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Underground Chicago: The Ultimate Art, Food & Architecture Tour

By Melanie Warner

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Nothing defines Chicago more than the Cubs, the famous deep-dish pizza, and the harsh winter wind. But there is another Chicago that is often undiscovered by tourists that showcases inspiring art, innovative architecture, and epicurean victuals. If you only have a few days to see this amazing city, then here are a few things to include on your must-see list that are often dwarfed by the obvious.

 

 

One of my favorite places to stay is The Godfrey Hotel Chicago because it is downtown and centrally located to many of the places that I planned to visit. This striking and sleek 4.5 star boutique hotel is contemporary and comfortable, and surprisingly affordable. This brand new Cubist-influenced facade features a spa and fitness center, plus an onsite restaurant and rooftop lounge with fire pits, water features, and video walls. The hotel has a chic vibe with bold reds and vibrant colors throughout.

 

 

Upon arrival, I strolled over to the intersection of Superior and Franklin Streets. The River North Gallery Tour is supported by Chicago Gallery News and connects to over 28 hot spots within a few blocks, making it the most concentrated art spot in town. When I visited, each gallery had rotating exhibits, some more permanent than others.

 

 

The Stephen Daiter Gallery specializes in vintage photography of 20th century artists. I love when the artists share their perspectives; both the visual and the emotional manifestation of the shot. One of my favorites was from Hungarian artist Andre Kertesz: "This was called Cat Lady. When I first attempted to photograph her, she spit at me. She was very angry!" It is circa 1939, shot in Montparnasse, Paris. The Echt Gallery featured contemporary sculptures and glass that literally reflect life with a unique perspective. Artist Katja Fritzsche utilized plaster silicone negatives to create 3 dimensional glass art: “Glass is a material with its own soul. It has a variety of physical dimensions that attracts me.” The Twelfth Octave was breath-taking and retails for approximately $85,000. Other standouts included the Perimeter Gallery consisting of contemporary art featuring a range of mediums and The Carl Hammer Gallery offering outsider and contemporary art.

 

 

For dinner, we headed to the mid-level I/O Urban Roofscape, which involved an indoor/outdoor retractable glass roof atop the Godfrey Hotel. It was pouring rain, but we were nicely insulated beneath the downpour with fire pits and could even gaze upward at the onslaught of rainfall as we enjoyed a live fashion show and panoramic views of downtown. Chef Riley Huddleston created an impressive array of cocktails from the kitchen with a true mixologist approach that includes an algorithm of science, math and innovate libations. The smart blends will knock the happy back in your hour. Chef Riley has roots in the Pacific North West, New York, and Boise and culinary training in the British Virgin Islands. I love meeting passionate chefs like Riley who have the diversity, influence, and talent to come to a big market, shake things up, and leave his undeniable influence on local cuisine.

 

 

I sampled several different items. One of my haunting favorites was the PB&J – tender pork belly and raspberry jam resting on lightly toasted bread. Did I mention I have a weakness for pork belly? I seriously lose all composure! It was one of the best things I have ever eaten. The salmon flatbread, lamp lollichops, and truffle fries with parmesan were equally impressive. The whole menu was memorable and continues to lure me back to Chicago.

 

 

The next morning, I joined Chef Riley again, and started the day off right at the I/O Urban Rooftop for breakfast. I imbibed a blueberry lavender Mimosa and ordered 2 poached eggs with guacamole, chili sauce, and fried tortillas. I added a side of gin and bourbon infused smoked salmon on a bagel with capers. It served as great sustenance for a busy day of museum and architecture tours.

 

 

 

 

My first adventure was to experience the Museum of Science and Industry, celebrating 80 years. Science and museums are two of my favorite nerdy things. I knew I would fall in love with this place as I read the inscription in the rotunda; “Science discerns the laws of nature...industry applies them to the needs of man.”

 

 

There were so many impressive exhibits, it was hard to decide where to start. Encounter the brain and nervous system in the human body lab. Ride inside a tornado simulator or control the vortex. Watch an avalanche develop, create your own rainbow, or manifest your own tsunami inside the science storms exhibit. It’s over 26,000 square feet and has 50 different interactive exhibits.

The U505 is an actual German submarine that was captured by the U.S. Navy in 1944. It’s 252 feet long and weights 710 tons. The Germans thought it sank and the Americans kept it hidden in Bermuda for years, completely undetected. It was such a big secret that only one branch of the military knew of its existence, hence the term “loose lips sink ships”. It took an impressive journey from Bermuda to be displayed in this special hangar in its entirety.

For lunch, I visited Big & Littles, featured on the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives with Chef Guy Fieri. The decadent favorites were pork belly Po Boy, fish n chips, beer battered burger, and the soft shell crab Po Boy. But by far, the rock star was the foie gras fries with truffle sauce. I felt so naughty! It was absolutely incredible, so don’t even bother counting calories there.

 

 

 

Next up was the iconic Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise. There was something slightly mystical and patriotic about streaming down the Chicago River aboard the "Chicago's First Lady" river boat. Chicago began where the river met the lake, so it’s only befitting to pay homage to over 50 iconic buildings that define the Chicago skyline. If you are a fan of architecture, you will love this breath-taking tour commencing at the Wrigley Building. Taking command of the river at Michigan Avenue, this European Renaissance-inspired building was designed by Graham, Anderson, Probst & White. Other highlights of the tour include Trump International Hotel and Tower, the tallest structurally concrete building in the world. It looms at 90 stories tall and includes a hotel at the base and residential units above. Aqua at the Lakeshore was designed to provide views in a variety of directions. The Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) was the tallest building in the world until the New World Trade Center opened in New York City.

 

 

 

By this time, we were ready for dinner. Chef Duncan Biddulph at The Kinmont utilizes field and stream with sustainable steak, chicken & quail in a quaint and cozy pub-style dining room. He was featured in Best Chefs of America in 2013. Chicago Magazine named The Kinmont “Best New Restaurant” in the May 2014 issue. The name originates from an artisan salmon fly-fishing lure known as the “Kinmont Willie”. My first course included the creamy and hearty Door County Whitefish Chowder with potato and country ham along with the Sage Smash signature cocktail with Templeton Rye, Meyer lemon and sage syrup. They also offer a vast array of craft beers on tap. Next I enjoyed Oysters Around the World originating from the West on the left and working clockwise to the South. For my main course, I devoured the grilled beef sirloin with herb butter and hand cut fries. For desert, I channeled my inner Elvis with an ice cream sandwich with banana ice cream and peanut butter cookie. The whole experience left me in a food frenzy as I could only muster a “thank you very much” before I slipped into a food coma.

 

 

 

 

 

Overall, my Chicago experience was incredible and worth the quick trip. I love the city and have visited many times, but this this was one of my favorite trips. I learned so much about the food, culture, art, and history as if I were a local and discovered some new adventures along the way. Hopefully, now you will see Chi-Town as more than just the Windy City.

Published on Jan 28, 2015

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