Chicago is often referred to as the ‘second city,’ but speak to anyone who lives there and they will tell you that Chicago is second to none. The city boasts some of the world’s tallest buildings, a robust food and theater scene, and world-class museums. This didn’t go unnoticed by the Branson-backed Virgin Hotel (203 N Wabash Ave. Tel: 312-940-4400 www.virginhotels.com). They decided to open their first location in the Windy City, and have already been captivated by its magic and charm. Virgin Hotel’s concierge, Chad Edwards, is our insider guide with some in-depth advice on what
to do and where to go in this Midwestern metropolis. Edwards has been Virgin’s concierge for the past four years, and he believes in their mission to make travel remarkable. One other awesome aspect of Edwards is that he doesn’t just work at Virgin Hotel, he’s actually a part of the hotel. Edwards has a background in illustration, so when the hotel needed a mural for it’s coffee shop, they knew exactly who to turn to. During your visit, be sure to grab yourself one of Chicago’s best lattes and check it out.
Where are the coolest places to go for cocktails in Chiacgo?
Heavy Feather (2357 N. Milwaukee Ave. Tel:773-799-8504. www.heavyfeatherchicago.com) above the Slippery Slope, features old school cocktails in a stylish retro-inspired space. Walking inside the Heavy Feather is like stepping into a scene from Mad Men. Blind Barber (948 W. Fulton Market Tel: 312-405-9929. www.blindbarder.com) is a real barbershop up front, with a secret speakeasy bar in the back. It’s dark, narrow, and feels like you’ve just crept into a real prohibition-era space. Make sure to go on a night when Will Galvan is in the DJ booth for some of Chicago’s best vibes!
What are the best restaurants for a romantic dinner in the city?
Maple & Ash (8 W. Maple Street Tel: 312-944-8888. www.mapleandash.com) The food is stellar, but the real reason you go is the décor. Woodlaced wine cellars, large cathedral windows, dark velvet curtains, candles on the tables…it’s textbook
sleek and sexy. Machine (1824 W. Division St. Tel: 773-276-7422. www.dinemachine.com) located in the trendy Wicker Park neighborhood, is ironic because it’s anything but mechanical. The fun and light restaurant is bright and vibrant, and freshness is added to everything. Flower petals adorn their cocktails, lush greenery frames your meal on the plate, and the restaurant even has a flower shop located inside. It’s the perfect place to take your date when you forgot to buy them flowers (just buy them there!) Bavette’s Bar and Boeuf (218 W. Kinzie St. Tel: 312-624-8154. www.bavettesstealhouse.com) is plucked right out of the musical Chicago. Dark mahogany paneling, maroon leather booths, art deco designs in every corner, it’s everything you want in a classic Chicago establishment. It’s the kind of place I image Al Capone used to smoke cigars in.
Who serves the best weekend brunch?
That would be Proxi (565 W. Randolph St. Tel: 312-466-1950 www.proxichicago.com) It’s an awesome industrial space with dishes that are inspired from around the world. This should give you a good example of what Proxi is like: Last time I went for brunch there, I ordered the grilled corn bread with poached eggs and hollandaise, one of my friends ordered the congee with jasmine and duck eggs, and the other ordered a Vietnamese ice coffee and kimchi fried rice. It’s got something for everyone. Funkenhausen (1709 W. Chicago Ave. Tel: 312-929-4727. www.funkenhausen.com) is another oddball that is totally delicious. Funkenhausen is a mix of German and Southern food. Both cuisines are hearty and rich, so they actually blend perfectly, and make for an amazing brunch. The Schnitz and Gritz is a great example of this. Southern grits are topped with schnitzel and a fried egg. If you want something sweet, be sure to order the Black Forest Donut!
What are the hottest shows in town?
Hamilton at the CIBC Theater (18 W. Monroe Street Tel: 312-977-1700. www.broadwayinchicago.com) is still the hottest ticket in town. We get people from all over the world who come for this show alone. Apparently in New York the show is still crazy expensive, so people from all over flock to Chicago to see a phenomenal performance of Hamilton for a fraction of the cost of New York.
What museums are a must see for visitors?
