I live only three hours away from Chicago and I lived there for a few years. I still love to visit occasionally, but doing the same old thing can get boring. It’s a big city, so there are many areas to explore. That’s why I decided to try out a new neighborhood and a fun exhibit when I visited Chicago recently.
This past weekend my husband and I visited and skipped Michigan Avenue entirely except as we walked from the train station to our hotel. We got a little lost, since I had noted the wrong address for our hotel, but that turned out to be a good thing. There was a huge crowd outside the store and a line around the block to to get into the new “largest Starbucks in the world.” As I bustled through the crowd, wondering who would wait that long to get into a Starbucks, I looked up and saw an amazing site across the street.
The Art Institute is hosting the Andy Warhol – From A to B and Back Again and there is a huge reproduction of Warhol’s painting of Marilyn Monroe on the side of one of the buildings on Michigan Avenue across from the new Starbucks Chicago Roastery. We planned to visit the exhibit the next day, and I snapped a few pictures and then we walked towards our hotel. The Hotel Felix turned out to be on the other side of Michigan Avenue, but that was a gift too.
As we crossed, I looked back on Michigan Avenue and the building across the street from the Marilyn poster. I could see her reflection shining lightly in the windows. I took out my phone and took another shot. It was a cool shot I would have missed had we not taken a wrong turn.
After a break, we headed to Wicker Park via the Blue Line Elevated Train. I’ve never been to this area of Chicago before, but we had scoped out plenty of vintage stores, record shops, coffee, and book stores that looked interesting.
Our first stop was the Dusty Groove, a used record store we found on Atlas Obscura. We make sure to check out this site before we visit someplace to find interesting places we might miss. This was the first of three record stores we visited. The others were Shuga Records and Reckless Records.
The storefront featured in the movie High Fidelity with John Cusack used to be in this neighborhood. It was called Championship Vinyl, but doesn’t exist anymore. We forgot to look what was in its spot, and by the time we got to that part of the street we had done a lot of walking and both of our phones were dying.
This neighborhood also has great vintage shopping. There are a couple of high-end stores that made me wish I had huge closets and tons of disposable income:
- US #1 Vintage had a huge stock of 70s leather coats, boots, and purses.
- Vintage Underground was stocked with tons of jewelry, plus clothes from every decade from the 20s to the 80s. I saw a mint condition 1950s shift dress that Jackie Kennedy would have worn.
- Store B had cool retro housewares.
There were also a number of other thrift stores and lower priced chain thrift stores in the area including Buffalo Exchange and Ragstock. I also visited Futurgarb, which was not a used clothing store, but had interesting clothes and a great deal on hats the day I was there. It was a really cold and damp day and I hadn’t brought one of my own, so I ended up buying a hat and a hair tie.
We also visited a couple bookstores including Volumes Bookcafe, which is my favorite combination of coffee shop and bookstore. It sells new books and has a small number of books with nice seating areas. We also visited Myopic Books, which is three stories of used books stacked floor to ceiling. You could get lost in there.
Though we were tired from a day of walking, we looked at the map on our dying phone and it seemed like it wouldn’t be a long walk to our next stop. We saw a segment about Mi Tocaya on the show No Passport Required and wanted to visit it.
About 10 minutes later, our feet were really hurting and our map said we still had a half an hour walk ahead of us. We agreed we would press on, but luckily there was an Elevated Train across the street. We got on the train and found the restaurant.
Mi Tocaya was wonderful and definitely worth pushing on. The menu was created by chef Diana Dávila Boldin who was voted as a semifinalist for Best Chef: Great Lakes in 2018 by The James Beard Foundation. The restaurant was a finalist for best new restaurant.
The restaurant itself was cozy and small with maybe 15 tables and a bar. The menu is organized around appetizers, tacos, medium sized plates, and desserts. Dishes are meant to be shared. I picked the butternut squash taco with a spicy chile sauce and my husband picked the chorizo, pork, and beef taco. They were both wonderful. The butternut taco turned out to be my favorite item of the night.
We followed that up with shrimp empanadas and green mole with eggplant, romanesco, a beet salad, and jicama salad. The green mole is Davila’s signature sauce. She makes it with serranos, tomatillos, cloves, sesame seeds, and pumpkin seeds. It had a unique and milder flavor than the brown mole I am familiar with. It went well with the vegetables, but I had eaten some of the chile on the plate with the empanadas and my tongue had a little bit of a problem picking up the milder flavor.
To finish, we went back to the start. At least I did. I had another butternut squash taco and my husband picked a taco with beer can chicken and prickly pear. I also had a margarita with my dinner, which somehow didn’t taste like all the other margaritas I’ve had before.
The next day we tackled The Art Institute and the Andy Warhol exhibit. We arrived about 15 minutes before the museum opened and found two long lines extending down the big front steps and onto the sidewalk. We got in line and when the doors opened, we were ushered inside to buy our tickets. It was the most orderly queue I think I’ve ever seen. We were in the museum in maybe 20 minutes.
After a quick stop to see the Impressionists, we found our way to the Warhol exhibit. The first room was covered in a reproduction of Andy Warhol cow wallpaper and the top of the room was adorned with almost 40 portraits he had done of famous people. The room was packed with people pointing, trying to figure out who everyone was and taking pictures. Picture taking is encouraged in the museum and in the Warhol exhibit there were only a few pictures, including a screenprint of the Campbell soup cans, where pictures were not allowed.
Portraits ranged from the well known such as Elizabeth Taylor, Debbie Harry, and Aretha Franklin to those that were harder to place like his mother Julia Warhola, art dealer Leo Castelli, and painter Jaime Wyeth. The exhibit started with some well known items including Brillo boxes and the Cambell’s soup cans, but it dug deep into Warhol’s beginnings. There are many sketches and early work from art school including a surprisingly normal painting of the room where he grew up.
And there are the big showy pieces as well. Of course, the Marilyn, a wall-sized Mao Zedong, Nixon with a green face and the words “Vote McGovern”, James Dean, and Elvis. There is a piece with reproductions of Jackie and Jack Kennedy with pieces of the Warren Commission report. There are a number of self portraits both those we know and much earlier sketches when he was in art school.
After that we continued on to see the rest of the modern artwork housed in the Art Institute. If you miss the Warhol exhibit, they do have a few Warhol pieces in their permanent collection.