Chicago Architecture Blog for Curious People

5 Great Chicago-Themed Holiday Gift Ideas

November 26, 2014 by

Each year holiday shopping gets more and more grueling and, quite frankly, more and more obnoxiously overwhelming. So why not make things a little less crazy by avoiding the brutal throngs of gift buying wack jobs and buy locally with these great Chicago holiday gift ideas from great local businesses.


1. Chicago-themed Holiday Cards

No matter what holiday you are celebrating this season, some pretty awesome holiday cards may fit your personality. Some of my favorite Chicago-themed holiday cards this year are from Rhymeswithtwee, including this Chicago Bean holiday card and, for the more hard-core Chicagoan, a Malort-themed holiday card. These cards start at $4 for a single and $12 for a set.

chicago holiday card christmas bean

Photo Credit: Courtesy of rhymeswithtwee Etsy shop

chicago holiday christmas card gift malort

Photo Credit: Courtesy of rhymeswithtwee Etsy shop

And for those celebrating Hanukkah, studioLISTED has designed this classic Chicago-inspired at $2.95 per card.

chicago holiday gift card hanukkah

Photo Credit: Courtesy of studioLIFTED Etsy shop

2. Chicago Neighborhood Art

Chicago pride is all about ‘hood. This deconstructed “map” of Chicago neighborhoods cleverly orders each from smallest to largest and creates a print that looks like a cool eye chart. This $35 holiday gift, designed by BlueIsTheLand, is perfect for any Chicagoan with neighborhood pride.

chicago gift idea neighborhood art

Photo Credit: Courtesy of BlueIsTheLand

3. Jo Snow Syrups

How about some local flavor this holiday season? Jo Snow Syrups is a great gift idea for Chicago foodies that love supporting local small businesses. Our favorite product is Jo’s Fig Vanilla Black Pepper Jam. My brother-in-law freaked out about the root beer syrup. This artisan outfit specializes in flavored syrups for anything from cocktails and coffee to even snow cones! And you can get a cute gift bag of three 5oz. syrups of your choice for only $24, perfect for any Chicago fun food lover.

jo snow chicago food holiday gift bag

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Jo Snow website

4. Whimsical Candy

chicago whimsical candy

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Whimsical Candy website

Or for your sweet-toothed friends and family, perhaps some La Dee Dah’s, Nifty Nougats or the peanut buttery goodness of a WowBar! from Whimsical Candy for a holiday gift. Candies range in price, which is great for any size holiday gift budget. If any of you have joined us for our Loop Interior Architecture Walking Tour or our Historic Chicago Walking Bar Tour, you may have had a chance to taste one of Whimsical Candy’s oh-so-yummy caramels. In addition to these being just totally delicious, they are handmade right in downtown Chicago.


5. Chicago Detours’ Ornaments – new this year!


Photo credit: Amanda Scotese

We launched our new online shop this holiday season and are featuring beautifully crafted holiday ornaments. This special gift is a hand-cast architectural detail from the 1920s made by Decorator’s Supply Corporation, which has been crafting beautiful moldings, corbels and the like since 1883. We transformed them into ornaments by hand-painting gold accents and adding the ribbon. Each comes with a tag that shares the historic background of Decorators Supply. Plus, this hand-crafted piece of history won’t break the bank at only $12!

Happy Holidays!

–Chicago Detours Staff

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Art and History Events This Week In Chicago

November 18, 2014 by

Architecture and history of Chicago are the focus of our weekly events listings, and this week we share with you a lecture on historic Chicago theaters, a lecture on Chicago neighborhoods, and a pop-up local art show.

portage park chicago movie theater

Photo Credit: Jenn Harrman

1. Historic Chicago Theaters – LECTURE

430 S. Michigan Ave. – Thursday, November 20th, 12:15pm-1pm


Can’t help but love taking in a show at the Logan Theater? Chicago used to be chock-full of theaters like this one. Learn some history behind Chicago’s historic movie theaters this Thursday with the next Preservation Snapshot Lecture from Landmarks Illinois. Chicago Tribune theater critic, Chris Jones, will discuss the Auditorium Theater (where the lecture happens to take place) as a performance venue amidst Chicago’s great collection of historic theaters.

