Champaign, Ill - Midwest Travel Expert Marcia Frost Discovers Two Sides of Wicker Park
With all the hotels and attractions downtown, it’s easy to end up in that part of Chicago every time you decide to spend the night. Now, there’s another option as two extremely different accommodations open up Wicker Park as a vacation destination.
Grupo Habita of Mexico City came up with the plan to turn what was formerly the Northwest Tower into two distinct hotels with five dining options as a first for Wicker Park.
The Robey is nestled on the corner with sweeping views of the area. The 69 rooms will make you feel downtown luxury, without the sticker shock you’ll get in most of those hotels.
Café Robey on the ground floor fits its setting well, with superb service and a menu of fine dining settings in a casual atmosphere. Their cheese filled French onion soup and Tagliatelle Bolognese are tasty options, and they also have a big seafood selection that includes east and west coast oysters. Save room for the chocolate tart for dessert.
Just next door, The Hollander offers something you may not have seen, but it’s becoming a new phenomenon in accommodation. It’s a cross between a hotel and a hostel, with a bit more to offer than the latter, and not quite as much as you might expect from its sister hotel.
The Hollander combines rooms with queen and twin beds, for both individual and shared rooms in more of a modern industrial atmosphere than chic. You can rent any of the rooms by yourself or with a group, or you can come in as a single and share a four or six twin room – for as little as $45 a person.
In The Hollander lobby, you’ll find laundry facilities, a coffee shop, a small bar, and plenty of seating (and Wi-Fi) for work and play. As you can imagine, this is quickly becoming a hit with college students from around the country and around the world, only two hours from Champaign-Urbana.
Regardless of which hotel you stay at, you can take advantage of the $25 valet parking at The Robey, which is more than half what you would pay at a downtown hotel. You’ll also have the convenience of being just below the L train.
While in Wicker Park, you won’t run out of things to do. The streets are lined with shops, art galleries, clubs, and shows. The Griffin Theatre Company has performances four times a week for less than half of what you’d pay for the Broadway performances downtown.
Griffin Theatre’s current production of In To America at the Den Theater is an excellent look at immigration in this country from the 18th century into today, making it a very timely subject. (To see their schedule and get tickets, check out their website.)
For some delicious budget eats while in Wicker Park, be sure to check out Urban Belly. The newest location by Chef Bill Kim brings his delicious Korean food for around $10 a person. Eat in or take out a few dishes, all large enough to share.
Don’t miss the Sweet Potato & Maple Potstickers, UrbanBelly Ramen (a Ramen noodle soup with braised pork belly, mushrooms, and a soft-boiled egg), and the Pea Shoot (wok fried Jasmine rice with scrambled egg, tofu, pea shoots, and Madras curry).
For dessert, it’s just a few stores over to Stan’s Donuts. This LA-based chain offers spectacular specialty donuts in Wicker Park. You can’t go wrong with anything here. Their most popular (and a Chicago best donut winner) is the Biscoff Pocket, but you shouldn’t leave here without the Nutella Banana Pocket, the Pistachio Lemon, and the Blueberry Cheese.
If you want something really special for dessert, head to Mindy’s Hot Chocolate. They serve food here, but the real draw is the hot chocolate and desserts. You’ll need reservations and you’ll be paying a bit more than your usual cocoa cup, but options such as Black & Tan (1/3 hot fudge, 2/3 medium hot chocolate) and Old Fashioned (milk chocolate, touch of dark chocolate, caramel, and whipped ganache), as well as homemade marshmallows, make it all worth it.
Another special spot not far from here is Macello, an authentic Italian restaurant with a selection of pasta and seafood that’s well worth the trip. The Melenzane Al Cartoccio (stuffed eggplant) is cooked perfectly, as is the Trofiette Crudaiola, fresh pasta with burrata cheese and arugula.
The fried calamari at Macello is wonderfully crispy. If you like your food more daring, try the Spaghettini Con Polpo, octopus sautéed in a lightly spiced red cherry tomato sauce with white wine.
The Latest at Kohler
Just about another hour past Chicago, Destination Kohler continues to add events to their luxurious property. I went up there for the Celebration of Chocolate and had a delicious chocolate and beer paired lunch. Over the next six months, they will be having Taste of Scotland, Kohler Festival of Beer, the Chef’s Table Dinner Series, and the Kohler Food and Wine Festival. Check their website for a full schedule as well as ongoing events there.
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