Travel: Chicago, home to its very own ‘Boystown’

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Writing for Joey Amato takes us on a tour of America’s favourite ‘Windy City’.

When a city boasts a neighbourhood appropriately named “Boystown”, you know you are in for a treat. Although it’s the 3rd largest city in the country in terms of population, Chicago seems vastly different from Los Angeles and New York. Maybe it’s the Midwestern mentality that generates passion and hospitality amongst the locals. Or quite possibly its picturesque border along Lake Michigan is what makes the Windy City a truly magical place.

Getting around Chicago is simple. Guests arriving at either O’Hare or Midway airports can board a train to downtown making transportation virtually painless and inexpensive. Once downtown, visitors can stay at any one of dozens of large hotels or opt for smaller boutiques. I chose to stay at the spectacular Radisson Blu.

The first of its kind in the United States, Radisson Blu, part of Aqua Tower, is a chic, 86-story towering oasis designed by Jeanne Gang near the border of Lake Michigan, which features luxurious guest rooms, state-of-the-art fitness centre, conference space and Felini, an Italian-inspired restaurant and bar which was bustling with patrons almost every time I passed by. The hotel is located a short 10-minute taxi ride from Boystown, the heart of the city’s LGBT community.

This fall, the Art Institute of Chicago will present a tribute to Jeanne Gang, the developer of Radisson Blu and Aqua Tower. The exhibition titled, Building: Inside Studio Gang Architects will be on display from September 24 until February 24, 2013 in the museum’s Architecture and Design Galleries.

The exhibit will feature over a dozen projects framed around four major issues facing contemporary architecture: its relationship to nature, questions of density, building community, and architecture as performance.

In addition to Aqua Tower, SGA has developed other awe-inspiring projects including the Hyderabad O2, a high-rise community in Hyderabad, India; an ecological revitalisation project for Lincoln Park Zoo’s South Pond in Chicago; and Harbour Knot, a concert venue, maritime museum, and public park designed for Kaohsiung, Taiwan.

After an afternoon at the museum, head to Halsted Street – the heart of LGBT activity. The street is lined with dozens of gay bars, shops and restaurants, perfect for a gay-getaway. The Kit Kat Lounge & Supper Club is a premier destination venue for any occasion.  The restaurant offers an innovative martini and cocktail menu, contemporary cuisine, entertainment by the world famous Kit Kat Divas and sleek decor.

Entrees are given names of famous television and movie actors. Standouts include Gregory Peck, wagyu beef meatballs served with whole wheat spaghetti in a tomato-basil sauce. Another great selection is Bea Arthur, a delicious skirt steak accompanied by baby spinach, gorgonzola and bacon with a mustard vinaigrette.

For traditional American fare, visit Halsted’s Bar & Grill where diners can choose from a large selection of starters and entrees including the restaurant’s famous selection of burgers. Some of my favourites included the Brie Mushroom Burger and Halsted’s Homemade Shrimp Burger made with fresh shrimp mixed with peppers, onions and topped with an avocado and herb aioli.

Boystown comes alive at sundown, where the streets are filled with revellers until the wee hours of the morning. There are almost too many gay bars to visit on one trip, but bar hopping is encouraged so you can feel the vibe of this wonderful destination. Start off at Sidetrack, the largest bar in the city, which features a great rooftop beer garden, and seven large rooms catering to nearly every musical taste and style.

Just a few doors down is Minibar Ultra Lounge, one of my favourite destinations in the city. The cosy space is perfect for an evening cocktail with friends or a great opportunity to meet the locals in an intimate setting. The bartenders here as extremely friendly and pour great drinks.

Roscoe’s is one of Chicago’s must-see venues and caters to a younger crowd. Food is served in the attached cafe next door and the outdoor patio gets packed in the summer. Check out the wet underwear contest the last Thursday of each month hosted by drag diva Frida Lay.

If partying isn’t your glass of vodka, catch a Cub’s game at Wrigley Field or during football season, head to Soldier Field and watch the Bears take on one of their NFC rivals for an experience not to be missed.

You can’t truly experience Chicago without a trip to Navy Pier. The 50-acre oasis of entertainment, museums, activities, restaurants, and shops is the perfect place for some fun time with your partner or friends. The pier’s most eye-catching attraction is the 150-foot Ferris wheel, which offers great views of the city and Lake Michigan. Also check out the whimsical musical carousel, Wave Swinger lift-and-twirl ride, miniature golf course, and remote control boats.

Catch a movie on Chicago’s largest movie screen at the IMAX Theatre. Or take a dynamic high-speed motion thrill ride to Antarctica on the Transporter FX.  Navy Pier is always a great place to spend the afternoon if this is your first time visiting the city.

Just a brisk walk from the hotel is Millennium Park, located in the heart of downtown Chicago. The park is an award-winning centre for art, music, architecture and landscape design. The result of a unique partnership between the City of Chicago and the philanthropic community, the 24.5-acre park features the work of world-renowned architects, planners, artists and designers. Among Millennium Park’s prominent features are the Frank Gehry-designed Jay Pritzker Pavilion, the most sophisticated outdoor concert venue of its kind as well as the interactive Crown Fountain by Jaume Plensa and what locals refer to as “the bean.”

While in Chicago, don’t forget to pick up a copy of GRAB Magazine or the Windy City Times for local LGBT news and events. Plan to stay a minimum of five days to truly experience all of the wonderful sites and attractions Chicago has to offer.

For more information visit Explore Chicago.