January 28, 2015

Melanie Perez

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CHICAGO, IL - This is the year to #TakeADay and embrace Project: Time Off. With studies indicating that nearly half of Americans did not use their vacation days in 2015, the time to travel is now. Chicago has a lineup of spectacular new openings and major anniversaries in 2016, plus a plethora of cultural happenings and neighborhood explorations to help shape those yet-to-be-told travel memories. Whether for a bleisure (business + leisure) trip, a new urban adventure, or a return visit, be sure to add these events, sites and experiences to your Chicago itinerary for 2016.



Often nicknamed the "American phoenix" since its ascent from the ashes after the Great Fire of 1871, Chicago is a city whose spirit of rebirth and modern urbanism are still strong today as seen in the recent transformation of some historic buildings, underutilized/expanded public spaces and iconic sites. Some of these projects include The 606, an elevated running/walking trail on the northwest side of Chicago that was once a railroad track; hotels such as the Chicago Athletic Association hotel and Virgin Hotels Chicago, both of which occupy historic landmark buildings and offer a new way to experience them; and the private-airstrip-turned-park-and-lagoon along Lake Michigan known as Northerly Island.

In keeping with innovation and this spirit of rebirth, the following projects and 2016 openings will add to Chicago's dynamic offering:

  • LondonHouse Hotel - Set to open spring 2016, this 452-room luxury lifestyle hotel is a combined restoration and redevelopment of the London Guarantee Building near the Chicago River that will also feature the addition of a new 22-story Modernist tower.
  • Kimpton Hotel's fifth Chicago property - Also opening this spring is The Kimpton Gray Hotel in the historic 14-story former New York Life Building in Chicago's central loop district, making this Kimpton's fifth Chicago adaptive reuse project.
  • A reimagined Navy Pier - in celebration of its centennial year, Navy Pier is undergoing major changes that will give the iconic attraction new life making it a "bolder, greener and more contemporary urban space." As the city that introduced the first Ferris wheel at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition (a.k.a. The World's Fair), it is only appropriate that Chicago will debut a new, taller wheel as part of the centennial celebration. Construction began on the new Ferris wheel this January and is expected to be completed by Memorial Day weekend. In the meantime, guests can enjoy some of the latest enhancements, including new murals, food experiences, lake pavilions and more.
  • Final stage of the Chicago Riverwalk Expansion - if reversing the flow of the Chicago River was not impressive enough, visitors will now be able to marvel at the ingenuity of the river's diverted flow from the newly expanded Chicago Riverwalk, designed as a recreational space and expected to complete its third and final development phase this fall.
  • Destination West Loop - to describe Chicago's West Loop neighborhood as having a burgeoning dining scene would simply be scratching the surface. This Michelin-star studded neighborhood, once a gritty industrial area at the edges of downtown, is welcoming even more culinary greats with the highly anticipated openings of power house Rick Bayless' brewery Cruz Blanca, husband-wife chef team and Trotter alum John and Karen Shield's Smyth and The Loyalist, and much-acclaimed chef Grant Achatz and partner Nick Kokonas' Roister. Not to mention recent neighborhood additions with Top Chef Sarah Grueneberg's Italian hot spot Monteverde plus the Boka Group's mega steakhouse Swift and Sons in the new Google headquarters. 



From an 18-mile lakefront path to a 19,000 square-foot-outdoor rock climbing wall, there's plenty of recreation to be had in Chicago.

The opening of The 606 and Maggie Daley Park in 2015 expanded Chicago's open green spaces and gave visitors more reasons to get active. The following projects and new openings, both indoor and outdoor, will add to Chicago's urban playground.

