April 2003: Chicago by Jacinta McGlynn

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By Jacinta McGlynn

cHIcago groupLying majestically on the shores of mighty Lake Michigan, Chicago was the venue for the Visit USA Committee trip in February 2003. Accessible by daily direct Aer Lingus flights, the city is an extremely popular destination and, of course, has huge Irish connections. By American standards, Chicago is almost more like a town than a city and the “loop” is so easy to manage on foot that it makes sightseeing a dream.

The first thing to hit you (literally in February!) is a cute little biting wind which chills to the marrow. Obviously not called the windy city for nothing! However, the weather can change in 10 minutes and a blue sky gives way to temperatures no colder than our own fair land. The shores of Lake Michigan were iced over, a fact which simply added to the “bbrrr” factor, but did not diminish its beauty. We scanned the lake daily for a glimpse of the State of Michigan on the other side, but we remained firmly rooted in Illinois.

A lovely sightseeing tour of the city gave us our bearings and offered a pleasant ramble through Lincoln Zoo; then it was off to Navy Pier for lunch at Joe’s BeBop Café.  Full of atmosphere, this pleasure pier boasts a ferris wheel, amusements and entertainers. We hit the shops next and parted with quite a few dollars along Chicago’s Magnificent Mile. That evening, a superb dinner was hosted by Alison Hough of the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau in the wonderful Phil Stefani Signature Restaurant, 437 Rush Street. Take it from me, rush right there for really memorable food.

A highlight of the trip for many of us was the Art Institute of Chicago where a world class collection of Impressionist paintings are on view. The Monet’s, Manet’s, Renoir’s, Van Gogh’s and even Picasso’s and Dali’s are truly breathtaking. Miss it at your peril. When not viewing art, we admired the beautiful city architecture including the famous Sear’s Tower, the Water Tower, Library et al.

The lovely new Fitzpatrick’s Hotel, brilliantly located just a few minutes walk from the Magnificent Mile, hosted dinner in the homely Irish bar where the homesick can revel in traditional home cooked food and even enjoy a pint of the black stuff! In the company of Debi Cretacci and Gail Orr, Joanne Hogg proudly showed us rooms and suites which are the epitome of taste, style and comfort.

Renowned for blues ‘n jazz, it was imperative that we check out the nightlife in Chicago, so with no persuasion whatsoever, we boogied and sashayed the night away in the Blues Bar. This was music to die for.  Several Irish pubs also received flying visits – well, you’d have to, wouldn’t you? Chicago likes its Irish music too as we saw advertisements for the Chieftains and the Irish Tenors who are giving concerts in the next few weeks.

Another treat afforded to us was the hospitality of Petersen’s Ice Cream Parlour Restaurant, hosted by Rosemary Keating of Oak Park CVB where we enjoyed a home cooked brunch in a truly traditional and typical American atmosphere. Just imagine home made ice cream, bottles of jewel coloured jelly beans and trays of toffee, chocolates and cakes, all laid out in a deliciously old fashioned setting with well worn floorboards and polite waiting staff. Still in the suburb of Oak Park, Gail Orr masterfully took us on a tour of some Frank Lloyd Wright houses and pointed out their architectural quirks and large (very!) gardens on which immense sums of tax are paid annually. This is wealth we only dream about….. Then we visited the home where Nobel prize winner, Ernest Hemingway was born. Ginny, our genial host, was an absolute mine of information and brought the house and its history alive.

Our final pitstop was another shopping spree in Oakbrook shopping centre before hightailing it off to the airport for our return flight to Dublin. Our sojourn in chic Chicago was made warmly welcome and utterly comfortable by the huge hospitality extended to us in the Chicago Hilton Towers Hotel, fronted by Public Relations Director, the lovely Linda Simonetti! Everything about the hotel was top class from our welcome reception, the elaborate lobby, the fantastic location on Michigan Avenue (overlooking the lake) to our executive rooms and service. For all us ER fans, we were thrilled to know that the hotel is frequently used in location for some episodes – remember all the helicopter landings? An added bonus in the hotel was the presence of the Chicago Bears Fan Convention and we got to see the team! Chicago – sure is my kinda town.

We offer our sincere thanks to Aer Lingus for excellent flights and service, to Tiffany Polydoris from the Illinois Trade and Tourism Office, to Alison Hough from the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau, to Jessica Benzon and Derek Hull from the Chicago Office of Tourism, to Cliff Carlson from Irish American News (Cliff, make sure it’s a nice photo!) and, finally, to our super mentor and organiser, Elaine Barrett, UK Representative Chicago & Illinois Tourist Office.

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