It's hard to believe that I lived in Chicago TEN YEARS ago!? I'm not that old, right? So, what better time of the year for me to go back than for the Taste of Chicago and to see some musicals (food & theatre = basically my brand).
Thursday, July 12th, 2018
Sometimes you just need a break from NYC, well what better way to escape than to head to another city? Yes, I planned this trip around going to the Taste of Chicago (a food festival in Grant Park featuring all sorts of foods and native Chicago treats) and seeing some Broadway in Chicago shows.
I found a hotel near Millennium Park, so I could easily commute around the city via the El (elevated train) in Chicago. I started to make my way uptown, when I saw that a college friend of mine was in town for a conference. We met up for tacos at Velvet Tacos and to catch up on the last 10+ years of our lives.
When she headed back to her conference, I had to make a trek uptown to Strange Cargo. (Years ago, I found that they had a vintage New Kids on the Block screen print and customized a t-shirt with “CHEN” printed on the back in velvet letters and have been getting compliments on it ever since.) The store recently moved locations, but even the longer commute didn’t deter me from the pop culture t-shirt hunt! While I didn’t find any boy band themed screen prints this time around, I did find a great SPICE GIRLS one and a block lettered logo of NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK. While I grabbed a few decks of *NSYNC & Backstreet Boys photo packs and collectors cards, I spied a” Miss Vanjie” print that I missed the first time around. Just as I was thinking that I didn’t have time to wait for another t-shirt to be made, I turned around and found a whole rack of “Miss Vanjie” printed on t-shirts and tank tops! Jackpot! Boy bands, girl power and drag queens all in one spot!
Then it was back downtown to my hotel to get ready for dinner and a show! Once I had decided that a trip to Chicago was in order, I immediately went to see what Broadway shows were playing during my trip and wouldn’t you know, The Cher Show, was having their out of town tryout and I found a ticket to HAMILTON for under $100!? Done and done. I was especially excited, since JIn Ha (M. Butterfly) was wrapping up his run as Aaron Burr and it was a major first for an Asian-American actor. The CIBC Theatre where HAMILTON was playing was much larger than the Richard Rodgers in NYC, but I didn’t factor in the Dress Circle overhang, so I was only able to see the actors from the waist-down, when they were on the upper deck of the stage!
Friday, July 13th, 2018
Day two in Chicago and I was faced with the dilemma of where to eat for brunch! There were so many places that I loved when I lived in Chi-Town, but many of them had relocated or closed. Luckily, The Bongo Room had opened a new location within 2 blocks from my hotel! Now the major challenge starts; sweet or savory for breakfast? I ended up choosing both; sweet with cornmeal blueberry pancakes & maple syrup and a side of home fries with melted American cheese.
Fully stuffed, it was time to walk around the city a bit. I wandered through Grant Park on my way to the Art Institute. I could have easily spent more than 1-2 hours in the museum, as I wandered through the contemporary galleries. Inspired by all the sculptures and paintings, I knew I had one more stop before I left the museum; to find the Seurat that Sunday in the Park with George was written about. Yes, I finished the hat after a few false starts and headed back to my hotel for a quick refresh.
Then I was off to meet my friend, Jason & his boyfriend, Riley, for dinner. We caught up on life and talked theatre, since Riley knew quite a bit about Broadway, too; then it was off to see The Cher Show at the Oriental Theatre! I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I love Stephanie J. Block, so I knew she’d be fabulous! By intermission, we all determined that the story was a little all over the place, but you can’t beat Cher’s songbook and the costumes, oh the costumes! Bob Mackie really outdid himself re-creating some of Cher’s iconic looks and adding costumes for all of the ensemble members. I’ll be interested to see what changes from this run of the show when it comes to Broadway this winter…
Originally, when I was planning my trip, I thought about taking the weekend to head to Madison, Wisconsin to visit my brother, Philip and sister-in-law, Melanie…however, they were going to be in Chicago that weekend! They're avid ultimate frisbee players, so they were in town for a tournament all day Saturday and Sunday, before driving back home. After The Cher Show, we were able to meet up for some drinks & a snack near their hotel in Lakeview, before they went to rest and I went back to my hotel.
Saturday, July 14th, 2018
The day of eating had finally arrived! I woke up early to meet Jason in Grant Park, so we could feast at the Taste of Chicago before it got too crowded and the predicted rain was supposed to start. We both purchased two strips of tickets, which we thought would allow us to sample quite a few things and still have some leftover.