2. Catholic School Closures and the Decline of Chicago’s Neighborhoods - LECTURE

1601 N. Clark St. – Thursday, November 20th, 5:45pm

$25 – reservations required

This edition of the Chicago History Museum’s Urban History Seminars features Nicole Garnett from the University of Notre Dame to discuss this unique topic in Chicago’s history. As always the event includes a reception that begins at 5:45pm and dinner at 6:15pm. The program starts at 7pm and includes a presentation by Garnett followed by group discussion. The ticket includes both dinner and parking.

chicago local artists poptop co

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Pop Top Co website

3. The Makers Show – POP-UP ART SHOW

213 N. Morgan – Thursday, November 20th, 5pm-9pm


Looking for holiday gift ideas from local artists? This Thursday roomTEN Special Projects is hosting a one-night only pop up show featuring hand crafted jewelry, accessories, art and home goods all designed by local Chicago artists. Enjoy microbrews from Empirical Brewery while checking out these featured artists: Anthony Zahner Design, Ducharme Jewelry, OZ-CO Studio, Leny Basa Jewelry, and Pop Top Co.


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Chicago Events in November this Week

November 3, 2014 by

Each week we bring you our top picks for what to do around the city that focuses on architecture and history. Our Chicago events in November this week feature a discussion of modernism in Chicago pre-Mies, a talk about a new proposed landmark, and a musical perspective of Frank Lloyd Wright.

1. Native Modernism—Chicago Architecture and Design before Mies and Moholy – LECTURE

Fullerton Hall, 111 S. Michigan Ave. – Tuesday, November 4th, 6:30pm-7:30pm

$10 members/$15 non-members/free to students with valid ID

When you think of Chicago modernism, Mies van der Rohe is often the first thing that pops into your mind with images of the Federal Center and Crown Hall in addition to his stamp that is simply all over this city. However, before Mies we had architects Holabird and Root, and Graham, Anderson, Probst, and White with the Palmolive building and the Merchandise Mart. And product designers such as John Morgan or Ivar Jepson who made sleek designs for everyday household appliances. This Tuesday Robert Bruegmann and Thomas Leslie present this revised view of Modernism in Chicago between the two World Wars at the Art Institute of Chicago.

2. The Fulton-Randolph Market District: Feeding Chicago since 1850 – LUNCH TALK

224 S. Michigan Ave., Lecture Hall – Wednesday, November 5th, 12:15-1pm


The Fulton-Randolph Market is currently home to some of Chicago’s best restaurants like the popular Girl and the Goat and Little Goat diner. And this excellence in food tradition goes back 164 years when Chicago built a food market here at Randolph and Halsted Streets. Now the city wants to honor this history by designating the Fulton-Randolph Market District a Chicago Landmark. Matt Crawford, who works for the city in the Department of Planning and Development with the Historic Preservation Division, will talk about the area’s rich history and distinctive mercantile architecture.

chicago architecture event frank lloyd wright

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Frank Lloyd Wright Trust website

3. Concerts in Context: American Originals - MUSICAL PERFORMANCE

875 Lake St., Oak Park – Thursday, November 6th, 7pm

$15 members/$18 non-members – reservations required

The Frank Lloyd Wright Trust kicks off its Concerts in Context series this Thursday at Unity Temple with the Chicago Philharmonic Chamber Players. The group will offer unique perspectives on the music of American composers including Charles Ives, George Gershwin, Kurt Weill and Aaron Copeland. This first performance explores the cultural and historical context of the time when Frank Lloyd Wright was defining his vision for American architecture and puts you into the mood of the period to consider his architecture from a very unique perspective.


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Approaches to Studying Chicago History

October 30, 2014 by

As a student at North Central College I have had class with some excellent professors over the last two years. Being a history major I felt it would be appropriate to sit down with one of my professors and mentor, Dr. Ann Durkin Keating, to discuss the study and presentation of Chicago’s history. How do we learn about history and tell the story? What is missing, and what is for the future of studying Chicago history? Below you will see several of the questions and answers we discussed in our conversation.

