1. Where to Stay
Walk ten minutes from the Museum of Contemporary Art to your room at the year-old dana Hotel and Spa (from $159). The floor-to-ceiling windows offer grand city views even on the lower floors, and an indoor-outdoor sky lounge just opened on the 26th floor.
Get a wake-up call from President Obama (or a good mimic) at the Wit (from $199), located on historic State Street just 200 feet from the river. The double-paned windows block out the noise from the adjacent El train.
Share sidewalks with working artists from the cooperative Flat Iron Arts Building when you stay at the nearby Wicker Park Inn (from $139), a family-friendly B&B with six rooms on-site and two sizable apartments across the street.
2. Where to Eat
Eat inside a work of art at the Publican, an haute beer hall with a James Beard award-winning design and long walnut communal tables filled with the post-gallery-hopping set. Try sweetbreads and beef-heart bruschetta with a pint of Matilda pale ale from local brewery Goose Island.
Take a break from the galleries in Fulton Market at Otom, the lower-key little sister to Moto, Chicago’s molecular-gastronomy sensation. Experiment with spruced-up comfort food like deconstructed BLTs and fried chicken with purple-yam waffles.
Lunch at Terzo Piano, the new restaurant by famed Spiaggia chef Tony Mantuano that opened in the Modern Wing of the Art Institute this summer. The bright whites and clean lines match the rest of the floor’s aesthetics.
Dine under a 4,000-wine-bottle tower at CiboMatto inside the Wit hotel. The 30-foot ceiling fresco was created by Chicago-born artist Todd Murphy, who counts both Elton John and Sting among his collectors.
3. What to Do
Walk the new pedestrian bridge, the Nichols Bridgeway, that opened this spring linking Millennium Park to the Art Institute ($18 for adults, $12 for seniors and students, children under 14 are free), where killer views of Lake Michigan and Frank Gehry’s free-form Jay Pritzker Pavilion await at the building’s landing spot. Inside, wander through the Renzo Piano–designed Modern Wing, where you’ll find a veritable hit parade of 20th- and 21st-century pieces spattered with gems rarely shown in the main building. Afterward, visit the nearby Museum of Contemporary Art ($12 suggested admission). The current exhibit, “Constellations,” makes good on new director Madeleine Grynsztejn’s pledge to promote area artists by including eighteen of them. Finish at the Spertus Museum, the award-winning Jewish art and culture museum at the Spertus Institute, which reopened in late 2007 in a brand-new building (next door to where the old museum was) and now features an interactive children’s center ($7 for adults, $5 for children; children under 5 are free).
Gallery-hop through the West Loop, a Chelsea-like art scene where cutting-edge commercial and nonprofit art spaces are popping up in post-industrial buildings. Swing by North Peoria Street to the Rhona Hoffman Gallery for big names like Kehinde Wiley and Sol LeWitt, then visit the Peter Miller Gallery on the same floor for lesser-known contemporary painters. Walk across the street to the experimental nonprofit threewalls to find quirky, themed group shows; affordable artist-designed tchotchkes; and independent art zine Paper & Carriage, nominated for a 2009 Utne Independent Press Award. Finish at neighborhood newcomer EC Gallery for a fascinating roster of emerging and mid-career artists from Poland working in oil on canvas, mixed media, and prints.
On the first Friday of the month, attend a public opening at the Flat Iron Arts Building. For a more polished presentation, walk a few blocks south to the recently relocated Monique Meloche gallery, a former West Loop resident that boasts an impressive roster of buzzy natives like local photographer and video artist Carrie Schneider.
4. Insider’s Tip
Prime-time reservations at the Publican can be hard to come by, but if you show up early (before 6) or late (after 9:30), walk-ins don’t have as much of a wait. The restaurant also has an official “afternoon menu” that starts at 3:30 p.m., including some exclusive items like a lamb bánh mì, that aren’t on the dinner menu. A $45 prix fixe dinner menu is available at Terzo Piano on Thursday nights if you’ll be in town for a longer stay.
5. Oddball Day
Nerd out an hour west of the city at Fermilab, the country’s premier subatomic particle physics lab and home to the massive Tevatron accelerator. The lab hosts private scientist-led, behind-the-scenes tours on the first Sunday of each month, but two buildings (one with hands-on, kid-friendly displays) are open to the public daily, as are the 6,800-acre surrounding grounds. Take a stroll along the prairie trails for a glimpse at the lab’s 50-strong herd of bison. Check the culture calendar for eclectic music and smartypants lectures at the on-site Ramsey Auditorium, or swing by the Kuhn Village Barn, a folk club frequented by the physicists, which offers down-home dance lessons on the cheap. For dinner, go Roman at the nearby Francesca’s by the River, a suburban outpost of North Side city favorite Mia Francesca.
Chicago Gallery News keeps locals up to date on shows and opening-night parties.
The aptly titled podcast Bad at Sports and corresponding blog feature heavy doses of art criticism, plus interviews with artists, curators, and gallery owners.
Grub Street Chicago is the ultimate local resource for all things food and drink.