Holi celebration set for Navy Pier

By Stephanie Racine, Staff Writer

Holi is coming to downtown Chicago.

Holi is a Hindu celebration that runs March 20-21. Navy Pier is hosting a free Holi festival on March 23, from 1 to 5 p.m. in the Aon Grand Ballroom.

Holi is known as the festival of colors and the festival of love.

It is a celebration of letting go of resentments, while playfully dousing others in colored powder or water. Holi begins with the lighting of a bonfire, meant to symbolize the triumph of good over bad, according to the official Holi Festival website.

A number of legends attached to the festival.

The legend that is said to have led to the celebration of colors involves the Hindi god, Krishna becoming jealous of his soulmate Radha’s light complexion, according to the Holi site. Krishna complained to his mother, who told him to color Radha’s skin any color he wished. He did so, and the mischievous act turned into a celebration, and a symbol of love between partners.

“Lovers long to apply color on their beloveds face and express their affection for each other,” the Holi site said.

Navy Pier’s celebration will feature musicians Red Baraat and Funkadesi. There will also be dance performances from groups including Peirce Elementary School and Mandala Arts. Bombay Wraps will sell food and colored powders will be available to be thrown outside in the Miller Lite Beer Garden, as supplies last, until 4 p.m. Visitors may not throw powder inside.

To learn more about the Holi celebration at Navy Pier, visit navypier.org/event. To learn more about Holi, visit holifestival.org.

Valentine’s Day gifts for that very special someone

By Stephanie Racine, Staff Writer

If you’re looking to go beyond the cliche of a dozen red roses or chocolate-covered strawberries this Valentine’s Day, consider these offerings.

A Red Wine … bath

Wine is often part of Valentine’s Day, but it usually comes in a glass, not a bathtub. AIRE Ancient Baths in the West Loop offers a romantic Red Wine Experience for two. With the Red Wine Experience, you receive a 30 minute private bath in an antique 17th century Venetian well, converted into a bath—of red wine.

The wine pool is “a unique and unforgettable experience that offers the opportunity to submerge yourself completely in the antioxidant properties of the Spanish Ribera del Duero red grapes,” according to AIRE Chicago’s website. The wine bath experience includes a cranio-facial massage, followed by a full body massage with grapeseed oil. Pricing for 180 minutes is $800 during the week and $900 on weekends.

For more information visit beaire.com or stop by their baths at 800 W. Superior St. They can also be reached by phone at (312) 945-7414.

Everlasting Flowers

Venus et Fleur offers real roses that last up to a year (with proper care). Roses come in a variety of colors, including gold, blue, or classic red. They also come in a variety of designs and boxes, and are meant to stay in the box for both design and longevity purposes. Price options are available from $39-$1,499 and beyond. A single rose starts at $39, a dozen is $299, and their Grandiose de Venus arrangement is $1,499.

Visit venusetfleur.com for more information.

A bespoke song

Always wanted to serenade your love, but don’t have the chops? Let Chicago-born Songfinch do it for you. Songfinch will create a song, either from scratch or from a foundation, about your love and relationship. Your tune is  delivered digitally in a week, and can include a photo slideshow if desired. There are an array of singers and styles to choose from, including rap, folk and pop. Songfinch grants you personal license usage to your song in perpetuity, meaning the song is yours (as long as you don’t make money on it) forever. For more information, visit songfinch.com.

Chicago in winter is hot, hot, hot for tourists

By Elizabeth Czapski, Staff Writer

Winter in Chicago means one thing—cold. Chicago might not be Miami, but Chicago gets visitors even in the depths of winter.

The reasons are as varied as the visitors. Some come for conferences and others come for vacation, but one no matter what, the city seeks to welcome all winter tourists with warm smiles and plenty to do.

“People think of the city as being very cold and unfriendly, but actually the weather in Chicago can be great in the winter time, and there are great things to do,” Erik Grazetti, director of sales and marketing at the Loews Chicago Hotel, 455 N. Park Drive.

He explained that the city has done a good job of marketing itself as a destination for people in surrounding states who want to break out of winter’s “cabin fever” by offering a variety of activities like the Chicago Auto Show, St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, sporting events and concerts.

Colleen Sweitzer, marketing manager at the Fairmont Chicago Millennium Park, said in addition to events for the holidays, so much of Chicago’s culture involves “great indoor fun,” including museum exhibits, theater and music.

Once visitors do get there, there will always be a personal, smiling face at the ready. No matter what the reason or the season, Choose Chicago, the official marketing organization for the city, said their Chicago Greeter program pairs volunteer city greeters with individuals who may want a local to show them around.

