The Ryder Cup may bring you to Chicago, but the city will make you want to return
CHICAGO -- No self-respecting Chicagoan would say this, but those who frequently visit the Second City for business or pleasure will say it openly: Chicago has everything New York City has -- without the attitude.
That's nice, say most Chicagoans. But they don't want to hear any comparison with New York. Chicago, they say, has its own identity. And neither New York nor any other American city can match it.
That's tough talk. But Chicago has a reputation for being a frank, no-nonsense town. And there's a lot of truth in what those proud Chicagoans believe.
Golf and the 2012 Ryder Cup (Sept. 25-30 at Medinah Country Club) may have brought you to Chicago, but it's the more than 7,300 restaurants, 26 miles of recreational lakefront (including 19 miles of bike paths and 15 bathing beaches), more than 200 theaters, 200 art galleries (including an impressive collection of French impressionist paintings at the Art Institute) and maybe a tour of Depression-era gangster Al Capone's haunts that will keep you around.
That may sound a bit like public relations talk, right? It's true, yes. But the real Chicago lies in just hanging out.
Millennium Park is one of the many places to hang out. It sits just north of the Art Institute near the lakefront, and the centerpiece is a gigantic chrome art sculpture known as "The Bean." People walk around and under this oddly magnetic lima bean-shaped structure, taking pictures of their own reflection in the shiny surface.
Before you head up to the Magnificent Mile, a stretch of North Michigan Avenue known for shopping that rivals Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, be sure to catch the sign near Jackson Boulevard and Michigan signifying the start of historic Route 66. And just north is Lincoln Park, with its great neighborhood bars, music venues, beaches and nine-hole Sydney R. Marovitz golf course right along Lake Michigan.
There's also Navy Pier, home to a 15-story Ferris wheel modeled after the first Ferris wheel that made its debut at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition.
The heart of the city is The Loop, Chicago's center section that gets its name from the elevated rail tracks that surround it. Inside is State Street, that "great street," as Frank Sinatra once sang, with its hundreds of restaurants and shops. You'll also find the famous Pablo Picasso sculpture, a 50-foot tall, 160-ton Cubist artwork that's become a city landmark, even if no one knows what it is. Speculation ranges from an aardvark to an insect and even an abstract woman. Picasso never bothered to tell anyone what it represented, and the mystery remains part of its appeal.
Sports are a big part of Chicago. Although the loveable losers, the Cubs, are not in town the weekend of the Ryder Cup (neither are the Bears), the White Sox are playing at home. U.S. Cellular Field may not have the history of Wrigley Field, but many Chicagoans admit the ballpark food on the South Side is batting well above .500, better than what's offered on the North Side. But don't say that to a Cubs fan.
Legendary blues guitarist and singer Robert Johnson called Chicago a "sweet home" for the blues. And sweet it is. Start at Blue Chicago, either of its two venues, where blues boils out of the joints every night of the week. Kingston Mines, on the city's North Side, has two stages for nonstop music. There's also Buddy Guy's Legends in the South Loop. Don't be surprised if the famed guitarist steps up on staged unannounced to join the band.
Where to eat
You must have pizza. For Chicago-style deep dish, it's Pizzeria Uno or Gino's East. There are numerous locations for both, including a couple not far from Medinah Country Club, but the originals are in the heart of the city. Gino's is in its original funky, art deco-ish home on North Wells and Uno sits in a unique old mansion on East Ohio Street.
Some of the world's best chefs live and work in Chicago. For upscale tastes try Alinea or Charlie Trotter's. Both offer contemporary American fare, with Trotter's making the list of best restaurants in America almost every year.
Don't pass up the chance for some great meals in some of the lesser-known neighborhood restaurants. Sapori, with its exceptional service and memorable northern Italian food, is in the city's Lincoln Park neighborhood. And the original Rosebud's is hard to beat. You'll find this big-portion Chicago landmark in Little Italy.
Where to stay
If you're spending most of your time at the Ryder Cup and playing some golf nearby, consider Eaglewood Resort and Spa. There'sa par-72, 6,100-yard course on the property, and it's just minutes from Medinah Country Club. In nearby Bloomingdale, you'll find the Indian Lakes Resort with its three nine-hole layouts.
If you want a memorable stay in the heart of the city, you can't beat the Waldorf Astoria or Trump International Hotel and Tower for luxury. But if you're looking for quaintness and charm, try the Talbott Hotel, a small European-style spot just a short walk from Michigan Avenue's shopping district.
Where to play golf in Chicago
Golf is everywhere. There are 22 courses within the city limits and more than 100 in the metro area. On the South Side, 16 minutes from downtown. is Harborside International Golf Center, the city's premier golf experience with two links-style courses and a view of the Chicago skyline.
And in the suburbs are some of the Midwest's best golf courses, including Cantigny Golf in Wheaton, Schaumburg Golf Club in Schaumburg, Makray Memorial Golf Club in Barrington, Cog Hill Golf & Country Club in Lemont and Bowes Creek Country Club in Elgin.
Windy City memory
The Ryder Cup may have brought you to Chicago, but after experiencing all it has to offer, the city is guaranteed to get you back. Certainly to play golf, but also for a slice of pizza, a walk along the lakefront, a few blues riffs and maybe a sneak peek at the President of the United States. It is President Obama's hometown, and he does return now and then to his mansion near Hyde Park and he has been known to take a walk to his neighborhood barber for an executive branch haircut. Oh yeah, the president also loves golf, and just maybe he'll stop by to cheer on the U.S. team at Medinah. Who knows?