Dr. Ann Durkin Keating has been lauded for her scholarship of urban history. She teaches classes in the Urban & Suburban Studies Program at North Central University. She is also co-editor of The Encyclopedia of Chicago, which is like the Bible of Chicago history. Her books include Chicago Neighborhoods and Suburbs: A Historical Guide, Building Chicago: Suburban Developers and the Creation of a Divided Metropolis, and Chicagoland: City and Suburbs in the Railroad Age.

chicago history book ann keating

Q: Have there been any recent discoveries in Chicago history that have changed how Chicago history is viewed? Is the history of Chicago told differently than it was in the past?

Keating: A couple years ago the Chicago History Museum did an exhibit, Out in Chicago, about the LGBT community. This was a great exhibition as it interviewed people in the community, brought together artifacts and stories to paint the picture of their life. This exhibit was very popular.

Books such as Dominic Pacyga’s Chicago: A Biography is very popular because it is a one volume history of Chicago. His work shows where the holes are in historical research and provides a complete understanding of Chicago’s history.  There is a real disconnect between academic and popular historians and between them there are specific topics that are always covered. Academic historians have generally focused on race and suburbanization while popular historians have written about crime sports and politics.

Q: What are some of the valuable resources available to researchers, historians and students studying Chicago history? How have research methods changed?

Keating: Historians have really benefited from the digitization of sources into electronic databases. The Historical Chicago Tribune, Chicago Foreign Language Press and Chicago Defender newspapers have been digitized and put in searchable databases. Historians and students have also benefited greatly from the release of the Encyclopedia of Chicago. And other interactive resources from the Chicago History Museum, such as their interactive map of the Chicago fire. Those doing historic research still use the same sources, but in different ways. Primary sources are the main way in which research is done, but now it is possible to go both to the archive and access them from the computer.

While there have been many pluses for researchers, there have also been minuses. Although the amount of resources online has increased we have seen a decrease in the amount of hours archives are open to the public. The Chicago History Museum has been lowering their hours and now have extremely limited hours for their research center.  On the other hand the public libraries, like Harold Washington have kept their newspaper and special collections open a fair amount to the public despite the decreased amount of funding. They have really worked to maintain their availability to the public.

Q: When looking at what is available about Chicago, are there events that you wish were covered or research that has been done that should be revisited or expanded on?

Keating: I would really like to see a second edition of the Encyclopedia of Chicago because it is a very valuable source. I would also like to see Rima Schultz’s book Women Building Chicago become digitized at some point in time. There is an infinite list of topics, but I would really like to see more work done on the twentieth century as there is a wealth of information yet to be written about. I would even like to see more written about the nineteenth century and making connections between what has occurred in both of the last centuries.

~Brian Failing: Research & Collections Intern

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Logan Square Special Event Wrap-Up

October 28, 2014 by

This past Sunday we had our third “Detour” one-off special event of 2014 in Logan Square in partnership with Maurene of Azimuth Projects.

Art Walk Stop #1: Autotelic Studios

We started with some delicious spicy hot chocolate at Autotelic Studios and some background on this interesting space. Inside a home on a residential block, the multiple rooms house open studio spaces. Artist Alice Feldt explained the synergy that results from working in this kind of space, explaining how seeing other artists working prompts discussion, and sparks mutual influence.

logan square autotelic studios

Photo booth installation picture shot from outside the display window of Autotelic.

We also got to get our pictures taken in the photo booth window installation entitled “Observable Methods,” conceived by Kailyn Perry and Traci Fowler. Props such as the headphones and glasses were provided. (And all the photos here are photo credit to Maurene Cooper.)

Art Walk Stop #2: Trunk Show

Then we headed up to Palmer Square, where we met Trunk Show for the unveiling of their next limited-edition bumper sticker. Trunk Show is a mobile exhibition space, housed in the back of a 1999 forest green Ford Taurus owned by Raven Falquez Munsell and Jesse Malmed. They sell the stickers by annual subscription and a la carte.

art walk trunk show chicago

Sticker is applied to the car of the mobile exhibition space, “Trunk Show.”

Hearing artist Kelly Lloyd speak about digging through old books to uncover the quote really opened up a cool dimension of understanding the work. She discovered the quote scrawled in a page margin: “Perhaps God is more concerned with my availability than my ability?” Lloyd said she wants to “use this opportunity to introduce a deeply private thought into a very public form.”

kelly lloyd artist logan square chicago detours

Artist Kelly Lloyd talks about her bumper sticker piece for Trunk Show.

