Travel

The high life in Chicago

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - CONTENTS - Jes­samy Calkin

THE ROBEY IS A hip and hand­some art deco tower loom­ing over the his­toric six-street in­ter­sec­tion in Chicago’s Wicker Park area. The views from its up­per storey rooms are quite ex­tra­or­di­nary – the Chicago streets plough­ing a fur­row through the city as far as the eye can see. Housed in what was for­merly known as the Coy­ote build­ing, the ho­tel has 69 sharply el­e­gant rooms with a mix­ture of modern and in­dus­trial style. Firm com­fort­able beds, wooden floors and bath­rooms that mean busi­ness, out­fit­ted in porce­lain and steel. There is a ter­race pool and bar, and on the ground floor is Café Robey which serves strong cof­fee, restora­tive cock­tails and dishes such as eggs Bene­dict, peeled shrimp, and Mon­tauk fried cala­mari.

And what a cool and ap­peal­ing area Wicker Park is. Shored­itch ba­si­cally, be­fore it got too hip. It is chock full of food, bars and book­shops. You can swag­ger up Mil­wau­kee Av­enue, namecheck­ing Tom Waits all the way, and have a fan­tas­tic break­fast in Dove’s Lun­cheonette, a Tex-mex ’50s-style diner with tequila and linen nap­kins thrown in (doveschicago.com); or go to Worm­hole (the­worm­hole.us) for a gal­vanis­ing cof­fee and a look at the news­pa­pers. You can hap­pily spend the rest of the morn­ing brows­ing in the fam­i­ly­owned Vol­umes Book­café (vol­umes books.com) or the Wicker Park Se­cret Agent Sup­ply Co, which sup­ports writ­ing pro­grammes in Chicago. If by then you are ready for lunch but have spent all your money on books, Flash Taco is the place to go for take­away (or per­chon-a-stool to eat in) scrump­tious and very in­ex­pen­sive Mex­i­can food.

The Robey could not be bet­ter lo­cated – two min­utes from the sub­way stop Da­men, which is on the Blue Line go­ing di­rectly to O’hare air­port – and a 20-minute train ride down­town to ev­ery­thing else in Chicago. Like the lovely Grant Park, where Anish Kapoor ’s fa­mous Bean is lo­cated (its ac­tual name is Cloud Gate, but is al­ways known as the Bean) – which looks like a gi­ant jelly­bean made of mer­cury, but is ac­tu­ally covered in 168 highly pol­ished stain­less steel plates.

The city boasts one of the finest art gal­leries in Amer­ica, the Art In­sti­tute of Chicago, which is so spa­cious, art­fully laid out and imag­i­na­tively cu­rated that we had no prob­lem spend­ing an en­tire day there. And of course there’s The Willis Tower (bet­ter known as Sears Tower) – a 108-storey 1,450-foot skys crap er which i s the eighth-tallest build­ing in the world and has un­real, science fic­tion-like views.

There’s a city beach, too: it feels pe­cu­liarly modern to sit on the sandy shore of Lake Michi­gan with sky­scrapers right be­hind you. Chicago is a lively, vi­brant city, full of para­doxes. It has the best shops, the best cul­ture and amaz­ingly beau­ti­ful, tow­er­ing build­ings. Go, be­fore the weather turns.

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