Category Archives: Chicago

Tour the Chicago Theater

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Just a short walk a few blocks east of the Ogilvie Metra Station is the theater district. Our destination yesterday was The Chicago Theater.    We were going to see Straight No Chaser, so we planned ahead to do a tour of the theater earlier in the day.  The tour lasts over an hour and visitors get to really appreciate the architecture since the building is empty.  Below is just a few of the thousands of light bulbs in the front of this theater.  How many people does it take to change these light bulbs?  …sounds like a joke I’ve heard about a million times, but this would be a real job!

Below the bulbs are all lit….still can’t imagine how long it takes to change these babies.

The Chicago Theater opened in 1921 as a movie house and was the first of its kind.  It was a model for other theaters that followed.  For 40 years the theater was known for movies and live entertainment.  But from the 70’s until the mid 80’s the theater business hit a lull and the theater was eventually closed in 1985.  In 1986, the theater was purchased and saved from demolition.  (Are you starting to see a pattern here?  People love to knock things over.  It doesn’t end in childhood.  Thank goodness for the other little kids who yell …nooooo, I’m gonna tell Mom!!)  The theater was saved, refurbished and reopened in 1986 with Frank Sinatra as a headliner.

To marvel at the workmanship, is an understatement in this building. It was covered and remodeled in the 50’s with Formica and other trends at the time, but they were smart enough just to cover the details.  All of it was preserved underneath to appreciate today.

At just .25 for the ticket, this was an event, not just a movie.  Even the entrance to the men’s restrooms is elegant.  This is where the men would lounge and have a pipe or cigar with the guys.


Elegance and opulence was the intention.  The ceilings of today just don’t seem to get this much attention…

Treat yourself to this grand dame of a building.   A Christmas Story, the Musical, is here for the rest of December. Next time you are there for a concert or musical, try to take a tour ahead of time and take time to look around…there is so much to see from days gone by.

Straight No Chaser is still in town, by the way, at The Rosemont Theater tonight (Dec 4) at 7:30. Run to the phone if you want to get tickets.  Both shows were sold out yesterday.  They were OUTstanding. Or get some of their music, you will love it.

The Chicago Theater

The Rosemont Theater

Ogilvie Metra Station

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Thanks, Maggie!

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Timing.  Timing is everything.  I had been saving the following blog for when the weather got colder since it describes an inside tour.  I thought it would be a good thing for people to do when it was just too bitter to be out in the wind.  And then Maggie Daley died.  I knew immediately what I was going to submit this weekend.

As it has been spoken and written about this weekend, Maggie Daley was a “Champion of Culture”.  She gracefully pushed to have the city infused with it. The building that will host her visitation was high on her list of beautiful importance that deserved to be preserved, renovated, and put to use for the people of Chicago and visitors.  I am happy to give you a visitor’s view…

 Culture: Free for the Taking

Free things are usually classified as “And it was worth every penny.” or     “Wow! That was free!”.  I stumbled upon this free tour while I was in the Chicago Cultural Center the other day.  I actually was there to take the Chicago InstaGreeter walking tour and another tourist recommended this one.  It is a guided 1 hour tour of the Cultural Center building itself.

The building was built for the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893.  It is a building you might pass on the corner of Michigan Avenue and Randolph when you are at Millennium Park without even really noticing it. But if you look closely enough, it is a real gem of a building that was just days from being bulldozed when it was renovated in 1974.  The building was first built as a library to show the rest of the world that Chicago had class and that they were educated and cultured and not the “aggies” that everyone in New York thought they were.  There is so much marble in the building it will make your head spin.  It reminds me of a lot Rome with the marble and detail in the cathedrals there.  But the real surprise is the incredible amount of the Tiffany glass that is inlaid in the marble on the walls.

In the photo below is a sample of just how much.  If you stand in this particular spot, you can see all 5 floors….of white marble.

The building was days away from destruction, electricity cut off and bulldozers ready, when the first Mayor Daley stopped it and decided then and there to start preserving old historic and beautiful buildings. (History says that his wife, Eleanor “Sis” Daley, and other ladies were behind this…happy wife, happy life.) I cannot imagine what they were thinking when contemplating bulldozing this place.  It is literally full of marble.

