Hidden Treasures Chicago 01 Header

Nostalgic Chicago

The city of All that Jazz

Historic Chicago

Although the skyline looks impressively futuristic, Chicago still exudes an air of nostalgia and history. Relive the days of the Roaring Twenties with hidden speakeasies and lively jazz clubs. 

Discover the city
Cinemagraph Frame 1
Hidden Treasures Chicago 03 Intro Profiel

Text & Photography

Iris van den Broek
#eyeristravels

I arrive in Chicago on a Friday night. Honking cabs and an endless stream of pedestrians file by. But I only have eyes for the seven sparkling letters on the theatre marquis that spell CHICAGO! Whoever thought of displaying the city’s name in life-size neon was brilliant. There are few places in the city as iconic as this one. The theatre was founded in 1921 but is still in use. This place sets the tone for my historic journey through the Windy City, as Chicago is nicknamed.

Hidden Treasures Chicago 03 Intro 1
Hidden Treasures Chicago 03 Intro 2
  • Hidden Treasures Chicago 03 Slider 1
  • Hidden Treasures Chicago 03 Slider 2
  • Hidden Treasures Chicago 03 Slider 3
  • Hidden Treasures Chicago 04 Hotel 2 Bg Half Mobile Large Img
Hidden Treasures Chicago 04 Hotel 2 Bg Half

A hotel as a wedding gift

I settle into my stylish room in the city’s most historic hotel: the Palmer House Hotel. When I enter the breathtaking lobby I feel as if I have stepped back in time. Large chandeliers and a huge ceiling with 21 murals lend the Palmer House an air of grandeur reminiscent of French palaces like Versailles. 

Hidden Treasures Chicago 04 Hotel 1

In the rear a stairway leads to the legendary Empire Room. This spectacular ballroom has been the stage for famous artists such as Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald.

  • Hidden Treasures Chicago 05 Hotel Bg Half Mobile Large Img
Hidden Treasures Chicago 05 Hotel Bg Half

 The hallway to my room is lined with black and white photos of artists who have performed here. What a magical place!

  • Hidden Treasures Chicago 06 Hotel Large
Hidden Treasures Chicago 07 Hotel Bg Half

But what really makes this hotel unique is the love story behind it. Palmer House historian Ken Price tells me the fascinating story of businessman Potter Palmer who fell in love with high society girl Bertha Honoré and promised her a hotel as a wedding gift. 

“In those days, Chicago didn’t have any hotels, just some rooms where people could spend the night as they passed through town,” explains Price: “A hotel the size of what Palmer had in mind was unheard of.” 

The Palmer opened its doors in 1871. Sadly enough, tragedy struck just 13 days after the inauguration when the hotel burned down in the catastrophic Chicago Fire that reduced the city to ashes. But Palmer didn’t give up. He built a second hotel, the Palmer House Hotel, which is still in service today. “It may sound like clever marketing talk, but I like to say that Chicago was built around the Palmer House Hotel,” says Price. Marketing or not, the hotel’s location is spot on. Just a stone’s throw from the Chicago Theatre, Millennium Park, State Street and the shops of the Magnificent Mile, there is not a better and more charming location to spend the night. 

Hidden Treasures Chicago 08 Old Town L

Hidden Treasures Chicago 08 Old Town R

Hidden Treasures Chicago 09 Old Town 2
Hidden Treasures Chicago 09 Old Town 3

Victorian houses in Old Town

Chicago is also known as the ‘City of neighborhoods’ – 77 different ones in fact. Downtown’s ‘The Loop’ is one of the most popular districts, delineated by the elevated CTA train rails that run through the city, a classic Chicago cityscape. With so many neighbourhoods it can be hard to choose where to visit, but the hotel concierge’s recommendation takes me to the Old Town. Here you will find both the largest collection of Victorian houses in the city and a small town vibe. This also happens to be one of the trendiest areas in Chicago. Enjoy a drink on the many patios along lively Wells Street or sit back on a street bench to eat a hot dog. 

