Blown away by Windy City
Welcome to a Stateside city awash with craft beer, blues music and sports fever.
It's a fantastic fantasy I've oft had, never believing such an American dream could become reality.
Choose Chicago changed all that, allowing us to breeze into Windy City for trip that blew us away.
Illinois home of nudging three million inhabitants, its cityscape is punctuated by skyscrapers such as iconic John Hancock Center, towering 1,451 feet above, and neo-Gothic Tribune Tower, while museums including Architecture Center and Art Institute of Chicago make it a mecca for culture vultures.
Where to stay: Gallagher Way - not Oasis sibling sparring, rather Wrigleyville's town square - is home to recently opened Hotel Zachary, within pitch of world-renowned Wrigley Field baseball ground. Also Major League, the Tribute Portfolio accommodation offers stadium view suites from private balconies. Inspired by designs of eponymous architect Zachary Taylor Davis, the boutique venue seamlessly blends heritage and modernity, boasting two on-site dining destinations amid artistic touches and thoughtful amenities. Five mile radius affords accessibility to such tourism magnets as Lake Michigan, Navy Pier, Magnificent Mile, Lincoln Park Zoo, Magic Hedge, Old Town Aquarium, Aquatic World, Lakefront Path and Winnemac Park.
Where to visit: Baseball, basketball and American football are stars - and stripes - of second city's sporting scene. Simply cross the road from ideally located base to join the pack supporting Chicago Cubs via iconic entrance, made famous by 1986 slackers' celebration that is cult comedy film Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Built back in 1914, this atmospheric arena reveals seating bowl, dugout, clubhouse, bullpen, press box, ivy wall, field and Budweiser Bleachers for we bums. Named since 1920 after owner, Juicy Fruit magnate William Wrigley Jr, it was an "eeh bah gum" moment for this Yorkshire lad.
Across town you're guaranteed equally warm welcome at Guaranteed Rate Field, home of White Sox, where you can share excitement - and some confusion among we unaccustomed Brits - as well as Kraft Kaves' and Tap Room's hundred-plus brews, with as many as 40,000 vociferous fans. That's just a ballpark figure.
CityPASS allows admission to most iconic attractions, hand-picked and packaged in one convenient ticket booklet at big savings, visiting famous landmarks and amazing architecture from Shedd Aquarium Skydeck, The Field Museum, Museum of Science and Industry, 360 Chicago Adler Planetarium. Transport of delight that is BIGBUS Chicago sightseeing tours meanwhile take extensive routes, showcasing best this city has to offer. Enjoy exploring this dynamic destination with freedom to hop-on and hop-off at will.
Wendella Original Architecture Tour traverses heart of the city on all three branches of the river, documenting more than 130 years' innovation in design, style and technique. American Writers Museum meanwhile, first of its kind in the US, celebrates State-side wordsmiths, exploring their influence on global history and identity through innovative and dynamic state-of- the-art exhibitions.
Second City Neighborhood Tour blends humour and history, walking while being entertained and educated about architecture, history and development of Old Town alumni haunts and legendary stories that accompany, culminating at theatre lobby photo display documenting over 55 years of classic comedy.
Walking tour of Lakeview & Southport Corridor takes in majestic Music Box Theater where vibrant streets are home to some of Chicago’s best culture and dining, eclectic mix of “off-loop” stages and ultimate shopping experience as well as farmers’ market and community events.
Water way to explore the city from completely different vantage point, courtesy of Urban Kayaks, passing pedestrian walkways, architectural masterpieces and dramatic views or, even more adventurous, paddle to Navy Pier to watch nocturnal fireworks.
Where to wine (well, beer) and dine: Food and beverage tokens are just the ticket for Taste of Chicago, the nation's premier outdoor foodie fest showcasing diversity of regional dining community. Every summer since 1980, giant Grant Park on magnificent lakefront, has been home to the world's largest such celebration.
Revival Food Hall is 15-restaurant dining concept spotlighting best of Chicago’s acclaimed culinary scene under one roof. Massive 24,000 square feet venue has street-side pride of place in The National, 20-storey restoration of historic 1907 building, first floor food hall hosting events for up to 500 guests while upper The Lounge accommodates indoor-outdoor cocktail party for as many as 250. Great grub on so many levels.
Half Acre Balmoral Tap Room boasts two breweries north-side, cultivating classic American micro styles, weighted barrel offerings and wyld beers that "traverse landscape of mixed fermentation". Their mission statement "to brew technically raw beer for the collective odyssey" is equally intoxicating. Decade-old Lincoln original brew house sees shop, tap room and kitchen while sister site also gives garden respite.
Mordecai bi-level bar and restaurant offers full menu serving refined States-inspired grilled fare. New destination for discerning diners and drinkers, developed by award-winning cocktail bar Billy Sunday creators Folkart Restaurant Management, extensive back bar features one of the country’s largest selections of collectable vintage spirits, specialising in rare whiskey.
Enjoy Deep Dish Pizza Lou Malnati’s Gold Coast, considered upper crust family name in Chicago cuisine, staying true to original recipe first created in 1950s. Famed for its buttery, flaky crust, sweet and tangy tomatoes, gooey mozzarella cheese and perfectly seasoned sausage, it remains pan-tastic.
Windy City Smokeout adds up to beer, BBQ and country tunes at river-side Grand Avenue venue that's at its grandest during summer music fest, hosted by Bub City and award-winning Joe's on Weed Street, showcasing country artists from Brett Young to Brett Eldredge.
Corridor Brewery & Provisions is craft ale restaurant owing much of its popularity and success to Director of Brewing Operations Brant Dubovick's beer programme, consisting of ever-changing draft list with styles ranging from Double Dry Hopped IPAs to funk-forward saisons and other experimental styles.
Sin & Suds Beer Tour with Chicago Beer Experience ends at Vice District Brewing after sampling, not only ales, but rich history straddling saloons, gambling, Prohibition and crime lords like Al Capone whose nefarious activities rocked the neighbourhood.
Dubbed Malt Row, Ravenswood Corridor and surrounding area is home to some of Chicago’s most unique craft beer options with tour highlights including Koval Distillery, Dovetail Brewery and Spiteful Brewing.
Across the city, drinks at Lucky Dorr add up to 20 tempting rotation drafts, exclusively brewed by top local craft breweries, along with classic kegged cocktails and ballpark snacks. Have a ball in ball park's shadow.
Blues and brews combine at Brewery Bar Motor Row Brewing, taking its name from historic Motor/Record Row area, at turn of last century home to more than 100 different makes of automobiles while Record Row was in 1950s and '60s base of world famous Chess Records and current home of Willie Dixon’s Blues Heaven Foundation museum.
Also enjoy top tunes at Kingston Mines, founded in 1968 as city's largest and oldest continuously operating blues club in Chicago. Its two stages have been graced by likes of artists from Magic Slim to Sugar Blue. Award-winning hosts, the Pellegrino family, advise "hear blues - drink booze - talk loud - you're among friends!"
We'll drink - and dance - to that, celebrating Second City that is undoubted first when it comes to thirst-quenching appreciation of quality music and sport.