  • SPiN opens in Chicago - Co-founded by actress Susan Sarandon SPiN is a social hangout for ping pong enthusiasts - novice players and professionals alike. This low impact, high-energy sport is growing in popularity, and with the dance parties that SPiN is known for, this may prove to be an excellent alternative to outdoor recreation in Chicago come February when the club opens its doors.
  • The Revetment Project - as part of an initiative to improve the lakefront trail, The Revetment Project is creating separate walking and biking paths east of the current shoreline at Fullerton Avenue and also adding 5.8 acres of parkland.
  • The Chicago Riverwalk expansion is reason enough to take a stroll/run along the banks of the river, but for those wanting a more immersive experience, kayak rentals are available along the Riverwalk. Visitors can also enjoy an array of dining experiences while taking in the spectacular skyline views.
  • Big Marsh - Also referred to as Park No. 564, Big Marsh is a project aimed at turning 278 acres of open space in the Calumet region on Chicago's south side to a multi-purpose eco-recreation park with trails for walking, running and biking. It will also serve as a special playground for cyclists and will feature a Cyclocross course and tracks for young riders. The first phase of the park is set to open spring 2016.



If the Chicago Bears, Bulls, Sky, Blackhawks, Cubs, White Sox and Fire teams, as well as the thousands of fans that clamor into stadiums and hundreds of sports bars throughout the city each year are any indication of what an epic sports city Chicago is, then it will come as no surprise that the following events will be quite epic too.  

  • NFL Draft returns - After a successful NFL Draft 2015 in Chicago, which attracted more than 200,000 fans and generated a total economic impact of $81.6 million according to a Sport Industry Research Center at Temple University study, the Draft will return to Chicago April 28-30. The Draft will once again feature the highly popular Draft Town, a free, three-day outdoor interactive fan football festival in Grant Park.
  • America's Cup - The world of international sailing will witness the first America's Cup freshwater race in the event's 164-year history when Chicago hosts The Louis Vuitton America's Cup World Series at the newly reimagined Navy Pier (June 10-12). Guests can watch the best sailors in the world up close as they compete in this qualifying event for the 2017 America's Cup in Bermuda. The east end of the Pier will be transformed into a single venue for spectators looking to experience the excitement of watching AC45 catamarans racing at speeds of up to 40 mph on beautiful Lake Michigan.
  • NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship Midwest Regional - The Big Ten Conference, as official host of the NCAA Men's Basketball Regional, in collaboration with the Chicago Sports Commission and the United Center will welcome some of the nation's top collegiate basketball teams to Chicago (March 25 and 27) for this year's tournament.
  • Copa America 2016 - Futbol fans from across the Americas are preparing for the Centennial Copa Americaevent this year, and Chicago will be part of the 100-year anniversary celebration as hosts of preliminary group stages (June 5, June 7, June 10) and a semifinals event (June 22) at Soldier Field. This will be the first Copa America held in the U.S., 16 teams will participate, and Chicago is one of 10 U.S. cities to be part of this momentous occasion for the CONMEBAL and CONCACAF federations and their fans.



Chicago boasts a vibrant arts and culture scene with robust programming available all year long. Whether it's a thought-provoking, interactive exhibition at one of the city's acclaimed museums, or exhilarating dance and theatre performances, Chicago's 2016 cultural line up is sure to dazzle.

This year marks 400 years since the death of literary great, William Shakespeare. In honor of Shakespeare's legacy, Chicago will host the largest global celebration of the infamous playwright's works. Shakespeare 400 Chicago is a year-long festival, spearheaded by Chicago Shakespeare Theater that aims to bring together leading artists from around the globe and across Chicago's leading cultural institutions to present more than 850 events throughout the city, including uniquely crafted dishes by 38 Chicago chefs all inspired by Shakespeare's works in a project called Culinary Complete Works.

2016 is also the Year of the Monkey. Chicago's third annual Chinese New Year celebration (February 8 - 22) offers two-weeks of citywide programming, including a first-ever Midwest tour performance by Jackie Chan's Long Yun Kung Fu Troupe (February 9 and 13). In honor of the Lunar New Year, the Field Museum will introduce the exhibition China's First Emperor and His Terracotta Warriors (March 4, 2016 - January 8, 2017) to complement its newest permanent exhibition Cyrus Tang Hall of China. This awe-inspiring exhibit features an army of larger-than-life terracotta archers, officers and infantrymen from Guarding Qin Shihuangdi's tomb. Stand among these soldiers, and get a glimpse into the life of the first emperor of China. Chicago's Field Museum will be the only place to see these famed warriors in North America this year.

