Exploring Chicago’s Magnificent Mile – the most glamorous stretch of Michigan Avenue - is a must for anyone visiting the city, but the experience can prove expensive. Max Grinnell, however, has some insider tips on how to make the most of the Mile without breaking the bank.
The hotel that housed Oprah's guests
The Omni Chicago Hotel was celebrated as the place where Oprah's well-known guests stayed before they were whisked away to appear next to the media maven herself on her well-appointed couch. It's a great base of operations for a visit to the Magnificent Mile as all of the rooms are suites, and there's also a fine pool on the premises. While spending the night here is somewhat expensive. you can drop in at the 676 Lounge for some charcuterie and a glass of wine without breaking the bank.
An historic skyscraper
If you ever dreamed of being a famous newspaper reporter or part of a major media empire, stroll over to the Chicago Tribune Tower, north of the Michigan Avenue Bridge. The first stop is inside the lobby of this glorious building, where you'll find a massive relief map of the world behind the security desk. You can't go up into the tower, but you can go outside to look at the rather curious fragments of historic buildings brought back by Tribune reporters. These include bits of the Berlin Wall, the Taj Mahal, the Alamo, and Angkor Wat. If you don't have the money to visit these destinations in person, a walk around the base of the Tribune Tower might be the next best thing.
A wine break
A short walk away from the Chicago Tribune Tower is a place that will delight any oenophile. Tucked into the Intercontinental Hotel, ENO is a wine bar that blends a bit of elegance with a sensibility that is decidedly in the down-to-earth Midwestern style. The wine list is extensive and contains some real gems, particularly the white wines from Portugal and Spain. It's a great place to sit down on a cold winter night, and during the warmer months, they put out their beautiful outdoor dining furniture for some of the best people-watching on Michigan Avenue.
The power, the glory, and the music
Known as "A Light in the City", the Fourth Presbyterian Church occupies a rather special place on Michigan Avenue. Snug at the corner of Chestnut Street and Michigan Avenue, the church is known for its commitment to social justice and for working closely with a myriad of community groups. Of course, most Chicagoans known the church for its rich tapestry of musical offerings. Every year, it sponsors well over a hundred concerts, including jazz worship services and visiting choirs, as well as readings by their theatre group. Visitors should look at its online schedule and make a bee-line for one of these uniformly excellent offerings. Most of the concerts are free, and the setting is exquisite.
Cosmos on the 96th floor
Many people choose to eat at the oh-so-luxe Signature Room at the 95th Floor of the John Hancock building. Now don't get me wrong: I like a fine white-linen dining experience as much as the next urbanite. But why not hop up one more floor to the Signature Lounge for a libation or two? On any given night you might be alongside a group of conference attendees from Kansas, a cadre of businessmen from Calcutta, or a group of folks finishing up a stag party. The drinks are pricey, but where else can you get a birds-eye view of everything from the Field Museum to the choreographed ballet of planes leaving O'Hare?
A writer, teacher and urbanologist, Max Grinnell is the author of The Rough Guide to Chicago and a contributor for the upcoming edition of The Rough Guide to the USA. His website is www.theurbanologist.com and you can follow him on Twitter @theurbanologist.