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CHICAGO: WHAT to do in LINCOLN PARK & OLD TOWN

LINCOLN PARK AND OLD TOWN STAYCATION / VACATION

I love traveling for work and pleasure and I love coming home. I’m either never satisfied or always satisfied, depending upon how you look at it. Home is Chicago, more specifically the Lincoln Park neighborhood, and I’m constantly straying into nearby Old Town.

This post isn’t a “Best of” post: first off, I haven’t tried all my options in Lincoln Park and Old Town and second; even if I had, who am I to judge? (actually, my tastes are impeccable). It’s just a compilation of my regular haunts and favorite things to do that I highly recommend to others whether they’re visiting the area or they’re a local.

Lincoln Park Old Town Map

Credit: Peter Fitzgerald

WHERE TO STAY IN LINCOLN PARK AND OLD TOWN

The three hotels in the neighborhoods that I would recommend differ significantly from one another.

PUBLIC: PUBLIC, a luxury boutique hotel conceived by Ian Schrager, is the place to see and be seen of the three properties. Maximalist lobby, minimalist rooms. My favorite part? The multiple comfortable public spaces to relax and sip a cup of coffee, use the computer, cocktail it up or just people-watch. Who knows? You might run into a celebrity at 2:00 a.m.

Esme with Mark Ruffalo at PUBLIC Chicago

Pop downstairs (whether you’re a guest or not) to look at the black and white photos of celebrities at play at the famous former Pump Room during its heyday. 1301 N. State Parkway

Hotel Lincoln:  While PUBLIC is frenetic and flashy, the Hotel Lincoln has a more laid-back, retro (eclectic) vibe. The location — close to restaurants, shops and across the street from the actual Lincoln Park — is the best of this bunch for exploring Lincoln Park. This hipster property doesn’t take itself too seriously (a good thing): pets are welcome and the Wall of Bad Art (stop in and see it even if you don’t stay here) is refreshingly kitsch. 1816 N. Clark Street

Hotel Lincoln Lobby Old Town Chicago

Villa D’Citta Boutique Mansion: Villa D’Citta is the quiet, romantic choice. I have seen it only from the outside (the place looks stately) but online reviewers have ranked it #1 of 25 B&Bs in Chicago. Former guests rave over the hospitality extended, fresh-baked goods from the gourmet kitchen, and the wine-on-tap. They really like that wine-on-tap. 2230 N. Halsted Street

villa d citta lincoln park

FAVORITE THINGS TO DO IN LINCOLN PARK AND OLD TOWN

The most well-known attractions in Lincoln Park and Old Town are the Steppenwolf Theatre, Second City, the actual Lincoln Park and the Lincoln Park Zoo. My recommendations for the best less-obvious things to do follow.

SpaceTime Tanks: I haven’t yet tried the light/sound machine or the “vibroacoustic bed” (they’re on my list) but I highly recommend spending a deeply relaxing hour floating in one of their sensory deprivation tanks for a change of pace. 2526 N. Lincoln Avenue

Midwest Buddhist Temple: After walking by this temple and its pretty grounds for years I finally worked-up the nerve to attend the Sunday service in English. I felt welcome, enjoyed the sermon (if that’s what it’s called) on Buddhism and found the entire experience interesting (although I could have done with less chanting). I’ve gone once since, and I will likely go again. If you like gongs you’ll love this place. 435 W. Menomonee Street

Midwest Buddhist Temple Old Town Chicago

Fit Foot: Many a summer Saturday morning I will hoof-it to Fit Foot (stopping for quiche at Floriole Cafe & Bakery along the way) for a full one-hour foot and body massage. This place is sans frills: you’re clothed and lying in a sterile room with a bunch of other people (but I actually prefer it to the cucumber-water-Enya-playing-what-size-slippers-do-you-wear? high-end spa bullshit routine). A treatment costs only $28 (plus give a big tip). I recommend Wendy as a therapist. 1459 W. Fullerton Avenue