The tour is approximately one hour and is full of historical nuggets of information regarding this time in our history, not too long after the end of the Civil War and after the Great Chicago Fire.

Our tour guide was very knowledgeable and kept the group interested by asking questions. I am the proud owner of much useless information inside this coconut of mine, so I answered some questions.  (You know in school when you are saying under your breath…”When am I EVER going to need to know this stuff?”… on a day like today, that’s when.  If you were wondering what this useless, but prize winning info was… I will brag…What is the the origin of the t-shirt? and What is the pineapple a symbol of?… Rhodes Scholar, I know….and no, I will not give you the answers.  Just like your teachers used to say…”Do I look like an encyclopedia?  Go look it up.”)

I would advise that this tour is not for real little ones.  They might want to poke their eyes out if you bring them along.  Actually, they might want to poke your eyes out if you bring them along.

The domes, yes plural, are amazing.

The Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) Rotunda, a tribute to the Civil War, has doors that are this big and overhead are etchings of the battles won.

Since this building originally was the 1st Chicago Public Library, the Preston Bradley Hall has many references to literature and books,

and authors.

And here is another stained glass Tiffany dome from the Preston Bradley Hall.  This is the hall where the books were delivered to patrons.  A downloaded book could never give you the goosebumps this room can give. The day I was there a pianist was giving a free concert playing the most gorgeous music and it really did bring tears to my eyes.

This is the amazing view of Millennium Park from the upstairs window.

The views inside and out are well worth seeing.  (This one falls under the category of “Wow! And it’s free!”)  What a bargain!  No reservations are needed, but the tours are only on certain days of the week.  Best to check the website.  There are free events planned in this building daily.  It is a great inside tour if the weather is snarky outside.  And you just never know when you are going to stumble upon some culture…

like a free concert,

or two,

a soft chair,

or a good bowl of Cajun Corn Chowder.

Go see the Chicago Cultural Center and tip your hat to the Daley women.  The one who saved it and the one who brought it to life.  Thanks, Maggie. Your legacy will definitively live on.

<a class="taxInlineTagLink" id="PECLB001937" title="Maggie Daley" href="/topic/politics/maggie-daley-PECLB001937.topic">Maggie Daley</a> toasts the unveiling of the first live floral carpet and the tulip design "Tulipa Maggie Daley" at the <a class="taxInlineTagLink" id="PEHST000867" title="John Hancock" href="/topic/arts-culture/john-hancock-PEHST000867.topic">John Hancock</a> Center in Chicago. Tulipa Maggie Daley is an elegant, pink lily-flowering tulip that has been years in development. Maggie Daley loves tulips, even carried them in her bouquet when she married that guy who runs the city. She's the first mayor's wife ever to be honored with her own Dutch bloom and joins a select group of other first ladies -- Laura and <a class="taxInlineTagLink" id="PECLB0004543" title="Barbara Bush" href="/topic/politics/government/presidents-of-the-united-states/barbara-bush-PECLB0004543.topic">Barbara Bush</a> and Hillary Clinton -- who have tulips named for them.

Photo Credit: William DeShazer, Chicago Tribune / May 6, 2010  http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/chi-maggie050610toast20100506095210,0,5366786.photo

Greetings, Canadians!

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Although I have lived 1 hour from Chicago my entire life, I usually have only done the normal touristy stuff.  Sears Tower and Water Tower as a kid, Wrigley and old Comiskey as a teen, musicals and plays as a young married, museums as a new parent and Michigan Ave and restaurants as a …what am I now?  not sure…dare I say it…middle aged?  I even recently went to the Lyric for 2 seasons.  I was not middle aged there.  I felt YOUNG!  We have been to Venetian Night, 4th of July Fireworks, Air and Water Show, etc…but I have never really known the REAL city of Chicago.  So when we moved close to the Metra I was excited to get to know the city.  Chicago ~ Maureen,  Maureen ~ Chicago.

