The downtown Loop is the historic commercial center of Chicago. Here you will find hotels, restaurants and the best in theater, dance, music and art. Our recommendations include:
The Art Institute of Chicago: One of the true treasures of Chicago, this is one of the top encyclopedic museums in the US with great collections in many areas from textiles, prints and drawings, photography, European decorative arts and even architecture. Its new Modern Wing, designed by architect Renzo Piano, is really outstanding. The AIC is known for its outstanding French Impressionism collection with works by all of the major artists. One of the masterpieces not to be missed is Seurat’s Sunday Afternoon on the Island of la Grand Jatte which will only be seen in Chicago and will not be allowed to travel. Gustav Caillebot’s Rainy Day is also a must for your list along with the famous Chagall windows. Make sure to have lunch at Terzo Piano, a sleek white restaurant atop the new wing. The outdoor dining area for the cafeteria is in the McClintock Court which gives you the feeling of being in a European cafe. 111 S. Michigan.
Goodman Theatre: A Tony Award Winning Regional Theater with great productions. Founded in 1922, it has been at its current location since December 2000. There are two theaters, the Owen and Ivan, named after the Goodman Brothers. The Owen is the main stage and the Ivan the smaller of the two with often newer plays. 170 N. Dearborn.
Auditorium Theater: The Theater is a masterpiece by Chicago architect Louis Sullivan that was opened in 1889 and recently totally restored. It has many outstanding dance and music performances throughout the year. The Joffrey Ballet is in residence four times a year.
Harris Theater: Donated by Joan W. and Irving B. Harris, this is a great theater at the edge of Millennium Park, on Randolph just east of Michigan Avenue. They have a number of dance and music performances throughout the year. Hubbard Street performs here several times a year.
Millennium Park: A must see on a trip to Chicago. See Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate sculpture which reflects the skyline of Chicago, the fountain, the Lurie garden and Frank Gehry’s brilliant Pritzker Pavilion with its wonderful stainless steel structure. The Pavilion is home in the summer to the Grant Park Music Festival featuring the Grant Park Symphony and Chorus as well as to great jazz and world music. All concerts are free!! You can sit in the seats or take a lawn chair or blanket and sit on the lawn. The sound system is superb at any point on the lawn.
Chicago Architecture Foundation: Check out their website or go by their store and information center, at 224 S. Michigan Avenue, for a list of their outstanding architectural tours of Chicago and the surrounding area. The architectural river cruise is always a favorite in the summer. They offer tours of the 1893 Columbian Exposition site in Jackson Park on the south side, the sites found in the book Devil in the White City and many others throughout the year.
Chicago Cultural Center: In a building with a wonderful Louis Comfort Tiffany stained glass dome, this is home to many free concerts, performances and art exhibits throughout the year.
Joffrey Ballet: Having moved to Chicago from New York, the Joffrey is one of the leading cultural institutions in the city. It has three groups of performances throughout the year at the Auditorium Theater. They perform a combination of traditional as well as contemporary pieces, plus its Nutcracker Ballet performances are one of the highlights of the Christmas season in Chicago. The Auditorium Theater, itself, is well worth the visit.
The Lyric Opera: One of the best known companies in the country with performances at the wonderful Civic Opera House at 20 N. Wacker Drive.
Hubbard Street Dance: I love Hubbard Street and hope you are able to catch one of their great performances at the Harris Theater on Randolph, at the north end of Millennium Park. They perform several times a year. 205 E. Randolph.
Roosevelt University/Chicago College of Performing Arts: Check the schedule and attend a free concert in the beautiful Ganz Hall designed by Louis Sullivan. 430 S. Michigan Ave., 7th fl.
The Berghoff Restaurant: Your Curator went to the Berghoff for the first time when he was 11 years old. The Old World atmosphere is the best as is its great German food. Try the Sauerbraten! At Christmastime the decorations are always festive. It has been there in the same location since 1887. Just recently it closed for a short period of time, but was soon reopened by one of the family members. You will be so glad that it is still around!! 17 W. Adams St.
The Gage: The Gage is a fun gastropub with excellent outdoor seating in the summer. It is located at 24 S. Michigan. Next door, Henri is now Acanto at 18 S. Michigan. This is a sleek new restaurant featuring Italian specialties. The food is fresh and very good and service excellent. They feature starters, salads, pastas, pizzas, entrees and daily specials.
Symphony Center and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra: As one of the world’s best symphony orchestras, this is a must if you love classical music. Check out the schedule on their website. There are jazz offerings as well as chamber music and other programs throughout the year. They also partner up with Hubbard St. Dance for at least one program annually which is always worth seeing. 220 S. Michigan Ave.
Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies: Stop in to see the great architecture with its faceted glass facade by Chicago architects Krueck and Sexton and catch an art exhibition in one of its galleries. 610 S. Michigan Ave.
Museum of Contemporary Photography: As part of Columbia College, this is an excellent museum dedicated to showcasing photography. Check out their website for the calendar of exhibitions, lectures and other special events. 600 S. Michigan Ave.
Macy’s 7th Floor Food Court: For faster meals, check out the Food Court of Macy’s State St., at 111 N. State. Here you will find Marcus Samuelsson’s fun Marc Burger for burgers, sandwiches and shakes and Rick Bayless’ Frontera Fresco for his famous tortas, tacos and tamales.
Filini Restaurant/Radisson Blu: Located at 2 N. Columbus Drive, this is a sleek/contemporary new addition to the downtown restaurant scene. A great place for a pre-theater dinner. My recent lamb shank was excellent. It is located in Aqua, the award winning building designed by Jeanne Gang and is worth a visit on its own.
