There’s nothing “second” about the city that gave birth to the modern skyscraper, the Twinkie, the Ferris wheel, the “Oprah Winfrey Show,” and, of course, the Second City Comedy Club. Chicago’s hard-working, salt-of-the-earth image is earning “street cred” for its inventiveness, endless energy, enthusiasm for the good things in life, plus an attitude-free modesty that makes it one of the country’s most livable cities.
And America’s businesses are paying heed. The National Business Travelers’ Association is holding its 2006 annual conference here this month.
“There are a lot of reasons to go to Chicago. Great location, plenty of capacity, lots of airlift in as well as drive and even railway opportunities,” said Bill Connors, president of the National Business Travelers’ Association, who also cited the city’s moderate local taxes as a draw.
Financial breaks were certainly part of the package that Chicago offered Boeing back in 2001 when it moved its headquarters here. Illinois and the city of Chicago together offered the aviation giant more than $60 million in tax incentives and grants to seduce it away from its Seattle base. The reasons, say corporate insiders, were largely image-based, but Chicago’s central location didn’t hurt, either. A business meeting on Wall Street was an all-day commitment from Boeing’s Seattle site. After the move, it became a three-hour tour.
Location was also a key factor in American Airlines’ investment in the city as its second hub after Dallas/Fort Worth.
“Chicago is a key market due to its size, geographic location in the middle of the country, and its diversity,” said David Cush, American Airlines’ senior vice president for global sales. “Chicago serves as our international gateway to the world and our latest international route additions to Asia — Delhi and Shanghai — are being flown from this key city.”
Boeing and American are just two industry giants enjoying their pride of place smack in the middle of the continental United States. Chicago boasts 30 Fortune 500 companies (including Sears, Allstate, Motorola and Walgreens), as well as 12 Fortune Global 500 businesses. Its $350 billion economy is larger than the economies of Switzerland, Taiwan or the state of Michigan. During the 2005 business cycle, Chicago’s economy grew by nearly $86.6 billion — an average annual growth rate of approximately 3.3 percent.
Still, with such renowned businesses establishing bases in Chi Town, the city hasn’t lost any of its relaxed Midwestern charm.
“It’s an incredibly livable city,” said Ben Rooks, an investment banker who settled in Chicago after graduating from college. “It’s got a seriously creative restaurant culture and great theater. When I first interviewed here, I was told, ‘If you move here, you’ll never want to leave.’ That turned out to be true.”
Along with Chicago’s growing reputation for quality of life comes a new sophistication in its pleasures. Young European chefs are choosing Chicago — in many cases over New York or Los Angeles — as their U.S. venues. That choice is often based on both financial and creative decisions. Chicago’s evolving image is similar to changes in London’s reputation in recent years. Both cities are now reveling in their new standing as centers for the finer things in life — food, art and fashion — after enduring long-standing reputations as the sensually challenged cousins to New York and Paris.
What’s the best way to see Chicagoland (the name locals use to describe Metro Chicago) on a business traveler’s time schedule? First grab a copy of the Chicago Sun Times and check the local listings for what’s on for free at the city’s new gem, Millennium Park, which is within walking distance of the major downtown hotels. Then stroll through the city’s famed iron-framed skyscraper valleys dotted with treasures by architectural luminaries the likes of Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe. Stop to shop on Magnificent Mile, w here Marshall Field’s Tiffany-domed temple to retail therapy still stands (it’s called Macy’s now, but the building is the same.) Feel the famous wind of the Windy City as you watch the sun go down on Lake Michigan. Then sip a cocktail high atop the city in the Signature Lounge at the John Hancock Tower. Then head out for an evening at one of the city’s cutting edge restaurants (Alina and Custom House currently are causing foodies’ hearts to flutter). Following dinner, take in a bit of improv comedy at Second City or enjoy a speakeasy-style night of jazz at one of Chicago’s oldest uptown music clubs, The Green Mill.
One of the best things about Chicago is that if you end up wanting more (and most visitors usually do) it’s not hard to find your way back.
