Chicago Life: Friends in Town

by anneMoore on March 7, 2012

Good friends made it easy to show off Chicago’s rich offerings of art, architecture, parks, museums and food this weekend. Affable and curious, they had ideas of what they wanted to see and experience while in town, but didn’t overdo it. With just a few hours left on Sunday, could they get to Ernest Hemingway’s childhood home in Oak Park?  Not quickly.

I tagged along to enjoy the architecture and gallery show at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington St. Once the city’s main public library, the block long structure holds, among other wonders, the world’s largest Tiffany dome. Mosaics of Favrile glass, mother of pearl and colored stone cover interior walls and arches. The room glows.

Another treat: formerly the library’s main reading room, the Sidney R. Yates Gallery is a red-walled salon with huge windows framed by carved silver-leaf surrounds. There through July 8, “Morbid Curiosity,” the collection of Richard Harris, is a display of art that depicts death, from Goya’s “the Disasters of War” to ceramic “Dance of Death” playing pieces, to a Dutch still life with a skull. My favorites: Victorian family portraits superimposed with skulls. Also a shiny red Venus, her veiled face revealing a skull.

For lunch, we headed to a new spot across the street. Toni Patisserie, 65 E. Washington St., feels like a piece of Paris broke loose and landed in the Loop. Tarts, cakes, sandwiches, tartines, salad, quiche are displayed in glass cases. Small marble tables make for an intimate meal. We had the day’s soup, tomato, and split a prosciutto and chevre tartine. We’ll be back.

A walk through Millennium Park still surprises. Then again, maybe I haven’t been paying attention. When I looked into “The Bean’s” underbelly I felt pulled into a giant vortex.

True, it’s winter, so the park’s gardens are brown, the symphony isn’t practicing, the Crown Fountain’s “gargoyles” don’t spurt water.

On to the Art Institute of Chicago, 111 S. Michigan Ave. How fun is it to show off the museum’s vast collection? Very. It’s like walking through Janson’s “History of Art.” Too, my friend wanted to see the Thorne Miniature Rooms. There’s 68, each of them a time capsule of design and furnishings. I hadn’t visited in years. This time I stopped to learn about the craftsmen who created these marvelous rooms.

The next morning we strolled over to Lincoln Park Zoo’s Nature Boardwalk, a half mile walk that loops a recently refurbished pond and its marshy prairie.

Leaving the park we noticed Hotel Lincoln on the verge of opening, 1816 N. Clark Street. Shuttered for several years, its rebirth is cause for neighborhood joy.

Good guests leave great gifts: red and blue shot glasses and a tray from the 1967 Expo in Montreal. (Yes, Georgia: for Pythonga!) Also Lawrence Desautel’s new book of poetry, “Dancing with that Woman at Whiskey Woes,” which I’m savoring. (Beautiful cover, Ryan Arthurs.) Here’s a sample from it:

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