Hidden Treasures Chicago 09 Old Town 1
  • Hidden Treasures Chicago 10 Moodbreak Slider 1
  • Hidden Treasures Chicago 10 Moodbreak Slider 2
  • Hidden Treasures Chicago 10 Moodbreak Slider 3
  • Hidden Treasures Chicago 10 Moodbreak Slider 4
Hidden Treasures Chicago 11 Als Beef 2
Hidden Treasures Chicago 11 Als Beef 3

The great Chicago sandwich

I’ve worked up a bit of an appetite but although the Chicago-style hot dog is a famous local speciality, I have my mind set on another regional delicacy: the Italian beef. To try one I venture out to Al’s Beef in the neighbourhood of Little Italy. An icon in the city, Al’s Beef is “home to the great Chicago sandwich”. 

Hidden Treasures Chicago 12 Als Beef 4

“ Hillary Clinton even came by here on her 50th birthday and culinary big shot Anthony Bourdain can also be spotted on the Wall of Fame. ”

  • Hidden Treasures Chicago 12 Als Beef Bg Half Mobile Large Img
Hidden Treasures Chicago 12 Als Beef Bg Half

“You can have a hot dog anywhere, but our Italian beef is truly something else,” says Chris Pacelli Jr., beaming with pride. Chris and his brothers own Al’s Beef and are the grandsons of Tony Ferreri who founded the sandwich shop in 1938 with his son Al. The sandwich was born out of a necessity during the Great Depression that hit the United States at the end of the 1920s: “Meat was scarce and expensive so Al cut the roast beef into wafer-thin slices. That way he could stretch one piece of meat meant for twenty sandwiches into fifty,” explains Chris. 

Hidden Treasures Chicago 12 Als Beef 4

I am ready for a taste. Chris dips a bun in gravy, piles on a mountain of roast beef and tops it off with some giardiniera (peppers). Next he shows me how to eat the sandwich standing up at the bar: “The trick is to lean forward,” he says as he plants his elbows on the bar. “The meat is so juicy that it will drip down and this way you keep it off your clothes.” On the wall I spot a sign that illustrates the correct eating position, which I copy, and take a bite. As Chris predicted the juices run down my hands. But it is so delicious! I have never tasted a roast beef this juicy and tender. This is indeed a great Chicago sandwich. Chris has one every day for breakfast: “I have to make sure the batch tastes right,” he laughs.

  • Hidden Treasures Chicago 13 Al Capone Bg Half Mobile Large Img
    Pictorial Press Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo
Hidden Treasures Chicago 13 Al Capone Bg Half
Pictorial Press Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo

Al ‘Scarface’ Capone

“Although the name Capone is not very popular in Chicago, ‘Scarface’ is still a magnet for out-of-town visitors.”

The other famous Chicago ‘Al’ also hails from this neighbourhood: “Yes, this was Al Capone’s home turf,” says Chris: “He lived on Chicago’s South Side.” That explains the Chicago Gangster Tour buses I see going by. Although the name Capone is not very popular in Chicago, ‘Scarface’ is still a magnet for out of town visitors. During the prohibition this notorious mobster together with his crew provided thousands of illegal speakeasies (bars that served clandestine alcohol) in Chicago with booze. Oh, and he also murdered dozens of people. Just for the record.

  • Hidden Treasures Chicago 14 Jazz Large

All that Jazz

A trip to Chicago wouldn’t be complete without a visit to a jazz club. Although the musical style originally hails from New Orleans, much of its history can be traced back to Chicago. Andy’s Jazz Club is one of the best and oldest jazz clubs in town and the place to be.

Hidden Treasures Chicago 15 Jazz 1
Hidden Treasures Chicago 15 Jazz 2
Jazz Chicago

The atmosphere in this small club is intimate and the audience energetic. A band composed of a saxophonist, a pianist, a drummer and a bassist perform on the small stage. I sit at the bar and enjoy a burger and a cocktail. And of course the music. In my short stay in Chicago I have started to love this city. Frank Sinatra already sang the words in 1964, but I can affirm this: Chicago, my kind of town!

Hidden Treasures Chicago 15 Jazz 4
Hidden Treasures Chicago  Poll Tickets

Vote and win tickets to Chicago!

Are you ready to explore this dynamic city? Tell us which place you would like to visit in Chicago and enter for a chance to win two tickets to the Windy City!

Hidden Treasures Chicago 16 Poll Bg 02

Poll is expired...

What is number 1 on your Chicago to-do list?

  • Dancing in Andy’s Jazz Club
  • Spending the night in the Palmer House Hotel
  • Shopping in Old Town
  • Eating a sandwich at Al’s Beef

KLM

iFly Magazine

USA

Turn up the volume for the
best experience