By Jae-Ha Kim
Photos by Denton Morris
July 20, 2015
For most of my adult life, I worked in downtown Chicago. Even when I was in college, I worked summers for an international law firm in the heart of the city. I grew up on the Northwest Side of Chicago. I went to school there and ended up getting both my undergraduate and graduate degrees from Chicago-based universities.
Though I don’t live in Chicago anymore, there’s something about it that always calls me back.
Chicago, I can’t quit you.
This past weekend, my husband and I took our 7-year-old son for our annual staycation in the city. We had so much fun, taking in the sights, visiting my alma mater, walking around the Loop and trying out new restaurants (and returning to some of our faves).
The Langham Hotel was our home for the weekend. I worked for more than a dozen years at the Chicago Sun-Times, which used to be across the street. Now, that site houses the Trump Hotel Chicago. Once inside the Langham, I tried to figure out the approximate location of where I used to eat lunch there, when it was known simply as the IBM Building.
I’ve never stayed at the Trump property, so I can’t say what it’s like inside. However, the outside is very shiny and glitzy, as you might expect. By comparison, the exterior of the Langham is more stark and sedate. Housed in the IBM Building — one of the last designs by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe — the hotel takes up 13 of the 52 stories in the anodized aluminum and bronze-tinted glass building.
As you can see, the Langham is lovely inside. Two of the draws of this hotel for us was that it has a swimming pool (more about that below) and a Kids’ Suite, which came in handy for Kyle. Sightseeing is always fun, but children need a little downtime. Chilling out in this play area was just the right thing, especially because it offered one thing he doesn’t have at home: an X-Box 360. He spent a good hour or two over the course of our weekend stay playing “Minecraft” games.
Seriously, I have no idea what kind of spell “Minecraft” has over children, but our kid and all his friends love that game. I honestly thought that the highlight of the trip would be the hotel pool or the Shedd Aquarium. But at one point, he said playing “Minecraft” in the Kids’ Suite was the most memorable part of the weekend.
My favorite part? Dining out!
First stop: Star of Siam. During my Sun-Times days, I ate there almost once or twice a week. Often, I’d get carryout and bring it home for dinner as well. I loved it so much. Although I hadn’t been there in at least a year, one of my former favorite servers (who now is higher up on the foodchain) remembered me. It’s that kind of place. We ordered shrimp shumai, gyoza, rice, pad siew and pad khee mao (and drinks) and spent about $50 (including tip).
For breakfast, we relied on online reviews and checked out Yolk on Ohio, which was within walking distance from our hotel. It was packed, and there was a 10-minute wait to get a table, which — honestly — was a lot shorter than we had anticipated. When my son’s $6 breakfast came out, my husband said, “This is the kid’s meal?” It was huge and included eggs, sausage, bacon, potatoes and a pancake. My husband ordered the huevos rancheros, while I opted for the smoked salmon platter. (Again, the total bill came to about $45.)
Like many children his age, Kyle loves fish and dolphins and sharks and jellyfish and … well, you get the picture. His most recent visit to a marine exhibit was last October at the Sea Life Busan Aquarium in South Korea. He was excited about revisiting Chicago’s amazing Shedd Aquarium. We ran into one of his pre-school classmates there, as well as numerous Taylor Swift fans who were in town for her weekend concerts at Soldier Field.
But Kyle was most excited about getting to pet some sturgeon, whose bodies he described as hard, but not slimy. I may or may not have accidentally dipped him into the water a tad too much, soaking his entire sleeve and the top of his shirt. Oops. It was worth it (he said)!
And then there was the pool. Because of our staycation, Kyle missed one swim team practice. He was super happy to tell his coach that he would swim a few laps at our hotel. That was the idea, anyhow. In reality, he enjoyed doing cannonballs into the pool, executing somersaults and pretending to be the sharks he had seen at the Shedd.
I did race him across the pool … and lost. And, no, I didn’t let him win. And, yes, I am officially the worst swimmer in my family now. After my loss, I sulked in the Jacuzzi and watched Kyle swim a victory lap. (This capture is from a video my husband shot with his new GoPro camera –a birthday gift from Kyle this year. Unfortunately, the $50 from his piggybank wasn’t enough to pay for it, so I ponied up the rest. Shhhh. Don’t tell him!)
And last, but certainly not least, we visited the University of Chicago. When I went to college there a million years ago, I don’t remember thinking that it was a particularly beautiful campus. I thought it was pretty, sure. But usually I didn’t think much about my surroundings.
In retrospect, I see how magnificent the campus is.
My son is too young for the “Harry Potter” films. But one day he will watch the movies and I hope he will remember how much Hogwarts looks like the beautiful buildings at the U of C. It’d be nice if he wanted to go here one day, too, but that’s a long ways off.
I will admit that though we spent a small fortune at the U of C bookstore, he refused to wear any of the Chicago shirts. Instead, he had on his black Princeton Tigers T-shirt. (You will notice that I didn’t post any photos where you can see that. Ahem.) He wants to keep his options open.
Our kid likes to travel. He has taken high-speed KTX “bullet” trains in Seoul, played in New York City’s Central Park and fed dolphins in Paradise Island (Bahamas). All of that was amazing. But it’s wonderful having a first-rate destination with skyscapers, museums and all the delicious dining choices right in our own back yard.
We’ll be back, Chicago, because we can’t quit you.
© 2015 JAE-HA KIM | All Rights Reserved
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