Art Walk Stop #3: It’s Not a Stop – the Walk and Visual Scavenger Hunt

Then the Visual Scavenger Hunt part of the afternoon began! Everyone was given a sheet of paper with 10 photos. As we walked, they had to really look at the landscape around to match the photo with an object we pass by. The first to say “I got it!” received the prize of a work of art from the studios and galleries we visited. Some of the photos were of things we weren’t actually going to pass, just to make things a little more tricky.

amanda scotese logan square chicago detours

After the prize was given, I then talked a little bit about the cultural and historic background of these everyday things, such as alleys or the shapes of our houses. Even lawn ornaments have a story to tell.

Artwalk Stop #4: Comfort Station

We walked up Milwaukee Avenue, past the big strip of the Mega Mall, to the Comfort Station. Artist Matt Woodward talked about his incredible weathering process with his large format pieces. The one pictured here, for example, endured a year of the elements on his roof. Curator Jessie Devereaux provided great insight as well into the ways that these works use the space of the historic Comfort Station, and also react to the changes in light throughout the day.

comfort station logan square

Matt Woodward discusses his work at the Comfort Station.

The group raptly listened to his background on his collaboration with J.R. Robinson’s Wrekmeister Harmonies for the exhibition. Over a year ago Matt was inspired by one of J.R.’s songs to create a drawing. For this show, the collaboration was reversed, with J.R. composing music based on Matt’s architecturally inspired works. Using tracings of mass-produced architectural decorations, which today people often romantically and erroneously admire as unique, these heavily wrought drawings disguise the commodified origins of their designs.

Art Walk Stop #5: Azimuth Projects

Then we walked on over to Azimuth Projects. After a break for wine, African rice, and butter cookies, we experienced the multimedia installation work of Sarah Beth Woods.

sarah beth woods azimuth projects

Sarah Beth Woods discusses braiding and female adornment.

Sarah Beth befriended African braider Fatimata Traore, and has worked with her in her South Side salon, adding additional touches like ribbons and colored extensions. She explained her love for the tactile nature of her work, which you are encouraged to touch. She also addressed the tension between high art and craft. I admired that she spoke of the racial dynamics of her work, which so often people try to skirt around.

We had an excellent group of people, mostly from the Logan Square neighborhood, for our special event. And also one guy from San Francisco who had just hopped off a 20-hour train ride. The event was sold-out, and many people heard about it through DNA Chicago, the Daily Herald, TimeOut Chicago, and the Red Eye.

Our next one-off “Detour” special event will be in January, it will take place mostly indoors, and we will announce it soon!

Thanks for reading!

– Amanda Scotese, Chicago Detours Executive Director


Posted in Chicago Art, Chicago Neighborhoods, Detours, Neighborhoods | Leave a comment
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Spooky Events in Chicago Architecture and History


We went on a little hiatus from our weekly events posts as we have been incredibly busy here at Chicago Detours this fall. We rolled out our brand new private tour catalog, so we’ve been having lost of fun with private tours of historic bars, jazz and blues, Chicago neighborhoods and more. We’ve also been busy working on our fall “Detour”, Visual Scavenger Hunt and Art Walk, which took place this past Sunday in Logan Square for Chicago Artists Month 2014 and was a huge success!

And now we’re back with more events to put on your social calendar. In honor of the spooky holiday this Friday, we thought we’d bring you some spooky events in Chicago architecture and History. This week we feature a Day of the Dead exhibit, and two very spooky walking tours.

day of the dead chicago halloween event

Photo Credit: Courtesy of the National Museum of Mexican Art website

1. Rito y Recuerdo: Day of the Dead – EXHIBIT

1852 W. 19th St. – during regular museum hours through December 14th


All Hallows Eve isn’t the only holiday this weekend. Head on down to one of our favorite Chicago neighborhoods, Pilsen, for the Day of the Dead exhibit at the National Museum of Mexican Art. This ancestral tradition in Mexico honors those who have passed away and is celebrated annually on November 1st and 2nd. The exhibit honors those who have left this year with altars, installations, popular art, and works by more than sixty artists from both the US and Mexico.

