NFT Chicago The Loop

The Loop

The Loop derives its moniker from the L tracks that lasso the city's heart. This here is the bustling financial and business district, where banks are plentiful and parking is pricey. The intersection of State and Madison is literally ground zero (0 east, 0 west, 0 north, 0 south) for Chicago's easy-to-follow street numbering grid. Watching over it all is North America's tallest building the Sears Tower -- no wait, the Willis Tower, but don't ever call it that in public.

The post-work crowd hangs here just long enough to forget that they have to return to the office the next morning. From stomping on a floor covered in peanut shells at Monk's Pub to sipping martinis at South Branch, drinking environments range from dive to high-dollar. If you're here past happy hour, head to "Broadway in Chicago" for proof that, yes, you are cultured. Make your mom proud and your wallet happy with a free history lesson at the See more.

>Chicago Cultural Center.


This Neighborhood Featured in...
Bringing Out Baby

By Nina Williams
Just because you have a new little one in your life, doesn't mean your days of going out on the town are totally over. Join Nina Williams as she brings out the baby all over Chicago.

Air Conditioned Chicago

By David Rosenstock
It's a hot and pitiless world out there. Nothing beats a cool, architecturally inspiring walk in the corridor to get you back to your pre-liquified self. Join David Rosenstock as he takes you on a verbally acuitous journey through the bowels of  downtown's lobbies, markets and secret passageways--all air-conditioned, all life-changing.

Summer Fun with the Kids

By Dina Weinstein
Childhood wasn't officially institutionalized until the Victorian Era. And now we have to live with the consequences. Museums, excursions, jaunts to the beach: Children are pampered and indoctrinated to become better adults and stronger individuals. Inconvenient and time-consuming? Not in Chicago! Let Dina take you on a child-centric tour.  


On Our Radar:

Posted By:  Rob Tallia
Photo:  Rob Tallia

Willis Tower (Sears Tower)
When we went to the Willis Tower, there was no line to get up to the skydeck--although the labyrinthine path we needed to follow to get to the ticket booth and the elevator suggested that many times, there would be quite a significant line. So, while the view from the top of the Willis is cool, I'd wait for low-tourist-season-random-weeknight-around-dusk to go (worked for us). But, without the line--very worth it, most of all for the insaner-than-insane glass overhangs (pictured) at the top, where you can actually see straight down to the base of the tower. The industrial sunset was also pretty cool, as was some of the history of Chicago and famous Chicagoans on the interior walls of the skydeck. But the view--quite a good one of many of Chicago's more architecturally significant skyscrapers and buildings, and coupled with the glass overhangs, worth the price. Do it in conjuction with the Chicago Architectural Foundation's great Boat Tour of Chicago, and you'll be an instant expert on Chicago architecture (and the boat tour serves alcohol--another bonus!).

Posted By:  Jill Jaracz
Photo:  Jill Jaracz

The Chicago Theatre
An evening of glitz, style, fashion, food, and music could only be called Glamorama, and every year the Chicago Theatre's stage turns into a catwalk for this spectular benefit event. Each year Macy's puts on a great show, and this year will be no exception--they're pulling out all the stops by bringing in headliner Ne-Yo, who will perform his Grammy-winning hits during this fashion event. Featured designers include Marc Jacobs, Sonia Rykiel, Jean Paul Gaultier, Just Cavalli, Sportmas, MaxMara, and CNC Costume National, which ensures that the catwalk will appeal to the punk princess, cowboy, and urban sophisticate in all of us. This year's festivities will benefit Ronald McDonald House Charities of Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana. The event starts at 8 pm, with a post-party at Macy's on State Street. Tickets range from $50-1000 and can be ordered through Ticketmaster or at the theater's box office. (Photo courtesy of Macy's)

Posted By:  Craig Nelson
Photo:  Craig Nelson

Intelligentsia Coffee
With 4 billion Starbucks in The Loop and Near North, it's easy to be lazy when it comes to coffee. But with the perfect cappuccino only a few minutes away, there's absolutely no excuse not to make the trek to the beloved Intelligentsia Coffee near Millennium Park. Exquisite drinks, hip and friendly baristas, cool music, real ceramic cups, outdoor's coffee heaven right in the middle of Chicago. So next time you find yourself opening that door with the green mermaid on it, remember, some of the best java in the world is just down the street.