Our first stop, the pop-up section for the chicken & waffle balls. They were like little breaded chicken meatballs with maple syrup, sitting on top of waffle bits. Disappointingly, the “taste” size was only 2 meatballs…but we figured our stomachs would need room to eat more things. While Jason went on to try some alligator, I opted for some tortilla-crusted tilapia tacos and some bulgogi chicken on wonton chips; basically Korean nachos and truffle fries. When we’d had our fill of savory treats, I had to find the infamous Chicago “Rainbow Ice Cream Cone!” We finally found the stand, but quickly realized we’d need to load up on more tickets to make this treat happen. It was SO worth it: chocolate ice cream topped with strawberry ice cream topped with Parker House (New York vanilla with cherry & walnuts) ice cream topped with pistachio ice cream topped with orange sherbert! Phew. I got full just typing all of that out!
Once we couldn’t eat any more, we went our separate ways; full disclosure, I went back to my hotel to take a nap! When I woke up, I found out that TodayTix in Chicago had rush tickets for The View Upstairs, so I purchased a ticket and made my way farther South to Chicago’s Chinatown for some more eating before the show. I was craving some dumplings and found a great spot with delicious pan-fried ones. Then it was back to Joy Yee with their hundreds of different kinds of bubble tea! I opted for a coconut slush with rainbow jelly to help me cool off in the Chicago summer heat. I browsed through a few shops before heading back uptown to Lakeview for the show.
I was lucky enough to see Max Vernon’s show, The View Upstairs, about a gay bar in New Orleans that burned down in NYC and I was interested to see how the show would play at a smaller venue in Chicago. An intriguing work of historical fiction, the musical centers around a young gay man, who’s purchased the space where the bar, The UpStairs Lounge, once was. Through a strange turn of events, he goes back in time to the 1970’s when the bar was alive and thriving; one of the only safe spaces for the gay community to be welcomed during that time frame. Since I had seen the show before, I knew that the audience plays a role in the show, as observers and for the main character to speak to; so I chose my seat wisely. While I enjoyed the NYC production more, I was glad I got to experience this piece with a Midwestern audience and that they were being exposed to this story.
Sunday, July 15th, 2018
Ann Sather, Millenial Park, Sarah & kids, Navy Pier
On Sunday, my cousin, Sarah and her husband, Scott drove up to Chicago from Springfield, Illinois with their kids, Owen & Reese. They had visited me in NYC earlier in the summer, so it was great to reunite with them in a place a little closer to their home. Since they had a few hours to drive up, I knew where my breakfast stop was going to be: Ann Sather in Lakeview. If you’re looking for a great breakfast spot to get some of the best biscuits & cinnamon rolls that you’ve ever had, then Ann Sather’s is the place! (Plus, they give you SO many options for a great price!) I usually go with some sort of benedict or biscuits & gravy, but opted for “The Swedish Sampler” this time - 1 Swedish sausage link, 1 Swedish pancake, 1 Swedish meatball, poached eggs, 1 cinnamon roll, 1 biscuit and hashbrowns with American cheese. While I wasn’t a fan of the Swedish sausage, the Swedish pancake was almost like a crepe, but sweeter and the meatball was tasty; Ikea’s got nothing on them!
After stuffing myself full of carbs, I made my way downtown to meet up with my cousins. I was waiting for them in the shade of the Chicago Theatre, when Reese spotted me & I saw her come running down the block! After the necessary hello’s, we headed towards Navy Pier to explore and ride their new ferris wheel. The view from the little gondola carts was amazing and you could see the whole Chicago skyline! After the kids ran around the Navy Pier and we did a little shopping (a stop at Dylan’s Candy Bar was a must -- where I realized that I don’t feel so bad about my Care Bear collection compared to Dylan Lauren’s bunny collection), we headed to Michigan Avenue for food. After eating at the Grand Lux Cafe, we went our separate ways and promised to meet up again soon.
Monday, July 16th, 2018
For the last part of my Chicago trip, I took a moment to walk around before flying back to NYC later that morning. I must have forgotten that I was flying back Monday morning, since I had purchased tickets to Jeremy Jordan & Ashley Spencer’s show at Sony Hall. I almost decided to sell my ticket and not go, I really wanted to rest before going back to work, but went anyways.
I was glad that I did! When I walked in, I almost ran into Melissa Benoist (Supergirl) and shortly thereafter, she was joined at her table with a bunch of other Broadway celebs!