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What Makes Chicago Unique and Special

July 25, 2018
by Danny Brown

Pride in the city, its sturdy-minded, focused people, and its ability to ride through tough storms is evident in the way Chicago was developed. Being called “The City of Broad Shoulders”, as suggested in a poem by Carl Sandburg, points towards how hardworking and non-credit-seeking the people of Chicago are. They believe one does not have to blow its own horn to receive due recognition. While New York City and Los Angeles may forever be etched in our minds for Broadway shows, and San Diego and Miami for its white, sandy beaches, Chicago is a city known for great food, awesome nightlife, stunning architecture and adventurous attractions.

Surrounded by tree-lined streets, lakeside attractions, bustling shopping venues, a didactic art and music scene, and a swath of live entertainment venues, there are so many enjoyable sides to Chicago it is hard to pin down one description. It’s hard finding someone who has lived in and not fallen in love with the city; it is clean, friendly, pulsating at its core, offers an array of fun foods and a throbbing entertainment scene. Their attitude towards life is highly infectious, to say the least.

unique traits of Chicago as a city

The Great Chicago Fire may have flattened the city’s landscape at one point but to say the city’s rebounded is an understatement. With vigor, it came back in the form of world’s tallest skyscrapers, beautiful neighborhoods, well-designed and easy-to-navigate streets, gorgeous modern lakeside attractions, badass museums and galleries, and a roundup of spacious outdoor spaces for affordable weekend entertainment.

When in Windy City, Chicago-style hot dogs, deep dish pizza, cinnamon rolls, Nutella pockets, rainbow cone, Polish sausage, jazz entertainment, and historic tours are MUSTS. There are people who can’t get enough of it. According to Frank Sinatra, Chicago is always “calling me home and it is his kind of town”.

He’s not the only one.

1. Taking a Page out of the History Books

Even locals have a hard time explaining why the history of Chicago is so fundamental to its development but starting from the time it attracted migrants from Germany, Ireland, Poland, Italy and other Scandinavian countries, the city was already set for a cultural and economic warp.

The city may have been discovered by Father Francois Pinet of the Mission of the Guardian Angel, it was Jean Du Sable, a Haitian, who took up the dropped baton. An ambitious black pioneer, trader and founder of the new settlement, the locals celebrate the founding of the city with DuSable Day on the founder’s birthday.

Despite its undesirable political scene and machinery in place, immigrants settled on Chicago because of it is located at a cross-junction of the East and West coast. When the national trade agenda was fixed, Chicago became an important transportation hub, boasting of intertwining railways and canals. With trains and ships coming in and out of the city, it became a powerhouse in retail and manufacturing. 

Although the history of Chicago can be illustrious when meatpacking took off after the introduction of refrigerated railcars and the location of Union Stock Yards, many other events dotted the city’s timeline; namely, the Columbian Exposition, construction of Jackson Park, The Great Chicago Fire, the Prohibition era and not to mention the history-changing birth of Barack Obama and Michael Jordan.

Field Museum of Natural History
1400 S Lake Shore Dr, Chicago, IL 60605
Hours: Opens daily 9am - 5pm
(312) 922-9410

Museum of Science and Industry
5700 S Lake Shore Dr, Chicago, IL
(773) 684-1414

Use the same techniques as Pixar animators to manipulate the emotion of a movie scene with lighting in this tiny, recreated set from the film “Up.” Tickets are available now to The Science Behind Pixar, visit our bio! #ScienceOfPixar #MSIChicago #Pixar #Up #AdventureisOutThere

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Chicago History Museum
1601 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60614
(312) 642-4600

Chicago Children's Museum
700 E Grand Ave, Chicago, IL 60611
Admission: US$13 – $15
(312) 527-1000

Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum
2430 N Cannon Dr, Chicago, IL 60614
Admission: US$7–9
(773) 755-5100

DuSable Museum of African American
740 E 56th Pl, Chicago, IL 60637
Admission: US$3 – $10
(773) 947-0600

The Richard H. Driehaus Museum
40 E Erie St, Chicago, IL 60611
Admission: US$10 – $20
(312) 482-8933

Smart Museum of Art, The University of Chicago
1506, 5550 S Greenwood Ave, Chicago, IL 60637
(773) 702-0200

Smart Docent Tours from Smart Museum of Art on Vimeo.

