When a city boasts a neighborhood named Boystown and it’s the heart of the LGBT community, you know you are in for a treat. Although Chicago is the third-largest city in the country in terms of population, it seems vastly different from Los Angeles and New York. Maybe it’s the Midwestern mentality that generates passion and hospitality among the locals. Or possibly its picturesque shore along Lake Michigan is what makes the Windy City a truly magical place.
Getting around Chicago is simple. Guests arriving at O’Hare or Midway airports can board a train to downtown, making transportation virtually painless and inexpensive. Once downtown, visitors can stay at any one of dozens of large hotels or opt for smaller boutiques. I chose to stay at the spectacular Radisson Blu.
The first of its kind in the United States, Radisson Blu, part of Aqua Tower, is a chic, 86-story towering oasis designed by Jeanne Gang near the shore of Lake Michigan. It features luxurious guest rooms, a state-of-the-art fitness center, conference space and Filini, an Italian-inspired restaurant and bar that was bustling with patrons almost every time I passed by. The hotel is just a 10-minute taxi ride from Boystown.
This fall and winter, the Art Institute of Chicago is presenting a tribute to Jeanne Gang, the developer of Radisson Blu and Aqua Tower. The exhibition, titled “Building: Inside Studio Gang Architects,” will be on display through Feb. 24 in the museum’s Architecture and Design Galleries.
The exhibit will feature more than a dozen projects framed around four major issues facing contemporary architecture: its relationship to nature, questions of density, building community, and architecture as performance.
In addition to Aqua Tower, SGA’s projects include the Hyderabad O2, a high-rise community in Hyderabad, India; an ecological revitalization project for Lincoln Park Zoo’s South Pond in Chicago; and Harbor Knot, a concert venue, maritime museum, and public park designed for Kaohsiung, Taiwan.
After an afternoon at the museum, head to Halsted Street, the heart of LGBT activity. The street is lined with dozens of gay bars, shops and restaurants, including the Kit Kat Lounge & Supper Club. The restaurant offers an innovative martini and cocktail menu, contemporary cuisine, entertainment by the world-famous Kit Kat Divas, and sleek decor.
Entrees are given names of TV and movie actors. Standouts include Gregory Peck, wagyu beef meatballs served with whole wheat spaghetti in a tomato-basil sauce, and Bea Arthur, a delicious skirt steak accompanied by baby spinach, gorgonzola and bacon with a mustard vinaigrette.
For traditional American fare, visit Halsted’s Bar & Grill, where diners can choose from a large selection of starters and entrees, including the restaurant’s famous selection of burgers. Some of my favorites were the Brie Mushroom Burger and Halsted’s Homemade Shrimp Burger, made with fresh shrimp mixed with peppers, onions and topped with avocado and herb aioli.
Boystown comes alive at sundown, and the streets are filled with revelers until the wee hours of the morning. There are almost too many gay bars to visit on one trip, but bar-hopping is encouraged so you can feel the vibe of this wonderful destination. Start off at Sidetrack, the largest bar in the city, which features a great rooftop beer garden and seven large rooms, catering to nearly every musical taste and style.
Just a few doors down is Minibar Ultra Lounge & Cafe, one of my favorite destinations in the city. The cozy space is perfect for an evening cocktail with friends or a great opportunity to meet the locals in an intimate setting. The bartenders here are extremely friendly and pour great drinks.
Roscoe’s is one of Chicago’s must-see venues, and it caters to a younger crowd. Food is served in the attached cafe next door, and the outdoor patio can get packed. Check out the monthly wet underwear contest, hosted by drag diva Frida Lay.
If partying isn’t your glass of vodka, catch a Cubs game at Wrigley Field or head to Soldier Field and watch the Bears take on one of their NFC rivals for an experience not to be missed.
You can’t truly experience Chicago without a trip to Navy Pier. The 50-acre oasis of entertainment, museums, activities, restaurants, and shops is the perfect place for some fun time with your partner or friends. The pier’s most eye-catching attraction is the 150-foot Ferris wheel, which offers great views of the city and Lake Michigan. Also check out the whimsical musical carousel, Wave Swinger lift-and-twirl ride, miniature golf course, and remote control boats.
Catch a movie on Chicago’s largest movie screen at the IMAX Theater. Or take a dynamic high-speed motion thrill ride to Antarctica on the Transporter FX. Navy Pier is always a great place to spend the afternoon.
Just a brisk walk from the hotel is Millennium Park, located in the heart of downtown Chicago. The park is an award-winning center for art, music, architecture and landscape design. The result of a unique partnership between the City of Chicago and the philanthropic community, the 24.5-acre park features the work of world-renowned architects, planners, artists and designers. Among Millennium Park’s prominent features are the Frank Gehry-designed Jay Pritzker Pavilion, a sophisticated outdoor concert venue; the interactive Crown Fountain by Jaume Plensa; and the Cloud Gate sculpture — what locals refer to as “The Bean.”
While in Chicago, pick up a copy of GRAB Magazine or the Windy City Times for local LGBT news and events. Plan to stay a minimum of five days to truly experience all of the wonderful sites and attractions Chicago has to offer.
For more information, visit www.ExploreChicago.org.
OUT Destinations is part of OUTreach Public Relations, a Nashville-based company specializing in LGBT marketing. Founded by Joey Amato in 2012, OUTreach PR has quickly become one of the most sought after companies for firms looking to target the ever growing and affluent LGBT consumer. For more information, please visit www.outreachpublicrelations.com.