2. Death, Disease and Bones: The Lincoln Park Walking Tour – NEIGHBORHOOD TOUR

1752 N. Stockton Drive – Wednesday, October 29th, 4:00pm and Saturday, November 1st, 10:00am

$22 members/$30 non-members – reservations required

From the beach to the zoo to the gardens, Lincoln Park is known as an outdoor retreat from the hustle and bustle of urban life. Yet its past is a little less cheery and often still being uncovered since the site was one of the city’s original burial grounds. Over the last 100 years, construction projects in and around the park have revealed some of these leftover remains. So what better time than Halloween to explore this spooky history? Historian Sally Sexton Kalmbach leads the excursion hosted by the Driehaus Museum.

glessner house chicago architecture prairie ave

3. Shadows on the Street: Haunted Tours of Historic Prairie Avenue – HAUNTED TOUR

1800 S. Prairie Ave. – Friday, October 31st, 7:00pm and 8:15pm

$8 members/$10 non-members – reservations recommended 312.326.1480

Once home to Chicago’s historic elite, Prairie Avenue also has some pretty spooky history. Explore tales of strange sounds, unexplained sightings, and untimely endings after dark with the Glessner House this Friday. Your guide will share the mysterious circumstances of Marshall Field Jr.’s death and the tragic events that plagued the Philander Handford house. Plus the story behind the rattling windows in the William Kimball mansion, and more spooky tales from Prairie Ave.

Posted in Chicago Art, Chicago history, Chicago Neighborhoods, Uncategorized, Weekly Architecture and History Events | Leave a comment
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Chicago Artist’s Month Logan Square Art Walk

October 21, 2014 by

We are very excited to again partner with Azimuth Projects for a fun interpretation of a Logan Square art walk as an official event for Chicago Artists Month 2014. A few spots are left for the event, this Sunday, October 26, 11am-1pm. It’s a reinterpretation of our Saturated Landscape special event this past February. This walking tour of the everyday landscape in Logan Square combines an art walk to neighborhood artists’ studios and galleries with a game that includes original art prizes!

logan square art walk

Photo booth installation at Autotelic

We start at Autotelic Studio close to Humboldt Park for “Observable Methods,” an exhibit of a collaboration between artists Kailyn Perry and Traci Fowler. Guests can step into a photo booth installation piece. You will be surrounded by their fragmented pieces of landscapes, which fit with the landscape exploration for the walking tour portion of this special event.

Then we will visit four different art studios where the artists will talk briefly about their work. And in between each studio stop we will play a sort of visual scavenger hunt. It’s not exactly a scavenger hunt but that’s the best word I found for it! Each guest will have a printout with several abstracted and close-up images of features of the landscape. As we walk together through Logan Square, the first to notice the object will win an awesome prize of a small, original artwork from one of the artists at the walk’s featured art galleries.

And then I will share some ideas, writings or stories connected to the everyday object, which could be a something more architectural, like an alley or gate, to something more natural like a tree stump. Keeping with the Chicago Artists Month theme of “Crossing Borders,” we will explore how the everyday landscape distinctly creates both physical and more metaphorical borders between spaces and people.

First stop after Autotelic is to saunter up Sacramento Boulevard to Palmer Square for a grand arrival of Trunk Show, an exhibition on wheels. The 1999 forest green Ford Taurus filled with limited edition artist stickers curated by Kelly Lloyd will roll up to us. Radio jams may be included.

logan square art walk 2014

Architecturally inspired art and sonic piece at Comfort Station.

Then our art-walk-meets-walking-tour of Logan Square will head up Milwaukee Avenue to the Comfort Station’s exhibit, “It Ended with my Putting it On.” Matt Woodward created heavily wrought, large-scale drawings of decorative architectural detail and then Wrekmeister Harmonies composed a sonic piece in response to it. 

braid art art walk logan square chicago detours

Sarah Beth Woods “Bricoleur” at Azimuth Projects

Our last stop is just around the corner at Azimuth Projects’ apartment gallery. We will view “Bricoleur,” a fiber installation and hair braiding experience with Sarah Beth Woods and Fatimata Traore. After the artists discuss how decorating and adornment have been ways for women to assert their autonomy and individuality, guests can choose to get their hair braided for a donation. Woods opened her exhibition “Bricoleur” with an event she described as a “collaborative, interactive fiber installation and hair braiding experience” at Azimuth Projects, an apartment gallery in Logan Square with hair braider Fatimata Traore. Visitors took turns having their hair braided and then accented with shiny door-knocker earrings and colorful tassels.

