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 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 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

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 or visit the Choose Chicago website at

Navy Pier offers fireworks, music for New Year’s bash

By Elizabeth Czapski | Staff Writer


At midnight on New Year’s Eve, Navy Pier will put on a free fireworks show set to music.


Payal Patel, with Navy Pier’s media relations, offered a sneak peek of this year’s music selection. According to Patel, the soundtrack is put together by Navy Pier’s music program coordinator and other members of Navy Pier’s art, culture and engagement team.


Here are the 14 songs Navy Pier will use to bring the new year:

Auld Lang Syne – Mariah Carey

I Wanna Dance With Somebody – Whitney Houston

Good Feeling – Flo-Rida

Move Your Feet – Junior Senior

Give Me Your Love – Sigala

Give Me Everything – Ne-Yo & Pitbull

That’s What I Like – Bruno Mars

Lights Down Low – MAX

Freedom – George Michael

Sir Duke – Stevie Wonder

Shake A Tail Feather – Ray Charles

In The Midnight Hour – Wilson Pickett

Chicago – Tony Bennett

Sweet Home Chicago – Blues Brothers

The fireworks show will take place Jan. 1, 12-12:15 a.m., free, Navy Pier, 600 E. Grand Ave, 312-595-7437,

Streeterville’s Best New Year’s Events

By Elizabeth Czapski | Staff Writer

For some, an ideal New Year’s means sitting at home in pajamas, watching the ball drop on TV. For others, New Year’s is the perfect time to attend a party and if it is parties one seeks then Streeterville has the answer—or answers. Whether you want to go out on a boat, eat your way into the New Year or just want to spend some time with the kids, there is something for every taste in Streeterville.


Spirit of Chicago Eve of the Eve Dinner Cruise

Who doesn’t like a party on a boat? Say goodbye to 2018 on a Lake Michigan Cruise aboard the Spirit of Chicago with a holiday buffet and champagne. Welcome the new year a day early while gazing at Chicago’s twinkling skyline from a spot out on the lake.

Dec. 30, 6-9:30 p.m., $79.90, Spirit of Chicago, Navy Pier, 600 E. Grand Ave., (312) 222-2508,

New Year’s Eve Party at The Drake

Get fancy and dance-y at one of Streeterville’s historic hotels. The 19th Annual Chicago Scene New Year’s Eve Party will have 2,000 guests, 40 fully-staffed bars, local DJs, hors d’oeuvres, a balloon drop at midnight, and more for an unforgettable start to 2019.

Dec. 31, 9 p.m.-2 a.m., tickets start at $149, The Drake, 140 E. Walton Place, (312) 787-2200,

New Year’s Eve at Eataly

If you tend to go to parties for the food, you’re in luck. Eataly is throwing the perfect New Year’s party for food-lovers with fresh pasta, pizza and alpine fare like melted cheese and red wine, desserts, cocktails and a live band. Tickets include unlimited food, drinks and entertainment.


Dec. 31, 9 p.m.-12:30 a.m., $125, Eataly Chicago, 43 E. Ohio St., (312) 521-8700,

Resolution Gala

Get glammed up and head to Navy Pier for the New Year’s experience of a lifetime or at least of the year. Appetizers, drinks, dancing and fireworks await you in Navy Pier’s Aon Grand Ballroom, which can fit more than 2,000 people. At midnight, there will be a confetti shower and a toast to the new year.

Dec. 31-Jan. 1, the event is 21 and over, 8:15 p.m. – 2 a.m., $119, Navy Pier, 600 E. Grand Ave, (312) 595-7437,

Fireworks at the Lake

Bring in 2019 with a bang. Navy Pier’s New Year’s Eve Fireworks Show presented by Miller Lite starts at the stroke of midnight.

Jan. 1, 12-12:15 a.m., free, Navy Pier, 600 E. Grand Ave, (312) 595-7437,

Chicago Children’s Museum Noon Year’s Eve

Wild New Year’s parties probably aren’t the best places to bring kids, but luckily, the Chicago Children’s Museum has got the little ones covered. Crafts and a confetti drop at noon make for a fun, kid-friendly event that doesn’t have them staying up all night.