The Museum of Science and Industry (5700 S. Lakeshore Dr. Tel: 773-684-1414. www.msichicago.org) will make anyone feel like a kid again. There is so much to see and do. Right now they have a huge submarine that you can actually go in! It’s pretty amazing. My personal favorite is the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) (220 E. Chicago Ave. Tel: 312-799-3599. www.mcachicago.org) because their exhibitions are constantly changing. I like the museum because it features artists that are actually alive today. Monets are great, but I think it’s really cool to view art from artists who are living through the same time period that we are.
Which guided tours do you recommend?
In a city with so much amazing architecture it should come as no surprise that the Chicago Architecture Center boat tour (111 E. Wacker Dr. Tel: 312-922-8687. www.architecture.org) is the must see tour. Also, take a Gangster tour (600 N. Clark St. Tel: 773-881-1195. www.gangstertour.com) and learn all about the darker parts of our history. Finally the Segway tours (505 N. Lakeshore Dr. Tel: 312-890-3701 www.chicagosegwaytour.com) are just plain fun. I don’t remember all the great facts the guide tried to fill our heads with, but I remember how much fun the Segway was!
What annual events should we add to our list?
All of our music festivals, like Lollapalooza (www.lollapalooza.com), which is featuring a super diverse lineup this year, like Ariana Grande, 21 Savage, and even Tenacious D. For an even more diverse lineup, there’s Pitchfork (www.pitchfork.com) from July 19-21. This year Robyn will be sharing the same stage as Mavis Staples, which is a super unique mix. The Naked Bike Ride (www.chicagonakedride.com) is super fun and completely crazy. If you’re here June 8th, you have to take part!
Where can you go to get the best views of the city?
Our very own rooftop bar, Cerise (203 N. Wabash Ave. Tel: 312-940-4774. www.virginhotels.com), has a fantastic view. Along with the view, we bring in some amazing DJ’s. Our goal is to find people who love music. You never know what you’ll get. One night might be soul, the next may be hip-hop, but what I can guarantee is that the DJ selecting the playlist has meticulously chosen each and every song. You can’t get any higher up view than the Willis Tower (233 S. Wacker Dr. Tel: 312-875-9696. www.theskydeck.com). Though it will always be the Sears Tower to locals. The observation deck is the highest in America, and it has these glass floors you can walk out over on the 103rd floor. It’s nuts!
Where are the best places to workout?
East Bank Club (500 N. Kingsbury St. Tel: 312-527-5800. www.eastbankclub.com) is a huge space that can meet all of your fitness needs. It looks like it was built into a warehouse and takes up an entire city block. It even has four pools. If you like boutique gyms, head to the Bodi Shack (4704 N. Broadway Tel: 872-806-2889. www.bodishack.com) for a variety of group classes. I think it’s going to blow up and become the next SoulCycle. It’s a group class-only space that promises support and enthusiasm to help you achieve your goals.
If someone is looking for a full-service spa, where do you send them?
AIRE Ancient Baths (88 Franklin St. Tel: 646-878-6174. www.beaire.com) is an experience like no other. Exposed brick walls, candlelit pathways, sea salt massages, gorgeous relaxation pools…it’s something I recommend everyone. The space it truly serene and you’ll feel like a new man afterwards. For something more chill, head to Spa Space (161 N. Canal St. Tel: 312-466-9585. www.spaspace.com), which is great for groups. AIRE feels so mythic and special that you’re lost in awe the whole time, whereas Spa Space makes you feel like it’s a sunny afternoon. It’s bright, with lots of flowers, and you don’t feel
like you have to be silent your entire stay. These two spas are a bit of a yin and yang scenario. It’s about what type of mood you’re in.
Designer labels for less—do you have any suggestions for the smart shopper?
For more reasonable buys I recommend hitting up State Street. You can find the epic Macy’s (111 N. State St. Tel: 312-781-1000. www.macys.com/chicago) that sits inside the historic Marshal Fields building. Most people think the NYC Macy’s is the nice one…they need to come to Chicago. State Street also has a Nordstrom Rack (24 N. State St. Tel: 312-377-5500. www.nordstromrack.com) and many more. If you’re looking for deals, make sure to avoid Michigan Ave!
What are the best LGBT bars in the city?
