Paris in Chicago
A Peninsula Hotel is opening in Paris, just steps from the Arc de Triomphe and locals are so excited that when I mentioned we were headed to Chicago, a handful of them suggested we try the hotel’s Michigan Avenue lodgings to find a little bit of Paris in Chicago. The Peninsula may be an Asian hotel, but even in the US, it couldn’t have felt more like a Paris hotel, with their weekend Chocolate Bar in full swing as we arrived. The Chocolate Bar is a deliciously decadent extravaganza of Parisian inspired pastries, crêpes and chocolat chaud prepared by a French chef. It tasted like we’d never left home.
The next morning we made like true tourists and headed up to the ear popping 94th floor of the John Hancock Tower for an overview of the city. Stupendous! In the hall there was a large tv, “Tour Montparnasse” splashed across the screen. Curious, I touched the screen and was soon controlling a webcam on the 56th floor of the infamous tower in the 14th arrondissement of Paris. I could see my street and even spied the neighbors’ children in the Breteuil gardens, from the heart of Chicago in real time!
Heading out of the tower and strolling in the meandering way Parisians call flâner, we soon found ourselves in Lincoln Park, and the zoo. Watching their baby rhino brought to mind the zoo at the Parc de Vincennes, which is Paris’ version that just reopened after years of renovation.
For lunch we were tempted by the promise of crab cakes at Ralph Lauren. A unique taste of America, available on the boul St Germain or Michigan Ave. European shopping is just steps away, as Louis Vuitton and Chanel top the Magnificent Mile, leading to the European luxury boutiques on Oak St.
Downtown Chicago is like an enormous outdoor Centre Pompidou, with Kapoor’s monumental Cloud Gate and Chagall’s Four Seasons just a block away from works by Picasso, Miro and Dubuffet. Like most Parisians, we are devout cinophiles and could not resist running à la Blues Brothers, pretending to leave a check at the front desk of the Cook County offices.
As we walked “home” up the Magnificent Mile, we passed the same shops that line the Champs Elysées. Before long, we were at the Parisian bar, Bistro Zinc, resting our tired legs and enjoying a glass of wine at this charming little place that even sounds like France as heavy cutlery bangs and jangles just a tone below the wavering voice of Edith Piaf.
Being in Chicago, we could imagine nothing more appropriate than a steak frites dinner at Gibson’s, which was absolutely delicious and included the formally clad, impressively efficient, yet slightly grumpy waiters we are used to at home.
Parisians cover museums like butter on a warm baguette, and the next morning we were surrounded by our countrymen as we entered the Art Institute of Chicago.
Seurat’s Ile de la Jatte, transported us to that island on the Seine, with its rich palette of pastel greens. Other galleries brought to mind the Quai Branly, Musée Guimet, and the Louvre.
Chicago, being Chicago, the weather turned just as we left the museum, dropping 20° in just a few minutes and sprinkling us with snow. Having lived perhaps too long in Paris, I screeched something about my hair, threw the family into a cab and headed back to the hotel where I squeezed in a sumptuous spa treatment while everyone else relaxed at their indoor pool.
In the 1920’s African American jazz musicians fled racism and segregation in the US and flocked to Paris, where jazz fans still fill local clubs. Similarly, the Chicago Blues Bar has performances almost every night, while legendary (and local) stars like Mavis Staples are invited to perform before enraptured audiences at the Symphony Center.
We spent much of our time in the Windy City marveling at the immense wealth of art, theater and architecture and we are astounded that we don’t hear more about this world class destination, as we started planning our next in the taxi ride back to O’Hare.
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