Guys, Chicago is your kind of town
CALLING REAL MEN. Women may think New York i s t he best US shopping city, but the one that favours the male of the species has got to be Chicago. The Windy City has retail delights to match the best of Fifth Avenue, but it also offers the man-sized meals, sumptuous, dimlylit cocktail bars and old-fashioned customer service which has become a bit of a rarity in Manhattan.
You could spend two happy days just trawling North Michigan Avenue, where a good base is the Millennium Knickerbocker Hotel, one block from the shores of Lake Michigan. Apart from sitting in the midst of retail heaven, it fields a bar serving no less than 50 varieties of the city’s favourite drink: the martini.
The hotel happens to be bang opposite Bloomingdale’s, which was never overly pricey, but suddenly looks like a bargain at $2 to the pound. All the favourite brands are here and what man can resist a Ralph Lauren denim shirt for £40? Another £25 buys a twohour session with a top hairstylist in the basement spa.
In truth — other than for a brief cab ride to some of the city’s best eating places — you never need leave this area, even if you prefer rubber-necking the architecture to shopping. The Wrigley Building, Water Tower Plaza and imposing edifice of the Chicago Sun-Times are all within a short walk along the same wide, European-style boulevard. It is worth crossing the canal at the top of the avenue for a perfect lunch at McCormick & Schmick’s, whose motto seems to be if it swims, we will cook it. That includes rare species like char, tilapia and wild sockeye salmon, served plainly grilled. All pretty trad, unlike Sushi Samba, the hot new place where skilled Japanese chefs prepare raw fish with a Latin twist.
If you want to splurge, N9ine is the place to be seen — a vast, glitzy basement dining room with tables radiating out from a huge central circular bar. Chef Michael Schrader has absorbed the best of American and European influences to produce brasserie cooking with a college degree — deepfried courgette flowers stuffed with goat’s cheese, wild sea bass in beurre blanc, orgasmic creme brulée infused with Tahitian vanilla and the like, plus a very serious wine list.
With a large Jewish population, the Second City has a wealth of kosher restaurants including Shallots on N Clark Street and the Jerusalem and the Great Chicago Food & Beverage Company, both on W Devon Avenue, the city’s premier gefilte gulch in its most heimishe neighbourhood.
It also has a number of synagogues, including the Chicago Loop Synagogue on S Clark Street which serves a daily kosher lunch in the heart of the Downtown shopping district.
Don’t leave the Magnificent Mile without exploring Oak Street, a thoroughfare lined with big designer names as well as the fashionistas favourite department store, Barney’s.
Musophiles should also check out the Jazz Record Mart at 25 East Illionois; Chicago is the home of blues and jazz, and the Mart has music from every era, as well as terrific posters and other memorabilia. Jazz-lovers will want to check out the Green Mill and the Jazz Showcase, the two oldest jazz clubs in the US, while the mecca for blues-lovers is Blues Chicago.
Once you have done the town, it is time for eclectic neighbourhoods such as edgy, urban Bucktown, where Language, the Silver Room, Hejfina, Jade, Saint Alfred, G-Star Chicago, all on Milwaukee Avenue, are worth a browse. North Damen Avenue with the only-in-Chicago designer boutique P4, is another good shopping street. Also check out Stitch on the next block.
Bucktown segues into funky Lincoln Park, where the street to shop till you drop (for her, as well as you) is Armitage Avenue. Art Effect is a great place to pick up fun and unusual gifts, and it is well worth hiking several blocks north to the Blues Jean Bar at 2210 N Halstead for top-end denims for both sexes. If you have not had enough of shopping, you could proceed to Wicker Street, then tramp Division Street.
The city’s cultural offerings are not to be missed, even for shopaholics, if only because world-class museum shops are a Chicago phenomenon. Some, like the Symphony Centre shop, are on the Magnificent Mile itself, others, like the retail outlet of the Chicago Architecture Foundation, are worth going on down the avenue to explore, as are the Field Museum of Natural History and the Art Institute, which houses one of America’s finest collections.
Second City . . . first for shopping. Chicago’s magnificent skyline and lake shore
Bloomingdales in Chicago: one of the Windy City’s shopping favourites