McCormick Bridgehouse & Chicago River Museum
99 Chicago Riverwalk, Chicago, IL 60601
Admission: US$5–6
(312) 977-0227

2. Architecture Paints a Thousand Words

If there was one good thing that came out of The Great Fire of 1871, it was architecture. Flattening tens of thousands of buildings, offices, and homes along its fiery path, the fire inadvertently rolled out the city’s architectural revolution. Younger, ambitious designers stomped into Chicago with bold, new plans and lofty dreams on how to paint the new Chicago landscape. The big plans kicked off with the world’s first and tallest skyscraper, The Willis Tower in 1885.

One of the main architects for the city was Daniel Burnham, a man who believed in creating a brand new “Chicago school” style cityscape. He told designers and builders to make plans big enough to stir men’s blood. A part of the reason the plans had to be as bold was that Chicago had muddy banks and foundation. Engineers were commissioned to raise the central part of Chicago, including sidewalks and whole buildings, in order for the buildings to be workable.

Today, even as you’re cruising through The Loop, Chicago’s main downtown area, Chicago’s an amazing architectural wonder whether you are cruising along in a rented charter bus or looking out from an observation deck. 

Chicago consist of 77 neighborhoods along the Chicago River. While there is no solid evidence of how the name “The Loop” came about, many speculated that the origin of "The L" was attributed to the city’s cable cars and elevated train lines. Buildings and sites like The Chicago Avenue Pumping Station, Insurance Building, The Chicago Merchandise Mart, Marina City, the John Hancock Building, the Buckingham Fountain, Willis Tower, Aqua Tower, Robie House, Carbide & Carbon Building, Chicago Cultural Center and Tribune Tower have all made it to the front pages of reputable magazines and newspapers all around the world at one point in time.

You can get on a rented charter bus or the Brown Line to visit sites around Chicago’s trendiest neighborhoods like Armitage Avenue for shopping, Belmont for food-ventures, Southport to party the night away, Western (a former German neighborhood) and Oak Street for window-shopping, Michigan Avenue during the Christmas season, and Green City Market (at Lincoln Park) on a Saturday morning for amazing local produce and foodstuff.

For photographers, snap away at the world’s former tallest building Willis Tower (or step off its glass-covered 103rd floor Skydeck) or enjoy the knee-buckling view of the city at 82-story Aqua Tower. Other points of interest include Frank Lloyd Wright’s earthy Prairie-style Robie House, the terracotta Carbide & Carbon Building, the former-library Chicago Cultural Center which is a marble-walled, jewel-dotted wonder, and the gothic-style Tribune Tower where chunks of Taj Mahal, Westminster Abbey, and Great Pyramid were used as a part of its decorative foundation.

Willis Tower
233 S Wacker Dr, Chicago, IL 60606
Referred to as The Sears, it is a 110-story building, 1,400-foot skyscraper dominating the Chicago skyline. The Skydeck is a participant of the Chicago CityPass and is open 365 days a year from 9am - 10pm

Chicago Cultural Center
78 E Washington St, Chicago, IL 60602
(312) 744-3316
Many are drawn to this iconic landmark because of its neoclassical architecture which opened its doors in 1976. It houses Chicago's official reception venue and is where Chicago welcomes Federal officials, royalties, and Presidents

The Merchandise Mart
222 W Merchandise Mart Plaza, Chicago, IL 60654
(800) 677-6278
When it was built, it was the world's largest commercial building, featuring a premier address. The iconic landmark is located at a strategic junction of one of Chicago River's branches and hosts 20,000 visitors every year since its opening.

Marina City
300 - 350 North State Street, and 315 - 339 North Dearborn Street, Chicago, IL
Marina City's history dates back to the 1960s and was used for films like "The Hunter" and "Nothing in Common". At one point, it was the tallest residential building in the world and it features two cylindrical 588-foot towers, recognizable even from afar. With 40 floors of residential units, store, an observation deck and a 300,000 square-foot commercial platform, it reigns as one of Chicago's top destinations.

The John Hancock Center
875 N Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611
(888) 875-8439
In the Magnificent Mile district in downtown Chicago, the renamed John Hancock Center (although it still is referred as such at the point of writing) measures up to 100 stories and is a 1,128-foot direct competitor of The Willis Tower Skydeck. There’s a restaurant on its 95th floor, an observatory with a 360-degrees view of up to 4 states during a clear day, has an open-air SkyWalk and a swimming pool on the 44th floor (the highest indoor one in the country)

Tribune Tower
435 N Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 222-2722
Everything about the 1923 iconic tower is reminiscent of something from the past - from the bits and pieces from St. Stephen's Cathedral, Taj Mahal, Palace of Westminster, the Great Wall of China, Angkor Wat, Wawel Castle, Clementine Hall and Notre Dame de Paris to it being the former home of Chicago Tribune, Tribune Media, tronc, and CNN’s Chicago bureau. The building was once declared the “most beautiful and distinctive office building in the world”

Green City Market
2613 W. Lawrence Avenue
Chicago, IL 60625
(773) 880-1266
Coursing through the veins of this project is its primary purpose of connecting farmers to urban dwellers, restaurants, chefs and food organizations in Chicago through their various collaborative programs. Held at locations like Lincoln Park, Gallagher Way, West Loop, Peggy Notebaert Museum, it’s THE place for food and culture lovers across all walks of life.

