DAY ONE: REFLECTIONS OF GRANDEUR
Spend the morning exploring Millennium Park; home to the Jay Pritkzer Pavilion, which houses a Frank Gehry-designed amphitheater, the Crown Fountain, two 50-foot glass block towers that project video images of the faces of more than 1,000 Chicagoans, and the magnificent "Cloud Gate" (often referred to as "The Bean" sculpture by locals), the Anish Kapoor-designed sculpture which reflects the city skyline. Millennium Park garners raves from visitors and civic leaders all over the world.
Next, walk the short distance to the majestic Art Institute of Chicago (111 S. Michigan Ave.; 312-443-3600), a world-class institution with many paintings you studied in art history class.
Nearby is the museum campus housing three science museums, all walking distance from each other just south of the Loop: The Field Museum of Natural History (1400 S. Lake Shore Dr. at Roosevelt Rd.; 312-922-9410) features "Sue," the most complete T. rex skeleton ever reassembled; The Shedd Aquarium (1200 S. Lake Shore Dr.; 312-939-2438), the world's largest indoor aquarium, is home to some 8,000 aquatic animals; and the Adler Planetarium (1300 S. Lake Shore Dr.; 312-922-STAR) is nearby.
Once you?ve had your fill of culture, cross the river and feast on Rick Bayless? authentic, gourmet regional Mexican cuisine at Topolobampo or its more casual sibling Frontera Grill (both at 445 N. Clark St; 312-661-1434; Frontera Grill $16-36). Although the crowd is mostly straight, both places are a must-try for any visiting foodie.
Suitably fortified, it?s time for retail therapy. Michigan Avenue between the Chicago River and Oak Street is known as the Magnificent Mile, home to top department stores including Marshall Field's (Water Tower Place and 111 N. State St.; the latter is the original store). Nordstom Michigan Avenue (55 E. Grand Ave) offers 271,000 square feet of clothes, shoes, and accessories for the family. Nordstrom began as a shoe store and you may be shocked at the breadth of footwear offered -- and the depth of the staff's shoe knowledge. Water Tower Place (845 N. Michigan Ave.) is the country's first vertical shopping mall, all glass and chrome, with the toniest stores in town. Nearby Oak Street offers trendy boutiques.
Downtown Chicago is an architectural feast. The earliest skyscrapers vie for space next to the Sears Tower and the John Hancock Building. The best way to learn about the city's architectural history is by taking the Architecture River Cruise given by the Chicago Architecture Foundation (224 S. Michigan Ave.; 312-922-3432).
If you?ve a late dinner reservation, pop into Eno Wine Room (Fairmont, 200 N. Columbus Drive; 312-946-7000) and check out the cheeseboards and wine flights at this chic chocolate, cheese, and wine bar. Keep in mind they have a ?snappy chic? dress code.
Make sure to leave plenty of room for the thrilling fixed price menus at the city?s hottest haute seafood dining destination, L20 (pronounced ?El Two Oh,? 2300 N. Lincoln Park W.; 773-868-0002; fixed price menus $110-165). You wouldn?t want to miss out on lobster with Tahitian vanilla or any of the other sumptuous Japanese, Spanish, and New American fusion fare.
After all that fine food, it?s time to visit some of the stalwarts of Chicago?s gay nightlife scene. Visitors will find Chicago's nightlife scene to be less aggressive and style-conscious than New York's or L.A.'s, and the difference is refreshing. Many Chicago bars and clubs have a welcoming feel to them, and you're likely to strike up an easy conversation with strangers, if they don't approach you first. Chicago liquor laws enable bars to obtain either a 2 a.m. or 4 a.m. liquor license. Most bars close at 2 a.m., although a growing number or bars (especially dance clubs) stay open until 4 a.m. An additional hour is extended to all bars Saturday, when closing is 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. The majority of gay bars are in Boystown (Lakeview) on N. Halsted Street, or farther north in Andersonville, but downtown has a few (including the occasional straight club with a gay night) and other neighborhood bars abound all over the city as well.
The two most popular bars in town are Sidetrack (3349 N. Halsted St.; 773-477-9189) and Roscoe's (3354 N. Halsted St.; 773-281-3355), located across the street from each other and acting together as the main anchors of the scene. Sidetrack is a video bar specializing in theme nights ('70s & '80s; show tunes; comedy night), and is busy most every night of the week. It's by far the most popular gay bar in Chicago. The roof deck is jammed in the summer months, and an atrium added several years ago has officially become the most popular part of the bar. In the atrium, visitors will find tall ceilings and lots of metal, brick and glass, accented with video monitors in every open space. Valet parking is available. Roscoe's is the stomping ground for a wide-eyed and barely legal set of young gays who find themselves here soon after reaching their 21st birthdays. The bar is actually quite nice (think: neighborhood tavern atmosphere) with outdoor seating on the street and within a fenced-in area, a high-energy dance floor, regular drag shows and theme nights and a roaring fireplace for cozy encounters.
Make Circuit (3641 N. Halsted St.; 773-325-2233), Boystown's largest dance space, your next stop. It offers 3D glitter-effect flooring and a dance space even bigger than before. It caters to a young dance crowd that includes muscle boys and Latinos.
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