regular acts like Dan Gillogly, Marshall Nelson and David Scott Crawford.
For a glimpse into Chicago's boogie days, head to cocktail bar JIMMY on one of its vintage film screening or vinyl nights. This well-hidden lounge is an ode to the sexy seventies, with plush boxy sofas, amber lighting and mirrored walls. Get into character with a Retro Apocalyptic cocktail, which is made with rum, cachaca, red absinthe, zombie tonic, allspice dram and lime.
Chicago’s vitality has been built on the strength of its immigrant populations, says the city’s mayor, and many of them have indeed introduced their exotic cuisines to Chicago. Sayat Nova caters to those with an appetite for traditional Armenian and Middle Eastern food. Make sure you try the Kufta dinner, a house specialty made with flavoursome Armenian spiced lamb meatballs served in a hot yoghurt mint soup.
Bohemian House, on the other hand, has pumped some Chicago cool into classic bohemian fare – a feat this restaurant has pulled off seamlessly. Also impressive is its list of draft beers, including Krombacher from Germany and Staropramen from the Czech Republic, and its bohemian-inspired craft cocktails.
In a city as diverse and exciting as Chicago, why not take the road less travelled and go where the locals go?
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