Chicago, General

Last-Minute Valentine’s Day plans for you lazy lovebirds

Orchid-Show-at-Chicago-Botanic-Garden-CanopyFrom the Saturday, Feb. 10, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …


It’s not quite Valentine’s Day, but let’s be honest. If you haven’t already made your plans for Feb. 14, well, then I’d say you’re liable to be left out in the cold.
Both by restaurants – and your special someone.

But to all you lazy lovebirds (and lovelorn) out there, fear not. If you’re still scrambling for creative ways to celebrate Hallmark’s second favorite holiday (behind only Mother’s Day), I’m here with some last-minute Valentine’s Day ideas happening this weekend and next week in Chicago.

Dances from the Heart
Today, 8 p.m.

If you’re looking to jazz things up, tonight at 8 p.m. a special Valentine’s Day dance performance will unfold at the Athenaeum Theatre (2936 N. Southport Ave.) in West Lakeview.

The event features 13 dynamic acts involving an array of dance styles, including aerial, tap, urban fusion, jazz, contemporary, stepping, Irish, Mexican folkloric, hip-hop, urban/performance art and more.

For more information, visit

Naked at the Art Museum Scavenger Hunt
Sunday, 1 p.m.

For those seeking something cheeky – quite literally – this weekend, the Art Institute of Chicago (111 S. Michigan Ave.) is offering adults an unblushing look at nudity in art with its Naked at the Art Museum Scavenger Hunt.

At 1 p.m. on Sunday, participants will scour the museum while scrutinizing works of bathing beauties, peeping Toms, sultry sirens and more. As the museum says, “No previous experience with art, or nudity, is required.”

For more information, visit

Chicago, General

Feel the love (of all kinds) in Chicago this February

AutoShowFrom the Saturday, Jan. 27, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …


It’s almost February, and in Chicago, love is in the air.

Love of food. Love of science. Love of spirits, ales and ciders. Love of cars. Love of chocolate. Love of nature …

What, you thought I was just talking about Valentine’s Day?

If you’re looking to feel the love in the Windy City, here are some events that may set your heart aflutter both before and after Feb. 14.

Chicago Restaurant Week

Through Feb. 8

Now in its 11th year, the annual Chicago Restaurant Week is actually two, which means you have extra time to find to take advantage of great deals at more than 370 restaurants in the city and suburbs.

Here’s how it works: Restaurants offer a three-course lunch (or brunch) for $22, and/or three- or four-course dinner for $33 or $44. Some restaurants feature lunch only, or dinner only, while some offer. In nearly every case, the restaurants’ regular menus also are available.

To research your options, visit for a searchable list of participating restaurants and links to their respective Restaurant Week menus.

Free MSI Days

All Month

Every weekday in February, except for the 19th (President’s Day), the Museum of Science and Industry is free to Illinois residents. All you need is to show a state ID.

Whiskey, Beer & Cider Festivals

Feb. 3, 10 & 17

You can pick your poison this month in Chicago with a trio of festivals celebrating whiskey, beer and cider.

On Feb. 3, Old Crow Smokehouse (149 W. Kinzie St.) will host the Chicago Whiskey Festival (formerly the River North Whiskey Festival), offering more than 30 varieties of whiskey, bourbon and scotch from 1 to 4 p.m. For details, visit

A week later and a few blocks away on Feb. 10, Rock Bottom Brewery (1 W. Grand Ave.) will host the Polar Beer Festival – taking place outdoors on the brewery’s rooftop deck. From noon to 4 p.m., the event will feature strong winter – and also feature a warming area. For more information, visit

Lastly, on Feb. 17, more than 150 artisanal ciders from around the world will be on the menu, along with food samples, during Cider Summit Chicago in the Grand Ballroom at Navy Pier. The event offers two sessions, beginning at 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. For more information, visit

Chicago Auto Show

Feb. 10-19

Chicago again is offering up its annual wintertime opportunity to witness everything that’s new in the world of cars during what’s billed as the largest and longest-running auto show in America.


Wisch Lists are for New Year’s

sparkling trails of light drawing out the numbers 2018 in glowing light to welcome in the new year
sparkling trails of light drawing out the numbers 2018 in glowing light to welcome in the new year

From the Saturday, Jan. 6, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …


Wish lists are for Christmas.

But Wisch Lists? Well, just like every year, they’re for New Year’s.

My “Wisches” for 2018 are a bit belated as my wife and I spent the holidays out of state, first in Florida (visiting family for Christmas) and then in Charleston, S.C., (where we celebrated the New Year).

The weather was far from warm while we were in Charleston – the city was blanketed with near-record 5-inch snowfall the day after we left town – but it was, of course, still far warmer than it’s been in frigid Illinois the past few weeks.

