Published in the Battle Creek Enquirer
Recently, my husband made an outlandish suggestion. “Let’s get on the train to Chicago on a Saturday morning. We will have three hours and Wi-Fi to make our plans.” Not known as a very spontaneous person, I surprised myself by agreeing. I also knew that Chicago, once it gets really cold and windy, isn’t a tourist mecca, and so we would be able to get a nice hotel or a restaurant reservation. So, off we went the Battle Creek Amtrak station for a 9 a.m. train.
Although we could have taken the car—a relatively short three hour Interstate drive—we decided to take the train, because of the iffy winter road conditions. The round trip train fare was $54 each –an economical choice even for two of us, especially when you consider mileage and parking in the city. A few cabs would costs a lot less. The Wolverine was non-stop to Chicago after the Kalamazoo station. The Wi-Fi on board the train was spotty, but worked well enough to assemble our basic plan.
First, we checked for last minute hotel deals. I had heard about an app called Hotels Tonight, which supposedly has the best last minute deals for major cities. They had a nice selection with some hotels we knew: the Swissotel, at $109, the Doubletree Chicago at $74, and the Talbott at $113 were the ones we considered. I hadn’t stayed at the Talbott for several years, and it had the highest “thumbs up” rating of 97%, so we booked a room. To compare prices, I checked a few other sites like Orbitz, which had a $146 rate available, so we saved a whopping $33.
Built in 1927, the Talbott had a cozy European feel with wood paneling and a fireplace. The cab ride to the Gold Coast address was more than to a downtown hotel, but I liked it because of its smaller size, only 149 rooms.
Unfortunately, there weren’t many plays we wanted to see. We agreed on a matinee musical called “The Man who Killed Sherlock Holmes” at the Mercury Theatre. Neither of us had ever heard of the theatre. When we got in the cab, the driver shook his head and said that it was “way north.” Luckily, it was still only a $20 cab ride and it introduced us to a part of the city that I hadn’t seen before, the Southport corridor.
We didn’t have any concerns about finding great food and walked by a place on Clark Street called Bottlefork. Little did we know that we had happened upon a hot new restaurant, according to Zagat’s restaurant guide. We sat at the 40-foot long bar counter overlooking the kitchen. Their cocktails, while pricey, were really tasty. I had a Vieux Carre with rye, cognac, vermouth and bitters, while my husband sampled his favorite, a Sazerac with whiskey, rye, cognac, absinthe and bitters. Our small plates were an incredible burger, Korean BBQ wings and truffle flatbread.
On Sunday, we decided on an early lunch at Chef Rick Bayless’s Frontera Grill—at least that was where we wanted to eat. The Grill was filled, but there was space in Topolobampo, the Bayless-owned white tablecloth dining room adjacent. After a couple of the hand-shaken margaritas made at the table, we were happy with our last meal in Chicago. And we finished in time to take a relatively early train back to Battle Creek.
My best advice based on our overnight is, “Go ahead, be spontaneous!” Chicago is a wonderful city to see on the fly.