The service is available all year long, except on major holidays and it could come in handy for those visitors who come to the city at the last minute and don’t have a set itinerary. This sort of a visit is more common in the winter time than some might expect. “Seventy or 80 percent of our business on the [winter] weekends comes from within about a four hour drive of the hotel,” Grazetti said. Local travelers, he said, can plan a trip more last-minute than someone who wants to plan a five or six-day trip. “Those types of people tend to go to the warm-weather destinations.”

“In the Midwest, we kind of hunker down, so a trip to Chicago is a nice change of pace and a fun getaway in the winter rather than hibernating until spring,” Sweitzer said. Fairmont Hotels & Resorts is based in Canada, and Sweitzer said the hotel sees many Canadian tourists in the winter as well.

“We’re warm here compared to a lot of places in Canada in the winter,” she said.

Still, fewer people are staying at Chicago hotels in the winter. Grazetti said from January to mid-March, the Loews sees a 60 percent room occupancy rate, compared to a 90 percent average during the warmer months. That’s good news for winter travelers as fewer people in the hotels means generally cheaper rooms. Grazetti added, however, that occupancy is up, even in the winter time, compared with eight or nine years ago.

Grazetti praised Choose Chicago, which has “done a really good job, particularly I’d say over the last five years or so, in really promoting Chicago as a winter destination, and we’ve definitely seen the impact of that,” he said.

Besides discounts and cabin fever, there’s something else that brings people to Chicago in the winter: conventions. Grazetti called Chicago a “conference town.”

“The hotel market in the city really kind of thrives on the convention business that is brought into McCormick place and some of the larger venues here,” he said.

Grazetti said conventions bring in about 1.2 million people per year, with about 15 percent of those people during the winter months. Despite lower hotel prices, organizations tend to avoid booking conferences in colder months when bad weather could shut down an airport, he said.

The American Student Dental Association took that risk and held its national leadership conference in Chicago in mid-November. Tatum Newbill, Matthew McLeod and Chantol Peterkin, dental students from Howard University in Washington, D.C. attended the conference.

Peterkin said she had been to Chicago during the winter and wasn’t worried about the weather. “If you have the time now, why not?” she said.

McLeod said the students discussed preparing for the weather the week before the conference. “I’m wearing layers right now,” he said. “I hear it’s nicer in the summer.”

Other winter conferences this year included the Radiological Society of North America’s (RSNA) which attracted tens of thousands of guests and the Muslim American Society’s annual national convention at the end of December, hosted about 12,000 attendees. Both conferences were set for McCormick Place.

Bob and Gretchen Montgomery, along with four travel companions, made the trek to Chicago from Dallas and Denver and were taking photos in Millennium Park on a snowy November day.

“We love Chicago,” Bob Montgomery said, adding the group had come to celebrate a birthday and an anniversary and to see Hamilton.

The weather in Chicago, they said, wasn’t much different from the weather in their home cities. “Weather shouldn’t be a hindrance to going somewhere, to have fun,” Gretchen Montgomery said.

To find out more about the Chicago Greeter program, call (312) 945-4231 or visit their website at www.chicagogreeter.com or visit the Choose Chicago website at www.choosechicago.com

Unique gifts and experiences for the pickiest people on your list

By Taylor Hartz | Staff Writer

It’s December and the deadline looms for Christmas shopping. That one person remains without a gift. That person who has everything. What to do?

Get crafty with it…

On Dec. 6, stop by the Sauced Night Market from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. at 12 S. Michigan Ave. for a variety of arts and crafts. Pick up a hand carved cooking utensil, tray, cutting board or serving platter from Wild Cherry. All of their products are created “from urban domestic lumber,” said Tim McGuire, owner and artisan. Check out their Facebook page here.

At Prism Homegrown, owner Katie Widmar designs “modern bohemian jewelry using raw gemstones and gemstone beads” to create one-of-a-kind pieces, while the folks at The Bitter Ex Bitters Company create one-of-a-kind drinks. Ryan Rezvani, owner and co-founder, produces original bitters, which can be used to liven up desserts, coffees and cocktails. Check out their website here.

Finally, stop by Slapass creations for art to brighten up any space or closet. Matt Sczech, creates vibrant art sold on pins, prints and clothing.

Although the Made in Chicago Market has passed, it’s never too late to visit the businesses featured in the market.

Louisa Mahoney at Bettyplum Homemade Confections aims to carry on her family’s legacy of homemade holiday candies with toffee, caramels, toffee cookies and bourbon toffee truffles. Check out their website here.