And as we enter icy 2018 following a 2017 that featured too much fiery political rhetoric and too many chilling allegations against powerful men from D.C. to Hollywood to many points between, here are some things that I hope to see in what’s hopefully not just a New Year, but ultimately a better one too.

I Wisch that I didn’t start 2018 with a nasty cold.

I Wisch that Illinois – and, really, the entire country – didn’t do the same.

I Wisch every year could see Bill Murray stroll into my hotel bar and sit down near me, which is exactly what happened last weekend in Charleston, where Murray has a home. If he’d been alone, I would have dropped him a “Go Cubs,” but Murray was with a trio of friends and I didn’t want to intrude.

I Wisch I knew what a Golden Cadillac tasted like, which is the after-dinner cocktail that Murray ordered – at 4 p.m. I’ll have to find out this year.

I Wisch to see Jake Arrieta in Cubs pinstripes for 2018.

I Wisch to see Bryce Harper do the same a year from now.

I Wisch anyone could be confident that the Bears and Bulls know what they’re doing.


Unwrapping Chicago’s holiday fun facts for Christmas

CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 07: A general view of Macy's on State Street 108th Annual Great Tree Lighting Ceremony on November 7 on November 7, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images for Macy's)
CHICAGO, IL – NOVEMBER 07: A general view of Macy’s on State Street 108th Annual Great Tree Lighting Ceremony on November 7 on November 7, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images for Macy’s)

From the Saturday, Dec. 23, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …


It’s almost Christmas, and Chicago isn’t only filled with all sorts of holiday fun this time of the year – it’s also filled with all sorts of fun holiday facts. And to do my part in helping get you in the spirit of the season, I thought I’d share with you some of my favorite ones.

It’s still Marshall Field’s to me

Nothing says Christmas in Chicago quite like the windows at Marshall Field’s on State Street – even if the store is now Macy’s.

Back in 1897, Marshall Field’s new display manager, Arthur Fraser, pioneered window design. Particularly popular were his Christmas toy windows, which continued through World War II until the visual team at Field’s devised a new plan. They designed themed windows that spanned the length of State Street and allowed passersby to see an entire holiday story unfold as they walked from one end to the other.

In 1946, to compete with Montgomery Ward’s holiday creation, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Field’s also introduced the character Uncle Mistletoe, who you can still spot today sitting atop “The Great Tree” inside the Walnut Room restaurant.

Shaking the trees

Speaking of “The Great Tree,” that iconic Christmastime centerpiece dominating the seventh-floor Walnut Room stands 45 feet tall and sparkles with 3,000 ornaments and 6,000 LED lights. That’s dwarfed, however, by Chicago’s municipal Christmas tree, in Millennium Park, which this year is a 62-foot Norway Spruce donated by Darlene Dortier of Grayslake.

The tree is the 104th in the city’s history, dating back to 1913 when, on Christmas Eve, Mayor Carter H. Harrison lit the first in Grant Park. That inaugural conifer was a 35-foot Douglas Spruce made to look much larger when it was placed on 40-foot poles and studded with smaller trees.

Decorated with 600 multi-colored lights and topped with the Star of Bethlehem, that original tree was a gift from an associate of Captain Herman Scheunemann and was lit in his honor. Scheunemann was the captain of the Rouse Simmons, known as the “Christmas Tree Ship,” which became famous for traversing the icy waters of Lake Michigan each year to bring trees from northern Michigan to Chicago.

The Rouse Simmons was lost in a storm on November 23, 1912, but today is immortalized in the touching stage performance, “The Christmas Schooner,” performed annually at Music Box Theatre in Lakeview.


Wisch List on the Air … in Champaign

Tay-Carp-FB-BanThe Hot Stove has been fairly tepid for the Chicago Cubs this winter, but it’s liable to warm up at any time. Same goes for the Illini basketball program.

And I shared my thoughts about both – as well as the (gasp!) St. Louis Cardinals – this week when I joined my pals Lon Tay and Mike Carpenter on the Tay & Carp radio show in Champaign this week. Give it a listen.


The best-laid plans of mice, men … and Chicago sports

Jerry-reinsdorf-tribune-photo-2From the Saturday, Dec. 16, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …


It’s one thing to have a plan.

It’s another thing to stick to one.

The Cubs had one, and they stuck to it. The White Sox have one and … well, will they stick to it?

I’d say that very much remains to be seen.

This week during Major League Baseball’s Winter Meetings in Orlando, the stunning news broke that Sox had offered up a package of top prospects to trade for Baltimore’s All-Star third baseman Manny Machado, despite the fact that the slugger is slated to become a free agent after the 2018 season.

Just 25 years old, Machado is a monster talent and would be a great addition to a great many teams. But I struggle to see how he makes sense for the Sox at this stage of the team’s rebuild – which, like the Cubs’ successful plan, is expected to involve a lot of youngsters, a lot of losing and a lot of high draft picks.