International Museum of Surgical Science: As an appreciator of architecture and sucker for bizarre museums, I’m a big fan of the IMSS. Housed in a nearly 100-year-old mansion, the exhibits, based on historical themes and surgical disciplines, make you glad that you’re living (and dying) in modern times. The contemporary anatomy-themed gallery is also cool. 1524 N. Lake Shore Drive

International Museum of Surgical Sciences Old Town Chicago

International Museum of Surgical Sciences Anatomy Art Old Town Chicago

Lincoln Park Home Walk: My own recommended one-hour walking tour of the most unique contemporary homes and McMansions (valued as high as $18 million) in the neighborhood. Starts at 953 W. Willow Street

922 West Willow Street Lincoln Park

Elks Veterans Memorial: I don’t think it occurs to many locals that this memorial is open to the public most days of the week, much of the year. Chances are you’ll have the friezes, statues, murals and grand rooms all to yourself. Don’t miss the photos in the room in the basement. The photo below is of the Grand Reception Room, which features a mural of the Feast of Mount Olympus, an abundance of gold leafing, all hand-carved wood, and door knobs with itty-bitty elk heads etched into them. 2750 N. Lakeview Avenue 

p.s. Proud to be the daughter of an Elk and first-round winner (10/25, underhand style) of the National Elks Hoop Shoot Free Throw Contest.

Elks Veterans Memorial Grand Reception Room

Astor Street Walk: Lincoln Park has Burling Street; Old town has Astor. Astor Street (named after John Jacob Astor) is home to Chicago’s most expensive, elaborate and stunning 19th-century homes. Take this walk right around dusk for glimpses of the decor inside them. Start at North Avenue and Astor Street

Astor Street Old Town Chicago

NOW WHAT?

Read my next post for where to eat, have a drink, or just hang-out in Lincoln Park and Old Town.

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HELL IS THE U.S. EMBASSY IN BANGKOK

play:

THE BANGKOK AIRPORT

The issue, I learn, is that all but one of the remaining pages of my passport has been covered in stamps and visas. Rookie mistake! Two passport pages are required to enter Indonesia.

Passport with no pages

I flip through my passport, helpfully pointing-out to Agent Ratched all of the half-filled pages at the front of the booklet that they can use.

Entry denied. 

THE U.S. EMBASSY IN BANGKOK

I arrive at the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok drenched in my own sweat, having baked in the AC-free cab the long, traffic-addled ride from the airport.

The U.S. Embassy in Bangkok. There to aid Americans in distress. A trusted friend. A lighthouse of hope to guide me through my Thailand travails. So glad I’m here.

No one Is answering the gate phone. It’s so, so hot.

The guards laugh at my obvious frustration. Not that Thais are cruel people — they tend to be very sweet — they just don’t display their anger and impatience like us farangs. Their mirth frustrates me further, fueling their amusement. I ask them what’s the deal with the embassy, but they speak only Thai  — which makes sense, since I’m in Thailand — but c’mon it’s the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok. U.S.! 

I ring again, a man answers. Yay!

“This is Dave.”

“Hi Dave.”

“…”

“Are you there, Dave?”

“Yes.”

I explain the situation to Dave. He tells me that I should be glad that I’m not the poor schmuck with visa issues that they let onto the plane yesterday, who is now resting in a cell in Indonesia Passport Control. Dave explains that the embassy is closed for Christmas. But the country is Buddhist?…?

I ask Dave what time the embassy opens tomorrow.

It doesn’t. Boxing Day. Since when do we celebrate Boxing Day?

I ask Dave about the following day.

Weekend. Closed. Oh for fuck’s sake.

THE INDONESIAN EMBASSY IN BANGKOK

Dragging Bagzillo and my two carry-ons behind me down the torn-up sidewalks of this crowded, polluted, stinking town, there’s not an available cab in sight. I hail a tuk-tuk. It’s either that or spontaneously combusting, right now, right here on the corner.

