My Kind of Town (Even in Winter)

Chicago (especially during the winter when it’s cold, windy and, if I’m really lucky, snowing), has always been one of my favorite cities to travel to for work. 



Maybe it has something to do with all of the classic movies set in the city in the winter, like “Christmas Vacation,” “While You Were Sleeping” and “Home Alone,” but the blustery winds blowing in off of Lake Michigan seem strangely comforting.

So when the Renaissance Blackstone Chicago Hotel offered to host me for an evening last week, I happily accepted the invitation.  On South Michigan Avenue overlooking Grant Park/Millennium Park (and the famous Buckingham Fountain), it’s perfectly situated for taking in Chicago’s museums, shopping and architecture – or just holing up and enjoying the hotel’s warmth and hospitality.

The Blackstone revels in its “notorious past,” playing host to the likes of famous and infamous guests, including Al Capone.  You have probably seen it in films; I remember it from its ongoing cameo on the late-90s TV series “Early Edition” (which starred a pre-"Friday Night Lights" Kyle Chandler).

The hotel is a beautiful mix of historic and contemporary design.  From the Beaux-Arts architecture to the stunning lobby to the modern design in the rooms and suites (a room similar to mine is pictured below right), the hotel is a feast for the eyes.

Speaking of feasts, the Blackstone is home to the award-winning tapas restaurant Mercat a la Planxa (helmed by a James Beard awarding-winning Iron Chef, Jose Garces).  

Tapas restaurants are usually not my first choice when dining solo, since having several people around the table makes it easier to sample several dishes.  But with a tasting menu, I was able to try numerous dishes, from the heavenly bacon-wrapped dates with almonds to the savory braised rabbit and mushroom croquettes with fennel and tomato aioli (pictured below).  If you think you don’t like cauliflower, their crunchy oven-roasted version with paprika bread crumbs, pickled mustard seeds and goat cheese will make you a convert.

If you’re heading to the Windy City for Valentine's weekend – or you live in Chicagoland and want to plan a special evening - check out their special Valentine package.  Just $259 per night, it includes a four-course prix fixe dinner for two at Mercat.  Ask for a room overlooking Lake Michigan, and you’ll wake up to the sunrise (weather-permitting), a warm and cozy spot to enjoy the (included) fruit and pastries that will be delivered to your room.


(Photos courtesy Blackstone Renaissance and Mercat).