Dec. 31, 10:30 a.m., admission $14.95, Chicago Children’s Museum, 700 E. Grand Ave., 312-527-1000,

The Thanksgiving Parade by the numbers

By Elizabeth Czapski, Staff Writer

The Chicago Thanksgiving Parade has been bringing joy to residents for decades. The event started in 1934 as a way give people a little happiness during the Great Depression and this year’s parade promises to be as joy-filled and as fun as ever, with a few modern flourishes.

What’s new…

Viewers should tune in on time because right in the very first hour of the Uncle Dan’s Outdoor Store Thanksgiving Parade will feature a performance by the Black Ensemble Theater. The performing arts group will offer a preview performance of their “Women of Soul” production, which runs through Jan. 13. The performance will include a special salute to Aretha Franklin as well as a celebration of some of the biggest stars of soul.

What’s returning…

Every parade features familiar balloons, floats and music. But how many have Wookies?Yes, the The 501st Legion – Midwest Garrison is back again. In late October parade officials announced the return of the largest Star Wars costuming club in the area.

The star warriors will be joined in the parade by another group of relics—knights. Returning this year will be Medieval Times’ Knights of the Realm.

Also returning is the The Southland College Prep band, a college band that formed in 2010. The band has grown in recent years and is now considered one of the premier marching bands in the parade, boasting 100 members with 25 dancers to boot.

Speaking of bands, local favorite Kelly High School Marching Trojans will return to perform their 2018 winter festival show.

The grand marshal…

While this year’s grand marshal had not been announced by press time, Chicagoans and parade fans can expect the marshal to be beloved and a part of the city’s history. Past marshals have included Ronald McDonald (2017) (the company is headquartered in Chicago),Chicago native and actor Matt Walsh (2016) and Chicago native and wrestler CM Punk (2012).

For a complete list of what to expect, check out the parade website,

Behind the scenes…

Of course, there is more to the parade than the floats and smiles most people see. Amanda Caswell, who does public relations for the Chicago Thanksgiving Parade, provided some of the parade’s fun facts. Here’s a look behind the scenes at the parade:

In 2014, 400,000 people attended the parade — that’s almost equivalent to the entire population of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

That year, 2,500 gift bags were handed out.

There are 5,280 feet in the parade route, which is exactly one mile.

It’s a global phenomenon with 19 states, 16 countries and 23 different cultural groups were represented in the 2014 parade, making it a true international affair. Thanks to television coverage, the parade is annually available to approximately 80 million homes and viewed by millions around the world. In addition, many visitors come from around the world, from places like Switzerland, Mexico, Australia, Bahamas, Puerto Rico, Canada and beyond.

According to media reports of last year’s parade, there were around 5,000 parade participants, 1,300 volunteers, 15 floats of all kinds and 18 marching bands, according to numbers from Thrillist, the Chicago Tribune, and

Finally, about 200 people handled the parade’s balloons in the 2014 parade, and those balloons were filled with 39,500 cubic feet of helium.

For the record, in 2014 there were 70 members of the “poo crew,” who ensure State Street would not smell like manure after the parade was over.

The Chicago Thanksgiving Parade will take place on Nov. 22, 8–11 a.m. on State Street from Congress to Randolph. Don’t want to leave the house? Anyone can watch the parade live on WGN America and WGN9.

If you go…

Leave early and plan well. Streets will be blocked off for the parade route and parking will be tough, so give yourself lots of time. Public transportation will be running, though on a holiday schedule so if you take a train, check the schedule.

If you want a front row seat on State Street, good luck and set the alarm. It’s best to arrive by 7 a.m. to claim a spot, though there are usually spaces near State and Van Buren not too far from the Harold Washington Library. Expect train noise around that area.

The Chicago Thanksgiving Parade provided statistics from the 2014 event. Updated stats will be available after this year’s parade.

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 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