Posted By:  Lisa Siciliano
Photo:  Lisa Siciliano

Potbelly Sandwich Works
What started off as an antique store selling toasted sandwiches in 1977, has now turned into a full-fledged sandwich works Mecca with stores located all around the country. Chicago is Potbelly's homebase, though, with its very first sandwich shop born on Lincoln Avenue. While the sandwiches are more expensive than Subway's 12-inch for $5 deal (you can get a 6-inch for around $4.50) the hot, greasy, and gooey tastiness of each and every sandwich creation that goes down the assembly line of toppings is worth the extra dough. Each Potbelly's interior is a combination of an old fashioned saloon and modern signs and artwork (George from Seinfeld posing half-naked on a chaise hangs on the wall in at least one bathroom in Chicago!)  It's fun to sit for awhile and order several sandwiches and additions like the 99-cent pickle or the to-die-for $1.09 sugar cookies. The chain just recently came out with Skinny sandwiches for $4 that offer less meat, less bread, and less cheese for the calorie counting consumers.  In addition to their sandwich selection, Potbelly's, named after the potbelly stove, also serves up smoothies, salads, sundaes, soup, and various sides all in a friendly, inviting atmosphere.

Posted By:  Jamie Smith
Photo:  Courtesy of NPR

The Chicago Theatre
This American Life,conceived and produced in Chicago, is inviting listeners to come and watch Ira Glass and the crew tape an episode live at the Chicago Theatre on April 19. You may be wondering why you would want to pay to see something that you can hear for free. First, I'll just say that the most attractive thing about Ira Glass isn't his voice. But more importantly, this is a rare opportunity to experience first-hand the intimate and entertaining atmosphere that the TAL crew does such an excellent job of creating for its audience every week. Devoted fans who've ever wondered about the inside jokes and off-mic antics should buy their tickets now. The cheap seats are already sold out and soon enough you'll have to start posting desperate ads on Craigslist. But that might not be so bad--you could get a TAL-worthy story out of it.

Posted By:  Jamie Smith
Photo:  Jamie Smith

Florodora is adorable, and the name isn't even the cutest part. There are whimsical clothes, gorgeous books and stationary, and some other delightful knick knacks that make great gifts. The shop has a pretty small stock, so items turn over regularly and there's something new almost every week. Those on the mailing list (call or stop by the website to sign up) are notified of special trunk shows and often get discount codes for up to 20% off anything in the store. The discount is great because some of the clothing items in the store can be a little pricey, but they're investments: high-quality trend pieces that look like they're timeless.

Posted By:  Jamie Smith
Photo:  Jamie Smith

Cavanaugh's isn't the most dazzling restaurant in the Loop, but it has its charms. The wood paneling, brass bars, and wildlife paintings give it the vibe of a country club that the rich people don't go to anymore. Though you're in close quarters, the crowded dining room is perfect for having conversations that no one can overhear. The bar and grill fare is so familiar that it's almost like going to McDonald's, because really, potato skins are the same everywhere. Finally, don't think of the wine and beer selection as miniscule--think of it as a highly selected assortment that will be easier for you to master.

Posted By:  Jamie Smith
Photo:  Jamie Smith

Salad Spinners
[TWO WOMEN CHATTING IN CAFE.] SUSAN: If we're done discussing pharmaceuticals and hygiene products, I have a sort of personal question to ask you. Linda, does your salad ever have that not-so-fresh feeling? LINDA: I know exactly what you mean. Just the other day I was in a restaurant and things were just a little... wilted. SUSAN: I'm so glad I'm not the only one! What do you do when that happens? LINDA: Well, first I throw the salad away. Then I check to see if the FDA has issued any salmonella or e. coli warnings recently. And then I go to Salad Spinners. SUSAN: Salad Spinners? What's that? Is it dangerous? LINDA: No, Susan, it's perfectly safe. Salad Spinners is a salad bar in the Loop where you can choose from almost a hundred toppings that are not only organic but taste just like they came from the farmer's market. SUSAN: Do I need a note from my doctor? LINDA: No, it's all over the counter! SUSAN: Wow! I'm so glad we had this chat. Thanks, girlfriend! LINDA: No problem, sister! [SASSY GESTURES, LAUGHTER, HUGS, MUSIC AD EXECUTIVES THINK IS "EMPOWERING."]

Posted By:  Jamie Smith
Photo:  Courtesy of Jafar Shameem

Chicago Board of Elections
I don't need to look up the menus of restaurants that I'm going to visit so that I can pick out what I want to order before I get there, but I do it anyway. I like to be prepared. Similarly, I've been checking out the Chicago Board of Elections website to see what's on the menu for November 4. There's a lot of choices and I figure that I should put at least as much thought into voting as I do into whether I'm going to order onion rings or buffalo wings. Fortunately, you still have plenty of time to examine the issues, but you don't have nearly as much time to register to vote: the deadline is October 7. You may live dangerously when it comes to dining out, but no one's going to come by and offer you a ballot if you don't get your order in the first time around.