Or check out Lauren Bautista’s Pi Design Prints which feature handmade drink coasters decorated with typography and patterns are a great addition to any table.

If you want to support young people, swing by Shop, Jingle and Mingle, a crafts fair featuring pieces made by teen artists in after-school and summer programs. The items include soaps and candles, canvas paintings, glass mosaics, jewelry and other fashion accessories. The fair is two evenings, Dec. 5 and Dec. 10 and runs from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the After School Matters Gift Shop at 66 E. Randolph St.

Or set a course for crafting…

The Chopping Block at Merchandise Mart offers a variety of cooking, baking and wine-pairing classes sure to improve anyone’s skills in the kitchen.

Choose from classes like “War and Wine,” which gives a lesson on the history of WWII and battles over European wine cellars. Learn how to master a pasta roller and serve up the perfect plate of pasta with “Pasta Boot Camp,” or discover the art of bread with “Artisanal Breads.”

The Chopping Block website is here.


Get gifts close to home: Shop the New Eastside

By Jesse Wright, Staff Writer

The New Eastside is home to museums, restaurants and retail merchandisers. With so much to choose from, it’s not hard to fill that Christmas list while shopping close to home. Here’s a glimpse at what’s available:


Graham Crackers Comic Books

This Chicago staple is home to all manner of comics and graphic novels. This holiday shopping season, the 77 E. Madison location is the place to get both familiar and newer titles.

The store is offering the first volume of Deadly Class for $9.99, which comes out in late November. The first volume of Saga is also out this fall for the same price.

Batman fans won’t want to miss Batman White Knight, a popular title wherein Batman reverses his role with the Joker and the villain becomes the hero, for $19.99.

Of local interest, fans of graphic novels can get Ironheart, a comic featuring Riri Williams, a hero straight from the streets of Chicago who develops her own Iron Man armor to combat villainy and save the city.

Also out this year is Skyward, a science-fiction title that begins in a Chicago of the future, when the earth is losing gravity and only the wealthy can afford to remain on the ground.

The store is also offering a variety of popular Japanese titles, including My Hero Academia.

The New Eastside Graham Crackers will have special offers and discounts for Black Friday, though specifics had not been announced by press time. The store is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. most days. For more information, call 312-629-1810


Fannie May

Fannie May is the place to go for holiday sweets, and New Eastside shoppers don’t have to go far to get the good stuff, with a store at 343 N. Michigan Ave.

The go-to treat is the Pixie, the store’s No. 1 seller since 1946. The treat combines caramel and pecans with milk chocolate and retails for $24.99 per pound. Of course the store also offers dark chocolate options, sweet and salty combinations, specialty items and unique assortments.

If Santa needs something a little different, Fannie May offers a variety of sweet stocking stuffers ranging from $5 to $20. The store is open most days from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. For more information, call 312-453-0010.


Blackhawks Store

Just as hockey season begins to heat up, the city’s favorite hockey team is offering a selection of merchandise for your favorite hockey fan this season. For men, try a fanatics rinkside adjustable for $30 or a 47B knit break cuff for $20. Or how about a jacket for $55? For women, there’s an Antigua cowl neck for $60, a drink bottle for $49 and a New Era knit cap for $26. Finally, for the little fans, check out the holiday plush bear for $25 or the NHL cap for $28 or a

NHL raglan shirt for $30. The store is open most days from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and is located at 333 N. Michigan Avenue. For more information, call 312-759-0079.


New Eastside Iconic Chicago souvenir shops

By Taylor Hartz

If you’re looking for a little piece of Chicago to take with you on your next trip to visit friends and family, look no further than New Eastside. From pizza pies to miniature Chicago Bean replicas, New Eastside is Chicago’s hub for touristy souvenirs and Illinois themed gifts.

Many native Chicagoans will agree that the most recommended gift is to bring a deep dish pizza. While stopping into Giordano’s at 130 East Randolph Street to enjoy a piping hot deep dish is the norm, you can also purchase frozen pizzas to go.

Frozen Giordano’s deep dish displayed in a freezer at a Giordano’s restaurant. Pizzas are ready-to-cook Giordano’s classics all boxed up and sealed in a freezer bag that will keep your pizza cold long enough for you to get as far as California. 

Inside the New Eastside Giordano’s restaurant, a refrigerator by the register stays stacked with frozen pizzas in the three most popular flavors – plain cheese, pepperoni, and sausage. The classic deep dish pizzas, which were first cooked up on Chicago’s South Side back in 1974, are ready to fly.

“We offer travel bags that hold up to six pizzas, and keep them frozen for over five hours,” said General Manager Nerius Jankauskas.