Machado is a guy you add if you’re looking to win – both now and later, not just later. Unless the Sox are extremely confident that they can sign him to a long-term deal before he hits free agency – a huge gamble considering Machado’s agent is Scott Boras and other deep-pocketed organizations covet him – it’s illogical to give up top prospects for a guy who could be nothing more than a rental during what’s supposed to be a rebuilding season.

Whether the Sox land Machado or not, the team’s pursuit leaves me wondering if 81-year-old Jerry Reinsdorf really has the stomach to follow through on a long rebuild. Doing so can certainly result in a lot of indigestion, but there’s also nothing more filling than successfully seeing it through.

Just ask the team on the North Side.


Where could a high-speed O’Hare train boldly go?

Screen Shot 2017-12-12 at 6.51.07 PMFrom the Saturday, Dec. 11, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …


I like big, bold ideas – especially when they involve Chicago.

I was supportive of the city’s pursuit of the 2016 Summer Olympics. I thought the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art could have been a great attraction along the lakefront. And, as I wrote in this column in September, I’m hoping that the Windy City wins the high-stakes derby for e-commerce giant Amazon’s HQ2.

Yes, I do like big, bold ideas involving Chicago.

And, as it turns out, fast ones too.

That’s why I’m rooting for Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s vision of a high-speed train that would whisk passengers between O’Hare Airport and downtown to become a reality. But not only because of what such a train could offer travelers, but also because of the potential that a proven high-speed rail service could ultimately portend for the greater Chicagoland region – and the entire Midwest.

Last week, Emanuel announced that the city was issuing a formal Request for Qualifications for companies interested in designing, building, financing and operating a superfast rail link between downtown and the airport (visionary billionaire Elon Musk is among those who have already expressed interest).


Chicago is made for Christmastime adventures

pakatwrigleyWinter-Market-2From the Saturday, Dec. 2, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …


I always say that other than summertime, there’s no better time visit Chicago than Christmastime. With the Mag Mile awash in glittering lights, State Street truly looking like that Great Street with the festive windows at Macy’s (it’s still Marshall Field’s to me) and people bundled up with an extra layer of holiday cheer, the Windy City is tough to beat in December.

In fact, so much holiday hoopla swirls about the Chicago this month that it’s impossible to do it all. But if you’re making a list (and checking it twice), here are a few things I’d suggest putting right near the top.

Christkindlmarket at Wrigley

Wrigley Field has undergone an array of changes over the past few years, but perhaps nothing is more dramatic than the addition of The Park at Wrigley – which has now turned the old ballpark into a full-blown wintertime destination..

In November, a new outpost of Chicago’s popular downtown German-themed Christkindlmarket opened at The Park, bringing the same open-air holiday village, German food and spiced wine found at Daley Plaza to the North Side.

Unlike at Daley Plaza, The Park also allows you to take a twirl on a newly constructed 8,000-square-foot skating rink. Rink fees are $5 for skaters 13 and up, while those 12 and younger are free. Skate rental costs an additional $10.

For more information, visit


Light at the end of the Illini tunnel? I can see it

BUIt’s been a dark decade for Fighting Illini basketball.

But is there finally a light at the end of the State Farm Center tunnel?

I think so, with Brad Underwood having mercifully taken reins from the overmatched John Groce. Although, with so much youth and a lack of size, Underwood’s inaugural Illini squad may not quite reach that light this season with the program’s first NCAA Tournament bid in five years.

Then again, who knows, maybe they will.

What I do know, is that for the first time in ages, I’m actually looking forward to watching Illinois hoops. Gone are the days of tired slogans and hollow coach-speak from Groce, and in is a no-nonsense coach in Underwood who won’t sugarcoat his team’s shortcomings and actually runs a real offense.

It’s that spread offense – which made its official debut on Friday night in the Illini’s season opener at State Farm Center vs. Southern – that excites me the most about Underwood. Designed around spacing, ball reversals and hard cuts, it’s helped Underwood’s teams at Stephen F. Austin and Oklahoma State average 76 points and rank in Ken Pomeroy’s top 60 for offensive efficiency the past three seasons. Not coincidentally, each of those teams also reached the NCAA Tournament – a place where Illinois hasn’t danced since 2013.

Filled with complexities and nuances, I expect the new Illini offense to remain a work in progress for a sizable chunk of the season. I’m told, in fact, that Underwood has spent entire practices working only on players’ spacing without ever having them put up a single shot. And it’s because of that extreme learning curve that I didn’t sweat Illinois’ 80-67 exhibition loss to Eastern Illinois last week, nor will I stress out too much about other early-season hiccups.

It’s all part of the process. And in the end, Illinois may be too green this season to pile up the wins that they’ll need to go dancing this March.

Then again, who knows. Underwood has a knack for finding ways.