Chicago (My Kind of Town)

IMG_4867 by Denton Morris

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.

Langham Hotel by Denton Morris x 640

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).

Restaurants 2015 x 640 by Denton Morris

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)!

Shedd by Denton Morris x 640

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.

Kyle swimming by Denton Morris

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!)

langhamswim6 640 by Denton Morris

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.

IMG_20150718_ by Denton Morris

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.

U of C by Denton Morris x 640

© 2015 JAE-HA KIM | All Rights Reserved

Comments (34)

  1. Colleen McMorris says:

    I’ve done this but at cheaper motels. Although that said, when you stay downtown in any major city, even the cheap hotels are expensive. I’m going to look for a Groupon next time and live it up!

  2. Abigail says:

    So, did you enroll your son at U of Chicago yet? haha! It looks like he’s following all the older students on a tour of the university!

  3. Stefan Peters says:

    The University of Chicago is one of the most beautiful campuses in America. Too bad the area around it isn’t so great though. Too much crime. 🙁

  4. Matilda says:

    Your little boy is adorable! 🙂

  5. thislittlehouse_ says:

    Ooh lovely

  6. secondcitymom says:

    Oh! I wish I had time to do that. Hope you’re having a great staycation.

  7. thetonyham says:

    Did you go to U of C?

  8. mywildbliss says:

    Gorgeous babe!!!!

  9. hleighthree says:

    Omgggh I know where Yolk is and immediately feel homesick when Chicago isn’t even my home!

  10. Carol Browne says:

    I LOVE STAR OF SIAM! Never eaten at Yolk. I’m not much of a breakfast person. But I could eat Thai food 24/7. OMG.

  11. anja_mari says:

    Beautiful shots ❤️

  12. shugarloveblog says:

    Your dress!

  13. Tina says:

    What a joyful post! Thank you for sharing your vacation!

  14. Lauren Miller says:

    What a fun filled staycation! I need to do one of these!

  15. Amy McIntyre says:

    The Shedd is such a great place to visit for the whole family. We had friends visitings this past weekend and we took them all there. It was their first time. We went in the morning and came home when it closed. We spent a lot of money on food and souvenirs but the kids all had so much fun. Can’t go wrong with any of Chicago’s museums!

  16. wyrkyrgyrl says:

    Luv it! I grew up across the street from U of C and my dad taught there! I graduated from U of C High School lol small world

  17. Peter says:

    Your son sounds like a good traveler. I hope he’s well behaved in public, unlike so many children who are allowed to run wild even though their parents are sitting right there.

  18. Melissa Pother says:

    I love all the pictures. Are these iphone pix and if so what app did you use? Mine always turn out a blurry mess! LOL!!!

  19. Chloe Johnson says:

    I would love to take a staycation but is it wrong that I want to go away all by myself? I could use some R&R! 😉

  20. Janna says:

    I love the pictures, Jae! Keep up the awesome work!

  21. Frank says:

    No pictures of hot dogs or pizza? What kind of Chicago story is this?

  22. Meagan says:

    I love the Shedd but it’s always too crowded on weekends. It’s worth it to take a day off midweek and go. You can see more and don’t have to deal with all the crazy drivers!

  23. Alice Meigler says:

    Can you recommend any good sushi restaurants near the Four Seasons Hotel on the Gold Coast? Thank you.

  24. Samantha says:

    ♥♥♥ What a great idea! I’m going to explore my hometown, too!

  25. Sarah Windsor says:

    I wasn’t sure if I would stay at the Langham or Trump across the street. But I hate Donald Trump so I picked the Langham. It wasn’t as luxerious as I had hoped, but it was in a great area. I’d go back.

    • Muriel says:

      LOL! I hate him too! Besides that, I find his hotel is overpriced. For that kind of money, stay at the Peninsula or the Ritz or the Four Seasons!

  26. Muriel says:

    Heaven! I love exploring Chicago! I didn’t know you went to U of C! Brainiac!!!

  27. jasonhowardny says:

    ccool photos!

  28. mywildbliss says:

    Gorgeous hotel!!! Looks like Kyle loved it, so much joy!

  29. concorexhappiness2x says:

    Eek love!

  30. Sung says:

    Jae, you made me miss this beautiful city of yours…I was there last year when I visited Skokie. My wife and I stayed at the Hampton Inn Majestic, which was most definitely more majestic than any other Hampton Inn I’ve been to. We only stayed a couple of days and it was cold and snowy, but we still loved our visit. It was the first time we had Insomnia Cookies! Crazy good, always warm, perfect for a chilly night.

    How wonderful you guys had such a nice time. If only we could be on vacation all the time!

  31. Debra says:

    Your photos made me fall in love with Chicago. I don’t believe I’ve seen it captured quite so elegantly before!! I feel like I have to take a trip there :). First Pintrest, then Instagram, now your blog…you are awesome Jae!!

    • Jae-Ha Kim says:

      Thanks for the kind words, Debra! I wasn’t sure who you were until I saw your email address and pieced it together! 🙂 I’m really glad that you enjoyed the piece and the pics. Full disclosure–my husband took all the photos. I’ll pass along the kudos to him!

      And, though I don’t know you in the real world, I feel like I have a good sense of your life from you Instagram photos! Have a great day!

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