Sidetrack (3349 N. Halstead St. Tel: 773-477-9189. www.sidetrackchicago.com). It’s got a couple different bars inside. The one in the back is more quiet and great for conversation. There’s another with a dance floor. It’s busy, but manageable, making it a great Friday nightspot. Kit Kat Lounge (3700 N. Halstead St. Tel: 773-525-1111. www.kitkatchicago.com) is cool if you like a variety of events. Drag shows, DJ events, and a bar with a great selection. You could go every night and see something different. Roscoe’s Tavern (3356 N. Halstead St. Tel: 773-281-3355. www.roscoes.com) is an awesome place. If you can only visit one Chicago gay bar, make it Roscoe’s, They have karaoke nights, Drag Race viewings, weekday drink specials…it’s everything your local institution should be.
What are the most popular gay dance clubs in the city?
Queen, which happens every Sunday night at Smartbar (3730 N. Clark St. Tel: 773-549-4140. www.smartbarchicago.com). On Queen night, you have drag queens who host a house/techno night. If you’ve ever wanted to experience what life was like in the movie Party Monster, you need to check it out. It’s absolute dance floor madness! Hydrate (3458 N. Halstead St. Tel: 773-975-9244. www.hydratechicago.com) is the absolute quintessential Boystown club. Located smack dab in the middle of Chicago’s famous Halstead Street. It isn’t the largest club ever, but it’s always packed and loud and crazy.
Where can someone go at 3 A.M. for a good meal?
Pick Me Up Café (3408 N. Clark St. Tel: 773-248-6613. www.pmucafe.com), which is vegan and vegetarian friendly. Located in Wrigleyville, directly outside Boystown, this is great for your after-clubbing meal…especially if you’re like me and are dating someone who’s vegetarian. It reminds you of a 90’s coffee shop, and the salmon benedict is amazing. Tempo Café (6 E. Chestnut St. Tel: 312-943-4373. www.tempochicago.com) is like an “elevated diner”. It’s open 24/7 and has a huge menu. It’s diner food, but with a bit of a nicer atmosphere (but then again…at 3 A.M., maybe I’m not the best judge of what a nice atmosphere looks like.) Griddle 24 (334 W. Chicago Ave. Tel: 312-943-2424. www.griddle24.com) is probably more what you’re looking at 3 A.M. Greasy, and absolutely delicious diner food. Order one of everything…you’ll hate yourself in the morning, but who cares!
What is the iconic tourist souvenir, and where will we find it?
A tin of Garrett’s Popcorn (www.garrettpopcorn.com). It’s been a Chicago staple since the beginning of time itself. You can find it at any one of the many Garrett Popcorn Shops, as well as many of the department stores. Their signature flavor is a mix of cheddar popcorn and caramel corn mixed together. Don’t ask questions… just eat it!
What are some of the outdoor activities and experiences you recommend?
Us Chicagoans are a tough bunch, and we’re not afraid of our sub-zero temps. If you come in the winter, join us for ice-skating at The Ribbon in Maggie Daley Park (337 E Randolph St.). It’s got sharp turns, with dips and hills! It’s the coolest ice skating experience ever. During the summer try beach volleyball on one of our sandy beaches (yes, we have those), kayaking the Chicago River, or rock climbing in Maggie Daley Park (337 E. Randolph St.).
Please finish this sentence: Don’t leave the city without…
…doing a shot of Malört with a local. Malört is a local Chicago liquor. It’s pretty gross, but us locals love it because it’s ours. And if you do a shot with a local, you’ll instantly make a new friend. Roll into a bar you’ve never heard of, have a drink, and a make friend with someone you never expected. That’s Chicago. Don’t leave the city without eating at one of the many chef driven restaurants. We are a food city. There’s nothing we love more than eating and drinking. Before you visit, research a few places to eat (because once you’re here, there’s so many options, it will be impossible to choose.) And when you get there, dive headfirst into a culinary excursion! Don’t leave the city without exploring the independent galleries in Pilsen (www.chicagoartsdistrict.org). Pilsen is one of Chicago’s new up-and-comers. You can get there by the Pink and Orange lines. It’s sort of Southwest of downtown, and it’s got a huge art scene that’s bursting at the seams. Go spend an afternoon exploring what’s next in the Chicago art scene!