Friday, March 18

Chicago on a Budget

Millennium Park
Prioritizing while planning a trip helps in determining a budget. This list is even more relevant if the location you are going to has numerous options, like Chicago. Knowing what's most important helps decide where to trim spending in order to have money for deal breakers. If food is not the high priority, but a live theater performance is an absolute must, checking out the eatery menus online can determine where to eat for less in order to have the must-haves.

If shopping is your dream, then stay in a nearby hotel and walk to the shops. With the economic downturn, attractions, hotels and eateries are all offering more budget-friendly packages and discounts than ever before, so now truly is a great time to travel. Much like a favorite movie which never grows old, Chicago always presents unknown treasures upon every visit. This trip proved no different.

The Palmer House Hotel
The Palmer House, built by Potter Palmer as a wedding gift to his wife, Bertha, is one of the few remaining grand hotels. Its opulent entry with Tiffany 24-Karat gold chandeliers has been named Chicago’s "Best lobby." Viewing the hotel’s architecture is worth a trip in itself. In its 135-year history, in addition to numerous U.S. presidents, the hotel has been visited by Oscar Wilde, Charles Dickens and Prince Charles, just to mention a mere fraction of the list of who’s who. Entertainers, including Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong have graced the stage in the Golden Empire Room.
Old World atmosphere, authentic décor and furnishings, world-class service and a proud history make this historic landmark the backbone of Chicago.

Special packages, some including city passes, mean staying in the heart of shopping, theater and museums, including the Art Institute of Chicago, is budget possible. Valet parking specials or parking at Millennium Park garage create more savings. Park and walk for a tighter budget or grab a taxi if the budget allows.

Eating Right
Chicago dining always proves pleasurable, perhaps even sinful at times. Being treated to four eateries meant
finding great food for every budget.
The Village, Chicago’s oldest restaurant, and one of three owned and housed by the Capitanini family, at the Italian Village building is fashioned after an Italian outdoor café. Located on the top floor, the menu offers familiar favorites. Stay on a fixed budget with sandwiches and pizza or take a small step up to the still reasonably-priced entrees, including the tender chicken Marsala. Make sure to ask for Mo, the waiter’s
captain, whose charisma and personalized service made me feel as if I was his only concern in the world.

Street-level Viveré serves upscale modern Italian cuisine when fine-food dining is top priority. For smaller budgets, stop in for lunch size portions. With Michael Taylor, wine director and Chef Robert Reynaud treating me to one gourmet food and wine course after another, it would be difficult to recommend only one. However, Reynaud’s pan-roasted duck breast with almond-plum pudding and spiced-Port reduction, coupled with Taylor’s choice of an ‘05 Chianti Classico, stood out as a combination which may be next to impossible to find elsewhere. Each food and wine combination showcased the knowledge, experience and pride accumulated over the years and shared with patrons of this award-worthy establishment.

The Grand Lux Café offers up more than 150 menu items personally selected by David Overton, who traveled throughout Europe finding the recipes. The Crispy Caramel Chicken entrée is generous enough for two, helping with the budget, but delicious enough that I wasn’t sharing. The spicy Thai sauce, red chilies
Grand Lux
 and ginger make this one of the restaurant’s signature dishes. Other money savers are soups, salads, sandwiches and lunch specials for less than 10 bucks. If money allows, the must-not-miss items are the desserts, baked to order and delivered piping hot from the oven and large enough to share. The New Orleans Beignets, served with three dips, are heaven in a basket.

The breakfast buffet at Palmer House’s Lockwood restaurant is, quite simply, the most elegant and all-compassing breakfast buffet I have ever encountered. Well worth the higher price, staying on track is possible by eating enough at this luxurious buffet that only a light lunch, if any, would be required.

Little Extras
Architectural Tour
Tours are always a great way to see a town, and Chicago has them for every budget, including free. While in town, I caught the Untouchable tour of Chicago gangsters. From Capone to Dillinger, costumed guides shared the riveting details. For the minimal cost, it is worth checking into. I also found the 90-minute architectural boat tour worth the money. Complimentary neighborhood tours are offered by volunteers wanting to show visitors their great city.

In short, adjusting the budget to ensure your highest priorities are achievable by checking into all options before heading out the door. Get your money’s worth by utilizing tourism and business sites for discounts, and travel dollars will be maximized without sacrificing fun and adventure.

Elizabeth J. Musgrave is a syndicated columnist, travel writer, music, restaurant and theater critic. Catch her as Indy’s Arts & Entertainment Adviser on 93 WIBC and follow her on Twitter @ejmusgrave1 and Facebook. Gotta Go is published in the following newspapers: South Sider Voice, Indiana Weekender, New Palestine Reporter, Pendleton Times Reporter and Fortville-McCordsville Reporter.

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