The bright red Giordano’s bags are thermal insulated, and most importantly, are carry-on size. That’s right, your pizzas will fit perfectly in an airplane’s overhead compartment.

So if you’re headed out of state to visit friends or family, you can let them know that you’ll be bringing dinner, all the way from Chicago. 

Jankauskas said the take-home pizzas are nearly as popular as dine-in pizzas.

“We’re in a very touristy area,” said Jankauskas, “So on weekends when big events are happening, like the recent Cubs convention, we sell hundreds and hundreds a day.” 

Take-home pizzas carry a price tag of $17.95 per pie, for a medium size deep dish, and the insulated carrying cases run $7.95 each. But if you buy two pizzas, you get your bag for free.

Souvenirs at Giordano’s. Photo by Taylor Hartz.

For those who don’t want to carry an extra bag, Giordano’s offers the option to order online at at girodanos.com and have your favorite pie shipped right to you.

The restaurant has other souvenirs like mugs and t-shirt with the words “I got stuffed at Giordano’s”.

Chicago themed tins for popcorn at Garrett Popcorn Shop on West Randolph Street. Photo by Taylor Hartz.

If lugging frozen pizzas interstate is not your cup of tea, a blend of cheese and caramel popcorn dubbed the ‘Chicago mix’ at Garrett Popcorn, offers a less weighty alternative.

Tempting passersby with the smell of warm caramel popcorn, Garrett Popcorn, 26 West Randolph Street, has been a Chicago staple since 1949, when the first shop opened at 10 West Madison Street. Garrett’s air pops their signature blend of kernels daily, and mixes in their secret family ingredients to create a menu full of flavors.

At their Randolph Street store, they offer their signature CheeseCorn, CaramelCrisp, and Garrett Mix – a blend of the two.


Special flavors at Garrett Popcorn – chocolate covered strawberry and hickory bacon. Photo by Taylor Hartz.

Popcorn lovers who are feeling a bit more adventurous can try out the specialty flavors like hickory bacon and chocolate covered strawberry.

Popcorn orders can be purchased in bags or in tins, which come in a plethora of Chicago themes – tins feature images of the Chicago skyline, Wrigley field, and the icons of the Cubs, Bulls, Bears White Sox and Blackhawks.

If you’re looking for a souvenir that won’t be eaten, check out the “My Chicago” store.

At the souvenir gift shop at 28 South Michigan Avenue, an array of miniature Cloud Gates, tiny Willis Towers and Chicago skyline snow globes decorate the windows.

Souvenirs on display at the “My Chicago” gift shop. Photo by Taylor Hartz.

According to Andrew Grants, a sales assistant at the store,  the novelty t-shirts that are hung in the doorway are a big hit. Many people favor the “Save Ferris” t-shirts – an homage to the 1986 cult classic “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” in which three high school kids play hookie and have adventures around Chicago.

“It’s one of the shirts we always make sure we keep in stock in the window,” said Grants.

“Save Ferris” shirts are the most popular at the “My Chicago” gift shop.



In fact Ferris Bueller themed merchandise is so popular that the store has dedicated an entire wall to it. Three different styles of “Save Ferris” t-shirts and bobbleheads of Matthew Broderick’s beloved character in his signature leopard print vest are stocked.

Another favorite, said Grants, are Chicago Cubs Christmas tree ornaments. Whether it’s during

Souvenirs on display at the “My Chicago” gift shop. Photo by Taylor Hartz.

the holiday season or in the heat of summer, Grants said many tourists and locals stop in to get a decoration honoring the 2016 World Series winners.

When all else fails, nothings says it better than a box of chocolates from Illinois based Fannie May Chocolates.

In addition to an iconic box of “Pixie” chocolates, or the shop’s specialty meltaways, guests can feast on a wide array of chocolate covered strawberries.

Fannie May launched its line of chocolate covered strawberries in 2009 and has sold close to 2 million strawberries since. The strawberries come covered in 100 percent real chocolate, in colors ranging from familiar dark and white chocolates, to pink, blue and green, or decorative and nut covered fruits.

To put a local spin on your favorite dessert, Fannie May offers a “Chicago Collection” – a series of items that come in city themed packaging; such as a pound of mini pixie chocolates in a Chicago Lakefront decorated tin for $29.95.

Whether you’re looking to ship your friends and family some iconic Chicago treats, bring your favorites with you on your next trip, or point visitors in the right direction for the best souvenirs, New Eastside is a one-stop shop for cheesy pizza lovers, novelty t-shirt collectors, snow globe enthusiasts, sweet tooth strawberry seekers or popcorn connoisseurs.

Published Feb 5, 2018