Saturday, August 9, 2014

Chicago 2014

From time-to-time on this blog, I write about my travels. This is going to be one of those posts.

I spent my August long weekend in Chicago, attending Lollapalooza. It’s a trip I’ve done before and one I’d love to do again. While I’ll be posting about the festival over on my other blog (Lolla is supposed to be coming to Toronto next summer); I’m going to post here about a few other ways I spent my money in Chi-town.

InterContinental Chicago Magnificent Mile
The hotel pool, pic taken from its site
Regular Lolla tickets sold out before the lineup was ever announced which resulted in Husband and I having to buy a travel package that included our tickets and three nights stay at a downtown hotel. A few options were available and we went with the InterCon as the location was right and the price wasn’t bad (it wasn’t cheap or even a deal but the price online was the same as the price in the package so I felt like what I was paying was fair).

I was a bit worried that because we’d booked through a Lolla travel pack, we’d be given a crappy room but nope, we were given a standard, King room in the modern wing. While it wasn’t a big room, it had everything we needed, including one of the most comfortable beds I’ve ever slept in. We were up on the 23 floor and city noise wasn’t an issue (yes, you will still hear sirens but you’re a city, deal with it).

My only issue is that our room had two adjoining doors (one on either side of the room), which leaked noise from the adjoining room. Thankfully our neighbours weren’t very loud but I can see how this could be a problem.

The hotel is located about 25 minutes from Grant Park, where the festival is held, and right in the middle of Chicago tourism centre. Shopping, dining, Navy Pier, river cruises, they are all a short walk from this hotel that, in addition to a modern tower, also has a historic hotel.

If you do stay here, be sure to visit the stunning pool located on that side and poke around the ballroom and various conference rooms located in the historic tower (we found them to all be unlocked and empty). They are some truly stunning spaces.

Howells & Hoods 
Located at the bottom of the Tribune Tower, this restaurant was nice and close to our hotel, the InterContinental, so we decided to pop in for brunch. That turned out to be one of the best decisions we made all trip as this place serves an an awesome brunch buffet. At around $30, it wasn’t cheap but it was more than worth the price. There was an omelet bar that made massive omelets, two carving stations, a salad bar, assorted baked goods and desserts, all the usual breakfast offerings, three different kinds of salmon and even fried chicken (I have never seen fried chicken at a brunch buffet before and I have been to a lot of them).

But it’s not just the variety that makes this buffet top-notch; the quality is also there. Pretty much everything was delicious, with the exception of one of the cheeses and one of the squares, which just weren’t my thing.

The service was excellent and while there was a lineup on Saturday, Sunday was almost quiet.  We easily got a seat on the lovely, spacious patio and there was additional seating inside, where a live blues band was playing.

I would happily go back to this place and stuff myself some more.

Weber Grill Restaurant 
This place was Husband’s choice and I have to admit that I was skeptical. I mean, it’s a restaurant run by a BBQ company. But it actually wasn’t bad, at least when it came to meat.

Husband got the BBQ sampler, a dish that can be ordered a few different ways. He went with chicken, ribs, beans and mashed potatoes and was pleased by all of it. I tried the chicken and potatoes and was particularly impressed by the last item, which were creamy and had just the right amount of garlic in them.

I went with the grilled wild king salmon and it was a little overdone. But then I was ordering fish at a BBQ place. It was accompanied by a simple but tasty green salad that was livened up with generous flakes of Parmesan cheese.

The prices were quite reasonable while portions were large. There was also a more creative-than-expected drink selection. The service was also top-notch as it was friendly, speedy and informative.

While not for everyone, the wide menu selection, great service and reasonable prices make this a good choice for families.

The Lincoln Park Zoo
I still cannot believe that this zoo is free! It’s home to dozens of lovely creatures, including seals, various big cats, giraffes and even gorillas. It’s an older zoo, so some of the enclosures are a bit small. However, the zoo itself is clean, in good repair and the animals look healthy and even happy. Most of them were also out and about, even though we were there on a warm summer day.

As you would expect, this zoo is pretty busy and filled with kids and family. If crowds aren’t your thing, go later in the day or during the school year. Also try to eat before you get there as the on-site food offerings aren’t particularly good.

If you’re staying over on the Magnificent Mile, you can make a nice afternoon out of walking to and from the zoo, going along the beach one way and through the city on the other.

Eataly Chicago
I’m a big fan of the Manhattan outpost of this all-things-Italian stop however, even I’ll admit that that location can be a little nuts. Because of that, I was expecting crowds, chaos and a 30-minute wait for pizza (amazing pizza mind you) in Chicago. But nope, we walked in at 6 pm and were immediately seated in the pizza restaurant. While it did fill up, the space never felt cramped and service was never rushed.

Unlike many other Chicago restaurants, the portions served here are more reasonable (though I still had to take my pizza in a to-go box). They are also well-priced, considering the quality of food you’re getting.

As at the New York location, this business is more than a restaurant. It offers a wealth of shopping options, a coffee bar and more, including some very tasty desserts.

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