Frederick C. Robie House
5757 S Woodlawn Ave, Chicago, IL 60637
(312) 994-4000
Admission: US$15 – $50
Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, the 9,000-square-feet Prairie-style home can be found on the campus of University of Chicago's South Side campus. After the Robie family sold off the property, it was saved by its designer and the Commission on Chicago Landmarks from demolition. Typical of Wright, he had a hand in designing everything from the exterior to its windows, lightings, rugs, and furniture

Monadnock Building
53 W Jackson Blvd, Chicago, IL 60604
(312) 922-1890
It sure took the designers a long enough time to complete the design and construction of the building but it was worth it in the end. It was once the largest office building in the world and was a catalyst for a new business center in the South Loop today

Legacy At Millennium Park
60 E Monroe St, Chicago, IL 60603
(312) 252-0060
While all other buildings in Chicago focused on scaling the sky, Legacy was focused on trimming down horizontally. The design of the 822-feet, the 72-story residential building was intentional to provide residents with a cool vantage point of Lake Michigan and Millennium Park. The slender building is the 13th tallest building in downtown Chicago, IL

Trump International Hotel and Tower
401 N Wabash Ave, Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 588-8000
Renowned architects were called in to construct this 98-story hotel and residential building; with its spire piercing through the skies of Chicago at 1,400 feet, it is an iconic landmark. Located at the entry to Lake Michigan and offering amazing views towards a series of bridges, it is visible throughout your trek around the city on ground and boats. It boasts of a luxurious The Terrace restaurant that offers “alfresco” dining and a 23,000-square-foot spa

3. Getting Seduced by Delectable Cuisine

There’s no right or wrong answer to which is your favorite food to try in Chicago but one thing is for sure - deep dish pizza and hot dog are two foods that are must-trys in the Windy City. You might have heard it from the travel diaries of renowned chefs and documentaries on TV, even with the intense hours-long dinner line, visiting restaurants like Lou Malnati’s, Gino’s East and Uno’s are musts if you’re a foodie.

Deep Dish Pizza - It’s time to ditch your diet and stuff gooey cheese and buttery crust into your mouth. These to-die-for local favorites are not just sought after by tourists who might have read about this cuisine online, but also locals are willing to queue hours ahead of dinnertime to enjoy the amazing dish. Just be ready to hustle. And wrestle, maybe.

Hot Dogs - Food trucks, tiny eateries, hotel diners, bars and classic restaurants - most of them serve hot dogs. There’s no shortage of places serving delicious Vienna beef classics. The real challenge is to find one that totally hits the spot. Surly staffers are ready to deliver mustard-coated dogs in steamed buns sprinkled with peppers, pickles, tomatoes and celery salt. Even the classiest restaurants in town attempt to make the dish look like it's been dragged through the garden because that's the way it’s supposed to look.

  • Wiener Circle
    2622 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60614
    (773) 477-7444
  • Chicago's Dog House
    816 W Fullerton Ave, Chicago, IL 60614
  • Hot"G"Dog
    5009 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60640
    (773) 209-3360
  • Duk's Red HOTS
    636 N Ashland Ave, Chicago, IL 60622
    (312) 733-0069
  • Wrigleyville Dogs
    3809, 3737 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60613
    (773) 296-1500
  • Portillo's Hot Dogs
    100 W Ontario St, Chicago, IL 60654
    (312) 587-8910

Italian Beef - On the outside, it looks simple and nostalgic. But once the first bite sinks in, there’ll be an explosion of tastes and aromas! In recent years, Chicago expatriates have fueled on the demand for Italian Beef “sandwich”. The fresh sandwich roll is paired up with thinly sliced roast sirloin-cut beef wet-roasted in its own juice seasoned with garlic, oregano, and spices. It is served with cheese, hot or sweet peppers, the choice is yours. Dating as far back as the 1930s, locals continue to satiate their cravings for Italian Beef at hot dog stands, pizzerias and Italian-American restaurants all across The Windy City!

