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Little Chicago

Windy City entrepreneurs offer new attractions for foodies and art lovers.

(FSB Magazine) -- Chicago has long been a favorite hangout for old-school steak houses, sport bars, and blues clubs - and it still is. But today the city also boasts an exciting and varied art and food scene.

The transformation starts in downtown center, where Millennium Park (millenniumpark.org) has turned a gritty business district and train yard into a cultural landmark. A sculpture garden graces the grounds of the Frank Gehry-designed outdoor pavilion, and visitors can see a play, hear a concert, and visit the art gallery, all in one packed day.

The Custom House restaurant

Venture beyond downtown for some of the best food-and-design hot spots in Chicago. After a $25 million renovation, the Hotel Raphael has been reborn as the Hotel Raffaello (chicagoraffaello.com), a boutique gem, worlds apart from the convention lodgings associated with the city. Outside, you can't miss its Mediterranean-style architecture; inside, you'll be struck by the marble lobby and bright guest rooms created by award-winning designer Mitchell Freedland.

One of the city's best-loved chefs, Shawn McClain, just opened a steak house in Printer's Row, south of the Loop. His first restaurant, Spring (springrestaurant.net), has been a favorite since 2001 and serves seafood in the Wicker Park area. But now his fans can indulge at Custom House (customhouse.cc), set in a Zenlike space and selling steak by preparation, not cut. The short ribs, for instance, are cooked in a cast-iron pot, the meat swimming in juice and falling off the bone.

After dinner, cool off at Pops for Champagne (popsforchampagne.com). The champagne bar spent 24 years in an obscure Lakeview location before moving to a sleek venue in the River North district. And now the interiors have taken a stylish turn too: The owner brought in an onyx bar, and made the jazz section a bit cozier than the original. Luckily he kept the menu of 100 champagnes and sparking wines. Change is good, but some things are best left the way they were.  Top of page

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