W CHICAGO LAKESHORE
Not exactly “lakeshore” (it’s separated from the lake by Lakeshore Drive), the W Chicago Lakeshore still has great views of Lake Michigan and is within easy walking distance of the beach, bike paths and Navy Pier. Rooms are neo-Asian chic. Some have city views; others front the lake. It also has Rande Gerber’s Whiskey Sky restaurant and a lobby bar chockablock with trendy locals. $$$$
W CHICAGO LAKESHORE
644 N. Lake Shore Drive (at Ontario Street)
tel 877 W HOTELS or 312 943 9200
fax 312 255 4411
JAMES CHICAGO HOTEL
Open since April, the James Chicago is a small boutique property with the feel of a residential club. The 191 guestrooms and 52 studios are understatedly elegant (designed by architect Deborah Berke and Gene Press, former co-chairman of Barneys New York). The colors are muted; the amenities are high-tech (iPod/MP2 docking stations and plasma televisions). David Burke’s Primehouse restaurant features a steakhouse menu with meat that is dry-aged on site. The James also has 7,000 square feet of special event space for corporate or social events for 10 to 300 guests. $$$$
JAMES CHICAGO HOTEL
55 E. Ontario
tel 312 337 1000, fax 312 337 7217
MILLENNIUM KNICKERBOCKER HOTEL
Built in 1927, this vintage hotel was the roosting place of many a shady dude and lady back in the old “jazz” days. Today it’s a Millennium Hotel, renovated at the cost of $20 million and offering clean, comfortable rooms a block from the Oak Street Beach. Club-level guests get free breakfast coffee and snacks in the second-floor lounge. $$
MILLENNIUM KNICKERBOCKER HOTEL
163 E. Walton Place
tel 800 621 8140, fax 312 751 9662
AMALFI HOTEL CHICAGO
The Amalfi doesn’t have concierges, it has “experience designers.” It also has 316-thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets,Aveda bath products, complimentary high-speed Internet and inroom CD/DVD players. The understated luxury here is centrally located. It’s just two blocks to Chicago’s famed “Magnificent Mile” shopping district. Check out the hotel’s Web site for such innovative promotions as the “Steal Our Bathrobe” deal (you get to take home one of their fluffy terrycloth robes, no questions asked). $$$$
AMALFI HOTEL CHICAGO
20 West Kinzie St.
tel 877 262 5341 or 312 395 9000
fax 312 395 9001
FOUR SEASONS HOTEL
Located between the 30th and 46th floors of the one of the Magnificent Mile’s most upscale vertical malls, this Four Seasons has the look and feel of a discrete English men’s club of another century. Rooms are outfitted in dark wood with armoires and tapestries. There is an on-site spa and a fully equipped fitness center. Seasons Restaurant continues the theme of old-world money for a very hefty price tag. $$$$
FOUR SEASONS HOTEL
120 E. Delaware Place
tel 800 332 3442 or 312 280 8800
fax 312 280 1748
PARK HYATT CHICAGO
Very Architectural Digest, Park Hyatt Chicago guestrooms — most of which overlook the Magnificent Mile with views of the lake in the distance — even feature reproduction Mies van der Rohe and Eames furniture. Plasma TV screens and DVD players give the finish to the moneyed sheen here. NoMI, the hotel’s restaurant located on the seventh floor is a must for serious foodies. It’s as expensive and as well-designed (by New York’s Tony Chi) as the hotel itself. $$$$
PARK HYATT CHICAGO
800 N. Michigan Ave.
tel 800 233 1234 or 312 335 1234
fax 312 239 4000
Housed in the former Medinah Athletic Club (circa 1929), the InterContinental boasts vintage architectural details including hand-stenciled ceilings, original marble columns and historic tapestries. Rooms are divided between the Historic Tower and the Main Building. The ones in the Historic Tower are — you guessed it — more historic in feel. Carved headboards and burgundy drapes are the order of the day. In the Main Building the feel is more contemporary, although still conservatively elegant. (Note: Rooms in the Historic Tower run about $50 more than the ones in the Main Building). The InterContinental’s street-side restaurant, Zest, provides plenty of opportunity for people-watching. $$$
505 N. Michigan Ave.
tel 800 327 0200 or 312 944 4100
fax 312 944 1320
WESTIN CHICAGO RIVER NORTH
Once a Japanese-owned Nikko Hotel, the Westin retains an Eastern ambience with a Zen rock garden in the lobby and the hotel’s Sushi Bar in its Hana Lounge. Rooms are not as full of character as some of the Westin’s competitors, but they are handsomely appointed and feature the “Heavenly Bed” that so many business travelers have come to know and love. Kids of all ages will warm to the inroom PlayStations. $$$
WESTIN CHICAGO RIVER NORTH
320 N. Dearborn St.
tel 800 WESTIN1 or 312 744 1900
fax 312 527 2650
Arguably the best deep-dish pizza in town, Gino’s has moved from its original location, but has brought its grafitti-covered walls and its lines-down-the-block reputation. There’s really no point in going here for anything other than the pizza, but non-purists also can get the vegetarian version with such healthy toppings as summer squash, asparagus, eggplant and zucchini. $$
