Things to do in Chicago: food, museums and more


Lacey Irby and her business partner, Ryan Brosseau, a chef, were planning to open a restaurant when the pandemic hit. This delayed them, but eventually, in early 2021, they opened Dear Margaret, a warm tribute to Mr. Brosseau’s Canadian grandmother in the Lakeview neighborhood, with take-out only, gradually adding a patio and finally, last June, the comfortable dining room. It recently won Michelin’s Bib Gourmand award – signaling quality and value – and reservations are rare.

“For those of us who have remained standing, it’s a testament to that willpower that is so inherently part of this city,” Ms Irby said.

Resilience is a point of pride in Chicago, which was nearly erased by the Great Fire of 1871. In 2020, the pandemic has driven residents from downtown Loop and into their homes, and though many offices remain dark , locals are now returning to reopened clubs, theaters, restaurants and cultural attractions.

For those who make art, gastronomy and entertainment, introspection mingles with celebration.

“During the pandemic, artists couldn’t help but create and we’re seeing some exciting new shows,” said Katie Tuten, co-owner of eclectic performance space Hideout, fresh from a weekend getaway. sold-out shows. . “Plus, who wants to come out of the pandemic and not have a place to dance?”

Watching a show, let alone dancing, was of course banned indoors for at least a year at the independent music clubs that form the backbone of Chicago’s music scene. Thanks to $16 billion in federal Covid aid distributed to venues nationwide, no local club has closed permanently, according to the Chicago Independent Venue League, an industry group of nearly 50 venues.

League members represent the spectrum of Chicago-created music, from the Promontory to Hyde Park, with everything from jazz concerts to soca dance parties; at Martyrs’ on the north side, hosting up-and-coming garage bands, arty collectives like the Mucca Pazza marching band, and free country shows on Sunday afternoons.

“Each is rooted in neighborhoods with restaurants, bars and experiences,” said Chris Bauman, a CIVL board member and owner of two North Side venues, Avondale Music Hall and the Patio Theatre, which credits to local clubs as economic engines and talent incubators. . “In Chicago, we do this for the love of art and music and to create and sustain that culture,” he added.

In Lincoln Park, Steppenwolf recently opened its new Ensemble Theater in the Round, where the farthest seat is 20 feet from the stage, with Anton Chekhov’s “Seagull,” through June 12. An adaptation of Eve Ewing’s collection of poetry, ‘1919,’ about the racist murder of a young black swimmer in Lake Michigan in 1919, aimed at young adult audiences, will follow October 4-29.

Hardest hit are the hundreds of small theater companies, often occupying storefronts, which have historically set the bar for originality. During Theater Week in February, which promotes productions with discounted tickets, the League of Chicago Theaters sponsorship alliance had about half of small theater admissions compared to pre-pandemic festivals, but 80% of 2019 sales. .

“Audiences were eager to get out,” said Deb Clapp, the League’s executive director, who noted the return in late spring of several companies producing plays on social justice themes, such as “Marie Antoinette and the Magical Negroes” by Story Theaterr, which combines racial history and the French Revolution (June 30 to July 17).

With the abandonment of pandemic mandates, restaurateurs are still struggling to hire adequate staff, leading to darker nights than before the pandemic.

A few high-profile favorites didn’t survive, including Blackbird, a sophisticated West Loop hotspot with tables inches apart, as well as Spiaggia and Everest.

Yet some irrepressible entrepreneurs have taken the leap during the pandemic, including chefs and spouses Genie Kwon and Timothy Flores, who opened Kasama in the summer of 2020 in the Ukrainian village as a take-out cafe, aiming to “make common Filipino cuisine”. Ms. Kwon said.

Last fall, the Filipino restaurant added a 13-course dinner tasting menu – dishes included oysters and green mango, and lamb belly with bagoong, a Filipino fish paste – available for just 40 diners per night ($215 per person) as a way to secure revenue and guard against possible future capacity restrictions. The restaurant recently earned a Michelin star, and dinner is one of the toughest reservations to score.

“For Filipinos to see rustic mom and pop dishes served in a 13-course tasting menu is an eye opener,” Mr. Flores said.

The South Side’s new Bronzeville Winery has its own social mission, to catalyze the rebirth of Bronzeville, the historically black business and cultural district.

“I live in Bronzeville and I’m a foodie, but I still drive” to find good food, said Eric Williams, a co-owner who, as a retailer, helped regenerate the now hip neighborhood of Wicker Park. . on the north side. “We should have something on our own block.”

Before the pandemic, the Brewers Association, a national trade group, called the Chicago metro area the top brewery, and beer lovers will find taprooms scattered around the city and suburbs.

At first, museums were places of solace when few were open, offering quiet reflection to the vaccinated and masked. A few protocols remain, including pre-sales of tickets to the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Although it was closed during the pandemic, the National Museum of Mexican Art remained a vital member of the predominantly Latino community of Pilsen, near the South Side, serving as a vaccination center. Reopened, the bustling showcase of Mexican art recently debuted “Frida Kahlo, Her Photos,” featuring images belonging to the iconic painter that make up what the museum calls a “photographic collage” of her life and times ( until August 7).

In the far south, the Pullman National Monument has added a new visitor center in the 1880 clock tower of the nation’s first planned industrial town, site of a factory producing Pullman train cars as well as hundreds of workers’ houses nearby, leafy parks and the shuttered Queen-Anne-style Hotel Florence. Exhibits examine a seminal laborer’s strike and the employment of blacks as Pullman porters.

“The same conversations and debates they had in the 1880s and 90s about what a working wage is, unionization and worker safety are just as relevant today,” said Teri Gage, Superintendent of the monument.

As many workers stay away, the downtown Loop neighborhood is quieter than before, although nearby Navy Pier is poised to keep visitors longer with the opening of its first hotel last year. , Sand at Navy Pier, a Curio by Hilton collection, offering panoramic views of Lake Michigan and the skyline.

Many summer events are set to renew interest in downtown, including the Chicago Blues Festival (June 9-12) and Chicago Jazz Festival (September 1-4). Taste of Chicago will take a hybrid approach with a scaled-down culinary event in Grant Park (July 8-10) as well as a series of neighborhood pop-ups in June.

At least one new festival is on the schedule, Pizza City Fest (July 23-24). Founded by food journalist Steve Dolinsky, author of “The Ultimate Chicago Pizza Guide,” the event will bring together 40 pizza makers at Plumbers Union Hall in the West Loop to cook on the spot with additional talks on topics like the perfect dough and the pizza. make at home.

“I got tired of seeing people spreading myths about Chicago pizza that weren’t true anymore,” Mr. Dolinsky said, unrolling 10 styles of pizza, including the famous deep dish, as proof of the local appetite for experimentation. “Chicago is a city of innovation.”

Elaine Glusac writes the Frugal Traveler column. Follow her on Instagram @eglusac.


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