I found the Chicago Greeter website and did a little research about which tour would fit me.  Some tours require a 7-10 day window to match you with a greeter, but InstaGreeter is a lot more flexible and I just didn’t want to commit unless the weather was good.  (Yes, I am a fair weather fan for sports and everything else.)  This was how pretty the day was…

So I hopped on the UP-W line and headed in on the first nice day that was also a Friday, because Instagreeters only do weekends.   I arrived at the Chicago Cultural Center building on the corner of Michigan and Randolph in the late morning and found the counter inside easily enough.

The note on the counter said they would be back at 11:30.  The tours take a little over an hour so I had time to spare before and roamed around the building.  It really is a cool place.  (More on that later.)  There is a giant map on the wall and I decided to take the LOOP tour.

When the tour guide came back ready to give another tour, we had to fill out a short form to say where we were from.  There was only 1 other woman waiting with me for the tour.  She wrote down Vancouver, Canada.  I wrote Wheaton, IL.  The greeter raised her eyebrows, tipped her chin down and said…”You’re from Wheaton?”

Have you ever had an imaginary conversation in a matter of a second?  In the time it took her to raise her eyebrows and tip her chin, here is what we said…in my imagination, that is…

Her: You’re from Wheaton?

Me:  Yes, why?

Her: Why do you need a tour? You’re from Wheaton.

Me:  Because I’ve only lived there 2 months. And before that I lived in Morris…you’re right, I probably should have written Morris, since that is south of the Mason Dixon Line.  One hour is muuuuch different that 45 minutes.  And actually the story is complicated and I kind of still live in both…

Her: I guess you can walk along, but I probably won’t address you .  I will only talk to this worthy tourist from Canada.

Me:  But …but I’ve never seen the REAL Chicago.  The real working Loop.  I still get lost sometimes on the one-way streets. I am worthy…I am worthy…I am worthy…

Her: Well OK, whatever…

Me:  Ugh.

I know that seemed like a lot of silent communicating in one second, but that really is what the brain is capable of when someone raises their eyebrows and lowers their chin.  She did chill out after I proved myself to be a good listener and question asker.  Next time I am going to say I am from Canada.

So we headed toward the Thompson Center.  I have never been inside before…

It is surprising to think that the inside looks like this,

when the outside looks like this.

We hit lots of landmarks and just regular office buildings and banks.  Here is one that the inside looks like this…

The whole ceiling is lined in gold foiling…really gorgeous.

We visited City Hall and the County Building (same building – different entrances).

We walked to the Board of Trade  (that building right at the end of the street…See? I can be a real tourist?? I can stand in the street while a taxi is coming right at me and take a picture….worthy, I tell you.)

and the Rookery

This was all remodeled because it was so dark at one time, but they left one column open on one side to see the original intricate wood work from yester-year.  The remodel was a Frank Lloyd Wright creation.

We saw a church I had never noticed before…Yes, that is a church on top of that skyscraper.

This is the beautiful entrance.

…and the Chicago Loop Synagogue, which after going to their website, I wish I had seen the stained glass after dark.  Chicago seems to have been built as a very religious city.  There are lots of evidence of faith in the obvious and not so obvious places.

And also lots of beautiful artwork where you least expect it.

I loved seeing the part of the city, known as The Financial District, which doesn’t technically serve as a tourist destination, (There was no cotton candy or lemon shake-ups to be found.) but more of a work destination.  The architecture is beautiful and the interior details had to cost a fortune at the time.  To replace any of it today would be a Bill Gates’ fortune.

I have never worked in the city so I had no real reason for going to this area to explore.  My brother was at the Board of Trade for a while, but I have no idea how we got there.  Now I know.  You will, too, if you take a tour with an Instagreeter.  So be brave, be proud…explore the city and write down where you are really from……Canada.

2 Hoots for 2 Toots

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Calling all kids or kids at heart…come in close so “they” can’t hear.  I have a really great idea for your parents or grandparents to do with you…shhh…I’ll do the talkin’….just stay quiet….and try to look cute.

If you have a kiddo who really loves trains or has never been on a train, I have a trip for you.  While I was in Elmhurst the other day there was a young couple, their little child, and grandpa heading 5 minutes to Glen Ellyn for lunch at the  2 Toots Train Whistle Grill.   I made a mental note to check it out for you.


