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Wednesday, May 20, 2009 01:03 am

Things will be great when you’re downtown . . . Chicago

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The famous Chicago skyline from Lake Michigan.
PHOTO BY ANNE EVANS

Remember Petula Clark? She used to sing, “The lights are much brighter there, You can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares. So go downtown, things’ll be great when you’re downtown — no finer place, for sure downtown — everything’s waiting for you.”

It is fun to kick the dust off your shoes, grab the kids, jump on the train and partake of Chicago’s glitz and glam.

For the drama lovers in the family, the Chicago Theatre offers special family shows and also a great tour. The schedule through June offers a tour once a day, Monday- Thursday at noon and twice on Saturday at 11and 12.

The website http://www.thechicagotheatre.com/tour/index.html tells what you can expect from a tour. “The tour encompasses historical and architectural highlights of the building, including the grand lobby areas, majestic auditorium and backstage space (when possible) where performers through the years, including Julie Andrews, David Copperfield, Sammy Davis, Jr., John Denver, Joel Grey, cast of The Family Guy, Dustin Hoffman, Tom Jones, Diana Krall, Annie Lennox, Dean Martin, Liza Minnelli, Bob Newhart, Olivia Newton-John, Conan O’Brien, Frank Sinatra, Neil Young and Widespread Panic have left their autographs on the walls of dressing rooms and corridors.

“Our guides will share with you the stories of the visionaries who opened The Chicago Theatre, whose influence on popular entertainment in Chicago is still recognized today. Tours also include the photo exhibit in The Chicago Theatre’s lower lobby, “Chicago: Three Centuries of Theatres.”

One of the best parts of the tour is a demonstration of the landmark Mighty Wurlitzer Organ. The cost for an adult ticket is $12 and children 12 and under pay $10.

If you have a preteen or a shopaholic, downtown is a great place to just window gaze and dream. A waltz through Macy’s and the small downtown boutique shops, as well as the staples like Feline’s Basement, are a shopper’s dream. To check out some upscale offerings, go to Watertower Place and ride the escalator up, up and up! At both Macy’s (seventh floor) and at the Watertower information booth, if you tell them you are from out of town, you can get a coupon book.

One of the best kept secrets enjoyed by the 10-or-over crowd is the tour of Macy’s, the former Marshall Fields store on State Street. Macy’s State Street is the second largest department store in the world. With more than 800,000 square feet of space, you will marvel at the Walnut Room and the Tiffany Ceiling, both over 100 years old. The “lost fountain” is also a must, along with a stop for a purchase of the store’s wonderful Frango mints. A guided or audio tour will provide your child with an amazing history and architectural insight into the store that is a Chicago staple.

“Cloud Gate” an interactive artwork that you can walk around and under

If you want more architecture and don’t mind spending a bit of cash ($28 per person during the week and $32 on the weekend) there is nothing like seeing Chicago from a boat riding along the Chicago River. This is a big-kid trip. My oldest has done this numerous times and never seems to tire of the amazing downtown view from the water. The Web site www.architecture.org explains: “CAF-certified expert docents interpret the world-class architecture along the Chicago River. Marvel at Chicago’s soaring towers while enjoying a 90-minute, narrated river cruise. This tour spotlights more than 50 architecturally significant sites where you will discover a new perspective on the city.”

On a clear day, the Sears Tower observation deck offers a great view of the buildings and a lot of oohs and aahs. When my son was about seven and deep into the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the only thing he wanted to see in Chicago was the Sears Tower. Even in the fog that day, the view gave us the feeling of flying in a cloud. The Sears tower stands 1,450 feet tall and boasts 110 stories. The Sears Tower — to be officially renamed the Willis Tower this summer — is the tallest building in North America and the third tallest building in the world. Currently the103rd floor is closed for construction, but the 99th floor Skydeck remains open. The view spans up to 50 miles and four states. Sears Tower tours are available from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. The last ticket is sold at 9:30 p.m. Check out the Web site at www.the skydeck.com.

Where to eat? If you have taken the drama admirer to the Chicago Theatre and walked through Macy’s, the Walnut Room may be in order for a sit-down froufrou luncheon. Although as much a tomboy as a drama girl, my youngest college-age daughter went with the family to a show and we ate at the Walnut Room before the show. She was amazed by the wood panels and the service. For a small-town girl, this was really the big time!

The menu for the Walnut room is available at www.visitmacyschicago.com. It includes the history: “The evolution of the Walnut Room on State Street in Chicago began when a member of our millinery department brought homemade pot pies for her clients so they would not go hungry while shopping. A few years later, her pies became the central offering of the tea room. Demand called for more space, and in the late 1890s the very first restaurant in a department store was opened. The Walnut Room, the grande dame of our seventh-floor restaurants, soon grew to 17,000 square feet. Circassian wood imported from Russia and Austrian chandeliers contribute to its elegance and comfort.”

The Cheesecake Factory also rates high with kids wanting a dining experience. Located near the John Hancock building, this is a fun place that always reminded my own children of Bedrock from the Flintstone cartoons. Chicago also offers some amazing deep dish pizza options, offering tastes completely different from the thin crust pizza familiar to Springfield residents.

These are just a few of the amazing things to see and do in Chicago. I didn’t even touch on the Art Institute, Navy Pier, the museums, Brookfield Zoo, Garrett’s popcorn, the hotels and so much more. Trust me, “Things’ll be great when you’re downtown.”

Take a narrated architectural river cruise and see as many as 50 of Chicago’s finest buildings.
PHOTOS BY ANNE EVANS

Cindy Ladage of Virden has written three short story collection books and two children’s fiction books with co-author Jane Aumann.

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