What’s your Chicago, Chicago?

Features
What’s your Chicago, Chicago?

It’s high-rise and shine in the windy city. Briony Key reports from ‘the heart of it’, at the city’s convention and event hub, McCormick Square.

The Collection is an inter-connected development cluster that includes North America’s largest convention space – McCormick Place, the new 10,000-seater Wintrust Arena, the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place and the newly opened Marriott Marquis Chicago.

By the end of next year the cluster will also have a 466-room Hilton Triplex hotel, providing the complex with around 3,000 rooms. And between 2014 and 2018 it will have generated US$9.4bn from the new openings just mentioned, and other improvements.

Hotel havens

The Marriott Marquis is a trendy 40-storey high rise with over 8,361sqm of function space, including two 2,322sqm ballrooms.

Many of its 1,205-rooms face Lake Michigan, and it’s also a showcase for 40 Chicago artists.

The 1,258-room Hyatt Regency McCormick Place is just completing a $12m lobby, restaurant and bar renovation. It has 4,000sqm of meeting space, including the 1,114sqm Regency Ballroom and also enjoys great views.

McCormick Place

This vast premier place welcomes 3m visitors each year. It has an indoor arena with over 241,548msqm of exhibiton hall space, nine exhibition halls, 170 meeting rooms, 55,741sqm of meeting room space, six ballrooms (two are the city’s largest), assembly seating for 18,000, a 4,249-seater theatre and three 300-seater theatres.

The campus is on the near South Side, close to existing attractions including Shedd Aquarium and Adler Planetarium.

But it was history and current planning that caught my interest as Chicago’s best viewed in past/forward tense.

Motor Row

McCormick Square is next to Motor Row, a strip of Michigan Avenue the famous 20th century home of Ford, Buick, Fiat and Cadilac.

I visited the historic and fascinating Revel Motor Row – home to the former Illinois Automobile Club and the African-American newspaper, the Chicago Defender.

The famous space has hosted everyone from Michael Jackson to Martin Luther King and Barack Obama, and is now restored as a 4,645sqm event space for up to 2,600.

There’s over 20 event spaces, including an ornate boardroom, and the 371sqm outdoor courtyard.

I also had my first craft beer at Motor Row Brewing. I learn there are 77 districts and over 60 small breweries!

Then it was time to dine at the Chicago Firehouse Restaurant. Ironically, the former base of Engine Company 104 burnt down, but it’s back in style, a bustling, welcoming place, with great service and a steak to remember. There are also three private dining areas upstairs – the Palmer Parlor, once the fire chief’s home (64 seated, 100 reception), and the Kimball Parlor (48 seated, 75 reception). They can also be linked. The Veranda can also be booked (40 seated, 70 reception).

Feeling the heat

Chicago is no stranger to fire as in 1871 the city burnt to the ground, but its spirited people rebuilt with pioneering architecture, placing their home at the forefront of skyscraper development.

The Chicago World Fair of 1893 celebrated this rise from the ashes, with an exposition that got the world talking and inspired America’s industrial optimism, which continues today.

City promoters are working hard to exceed targets. Choose Chicago  participated in IMEX Frankfurt for the first time in 2017, and the bureau representd the city at ibtm world in Barcelona last November.

Two sales professionals are now dedicated to bringing international MICE programmes to Chicago.

Attractions

Millennium Park is the obvious down town attraction, with Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate sculpture, ‘the bean’, an eye-catching highlight. But Chicago Architectural Foundation’s boat tour with First Lady Cruises is also a must, as is the sky deck of Chicago’s tallest building, the Willis Tower, and the hop on, hop off Big Bus tour (each can be privately hired). The Museum of Science and Industry is also a must visit, and has a meeting options for 80 to 8,000.

Where to eat and drink

The roof-top Terzed Piano restaurant at the Art Institute is a special, welcome break from the busy streets, as is the Columbus Tap at the AAA four-diamond Fairmont Hotel.

Michelin-star restaurant Sepia also now has a sister next door, with the newly-opened Proxi giving diners a more laid-back fine-dining experience that complements its famous sibling well.

Proxi (private event space for 14) Fulton Market Kitchen (FMK) (for up to 280) and Eately (with many corporate hire options) each bring their own edgy individuality to the table, with fine food complemented by quirky meeting spaces and helpful staff.

So, while FMK gets everyone thinking creative at its art gallery, cocktail bar, restaurant setting, Eately offers cooking classes, beer tastings, lunch, dinner and receptions.

Anyone needing a sense of calm will enjoy private dining at another Chicago icon, the Spiaggia Restaurant and Lounge.

The Chopping Block is also worth a mention, as it’s a fun setting to host cooking classes for corporates. The entire venue can be hired (for up to 300), for parties, wine tastings and teambuilding events.

The business is located in the iconic Art Deco Merchandise Mart, which – when opened in 1930 – was the world’s largest building. The Mart is also home to Marshall’s Landing, which has a grand bar, lounge and private dining room overlooking the Chicago River.

Then there’s Morgan Manufacturing which boasts ‘industrial elegance’ in its four-room, 3,000sqm setting. This trendy option caters for 200-1,000 guests for cocktails, dinners, parties and product launches. And let’s not forget great roof-top cocktail stops at 18th floor Devereaux’s pool bar and lounge and 13th floor Cindy’s, with its Millennium Park view terrace.

Chicago’s financial investment is impressive, but the pride its people hold for their city is it’s greatest asset. That my view – ‘What’s your Chicago’?