THE SUN’S SHINING AND THE FUN AND FRIENDLY LOCALS ARE OUT TO PLAY IN GRACE PERRY’S LIVELY HOMETOWN
* There’s no better way to get to the heart of a city than through the people who live there. Every issue, we ask someone, clearly in love with their city, to take us on a personal tour and tell us what makes it so special. You may feel inspired to visit one day or to rediscover the charms of a city closer to you, but for now just sit back, relax and enjoy some vicarious travel.
How long have you lived in the city?
Since 1989! I was born and raised in Lincoln Park, about a mile from the lake on the city’s north side. I’ve also lived in Boston and New York, but have been back in my hometown for the past four years.
Tell us what makes your city unique.
‘Midwestern nice’ is a complete cliché, but one with absolute truth to it. Chicagoans are totally willing to strike up conversation with strangers – baristas, other beachgoers or other bar patrons. We hold doors and spit out our ‘pleases’ and ‘thank yous’ as our Midwestern mothers have drilled into us since birth.
What’s it like in July?
One word: alive. It’s no secret that Chicago is a frigid place to be in the winter (and the fall... OK, and maybe the spring, too). When summer rolls around, the city explodes with excitement. With music festivals nearly every weekend and easily accessible, in-city beaches, and paletas (Mexican popsicles), the buzz is irresistible.
Favourite time of day and why?
Dusk. I live on the west side of the city, so when the sun sets, the whole skyline is lit up and facing me. Plus, it’s happy hour – Chicagoans are big drinkers, so bars are already popping in the early evenings.
What’s the nature like?
We are sadly lacking in the ‘in city’ nature and hikes many other US cities enjoy. That said, we’re situated right on a gigantic lake. The lakefront trail has 18 miles of uninterrupted biking and running paths.
Where’s your favourite outdoor space?
I love Hollywood Beach (aka Kathy Osterman Beach), the unofficial gay beach of Chicago. On a hot summer day in the city, there’s nothing better than cooling your heels in Lake Michigan at this relatively quiet spot.
Tell us about the people who live in your city.
Few cities exude the civic pride that Chicago does. Our city dwellers, natives and transplants alike, carry a bit of a chip on their shoulder when it comes to being a »
Chicagoan. Beyond that, we’re incredibly friendly. We’re unafraid to indulge in food (our tacos are off the charts) and drink ( beer, beer and more beer, all brewed right here). Come to Chicago in July and you’ll see Chicagoans at their most Chicago.
Where are your favourite places to go with friends?
I’ll never get tired of the Athenian Room. It’s a (very) casual Greek-American diner right in the heart of Lincoln Park. My friends and I have been gathering there for catch-ups and gossip since we were kids. It’s also, notably, one of Tina Fey’s favorite spots, but I was totally there before it was cool.
Tell us about eating in your city.
Chicago has become a big foodie destination. We’re home to Alinea, perhaps the best restaurant in the country, and innovative, upscale eateries are a dime a dozen in neighbourhoods like West Loop and Logan Square. Those aren’t to be outdone by our craft beer scene, either – local breweries like Half Acre, Revolution Brewery and Begyle Brewery mean you’ll find fresh draft suds at any bar or restaurant. That said, it’s easy to eat well here without emptying your wallet.
What’s your favourite way to get about the city?
I always say that Chicago is in between LA and New York in its transportation culture: you can have a car here and it’s not a pain in the ass ( like it is in New York), but it’s not an absolute necessity to get around ( like it is in Los Angeles). That said, I don’t have a car, and rely mostly on public transport and Lyft or Uber. The “L” – that’s what we call our above-ground train system – will do just fine for visitors.
What types of shop do you most like to visit?
Chicago is stacked with cool vintage and record stores. You can find a lot of that along Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park.
Where do you like to escape to?
Chicago’s so massive that going to another neighbourhood can feel like you’re in a totally different world. Hollywood Beach is an awesome escape spot during the summer, and beer emporium The Hopleaf Bar and brunch destination Sauce and Bread Kitchen are always worth the trek north.
What has been your best discovery?
Parson’s Chicken & Fish is one of the city’s most popular summertime spots, slinging tasty fried chicken sandwiches, hush puppies (savoury doughnuts) and
“Chicago is like if New York just took a big breath and realised nothing is that big of a deal”
their signature Negroni slushy. Unsurprisingly, it gets slammed on nights and weekends in the summer. The secret? Go for brunch on a weekday. It opens every weekday at 11am and it’s totally relaxed. Grab a table and post up with your friends all day long.
When you’re away what do you miss most?
It’s tough to put a finger on it, but when I’m away, I really miss the pulse of the city. Chicago is like if New York just took a big breath and realised nothing is that big of a deal. The pace is slower, the people are friendlier and there’s an almost unspoken agreement to just stay in the moment.
What would surprise a newcomer to your city?
This seems silly, but it’s always the same one: newcomers can’t believe how big Lake Michigan is. They can’t get over the endless horizon, how it looks like an ocean. Perhaps when people hear “lake” they think of little inland lakes for motorboating and fishing. But they don’t call them the Great Lakes for nothing.
If you could change one thing about the city, what would it be?
I wish we had more access to outdoor activities. I’m so jealous of my friends in Seattle and San Francisco, who can hop in a car and be hiking in the mountains in just an hour. Some folks have second homes in Michigan, Wisconsin or Indiana – so if you have access to one of those, that’s lucky. The hikes and state parks and sand dunes are definitely out there, Indiana Sand Dunes National Lakeshore is just an hour outside the city in Northwest Indiana. You can easily get there by train. And Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie is an hour’s drive from Chicago, complete with buffalo and all the Midwestern feels. But you’ve got to really plan and work to get your nature time in if you live in Chicago.
Where would you recommend somebody to stay?
For visitors, I’d recommend finding a place in Wicker Park or Lincoln Park. The Loop, while home to big landmarks like Millennium Park and the Art Institute of Chicago, really shuts down on the weekends. Wicker Park and Lincoln Park are easily accessible to downtown, while maintaining their own pulse with fantastic shops, bars and restaurants. If you’re looking for a hipper getaway, go for Wicker Park; if you want to be near the lakefront, stay in Lincoln Park.
What keeps you in your city and where would you like to live if you could not live here?
Chicago has a particular pulse and aesthetic and sensibility that I love, but those feelings are all wrapped up in having grown up here. I’ve previously lived in New York and Boston, which I love. Maybe it’s time I experiment with some West Coast cities. »
The windy city is 1 certainly mighty pretty – the view from the South Lagoon in Lincoln Park.
The glittering waterfront, and behind, Chicago’s skyscrapers (and all that jazz).
A sketcher in Lincoln park.
An old newspaper box is now a ‘share box’ where people can leave and take books and DVDs.
Belmont harbour, a favourite with families, boaters and yacht clubs 2 3 4 5 »
Cyclists taking in the 1 view along Lake Michigan shore.
2 Art outside: colourful steet art in Pilsen, beneath the Pink Line L tracks. 3 A lighthouse on Hollywood Beach, Chicago’s most popular gay beach, with plenty of ‘razzle dazzle’.
4 The city’s towering skyline. 5 My Big Fat Greek lunch – a bite at The Athenian Room. 6 Joggers letting off steam on a former train route turned running and cycling track