Posted By:  Jamie Smith
Photo:  Jamie Smith

A New Leaf
I had forgotten an acquaintance's birthday and needed something to bring to her party that night so I hesitantly stepped into A New Leaf, nervous because I feared I was going to pay dearly for my forgetfulness. But the alternative was either a bouquet or the nicest thing I could find at the 7-11 across the street, so I bit the bullet and approached the staff. As I talked with the florist about what I wanted I tried to use phrases like "on a budget" and "I've already promised my first born child to a student loan officer" to convey what kind of thing I was looking for. She picked up on my hints and made something that was modest but beautiful. When we got to the cash register I was surprised to find that it cost a third of what I had expected to pay. After this positive experience I may never giftshop at 7-11 again!

Posted By:  Jamie Smith
Photo:  Jamie Smith

Russian Tea Time
More authentic than a nesting doll and infinitely more enjoyable to eat, the food and beverage at Russian Tea Time makes me want to throw a babushka over my shoulder and do that dance with the high kicks. Or put on a fur hat and be morose or whatever. It's always a good time for Russian Tea Time but there are a few occasions when you'll especially appreciate its unique charms: you haven't had an afternoon tea party since your dolls were put in the attic and you want to go pinkies up; you're craving comfort food but are tired of over-processed crap; you want to enjoy vodka like a Russian but don't have twenty luxury brands at your fingertips. At this restaurant you can have any (or all) of those things and chat with the grandmotherly owner while you're at it. The family treatment you get here will dispel any Boris & Natasha Soviet badnik misperceptions you may have had about the country with the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons in the world. At Russian Tea Time they've put down the bomb and picked up the borscht.

Posted By:  Max Minor
Photo:  Max Minor

An actual real life dive bar downtown, Cal's is the perfect place to escape the creepy, soulless zombie vibe that emanates so strongly from the surrounding financial district. Catering to bike messengers, artists, servers and other individuals that the gleaming financiers are so eager to forget exist, Cals' cheap beers and rotating lineup of live rock music is the loop's headquarters for much-needed High Life-fueled relief. Attached to a liquor store, Cal's is perfect for the imbiber-on-the-go, allowing for the occasional inconspicuous sip on the increasingly taxing train trip home. As condo after condo continues to climb the South Loop's skyline, Cal's importance only increases, an escape from the strollers, Whole Foods bags, and rich teen film students that haunt the areas sidewalks. Now, more than ever, drink at Cal's.

Posted By:  Jill Jaracz
Photo:  Jill Jaracz

Hannah's Bretzel
Nobody does a hot pretzel like the Germans, and Hannah's is no exception. They use a traditional Swabian recipe that's been in existence since 1477. That's right: It's been perfected over 500 years. Hannah's version is over 95% organic, which makes it even better. But Hannah's is more than just a hot pretzel stand, it's Chicago's first organic deli, and they make what just might be the best sandwich in the Loop. Try a Black Forest Ham on a pretzel baguette, and you'll be savoring every delectable bite. Have an organic salad made with greens from local farms or fresh organic soup. Add an organic beverage, and you'll be surprised at how easy it is to eat well. Then try to leave without shopping the wall of premium chocolate bars. They stock twenty brands from around the world, from Switzerland's Lindt to Chicago's own Vosges, all almost impossible to resist.

Posted By:  Annie Anderson

Harold Washington Library Center
Borrowing books while traveling? Figuring out how to manage several floors of volumes and media? Forget it! City libraries are, in essence, not for tourists. The logistics of trying to use a library’s resources while a stranger in a strange land overwhelm. But the Harold Washington Library Center in the Loop offers several reasons to visit, with or without a library card. First, take a second to behold the mammoth building’s design. Thomas Beeby’s neo-classical architecture, complete with owl sculptures ornamenting the roof’s four corners, has made the building an unmistakable icon for the surrounding community. Inside, rotating art installations and photography exhibits adorn various floors’ walkways. The Cindy Pritzker Auditorium hosts a speaking schedule both local and worldly, inviting writers like Nora Ephron, Adam Langer and Jhumpa Lahiri to share their stories. And in the spirit of public bibliophilism, most all readings are free and open to all. The HWLC is one of many institutions named after the first black Mayor of Chicago, who once said he wanted to be the mayor who really helped. Harold Washington died in office in 1987, but his vision for a dynamic, unified Chicago lives here.