“Indonesian Embassy? Indonesian Embassy? You know it? Embassy Indonesia?” I implore of the tuk tuk driver. It’s a long shot, but possibly, possibly the Indonesian Embassy could help me.

“Yes.”

“Really?”

“Yes.”

“Promise?” I hop on, he piles my crap behind me.

And….he has no clue where the Indonesian Embassy is located, but when has not knowing the location of a destination every stopped a Bangkok driver? We circle, stop, ask. Circle, stop, ask.

And we’re here.

The Indonesian Embassy is also closed in observation of Christmas. Since when do Muslims…? Why ask why?

I kick Bagzillo. Dumb bag, dumb!

AMERICAN CITIZEN SERVICES OF THE U.S. EMBASSY IN BANGKOK

Hours of Operation: Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.; 1:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. (I know Spanish bankers who work longer hours)

Address: U.S. Embassy Bangkok 95 Wireless Road Bangkok 10330

Contact: +66-02-205-4049 (T);  +66-02-205-4103 (F); Email: acsbkk@state.gov; @acsbkk

After Hours Emergencies: In the event of an emergency outside business hours, American citizens may dial (011)(66) 02-205-4000 and ask to speak to the duty officer.

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THE HENRY HOTEL: MY DETROIT SECRET

I have a secret: I like going to Detroit. Which is good, because I go there all the time for work. I pretend as though I’m making great sacrifices for my job, but the truth is…I enjoy it, because staying at The Henry Hotel is like taking a mini-vacation.

The Henry Detroit Mural

GETTING THERE: It’s Detroit (Dearborn, actually). You either take a short cab ride or rent a car (no on-airport rentals). Depending on occupancy, the trip from the parking lot can be a hike, but it’s free and the valet service is speedy.

LOCATION: Fine. A 10-minute drive from the airport and close to I-94 for reaching downtown. Plenty of decent restaurants in the area (but not within walking distance).

SERVICE: Nearly impeccable.The staff are friendly without being obsequious and they’ll recognize you after only a few stays.

The Henry Hotel Detroit LobbyATMOSPHERE: Bright! Ecclectic! Cosmopolitan! Such an improvement from its stuffy, serious old self when The Henry Hotel was a Ritz Carlton. A brilliant Timothy Yanke painting greets you at the front desk, and they don’t scrimp on colorful artwork (Maxx, Tarkay) throughout the property. The decor is ballsy and refreshing: Tiffany Blue walls, chandeliers, glossy white moulding and more glossy white moulding.

ROOMS: Contemporary and luxurious (the two aren’t mutually exclusive but you wouldn’t know that from most properties). Bold prints, plush bedding and marble in the bathroom. Now if they’d only allow me to make it a little warmer in the room

GYM: Only average, but the granola bars are good.

RESTAURANT/BAR: The Henry Hotel dining room succeeds at being upscale without being formal. Choose from private dining, a communal table, hightops or bar seating. The selection varies from swordfish filets to fish tacos. A mixed clientele makes for interesting people watching and conversation flows at the bar, creating a comfortable, welcoming atmosphere for the solo business traveler – men and women alike. Like elsewhere in the hotel, the customer service is excellent (Audra’s a star), and their secret weapon is Mark, the maitre d’ (he of the almost eerie mental Rolodex of hotel guests), who greets you like a long-lost friend. He has some good stories he could tell, that one.

Oh, and…the wine pours are generous. I LIKE that in a place.

THE CONCIERGE LOUNGE: I saved the best part for last. Marriott Gold Members have 24-hour access to the Concierge Lounge where Natti and Marlene have created a home-away-from-home for them. It’s a pretty sweet concierge lounge, with views that extend to Canada, an extensive newspaper selection, multiple computers and printers, a flat screen tv, complimentary breakfast, a happy hour that you can make a meal out of, and premium liqueurs and desserts at night. Try dipping the Rice Krispie bars in the chocolate fondue in between sips of Grand Marnier.

THE HENRY HOTEL IN CONCLUSION…

The Henry Hotel. Detroit’s oasis. Don’t tell my boss.

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