It’s rush hour at Ogilvie Transportation Center, and from the Canal Street entrance, you have a great view of late commuters sprinting to catch their train. For those who have a few minutes to spare, however, the long concourse offers more than a ride out to the suburbs. Explorers who follow the Chicago French Market’s red and blue sign will find the cute French café—Le Cafe du Marche.
Helmed by the owner of the popular restaurant, Bistro Voltaire, Le Cafe du Marche offers decadent French café fare, including housemade quiche, organic soups, and tuna niçoise and duck-confit sandwiches. The menu, which mirrors classic dishes from the cafés of France, is no doubt more casual than its parent restaurant. However, the attention to detail remains unchanged between the two establishments—chefs manually torch the sugar atop each housemade crème brûlée.
Reese's Gourmet Banana-Mana's sweetscrafters whip up a diverse menu of desserts showcasing their own spin on banana pudding infused with fun flavors. Nine-ounce cups, 9"x11" pans, and 3-foot-deep kiddie pools of the fruity confection can be served frozen, as a chilled pudding, or heated into a sugary plasma. Crunchy cookies sink into the surface of the shop's eight varieties, with such flavors as original banana, lemon crunch, piña colada, and cappuccino.
There is nothing like the feeling you get from staring past the surface of a canvas, when it begins to subtly unveil itself, finally standing before you in its underpaints, warmly whispering timeless wisdoms into your ear. If you and anyone you know are considering pursuing that sensation at the Art Institute of Chicago anytime in the next year, you might as well spend $40 to snag today's Groupon: one-year memberships to both the renowned Art Institute of Chicago and the Evening Associates, a young professional, art-loving social group. That's a 64% savings off the normal value of $110. With your membership, you get to take someone to the Art Institute with you every time you go. Since Art Institute admission is normally $18 per person, if you and a friend go just twice in the next year, today's Groupon more than pays for itself (memberships get you and a friend unlimited free admission and start the day you get your Groupon in your inbox). Ascend the wondrous steps armed with your Groupon, solve the riddle of the stone lions (the left one is the liar), and gain entry to art's most mysterious, lion-guarded lair.
When looking at it from a distance, the Aqua building's façade seems to ripple and cascade; that's due to its funky, irregularly curved balconies, which jut out in undulating patterns against bluish-green reflective windows. The modern skyscraper, which soars up 82 stories over Lake Michigan, is the tallest woman-designed skyscraper in the world. And inside this landmark tower resides the brand-new Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel Chicago, which rests above famous destinations such as Navy Pier and the Magnificent Mile, steps away from renowned Millennium Park.A sense for the chic characterizes sleek, pet-friendly city-view guest rooms such as the spa-like Naturally Cool pad, its design scheme featuring light hardwood floors amid splashes of blue décor. There's a regal feel to the Mansion House room, which dons black slate in the bathroom, dark wood floors, a king bed wrapped in sumptuous linens, and opulent guest-room details. At night, large windows present an unhindered view of Chicago's glittering lights and disoriented seagulls.Downstairs in the hip Filini Lounge, guests can sip two signature cocktails as they scan the menu, which presents creatively prepared mini plates of Italian cuisine. An 8,000-square-foot fitness center lays out ample space to stretch, and a 25-meter lap pool, cabanas, and a 1/5-mile running track comprise the 70,000-square-foot outdoor garden behind the hotel.Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel's front doors open less than a quarter-mile from the designer shops and distinctive restaurants of Michigan Avenue's Magnificent Mile. Sidewalks flood with sightseers and locals, who window-shop and hoist slices of Chicago's famed stuffed pizza. The narrated riverboat tour is one of the most popular ways to catch unseen angles of the city's celebrated skyscrapers and learn about the outsized egos and diamond-encrusted wrecking balls of their quirky architects. For an aerial view of the skyline, it's off to the observatory floor of one of the tallest buildings in Chicago, the John Hancock Center, to sip drinks and watch clouds drift over the city.
The Knickerbocker rises at the northern end of the Magnificent Mile, amid luxury high-rises, award-winning restaurants, and high-end boutiques. "It's a shopping mecca, obviously," says hotel concierge Sheryl Walerski. Designer brands such as Louis Vuitton, Ralph Lauren, and Giorgio Armani all have stores within walking distance. Architectural landmarks along the route document the city's history. The castle-like Chicago Water Tower, for instance, is one of the few buildings to have survived the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 as well as the Mothra state visit of 1962. While nearby Rush Street bustles with nightclubs and bars, a plethora of cultural institutions offers an artsier experience. The Tony Award–winning Lookingglass Theatre Company stages eye-popping original work, and several centuries' worth of visual art, ranging from ancient China to present-day America, are on display at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Contemporary Art.