Arts and culture will be on full display starting with Dutch artist Theo Jansen's "beach creatures" at the Chicago Cultural Center (78 E. Washington) in an exhibition titled Strandbeest: The Dream Machines of Theo Jansen with Photography by Lena Herzog (February 6 - May 1). This is the first large-scale museum tour in the United States of Jansen's creations- sculptures that cross the lines of art, engineering, science and performance. Culture enthusiasts will also enjoy a look at a collection of more than 35 costumes of the critically-acclaimed PBS drama Downton Abbey® during the run of Dressing DowntonTM: Changing Fashion for Changing Times (February 9 - May 8) at Driehaus Museum; followed by two weeks of value-priced performances to over 100 productions during Chicago Theatre Week (February 11-21); and the North American debut of Van Gogh's Bedrooms at the Art Institute of Chicago (February 14 - May 10).

Honoring the 100th year of the Great Migration and its impact on Chicago's history, visitors can experience the paintings of some of the greatest and most prolific African American artists during the first exhibit in a series titled The DuSable Masterworks Collection Series I: Paintings at The DuSable Museum of African American History. Come spring, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago will present the first retrospective exhibition of artist Kerry James Marshall, considered one of America's greatest living painters and an imaginative chronicler of the African American experience (April 23 - September 25).

Annual favorites return, including the popular city-wide CIMMfest (April 14-17) and the Black Harvest Film Festival (August) at the Gene Siskel Film Center, along with the international contemporary art exposition at Navy Pier, EXPO Chicago (September 22-25). In celebration of its 60th year, The Joffrey Ballet will introduce a re-envisioned version of a holiday classic, The Nutcracker (December).

And this fall, theatre lovers can anticipate the arrival of HAMILTON at Broadway in Chicago (beginning September 27), a fan favorite that took Broadway by storm. The musical based on Ron Chernow's biography of Alexander Hamilton with book and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda (IN THE HEIGHTS) - is coming to Chicago's PrivateBank Theatre for its first run outside of New York.



As one of the world's star-studded dining scenes, Chicago is definitely a place for food lovers to whet their palette. Between newcomers and old favorites along Restaurant Row (Randolph St. between Halsted and Ashland streets) and neighboring Fulton Market, the options are deliciously in your favor. The northwest neighborhood of Logan Square is also coming up as an area for great eats and drinks, but with Chicago's richly diverse dining scene visitors are bound to find many favorites among the 4,900+ restaurants throughout the city.

Following the 9th annual Chicago Restaurant Week (January 22 - February 4), Chicago will gear up to host the prestigious James Beard Foundation Awards and Gala for the second year. Taking place on Monday, May 2, the awards -the Oscars of the food industry - honor the best chefs, restaurants, mixologists, and writers throughout the nation, set in one exciting culinary destination.

In addition, to the dozens of neighborhood food festivals and the annual Taste of Chicago festival, food lovers will get a chance to savor some of the best of Chicago's dining scene again in the fall during Bon Appétit presents Chicago Gourmet (September 23-25).



There's something to be said about the character of the following neighborhoods and the transformations that are underway. Larger influx of young professionals, new, hip restaurants and cafés popping up, art galleries and music venues for rising artists, are just some of the reasons that these neighborhoods are coming up as off-the-beaten path destinations in Chicago for travelers looking to live as the locals do and to see the city beyond the downtown limits.