See this map below??  Ignore this map below.  The Google location is not correct if you frequently use that method for directions.

It is straight west of the Metra stop on the north side of the tracks.  Just walk across Main Street and you are there.  It is a delicious burger joint that delivers your food on a train.  There is counter seating and booth seating and all of the tables are on the train track that encircles the restaurant.  The food is kid friendly, but tasty for grown ups too, plus there are options for vegetarians if that is what you prefer.  (There is a veggie burger, tuna salad, egg salad, Spring garden salad, grilled cheese and PB & J.)

The hand-packed hamburgers are made the old fashioned way.  They are made using Bill Kurtis’ Tallgrass Beef .  (As you may know, Bill Kurtis, CBS Anchorman and founder and Chairman of Tallgrass Beef, owns a ranch in Sedan, Kansas and raises grass fed cattle.)  The burgers and fries and delicious desserts are perfectly complimented by the 50’s music and casual family atmosphere. They are known for their burgers, but a source close to me at the counter said they have great milkshakes!  The kids can also get a train whistle in the top of their homemade cupcake, which your grown-up ears may or may not consider as a bonus.

The Ryan Family from Glen Ellyn enjoy the restaurant and appreciate that they have a fun place to take the boys right in their own hometown.  Their oldest son is able to request 2 Toots as his choice for lunch already and his parents commented that they are glad that Glen Ellyn has a vibrant downtown and are happy to support it.


The servers were genuinely friendly and paid the kids plenty of attention.  They said that it is busy almost everyday and I can attest to that.  By 12:00 on a Monday, almost all of the seats were filled.  The tables and counter are first come-first served.  The website follows if you would like to check out the menu before heading out.
http://www.2toots.com/

To make your little ones happy, just take the UP-West Metra line to Glen Ellyn.

And for my “southern” friends:

(That would be anyone south of Interstate 80 or what I like to think of as the Mason Dixon line in Illinois,…do ya’ll have accents down there?)

A great idea would be to go to Elburn by taking 47 N,  jumping on the UP-W Metra line there and taking a little ride to Glen Ellyn.   This accomplishes two things.  You and your young ones get to ride on a train and you also get to have a fun lunch.  The ride is scenic from Elburn to Geneva and then suburban through West Chicago, Winfield, Wheaton and Glen Ellyn. Of course it would be faster to drive straight to the restaurant, but that would be missing out on the train ride, duh.

If you are unfamiliar with riding the train, they announce your stops so you will know when you are getting close.  You can buy a “10 ride”  ticket if you have 5 or less in your party.  It is a little cheaper that way  OR  if you are travelling on the weekend, you can buy a “weekend pass”  and get unlimited stops on the train and get off and on as much as you want. You could continue all the way into Chicago if you want a fun-filled train day.  On a beautiful weather day, it would be a great way to enjoy it.  No parking fees, no traffic, and a good walk for your legs.  Let me know if you need any help, I would be glad to assist.  Also, I have found that the conductors on the train are extremely helpful if you ask.

Download one of my favorite apps, the QikRide App, for your phone for times…

or here is the Metra website

Ok kids, how did we do? …Let me know if they take you.  All aboard!!



Bike the Lake

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My train trip today took me back to Chicago.  It is like a magnetic force.  I can’t stay away on a gorgeous day.  After walking through Millenium Park (on the day that it was all mine), I saw the McDonald’s Cycle Center.  The center rents so many bikes and I made a note-to-self to come back to do it.  For $30 I was able to rent a bike and ride the beautiful lake front. I met a friend and we hit the pavement.

http://www.chicagobikestation.com/

This is the first thing I saw when I crossed Lake Shore Drive.

I only had two hours to ride since motherhood was calling my name after school.  We headed north to Navy Pier and then past Oak Street Beach and Belmont Harbor.  I desperately needed to stop for a bottle of water.  When I was buying the water I asked (pointing to an old structure near the lake), “Hey, what is that over there?”  And he said, “Restrooms.”  I said, ” That huge old building is just restrooms??”  He said…”Yep.”

So we had to venture over to see the fanciest restrooms with the best view in the city.