  • Johnnie's Beef
    7500 W North Ave, Elmwood Park, IL 60707
    (708) 452-6000
  • Tony's Italian Beef
    7007 S Pulaski Rd, Chicago, IL 60629
    (773) 284-6787
  • Mr. Beef On Orleans
    666 N Orleans St, Chicago, IL 60654
    (312) 337-8500
  • Al's Italian Beef
    601 W Adams St, Chicago, IL 60661
    (312) 559-2333
  • Pop's Italian Beef & Sausage
    10337 S Kedzie Ave, Chicago, IL 60655
    (773) 239-1243
  • Roma's Italian Beef & Sausage
    4237 N Cicero Ave, Chicago, IL 60641
    (773) 725-5715

Gyros - This is perfect for those looking for something different - something NOT fast food - to eat for dinner. The Greek cuisine - typically beef or lamb sandwich in the United States - is served wrapped up in a soft, velvety piece of folded pita or rotisserie topped with freshly sliced onions, tomatoes and topped with Tzatziki sauce. It might remind you of a shawarma or tacos al pastor. Souvlaki in Athens, the spice mixes of garlic powder, oregano, black pepper, salt, hot and sweet paprika, cinnamon, nutmeg, coriander, allspice, and fennel is a satisfying medley.

  • Athenian Room
    807 W Webster Ave, Chicago, IL 60614
    (773) 348-5155
  • Publican Quality Meats
    825 W Fulton Market, Chicago, IL 60607
    (312) 445-8977
  • Max's Take Out
    20 E Adams St, Chicago, IL 60603
    (312) 553-0170
  • Mr Greek Gyros
    234 S Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60607
    (312) 906-8731
  • Gyro-Ména
    905 W Belmont Ave, Chicago, IL 60657
    (773) 935-2600
  • Best Gyros
    7643 S Cottage Grove Ave, Chicago, IL 60619
    (773) 723-9720
  • King's Gyros
    5233 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60630
    (773) 736-5406
  • Nick's Drive-In
    7216 N Harlem Ave, Chicago, IL 60631
    (773) 631-5045

Jibaritos - Juan “Peter” Figueroa is credited for bringing jibarito into Chicago, first into his own restaurants, and later, spreading much love for the sandwich into the local food scene. Jibaro means “little yokel” in Puerto Rican and uses flatbread for buns. Loaded with cheese, mayonnaise, delicious meat, fresh vegetables like lettuce and tomatoes, it has earned its spot as one of Chicago’s favorite local cuisine since its introduction in 1996. The traditional jibarito has taken on new modern twists by incorporating elements from other cuisine but you can still find the original version in many casual eateries and small diners all around Chicago. It is Chicago’s very own version of Philly Cheesesteak!

  • El Picosito Jibaro
    3216 W Lawrence Ave, Chicago, IL 60625
    (872) 806-2405
  • La Cocina Boricua De La Familia Galarza
    2420 W Fullerton Ave, Chicago, IL 60647
    (773) 235-7377
  • Casa Yari
    3268 W Fullerton Ave, Chicago, IL 60647
    (773) 661-9546
  • Jibaritos y Mas
    3400 W Fullerton Ave, Chicago, IL 60647
    (773) 799-8601
  • La Bomba
    3221 W Armitage Ave, Chicago, IL 60647
    (773) 394-0106
    3315 W Armitage Ave, Chicago, IL 60647
    (773) 772-9446
  • The Jibarito Stop
    1646 W. 18th St, Chicago, IL 60608
    (312) 988-0585
  • Papa's Cache Sabroso
    2517 W Division St, Chicago, IL 60622
    (773) 862-8313

4. Set into a Whimsical World of Music and Art

On top boasting of exemplary local cuisine and stunning skyscrapers, Chicago's art scene is famously diverse. To art lovers, this means getting to enjoy a broad serving of art. The Loop features an impressive lineup of public art spaces spanning blocks from Head to Daley Plaza, from the famous Picasso sculpture to the marbled floors and muraled walls of its buildings. You might also spot the Richard Hunt free-form art piece at Bilandic Building, and then languish in the relaxing sounds of water running down beatific man-made waterfalls and fountains. Even as you’re walking past stores, look inside and you might chance upon touring exhibits from local artists!

Because of the strategic location at South Side, it has come into its own over the years of development. Cheaper real estate attracted numerous galleries owned and run by aspiring young artists while the Chicago Arts District is brimming with inspiring installations. Join the Gallery Walk held on the second Friday of every month and treat yourself to an amazing introduction to what Chicago’s art scene has to offer. Packed to the hilt with galleries, take part in art crawls, enjoy an open house at the Brave New Art World, hit the restaurant row in West Loop (also known as the “restaurant row”) where edgy street artists often converge, or enjoy mixed-media displays and eclectic galleries at Bucktown and Wicker Park.

