St. Patrick’s Day has been a time of celebration during the last couple of years of my life.
For more than 40 years, the Chicago River has been dyed green as as part of the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade celebration in Chicago, Ill. (TMP Photo/T. Swann)
After a trip to New Orleans over the St. Patrick's Day holiday weekend last year, my girlfriend, Kristen, and I decided to venture to Chicago this year in pursuit of an early spring getaway.
Like many from the South, there are ties to our neighbors across the Ohio River, and mine come in the form of cousins and the auto industry. So, to venture this way wasn’t new, but the Chicago experience definitely was a fresh one.
While planning the best we could a few months prior, we relied on one of my favorite new magazines, "Garden & Gun," for a few choice picks in the food and entertainment area from one of their recent features on the city.
So the first stop was none other than Jack Fry’s in Louisville, Ky. It has a rich history and probably one of the best hamburgers I’ve tasted in a minute. At this point, "Garden & Gun" was shooting a perfect 100 percent.
After driving through Indiana, the hours passed by swiftly before arriving upon the backdrop of Chicago lights.
Cruising down Lake Shore Drive, we soon arrived at The Whitehall Hotel, an older, independent hotel that prides itself in European elegance.
The first stop the next morning was the Sunny Side Up for breakfast. Though veering away from our playbook, The Chicago Way was a great menu choice to start the day.
With a full day on the radar, it was definitely a great day to be a tourist after visiting Millennium Park and “the bean” along with The Art Institute of Chicago.
In what seemed like a three- to four-hour visit, I had the opportunity to gaze upon some essential works such as Edward Hopper’s "Nighthawks," Seurat’s "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte" and a Picasso exhibit, among many other pieces.
After all of this activity, a short break was overdue before the nightcap at The Purple Pig. Holding down a two-hour wait time, it was well worth it and "Garden & Gun" was now a perfect two-for-two.
The tagline “cheese, wine and swine” covers about all you need to know about the place. The best way to take in this restaurant is to not rush and enjoy yourself for a while. After a round of Le Chevre Noir and a milk-braised pork shoulder, it was time to call it a night.
The final day was the hallmark of the trip and why we had been waiting in anticipation – the St. Patrick’s Day parade and the dyeing of the Chicago River.
The day was staggered with an event every hour on the itinerary, so we had to keep to tradition and start off at Heaven on Seven on Rush St. for a breakfast that consisted of New Orleans flair and a shrimp omelet. Though this wasn’t a select entry in our Chicago guide, it was within the copy of "Garden & Gun," so I counted it as a three-for-three so far.
Starting at 10 a.m. Saturday, crowds were already gathered across Michigan Avenue and other streets to witness the dyeing of the river before the parade kicked off at noon.
After taking the CTA bus down the street, crowds were departing and we thought we were at a loss.
Nonetheless, we kept on trucking to find the second leg of the parade down another street with some of the finest Clydesdale horses that I’ve ever witnessed.
Of course, there is only so long you can stand and watch a parade, we soon ended the day at the Navy Pier before heading in for a late afternoon nap.
For the final night, we were determined to keep the "Garden & Gun" trend going with the recommendation of the Green Mill Jazz Club.
Located in the Uptown area, this had potential to be on of the highlights of the weekend, but after a bouncer asking us twice if we we’re going to leave before the cover charge, the presence of no food options and the overall pretentious of the staff, we decided to move along back to downtown.
Though it may be great under different preconceptions, I wasn’t feeling it and will have to give the magazine a 3-for-4 overall for the weekend.
After the ride back into downtown, there was one more item on the checklist that was not to be missed – “Chicago Style” pizza. With that being said, Giordano’s was the proven choice to close it out.
A true son of the South, I’m loyal to being Tennessee born and Tennessee bred, but Chicago has much to offer visitors in the way of food, art and hospitality.
It did leave me with a great first round experience, but next time I hope to spread my wings and explore more of the city and hear some music as well.
Overall, the trip was one for the books and it will leave me with a reason to want more of “sweet home Chicago.