Chicago’s Michigan Avenue has long been known as one of the world’s premiere power-shopping venues. As other cities built sprawling mega-malls in outlying suburbs, "Boul Mich." developers introduced the vertical mall: six to eight balconies of upscale shops surrounding a soaring central atrium. The first -- and in my opinion, still the most attractive -- is Water Tower Place, a block north of Chicago Avenue and across from an ornate limestone pumping station which, like the water tower it primed, survived the Chicago fire.
Others, attractive in the their ways but not as successful commercially, are at 700 and 900 North Michigan. All are worth a visit.
The newest entry, North Bridge, isn’t a high-rise like the earlier towers. Instead, it extends across Rush St. and Grand Ave. to fill a full city block, adding new glitz and glamor to the area just north of the Chicago River. It’s anchored by Nordstrom’s, but offers many other high-end shops.
If you have young children with you, take them to the amazing Lego showroom on the 2nd level at North Bridge. (If you have adult children with you, take them instead to the Billy Goat Tavern, a subterrainean lair populated largely by Chicago newspaper people -- Mike Royko and other legendary reporters are said to have often enjoyed beer and "cheee-sah borgers" here. Ask the barkeep or regulars about the original Billy’s famous "hex" on the Chicago Cubs.
Next to, and across the street from, North Bridge are two of Chicago’s most magnificent buildings: the almost-pure-white Wrigley Building and the stately, Gothic, elegantly-oramented Tribune Tower. To touch some pieces of world history, walk along the tower’s north and south walls; they’re embedded with bricks, stones and other artifacts from ancient temples, significant buildings and other historic achievements: a rock from the site of the Pilgrims’ landing, for example.
Follow the River
In the 1990’s, Chicago finally started capitalizing on the scenic value of its downtown river. Wacker Drive, the convenient but crumbling double-deck riverfront thoroughfare, has been dismantled and completely rebuilt. Upper Wacker Drive had long been a pleasant and attractive walk. Now, there’s also a water-level promenade with several upscale restaurants.
(How many of you knew there was an underground auto route from the Post Office south and west of the Loop to North Michigan Avenue?)
Walking is even better now that attention has also been paid toward beautifying the riverfront east of Michigan Ave -- long neglected. But for a relaxing alterative, try the Wendella WaterBus. It used to cost $1 and run only on weekdays during "rush hour". Now it costs $2, but operates all-day, every day. And, the route has been extended. Once operating only between Madison St. and Michign Ave, it now continues east to the popular Tavern on the Pier in the East River development, just a quarter-mile or so from Navy Pier. Seniors ride for $1 each way; adults can buy a round trip for $3.