It was my first visit to the Windy City and I came away very impressed. A great design conference, spectacular weather and good food added up to a memorable but far too short visit.
What a wonderful city. Perhaps the creative air of the HOW Conference added to the thrill, or perhaps because the weather was spectacular, or perhaps because the food was so good, but I come away with my first experience of Chicago as nothing but a big thumbs up.
The HOW Conference was excellent. It was my first time attending and I was impressed with the quality of the speakers — true industry professionals like David Baker and Pash. Since I don’t do well with fancy-pants designer spending an hour flaunting their portfolio and “creative process,” I was happy to take classes where I came away with actual notes. HOW made a big effort to schedule non-design seminars, and topics covered everything from managing creatives and pricing discussions to working with type and presenting portfolios. Out of the nine discussions I attended, only one was a true flop.
We stayed in the Swissotel, one of the many imposing hotels in the area. It was OK. Nothing good or bad, just a typical hotel. Their bar was small and they had no billiards table — major strikes in my book — but we barely had time anyway.
Our group arrived in the city early Friday evening and we spent that night and all day Saturday exploring the area around the hotel. My wife and I visited Millenium Park (breath-taking, even though the Cloud Gate was under construction) after taking an early morning walk along the waterfront (stunning). We also took an architectural tour of Chicago’s buildings by boat, which was fascinating since I had no idea the city was so rich in original architecture.
The food was generally good. Although most people tout the tasty merits of deep dish pizza, after eating at both Gino’s East and the original Uno’s, I still favor New York-style thin crust any day of the week. We also spent an evening at Sushi Samba Rio, a sushi joint where we feasted on tuna, eel, salmon and sake.
Whenever I go to a new city, I always try to sample the local beer. Because Kansas City is so rich in local brew, I sometimes expect too much from other places. Perhaps Chicago does have a good selection of beers, but of all the restaurants I visited, the only local beer I could find was Goose Island, whose summer ale (“Summertime”) was too thin and left a harsh aftertaste. Thankfully the hotel bar stocked New Castle.
I wish my stay could have been longer by at least a week. I missed the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Natural History, the Planetarium and the 95th-floor bar in the John Hancock Center. And while I did score a few good sandwiches, I did not have the opportunity to taste some famous Chicago sausage other than a pizza topping and a small sampling at tapas joint Cafe Iberico.
In all, a fantastic experience. Unfortunately, next year’s HOW is in Las Vegas (yawn), so I’ll have to pay my own way if I want to revisit the Windy City. It will be well worth it, I expect.