This Logan Square art walk and tour is two hours long. The $25 ticket includes special presentations by the artists, original art prizes, landscape tour commentary, refreshments, tasting of African rice, and special gifts. Tour starts at Autotelic at 1856 N. Richmond, and ends at Azimuth Projects, 1924 N. Whipple. Reservations are required here to secure your spot. These special events always sell out.

This one will be a lot of fun! Not to be missed.

Posted in Chicago Art, Chicago Neighborhoods, Contemporary Chicago, Detours | Leave a comment
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Chicago Marathon: History of Dedication

October 8, 2014 by

The 37th annual Chicago Marathon is coming up this Sunday, October 12th and a good friend of mine, Rebecca Rosenberg, is taking the challenge to run in memory of her good friend Angie who died this past year of cancer. She is supporting a fantastic charity called Imerman Anglels, a non-profit whose mission is to provide cancer fighters with one-on-one support from those who have gone through the same so that no one has to fight cancer alone. It’s a pretty great cause so in addition to donating, I thought I’d share the research I did on the history of the Chicago Marathon.

Although known now as the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, back when it started in 1977, the original name for the race was the Mayor Daley Marathon. On September 25th of that year, 4,200 runners came out to participate. Now the race has up to 45,000 runners! That’s a lot of people in downtown Chicago, not to mention all the spectators that come out to support the runners. It reminds me of the video we share on our Loop Interior Architecture Walking Tour of Chicago in 1897. Busy, congested, absolutely chaotic, and completely alive.

chicago marathon race history

Photo Credit: OhioRunning

The Chicago Marathon as we know it today may have began in 1977, but this was not the first marathon in Chicago. The first was actually all the way back in September of 1905. The course began in Evanston and ended in Washington Park and drew world athletes and plenty of spectators, some of which paid for seats at the finish line. The difficulty of the late 1920s brought the race to an end and it wasn’t until the 1960s that interest in the sport bubbled back up. The windy city established the Chicago Marathon as the second big city run, next to the New York City Marathon, which was established only a few years earlier in 1976. By the 1980s, Chicago was one of the big four city marathons bringing worldwide interest back to the event.

chicago marathon 1905

1905 Chicago Marathon; Photo Credit: Courtesy of Wikipedia

In looking into why people would want to participate in such a grueling activity, I found that the Chicago Marathon draws so many runners for some of the same reasons Chicago drew so many people after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. The pursuit of personal records and world records. After the fire we had architects from all over the world come to re-imagine this great city and Chicago is now known as the home for records in architecture such as the first skyscraper or at one point the tallest building in the world. And just as the destroyed city created a new canvas for great architecture, the flatness of the Chicago Marathon course facilitated record breaking achievements. Chicago has been home to four world record runs and the record for the 26.2 mile Chicago course is a mere 2 hours, 3 minutes and 45 seconds. This was set in 2013 by Dennis Kimetto, a runner from Kenya who also holds the world record for a marathon run set in 2014 in Berlin. So that means Kimetto’s average time per mile for Chicago was only 4.7 minutes!

In addition to setting records for those that have won the marathon over the years, the race draws many more than those who have a chance at winning. The Chicago Marathon is known as “the World’s Marathon” because you do not have to a qualifying time to participate. It’s open to anyone. That first race back in 1977 drew people of all ages from a 12-year-old kid to a 74-year-old man. Although Ben Mostow, 74, did not intend to win the race that year, he did hope to be in the Guinness Book of World Records for the fastest marathon time for a 74-year-old man. He had already been a long time walker having walked all the way from Skokie, IL to Racine, WI, (about a 60-mile hike) and he had simply always been a walker. He had no doubts that he would finish the race as his own slogan was “rain, shine, snow or sleet, Mostow’s always on his feet.”

In fact, it seems to me that Chicago Marathon is less about winning and more about the pride of finishing. Whether 12 or 74, a marathon runner will spend an enormous amount of time training, running at least four times a week and around 300 miles a month, just to build up the endurance to finish the race. It has made me realize that although I think marathon runners are a little crazy, they are possibly the most dedicated and determined individuals in the world. So few can say they have run a marathon and reading the stories of those who have pushed themselves to this achievement, I have so much more pride and admiration for my friend.