633 N. Wells St.
tel 312 943 1124
One of Chicago’s first wine bars, Bin 36 has a 10-seat cheese bar where more than 50 cheeses are served to complement a heady wine selection. Dine in the restaurant on organic steak and French and Italian country-style entrees. Bin 36 is a favorite among locals from the River North neighborhood. $$$
339 N. Dearborn Ave.
tel 312 755 9463
Chef Grant Achatz’ paean to the palate has been wowing locals and travelers alike for a little more than a year. Rest assured, this class act has not gone stale. Achatz’ 12-course tasting menu is a showstopper. Expect the unexpected (Achatz’ forte is mixing flavors and textures) and you’ll come away more than satisfied. $$$$
1723 N. Halstead
tel 312 867 0110
Blackbird is nearly 10 years old, but Chef Paul Kahan’s cuisine keeps its reputation fresh. The restaurant is ensconced in a spare L-shaped space with tables set close enough that you can eavesdrop on fellow diners “oohing” and “ahhing” about the food. Kahan favors fresh regional foods with an emphasis on Great Lakes fish. Comfort foods also abound on the menu. Rack of lamb is done with figs, leeks and honey with a side of rosemary-spiked potatoes. Grilled sturgeon is paired with sweet caramelized carrots. This is a good choice for a luncheon meeting near the Loop when you actually want to eat lunch. $$$$
619 W Randolph St.
tel 312 715 0708
Avec offers what Chef Koren Grieveson calls “wine cuisine.” Communal tables encourage informality and the food follows suit. Dishes like pappardelle with wild mushrooms pair nicely with Avec’s list of little-known Mediterranean wines. Come later in the eve ning and you might be able to get some hints on the best vintages from the local chefs and sommeliers who are known to hang out here talking business. $$$
615 W. Randolph St.
tel 312 377 2002
The granddaddy of foodies’ Chicago, Charlie Trotter’s is for serious lovers of eating for eating’s sake. Trotter doesn’t offer an a la carte menu.You choose between a veggie version ($115) or the fullfat version ($135). Expect to stay and clean your plate. Most meals last two and a half to three full hours. Venison, truffles and wine reductions abound. $$$$
816 W. Armitage Ave.
tel 773 248 6228
Locals will tell you that the best way to see Chicago is on foot or by El (the elevated subway that navigates the famed Loop). Take the Brown Line ($1.75) and you can ride outside all the way to the end of the line — a 45-minute ride though the steel canyons of Chicago’s greatest buildings during which you’ll feel like Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window taking furtive peeks inside people’s windows. Return via the same route to walk Chicago’s famed shopping district, the Magnificent Mile. Pause for a view of the lake or wander in the city’s new Millennium Park, capping off your evening with a visit to the historic jazz speakeasy the Green Mill (4802 N. Broadway, tel 773 878 5552) or the Second City Comedy Club (1616 N. Wells St., tel 877 778 4704, www.secondcity.com) where John Belushi, Dan Ackroyd and current SNL’er Tina Fey honed their chops.
INFO TO GO
Chicago is home to the huge and somewhat daunting O’Hare International Airport (ORD) serving more than 66,565,952 annually. The airport is about 30 minutes from downtown on a good day, but rush hour traffic can make the ride by cab last up to an hour. Take the El’s Blue Line and a $1.75 ride will get you downtown in about 40 minutes. Midway International Airport (MDW) is a more recent addition (opened in 2001). It serves fewer airlines but it is closer to the Loop (20 minutes on the El’s Orange Line). Amtrak also serves Chicago calling in at Union Station.
Getting around the city is easy on foot if your business is in the downtown area. The Chicago subway and El trains operated by the Chicago Transit Authority are fast and inexpensive, connecting downtown with neighborhoods farther out on the transit map. A $5 Visitor’s Pass, sold at the airport, museums and hotels, gives riders unlimited access to buses and subways for 24 hours. For more information, visit www.choosechicago.com.
Two and a half hours beyond Ho Chi Minh City, via a newly constructed highway, Azerai Ke Ga Bay in Vietnam’s Binh Thuan province opens the gate to a corner of the country waiting to be discovered. The careful planning and sustainable development of Azerai Ke Ga Bay has already made a strong impression as an award-nominated and -winning pioneer of 5-star boutique hospitality in this emerging destination, drawing in an adventurous new generation of affluent international guests.
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