We were so surprised to come upon this.

Ok, so they weren’t restrooms.  It was a golf course!  It is called the Sydney R. Marovitz Park District Course.

The Clubhouse/Clock Tower was so neat and very old.

The stone walls look Scottish and the view is spectacular.

(Although in Scotland they didn’t use mortar and the walls are still standing hundreds of years later.)

This is an original rendering of the clock tower.

That’s “constructed in 1931”.

We got all wrapped up in this unexpected find when we realized we had to be back to return the bike and book it to the train station so we rode like the wind, …oh wait, I meant we rode against the wind all the way back until our legs were burning.  We made it back with time to spare so I could take more pictures of, you guessed it, …FOOD!!

These food trucks must be a new addition to Randolph St.  I don’t ever remember seeing these before.  I have seen really great ones in Portland, but never here.

(As you might notice, it has a new ad for the TV show “The Chew” on the side.)

And with 20 minutes to spare, I was so so so tempted to stop in and visit Patrick during his first week of school, just like when he went to preschool.  I had to resist running into the Sun Times Building and standing outside the classroom and waving through the window.

…how embarrassing would that be??

Hi Honey!! Mommy came to visit!! It makes me laugh just to imagine it.

So I stayed this far away.  No chance of embarrassment from here, right?

That building right next door is the Merchandise Mart.  It was at this very moment I decided I am glad I am not a window washer.

I was also early enough to try out a different food shop in the train station named LavAzza.

Pretty, huh?

I went with the giant chocolate chip cookie and an iced coffee.

It was the least I could do after that grueling 12 minute, I mean, 12 mile ride.   Another fun day on the UP-W line!


Part II…

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Chicago is a much different place on a sunny Monday morning.  That is the time to do your sight seeing.  Traffic was light for crossing streets and I felt like I could snap away with my camera as much as I wanted.  The 9-10 block walk between Ogilivie and Millennium Park is mostly theaters, restaurants, and some shopping, ie. Macy’s, Zara, Puma and some parking garages.  Millennium Park without crowds is like a quiet haven in the middle of the city.

Cloud Gate or “The Bean” is not the only part of the park.

The Pritzker Pavilion and Great Lawn are so different when empty.

And the planters and urns are filled to the brim with color.  Can you believe this?? NO people…downtown…in the city…in the middle of Millennium Park?

The Fall has got to be one of the best times to appreciate all of the plants.  Everything is so full and the heat has finally backed off from the daily lashing so they look so happy.

I need to go back in the Spring during the planting days…can you imagine the team it takes to decorate this city?

I think if I happened to be homeless, I would pick this room in the park too.  Can’t say that all things are perfect, but it is always a reminder to count your blessings.

After I explored for a while, I was lucky enough to meet two friends.  One I have known for over 10 years and one I have known for over 25 years!  This is Debbie with Marilyn (not my other friend…her name is Kelly) .  Debbie just watched the movie Contagion…She didn’t really want to touch the feet or legs of Ms. Monroe.  They need a good scrub brush after these few short weeks of being out here.

We walked along the Chicago River, met Kelly (friend #2) for lunch and even took a water taxi. It goes from Michigan Avenue, to the Sears (Willis) Tower, Chinatown and back. Great sights and cheap fun for $6 for an all day pass.   Yes…I just said $6. If you really want a shocker…$2 for each leg of the ride if you just want to do a quick ride for fun.

You can get out and browse around Chinatown.  We opted for next time because of the train schedule.

The views are spectacular.

I haven’t seen the city from this vantage point before.  We took the River Taxi, but the Shoreline Water taxi runs from Willis Tower, to  Michigan Avenue to Navy Pier, and the Shedd Aquarium (museum campus). For researching the taxis on your own, here is the link.

http://www.chicagotraveler.com/water-taxis.htm

So as you can see we crammed a lot into a few short hours and a 10 block rectangle.   So many more plans now for the future though…

If you didn’t get to Chicago this summer, go now.  The fall is the perfect time. Not too hot, not too cold, but still absolutely gorgeous.  And I recommend a weekday morning.  I think you feel a cough coming on, right?