It’s impossible to learn enough about a city after one visit. Think of it like going to the movies on a first date—do you really learn anything about the person?
Having said that, I recently traveled to Chicago for a long weekend to attend a conference. Although I can’t speak for the whole city, I’ve decided to make a list describing some of the things I noticed and experienced that made Chicago really interesting to me.
First, Chicago has a bizarre amount of revolving doors. I tend to notice revolving doors because, as someone with a very awkward sense of coordination, I need to mentally prepare myself to make it through without being an embarrassment. I started to wonder why I felt so drained until I realized it wasn’t me, and there really were revolving doors on most of the buildings. As it turns out, this is intentional. The revolving doors keep cold air, noise, and dirt outside, and they control city traffic better. Revolving doors also open easier than swinging doors, due to the pressure that builds at the ground level of tall skyscrapers. And, of course, revolving doors keep people paying attention.
Chicago also has a very specific, casual atmosphere which I really enjoyed. Of course, this is mostly in comparison to NYC, where it feels as though everyone is “dressed to impress” in their nice black coats and expensive shoes. In Chicago, everyone seemed dressed more practically. There were black coats, but they seemed as though they were designed more to keep out the cold than to look nice. People were also wearing shoes that looked more durable and comfortable than those I’ve noticed in other cities. On our first day, I was wearing a large, fleece-lined, black hoodie; black leggings; and gray Nike sneakers. A woman came up to me and asked for directions. I like to take this as a sign that I fit in—at least at first glance.
As for the food, like in other cities, many of the restaurants and cafes were pretty commercialized. A great example of this is the Nutella Cafe. To me, it seems like they took advantage of a trend that they knew they could make money off of, and they focused more on making sure everyone knew there was a Nutella cafe than on making a comfortable place to eat or a menu worth the price. However, I ordered a small Nutella flavored gelato and it was delicious. So at least it’s not a complete scam. I did try deep dish pizza, but I was underwhelmed. After walking around looking for a place to eat the famous pizza, we ended up at Pizano’s Pizza and Pasta. While we really enjoyed the cozy atmosphere of the restaurant, the pizza was pretty soggy and probably not what people refer to when they think of the “Chicago Deep Dish.” I’ll put that on the list to try again next time.
Similarly, the drinks in Chicago are expensive. Of course, this is to be expected in a city. But it definitely kept me from fulfilling my barhopping dreams. The places I enjoyed the most were the ones with the most laid-back environments—and slightly cheaper menus. My favorite is where I started and ended my night out: Lizzie McNiell’s Irish tavern. The food was greasy and wonderful, and the drinks were delicious. Plus, they had reasonable specials.
Chicago’s most laid back resident
Finally, I noticed that the Walgreens are extremely classy. Maybe this isn’t just unique to Chicago, but the Walgreens I’ve been in do not span over multiple floors (with an escalator connecting them), they do not contain liquor stores, and their customers do not enter through revolving doors. I have to say, I do prefer the Chicago Walgreens.
Unfortunately, three days in a new city is not enough to really understand it. If I get the chance to go back to Chicago, I’d love to check out the neighborhoods beyond where we stayed (which was near the Sheraton Grand Chicago). I’d like to try food from restaurants that seem less commercialized and more authentic. And I’d like to visit a part of the city where the name “Trump” on a riverfront skyscraper isn’t obtruding every view, so much so that the mayor placed restrictions on the size of new signs on buildings along the water. Then maybe Chicago and I will be ready for a second date.