A century ago, poet Carl Sandburg called Chicago "stormy, husky, brawling/city of the Big Shoulders" in an eponymous poem that still echoes city life today. Indeed, Chicago is stormier and huskier than ever, with political scandals breaking more frequently than the El train circles the Loop. But it's also cleaner, greener, and more urbane than expected—with bold new architecture, abundant green space, and a vibrant dining scene. So what will you find when you visit: a rough-and-tumble Midwestern town or a sophisticated metropolis? The answer is both, and much, much more.
…is continually building and rebuilding. The iconic skyline dominates postcards and tourist snapshots—and for good reason. Architecture fans are excited to see the city that Daniel Burnham, Louis Sullivan, and Frank Lloyd Wright built, but modern development has also brought new energy. Recent years have seen the birth of the Millennium Park lakefront, the 92-story Trump Tower Chicago, and the innovative Aqua, an 82-story tower with balconies designed to look like waves. Development doesn't come without controversy, however. Some older buildings have been torn down to make way for the new, and preservationists decry each loss of a historic building to the wrecking ball.
…may have a little problem with corruption. Speaking of controversy, Chicago's political scene has witnessed the highest highs and the lowest lows in recent years. The high point: when about a quarter-million Chicagoans of every age, shape, and ethnicity gathered downtown to celebrate Illinois Senator Barack Obama's historic presidential election in 2008. The low point: pick one. Governor (and Chicago resident) Rod Blagojevich's 2011 conviction for trying to sell Obama's vacated Senate seat? Illinois Representative Jesse Jackson Jr.'s 2013 guilty plea to criminal charges of diverting campaign funds for personal use? Cook County Commissioner William Beavers's 2013 conviction for tax evasion? The Associated Press reported that there were 1,531 convictions for public corruption here between 1976 and 2010, the most of any district in the country.
…is a foodie's paradise. Visitors expecting deep-dish pizza and Italian beef sandwiches won't be disappointed, but they will have to elevate their expectations a hundredfold. Chicago is—dare we say it?—the most exciting city in the country for dining right now. It seems like there's a Food & Wine Best New Chef or Top Chef winner on every block. Sample cutting-edge cuisine from chef Grant Achatz at Next and Alinea, Homaro Cantu at Moto, and Graham Elliot at his eponymous restaurant. Gather for perfectly composed small plates at Stephanie Izard's Girl & the Goat, try to get reservations at Michael Carlson's notoriously always-booked Schwa, and venture north to Lincoln Square to the Michelin-starred Goosefoot (don't forget, it's BYOB). Or just spend your entire visit in Logan Square, where you'll have your pick of Lula Café, Telegraph Wine Bar, Longman & Eagle, and Revolution Brewing. Satisfied yet? We didn't even mention the hundreds of neighborhood ethnic eateries that let you dine across the globe without ever leaving the city.
…is in transition. Mayor Richard M. Daley's 22-year reign was a period of incredible resurgence for the city, complete with environmental development, sustainable building, and a failed Olympics bid. But it wasn't always diplomatic or even democratic, and the jury's still out on his replacement, another tough-talking Democrat—this time Obama's former chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel. His administration's hard-line tactics led to a highly contentious teachers’ union strike in 2012, and kicked off 2013 with an unpopular decision to close 54 schools, the most in the city's history. The economy is still flailing, and devastating gun violence plagues the city's South and West sides.
…remains fiercely proud. Sure, Chicagoans like to complain—about the weather, about our sports teams, and especially about our politicians. But if an out-of-towner dares to diss our beloved city, you can bet there will be fireworks bigger than the ones over Navy Pier in summer. Sandburg was right again about Chicago when he wrote, "come and show me another city with lifted head singing/ so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning."
What we're talking about
If we’re not waiting for the CTA (Chicago Transit Authority, that is), we’re talking about it—complaining about the new high-capacity El cars or praising the Train Tracker estimated-arrivals app. We’re uploading pics of the notable characters we encounter to the "People of the CTA" Facebook page. Equal measures funny, sad, and disgusting, the page had 109,000 "likes" at last count.
We rejoiced when the city finally lifted its ordinance banning onboard cooking on food trucks in July 2012. Although other restrictions have stopped some would-be operators from getting their mobile food vehicles rolling, there are still a slew of trucks offering already-prepared goodies. We track our favorites—like the Tamale Spaceship, Flirty Cupcakes, and the Slide Ride (gourmet sliders)—on ChicagoFoodTruckFinder.com, RoamingHunger.com/Chi, and FoodTruckFreak.com, and we have our fingers crossed for a big food truck revolution any day now.
We're also big beer drinkers. If we're not busy home-brewing, we're heading to the local brewery to fill our growlers with the latest batch from Half Acre, Metropolitan Brewing, Piece, Haymarket, Revolution Brewing, and Finch’s Beer Co.
Finally, we're huge on our sports teams. Whether we’re bemoaning another Cubs' loss or celebrating the 2013 Stanley Cup victory of the Blackhawks, you can find our bars packed on game nights, cheering on the Bears, Cubs, White Sox, Blackhawks, and Bulls.
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