Here’s to you, Chicago Marathon runners!

–Jenn Harrman, Tour Guide

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Chase Tower Architecture: Foto Friday

October 3, 2014 by

On our Loop Interior Architecture Tour, we marvel at the architecture of Chase Tower, originally built for First National Bank of Chicago. On a rainy day the architecture of this skyscraper, and its postmodern sister tower across the street, makes for an other-worldly view of the Chicago skyline.

chicago architecture chase first national

It’s probably hard to believe, but this photo of the architecture of Chase Tower has no filters on it. It’s a color photo! While we are saying goodbye to sunny summer days, it can also be beautiful to see the monochromatic world of cloudy days (though maybe not everyday hopefully). I suppose it does look a little post-apocalyptic…

A beautiful thing that people often say at the end of our walking tours is to remember to “look up” at the architecture and enjoy the beauty of the city that we often just rush through. Hopefully images like this can be an inspiration to appreciate the landscapes around us, even when they seem mundane or gloomy.

– Amanda Scotese, Executive Director

Posted in Architectural Photography, Architecture, Chicago Loop | 1 Comment
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A History of Chicago Distilleries

October 1, 2014 by

With the recent popularity of craft distilleries, it’s difficult to know who is worth noticing and who is just a flash in the pan of Chicago’s drinking scene. So when I heard that Koval Distillery was the oldest distillery in Chicago, I naturally had to check it out.

On a tour of their distillery, I learned that Koval is not only the oldest distillery currently operating in Chicago, but it was also the first distillery opened since the repeal of Prohibition. And get this–Koval Distillery is merely six years old. Koval opened in 2008, which means that Chicago went 75 years without a single distillery! When I asked our guide why, she responded that there simply was no demand. I couldn’t believe such a dry spell, especially when you consider that there is no shortage of breweries in Chicago, some of which have been around for ages.

Photo Credit: Elizabeth Tieri

Photo Credit: Elizabeth Tieri

Koval was started by a husband and wife duo who dedicated their craft to an organic grain to bottle approach. All of their spirits are single barrel and can be traced back to the farmers who grew the great things inside them. My favorite that we tasted on the tour was their Four Grain Whiskey, made from oat, malted barely, rye, and wheat. I also realized on the tour that I had been enjoying their liqueurs in craft cocktails all around town. In addition to distillation, Koval offers classes and guidance to amateurs and professionals alike, even setting standards in the technology of the process.

The tour was a lot of fun for a novice like me, who barely passed basic chemistry. And yet, I needed to know more about the history of distilleries in Chicago and why that 75 year dry spell happened. There is no question that Chicago is a town who loves her whiskey.


With the resources of Midwestern grain and the manufacturing and transportation industries rampant, Chicago was a logical location for distillation. In 1860, Chicago had 8 distilleries, including the Shufeldt Distillery pictured below. The number of Chicago distilleries would dwindle instead of grow, however, due to the Great Fire of 1871 and then the bullying of the Whiskey Trust in the 1880s and 90s. At this point Peoria, which is about 160 miles southwest of Chicago, was the whiskey capital of the country. Hard to believe, I know, but it wasn’t in Kentucky. The city of Peoria had 73 distilleries and was the largest corn-consuming market in the world.

Shufeldt Distillery

Then Prohibition happened, which we discuss on our Historic Chicago Walking Bar Tour, and many distilleries are closed or altered to manufacture other things. After Prohibition is repealed in 1933, mostly big name companies dominated the distillery scene and Bourbon County, Kentucky took the crown as the nation’s lead distiller. Smaller distillers had lost their steam and never could quite bounce back. And in the past, liquor laws in Illinois prevented manufacturers of liquor to sell to anyone but a distributor, let alone let people come for tastings. Also in 2013 the amount of booze that a craft distillery could produce and store was doubled, allowing distilling to be a more profitable venture, especially since it has such huge upfront costs.

With the locavore movement, craft distilleries in Chicago are popping up left and right and expanding at breakneck speed. In some ways Chicago is returning to its historically boozy roots, and brings with it the creativity and technology of today.

– Elizabeth Tieri, Tour Guide

Posted in Chicago Neighborhoods, Contemporary Chicago, Food | 2 Comments
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