  • Logan Square this increasingly trendy neighborhood will continue to grow in popularity as more bars and restaurants open their doors and scout the area as their next home. Known for its historic boulevards and mansions, the neighborhood has transformed into a hip hot spot for those craving good eats and great drinks. The opening of The 606 in June 2015, an under-utilized railway line turned walking/biking trail on the northwest side, will also continue to spur interest and development in the neighborhoods, as well as neighboring Humboldt Park.  
  • Humboldt Park anchored by the 219-acre namesake park, this neighborhood now boasts one of Chicago's best new steakhouses (Boefhaus) and is also the location of a couple of Brendan Sodikoff/Hogsalt Hospitality projects, including coffee house and cigar shop, C.C. Ferns, and retro bar and music lounge, California Clipper. In addition to recent newcomers, long-standing neighborhood favorites include Nelly's, Café Colao and La Plena Restaurant along Division Street, also known as Paseo Boricua, the cultural epicenter of the neighborhood. The neighborhood is rooted in the Puerto Rican culture, with nearly a quarter of its residents being of Puerto Rican descent. The National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts & Culture, located in the heart of Humboldt Park, celebrates the community's history and the culture of the people who call this neighborhood home. For fans of architecture, the building in which the museum is housed, is a restored historic landmark originally built as a music court and refectory and designed by Chicago architects Frommann and Jebsen.  
  • West Town an area that enjoys close proximity to downtown Chicago and the trendy Wicker Park neighborhood, West Town is shaping up to be a neighborhood for shoppers and diners. Grand Ave., which runs diagonally through the neighborhood is a designated design district, and Chicago Ave., the main business corridor, is home to a number of boutique shops and exciting culinary experiences including places like Charlatan, Mexique, Hoosier Mama Pie Co., West Town Bakery and Diner, and Mr Brown's Lounge.
  • Hyde Park known for being the site of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, as well as the location of President Barack Obama's Chicago residence, Hyde Park is quite the hot neighborhood. From great museums including the Museum of Science and Industry, The Smart Museum, and the DuSable Museum that form part of Museum Campus South; to rotating pop-up shops featuring Chicago designers and local crafts; plus an expanding dining scene featuring places such as Packed (new), A10, Promontory and Porkchop, this Southside neighborhood has plenty to offer in the way of culture, food and history.  
  • Pilsen -a neighborhood that boasts a vibrant Mexican community and long a destination for artists, Pilsen is attracting more restaurants, coffee shops and bars; plus with the opening of Thalia Hall in 2013, a music hall in a landmark opera house built in 1892, the reasons for visiting Pilsen continue to mount. Arts enthusiasts can enjoy the collections presented at the free National Museum of Mexican Fine Arts, or explore the bold street art that adorns the community.



The emergence of craft breweries in Chicago (around 60 and counting) in recent years has created beer nirvana in the city. Recent additions include Band of Bohemia, Begyle, Hopewell Brewery and Rick Bayless's soon-to-open Cruz Blanca. Beyond seeing more craft breweries and brewpubs pop up this year, there will also be more delicious food and beer pairings. Many Chicago restaurants continue to band together with Chicago-based microbreweries to introduce new flavor profiles and to offer experiences for beer lovers that go beyond brewery tours and tastings.

To celebrate all things craft beer, the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild will host Chicago Craft Beer Week 2016 (May 19-29) with an array of craft beer events, dinners and more.



Summer in Chicago indicates the start of festival season, and there are few cities that offer as many festivals as Chicago.

The ever popular Lollapalooza music festival will celebrate its 25th anniversary this year with four days of music (July 28-31), instead of three. Visitors can also take advantage of free open-air concerts during the Grant Park Music Festival and the Millennium Park Music Series. The summer will also feature the Gospel Music Festival (June 3 - 4), The Chicago Blues Festival (June 10-12), The Chicago Jazz Festival (September 1-4), and Chicago Summer Dance (June 24 - September 11).

Chicago summer festivals go beyond the loop with more than 100 neighborhood events that take place each summer celebrating everything from fine art, to music, craft beer, cultural heritage, and of course, food. The city holds more than 25 summer food festivals, from perennial favorites such as Taste of Chicago (July) and new favorites like Windy City Smokeout.  Other highly-anticipated summer festivals include Do-Division Street Fest and Sidewalk Sale (June 3-5), the 47th Annual Pride Parade (June 26) and festival in Boystown, and Taste of Randolph (June 19-21).



The sounds of blues and jazz are in many respects synonymous with Chicago, particularly as a result of The Great Migration. The influences of these music genres made their way to Chicago from the South and took shape nearly a century ago. Beyond these two music forms, Chicago is also where House music gained its popularity. Chicago continues to be a sounding board for new music styles and a stage for upcoming artists. Venues like Thalia Hall, Promontory, Constellation, 1st Ward, City Winery, The Hideout, Empty Bottle, Beat Kitchen, and Schubas/Lincoln Hall are among the many Chicago spots for great tunes and the potential to discover your next favorite artist.


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