Outdoor sculptures: Walk around the Loop and see great works by Calder, Picasso and Miro. One of the newest additions to the group is Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate sculpture in Millennium Park at Washington St. At the south end of Grant Park is a great work, Agora, featuring a group of 106 headless and armless iron sculptures designed by Polish artist Magdalena Abakanowicz.
Catch 35: One of the best restaurants in the Loop. It has been open for 23 years and has the best seafood and sleek decor. 35 W. Wacker
Mezcalina: A sleek new upscale Mexican restaurant near E. Randolph. 333 E. Benton Place. Head over before a Harris Theater or Millennium Park performance.
Petterino’s: Located next to the Goodman at 150 N. Dearborn, this is Chicago’s answer to Sardi’s in New York. Clubby with its wall of caricatures of actors who have performed in Chicago.
Mercat a la Planxa: Well-known chef Jose Garces’ tapas restaurant at 638 S. Michigan will not disappoint. A great menu and perfect location for a pre-concert or pre-theater dinner.
Primitive: Primitive is a wonderful store that presents exclusive as well as one-of-a-kind collections of furniture, artifacts, art, textiles, jewelry and fashion from all over the world. Asia is heavily represented. You will also find framed art, paintings, drawing, posters and rugs. 130 N. Jefferson.
The Bank of America Theater, Cadillac Palace Theater and Oriental Theater are the venues of Broadway in Chicago which provide pre-Broadway and post-Broadway plays and musicals. Many productions start in Chicago before heading to the Great White Way. For discount tickets stop by Hot Tix at 72 E. Randolph or 163 E. Pearson or shop on line for discounted tickets to these productions and other theater offerings in the smaller off-Loop theaters.
Randolph Street Market: Throughout the year is the Randolph Street Market at 1340 W. Randolph for food, music, antiques, art and vintage finds.
Gene Siskel Film Center: As part of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, this is a film center named after Chicago movie critic Gene Siskel of Siskel and Ebert fame. It has a full schedule of documentaries, art and independent films. 164 N. State.
Atwood Cafe: At 1 W. Washington is a very good restaurant with art deco decor that is perfect for pre-theater or post-theater dining. It is located on the ground floor of the Burnham Hotel, a Kimpton Hotel.
The newly opened Riverwalk from State to LaSalle on the South side of the river is a great spot to walk and have a drink on a perfect Summer night in Chicago. There are several restaurants including a branch of City Winery. I enjoyed a great meal sitting along the river on the terrace of River Roast at 315 N. LaSalle. Carved tableside are roasted fish, beef, chicken, pork and veggies.
A hot new spot is Latinicity, a sleek food hall at Block 37 on the 3rd floor. It features Latin cooking and cuisine of Spain, Peru, Brazil, Colombia, Argentina and Mexico. It has street food, a bar and a full-service tapas restaurant. 108 N. State.
Opened in August, 2016, Chicago’s newest food hall is the Revival Food Hall featuring 15 chef-driven restaurants. It features the Revival Cafe-Bar, Graze Kitchenette for burgers and bowls, The Budlong for Nashville-inspired chicken, Union Squared Pizza, Farmer’s Fridge for salads and lighter fare and my favorite Black Dog Gelato. At 125 S. Clark it is a great location for visitors to the city as well as for the office workers in the Loop.
For a fun Chicago experience don’t miss Heaven on Seven located at 111 N. Wabash on the 7th floor. They feature Cajun-Creole cuisine in a fun, casual atmosphere. Around the corner at 65 E. Washington is Toni Patisserie & Cafe which features coffee drinks and wonderful desserts, crepes and pastries as well a breakfast items, salads and sandwiches.
Another good pre-theater option is Trattoria No. 10 located near 10 North Dearborn. They feature Italian specialties for lunch and dinner in a warm, classic and comfortable atmosphere. I recently back and enjoyed a great meal before the Goodman Theatre.
Cochon Volant Brasserie: This is a great new addition to the Loop dining scene. I enjoyed a business lunch at this restaurant at the Hyatt Centric hotel. The menu features entrees, steaks, salads, sandwiches and a raw bar. 100 W. Monroe
Also recently opened is Steadfast at 120 W. Monroe in the Kimpton Gray Hotel. The warm and sleek decor is a great setting for its new American cuisine, punctuated with Mediterranean and Portuguese influences. It is a great location for a pre-theater dinner. The hotel has a great bar upstairs as well.
I also enjoyed my experience at the newly opened The Dearborn. It is located at corner of Dearborn and Randolph at 145 N. Dearborn. It is an upscale urban tavern that is open for lunch, dinner and brunch. It is a great pre-theater addition to the Loop.
If you are hungry while shopping on State St., Magnolia Bakery at 108 N. State has great baked goods.
The Chicago Athletic Association Hotel: At 12 S. Michigan Ave., this hotel, opened in 2015, is a wonderful renovation of the former Chicago Athletic Association that was established in 1890. The building was completed in 1893 and was designed to resemble the Doge’s Palace in Venice, Italy. The club disbanded in 2007. The two year restoration started in 2012.
Shake Shack, on the first floor, occupies the space of the club’s Turkish bathes. The second floor, contains the Drawing Room, The Milk Room (named after the place where the members drank “milk” when it was a prohibition-era speakeasy), the Game room and the Cherry Circle Room that was the club’s original men-only dining room,, which won a James Beard Foundation Award in 2016 for best restaurant design. I remember great meals there in the 1980s. Cindy’s Rooftop is the new rooftop bar and restaurant, that has wonderful views of Chicago’s Millennium Park.
I was just back at Seven Lions at 130 S Michigan, across from the Art Institute. I recommend it before you head to a performance downtown, as they have a $36, three course pre-theatre menu which was very good. The autumn salad, the mussels with fries and the chocolate mousse were great choices. It is available from 4pm to 6:30pm.