Posted By:  Matt Wolff
Photo:  Matt Wolff

Wow Bao
A bao is a Chinese bun. This by itself isn’t anything astonishing but what Wow Bao does with these steamed buns is nothing short of amazing. With fillings that cross Asian boundaries between Chinese, Japanese, Thai and Korean cuisines, there is no chance you won’t find something good to eat. The most popular varieties include BBQ pork, Teriyaki Beef and Chicken as well as Curry Chicken and Mongolian Beef. Hell, Wow Bao even offers breakfast bao filled with egg, cheese and meat so you can have two meals a day to try them out. Other offerings include dumplings, pot stickers, soup and salad but the real stars of the show are, naturally, the bao. Wow Bao is a favorite with the South Loop lunch crowd. Stock traders, office dwellers and pencil pushers alike stand in line like sheep for the delicious goods Wow Bao serves up. I like their two bao combo which gives you a pair of bao along with either a noodle salad, chinese veggie salad or dumpling soup. I go for two BBQ pork bao and the soup every time. It’s a great value and a nice change-up from the usual sandwich routine. Check them out and prepare to be wowed.

Posted By:  Ceda Xiong
Photo:  Ceda Xiong

The Metropolitan Club
The Sears tower is a towering symbol of commercial success in the 70s, but the Metropolitan Club, on its 68th floor, screams old money, the kind that flows from yachts and Nantucket. However, you can’t fault the place for being exactly what it wants to be, an old-fashioned private club with jaw-dropping views of the city, depending on the side of the building you’re standing. Their specialty wine bar, an intricate system that serves wine, on tap, is a dream of endless pours. The staff at the Metropolitan Club has been impeccably trained and knows exactly how to pour a generous drink. In this era of hyper security, the security in the Sears tower feels like exactly O’Hare; just stepping into the posh pad requires being a member of the private club or being on the guest list for an event. But once you’re in, the views and the service will make you understand the definition of “coddled.”

Posted By:  Josannah Birman
Photo:  Josannah Birman

Ford Center/Oriental Theatre
Don’t feel Wicked if you hustled out the door of the Oriental Theatre right after the show. Those crowds are too thick for anyone to linger and admire the Versailles-inspired architecture that houses the hit musical. For a more relaxed option, Broadway in Chicago theatre tours give guests a behind-the-scenes peek at the Oriental Theatre and the Cadillac Palace Theatre. Get your fill of history, architecture, and of course those little stories that make any tour worth the blisters. For instance, does the Gumm Sisters act ring a bell? I didn’t think so. A local reporter mistakenly printed their last name as Glumm. The actresses were so upset that they changed it to Garland before appearing that night at the Oriental. Impress theatre snobs by telling them how sloppy Chicago journalism gave birth to Judy Garland and all of the other theatrical gossip you’ll pick up along the way.

Posted By:  Jill Jaracz
Photo:  Jill Jaracz

Monk's Pub
If you’re the type of person who goes into a bar and feels at home because it has a wall full of books, then Monk’s is the place for you. This dark pub filled with books, decorative bottles, and monk iconography has been a Loop mainstay since 1969, and if you’re there during happy hour, you’ll see how popular it is with the office crowd as you squeeze through in hopes of finding a table. Not up to dealing with a mob? Then pop in on an off night or in the middle of the afternoon and the friendly waitstaff will have you feeling like a regular in no time. Every table is stocked with a bowl of peanuts, and you’re welcome to toss the shells on the floor. The menu offers decent bar food, including a long list of specialty hamburgers, delicious grilled chicken tenders, salads, and tri-colored nachos.

Posted By:  Tamara Matthews
Photo:  Tamara Matthews

Harold Washington Library Center
You wouldn’t think there is any possible way to explore ten floors and 70.85 miles of bookshelf and still not find what you want. It is possible, my friend. But, as long as you are not hoping to satisfy all your research needs, this building is definitely worth exploring. A small tour will net you at least an hour of air-conditioned enjoyment, no library card required. This place was the largest public library building when it opened in 1991. It’s worth studying the floor descriptions on the website first so that you feel a little less like you’re caught in an Escher painting of infinite stairways (or in this case, escalators). You just might get lost. The cool thing though is you could stumble across a wall mural or an enclosed rooftop garden. Check out the selection of songbooks on the eighth floor but save Best of Heavy Metal Mania for me please.

Posted By:  Darwyn Jones
Photo:  Darwyn Jones

Harold Washington Library Center
I grew up in a very small community. We’re talking stand up in a cornfield and give a Hee-Haw salute small. Entertainment consisted of walking along the railroad tracks, catching crawdads in the creek or climbing the local mountain. There was only one other choice—when my mother grabbed her purse and her shopping list, I would beg, “Can you drop me off at the library? Huh, huh, can you?” While she shopped for mac-n-cheese and potpies I would bury myself in books. I would pick out a stack then sit outside and read as I waited for my mother. She, however, had other things on her mind. Very busy woman, that one. I’d look up from the page to see her drive by—oblivious to the fact that I existed in the first place. I had no choice but to walk the four miles home. Is it any wonder that I’ve moved to Chicago—where my library has been listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest public library building in the world. So, Mom—no worries, I’ll take the L home. And there’d better be some cookies in that grocery bag.

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