Downtown Chicago offers a mean mix of eclectic, traditional, contemporary and cultural art attractions, taking you along a cross-section of timelines in various regions of the world. There are award-winning art pieces amongst the 260,000 items displayed at The Art Institute of Chicago, free admission at Smart Museum of Art, photography, paintings, sculptures and live performances held at Museum of Contemporary Art, and prominent Mexican art and cultural showcases at the National Museum of Mexican Art.

Even if you’re not into the whole art scene, get duly impressed with the public art at The Eagle Columns at Lincoln Park (at the intersection of Wrightwood and Sheffield), the bright science-related orange sculpture at Space Junction of Energy, the Francis M. Drexel Memorial Fountain at Hyde Park, and the Slabs of the Sunburnt West at the University of Illinois Chicago campus.

Galina Shevchenko Becoming a Cyborg, 2018 Digital embroidery, digital video, reflective mylar. Vital Signs: Twisted Oyster Film & New Media Festival and Time-based Media Art Exhibition July 20 - August 5 On view at Zhou B Art Center Becoming a Cyborg explores the notion of possibility of procreation in the dystopian future. What if we lose our ability to procreate naturally, would we be able to come up with the viable digital substitution? What does our offspring look like? What will they inherit? I'm luxuriating in the process of digital procreation, nurturing my digitally produced trickster offspring, cradling it in the waterfall blanket of reflective mylar, traditionally used to enhance the sunlight in a green house. Despite protruding wounds and distortions my digital progeny firmly floats on its high heels, emanating the powerful feminine spirit, and profound gaze despite its deceiving fragility. Galina Shevchenko is a Moscow born, Chicago based multimedia artist. Her work has been shown at numerous venues nationally and internationally, including international art fairs in Miami and Chicago, Berlin's Director's Lounge Video Festival, New York's Red Shift Film Festival, Chicago's Motion Graphics Festival, Media ART LAB segment of Moscow International Film Festival where her work took a second prize in 2007, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Art Institute of Chicago and numerous Chicago art galleries. Galina's visual language coexists across her live video performance, animation, video installation and immersive video environments that she creates for art galleries, theatrical happenings and multimedia festivals. She loves to combine vernacular visual elements with archetypical and cultural icons creating exquisite combinations of high and pop, classical and postmodern. Whether it is a video, a painting, an animation or a design object, Galina's work is baroque and provocative, it teases and questions, seduces and demands... ultimately it is a delicious visual treat. #artforthepeople #cyborg #vitalsigns #embroidery #digitalembroidery #twistedoyster #timebasedart #dystopia #procreate #offspring #videoart #performance #animation #baroque #provocative

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amazing artwork from Vertical Gallery Chicago IL

The art institute of chicago IL

5. Lake Michigan is a Panacea for Fun, Outdoor Activities

If you put together the people of New York and Midwest locales, you’ll essentially get Chicagoans. The same earthy realism is balanced with a tinge of New York hustle and you’ll get modern, chic people who are also generous, warm, and friendly. While the people make the city what it is today, the sense of community and a penchant for outdoorsy activities around Lake Michigan keep the people glued together through good and bad times.

As unpredictable as Lake Michigan can be, the lakefront parks, scenic trails, amenities, walking paths, Navy Pier, boat launch areas, picnic spots and beaches promises nothing but a full day of fun for the entire family. With views of Chicago skyline splashed across the backdrop, it’s the perfect place for boat cruises, volleyball games, a day of kite-flying, sunbathing, fishing, kayaking, biking, BBQing, and partying till the wee hours of the mornings.

You’ll be hard pressed for excuses not to go out and have some fun with your family when the beach is only a few minutes away from downtown Chicago. Even if you’re not into partying the night away at Navy Pier, a romantic walk along Chicago River is the definition of true serendipity. Your plan of attack would have to depend on your personal preferences. North Beach is amazing for beach volleyball, Navy Pier is awesome for dining out and bar-hopping, Burnham Park is fantastic for bonfires, the wind-swept Northerly Island is cool for kite-flying, while you can take off from Burnham Harbor for the fishing trip of your dreams.

You can also enjoy 22 miles of bike paths at Chicago Lakefront Bicycle Trails which stretches towards the Indiana border, taking you through Jackson Park, Grant Park, Millennium Park and Lincoln Park. And when you’re craving for a rest or would like to people-watch, head over to Oak Street Beach for a quick break while letting the hypnotic sounds of crashing waves envelope you.

Good luck to all racing today!

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family fun at Chicago Fun House IL

That Friday feeling 🙌

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