Frommer's EasyGuide to Chicago

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

We all want a funny friend in places we visit, so that we have the inside scoop on what to see, do, and eat from Someone Who Knows Us. I have to admit, that’s sort of a far-fetched dream. But enter author Kate Silver, who is, with her new book Frommer's EasyGuide to Chicago, now everyone’s interesting, witty bestie in Chicago.

Think I’m exaggerating?

I’ve lived near Chicago for most of my life, my sister lived there for years and is a great resource (including her favorite places to eat), and we’ve been frequent visitors to Chi-town, either driving on the way through from Michigan to Minneapolis and needing a break, or for a visit itself. You can say that I am familiar with Chicago, as much as a non-resident neighbor can be.

This book changed everything for me on a recent visit to Chicago. We were staying at Four Seasons for a Get Away Break, and needed information on easy things to do and places to eat along the Magnificent Mile. We’ve explored the Mag Mile in the past, and just needed a few tidbits to supplement. I dove into Silver’s book and, truly, laughed out loud. Here’s the funny girlfriend you need to help guide you through the best of the city of Chicago. To wit: do you know why Chicago is called the Windy City? It’s not for the weather, but because of the politicians. That’s on page 1.

The book gets better from there – inside scoop after inside scoop.


Frommer's EasyGuide to Chicago


The guide is divided into sections, including:

  • Itineraries
  • Where to stay
  • Where to eat (YAY!)
  • Exploring Chicago
  • Shopping
  • Chicago strolls
  • Chicago after dark
  • Trip planning


And so much more that you could use this book for years and still not hit everything! But don’t worry – it’s not overwhelming; rather, it’s extremely interesting, funny, and eminently readable.

There are several maps (including a very large foldout one) in this small, purse-sized book. There is also, to my utter joy, an extensive index. A book without a good index is useless.

This book? It’s amazing (and not just for the index).

Not only did I devour the downtown section when we needed it, I gulped sections of the rest of the book all the way home. I read parts out loud to Ed and Lillie when I laughed too loudly and they asked, “what? What?” As we were rolling along I-94, I think we were the laughingest car in the Midwest. But I digress…

Silver hits the highlights, and then digs deeper than any other guidebook I’ve seen into the goodness that is Chicago. She’s funny, knows her subject well, and is an excellent writer – you’ll want to keep reading, even after you come home.

Highly recommended for visitors and locals alike.


Kate Silver, author of Frommer's EasyGuide to Chicago


We were lucky enough to catch up with Kate Silver, to ask her about her new book, inspiration, research, exploring Chicago like a local, and more. Here’s what she had to say…


Please tell us about your new book, Frommer's Easy Guide to Chicago...

I wrote Frommer's EasyGuide to Chicago with the goal of introducing visitors as well as locals to Chicago classics and fresh finds. Because it's a Frommer's guide, you can count on a local point of view and strong opinions --that's what the brand is known for. Each listing of a hotel, restaurant, bar, museum, and shop is like a mini essay, which made it more fun for me, as the author, to write, and, I hope, more enjoyable and informative for the reader to read.


What inspired you to write this travel guide?

I absolutely love Chicago. I've lived here five years now, and when Pauline Frommer, who is the daughter of guidebook founder Arthur Frommer, approached me to write the book, I didn't hesitate to say yes. This was my chance to sculpt someone's perception of my own adopted hometown, sharing with others the types of locally loved nuggets that I'd discovered by reading guidebooks in my travels.
I'd met Pauline about eight years ago, when I was a staff writer at a weekly paper in Las Vegas. She was working on a guidebook to Las Vegas, and, searching for a co-author, came across my byline. It was my first foray into travel journalism, and Pauline Frommer's Las Vegas 2007 (and then 2009) were my first books to co-author.
The Chicago book, however, was different. I'd be the sole author—a thrilling first—but it wasn't just that. I love Chicago in much a different way than I liked Vegas. Vegas and I had a friends-with-benefits thing going. Chicago was more of a soul mate. When—or if—you introduce friends with benefits to your parents, you want everyone to get along, but don't take their reaction quite so personally. With soul mates, we're moving into Lloyd Dobler territory.


I'm all about the research - what was it like, researching your book? What surprised you the most?

Guidebook research is grueling. I only had a little over two months to research and write the entire book. From day one, I swore off going to any restaurant or bar that I'd already been to in the past, because there were so many new or new-to-me places I wanted to check out. There were days that I was salivating for a margarita and carnitas at my neighborhood hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant, but I resisted, all in the name of research.
To hit all the places I wanted to see, a number of nights called for double dinners. Here's a glance at a single night: I headed to an out-of-the-way spot in the Humboldt Park neighborhood called Kai Zan, where the sushi is so good it made me realize I'd never truly had great sushi. That was followed by the first bourbon cocktails that made me embrace bourbon at the swanky Logan Square bar, Billy Sunday, followed by a late-night reservation at a restaurant that didn't measure up to guidebook inclusion (too expensive and just not that good) and wound up with a nightcap at a popular dive whiskey bar that also didn't make it in (far away enough from the train line to make it a pain to get to; plus dive bars have to really stand out to be guidebook worthy (GBW)). In all, I wrote up nearly 100 restaurants. As for the number of bars and lounges I visited, I'm afraid to even count. (Fortunately the sheer stress to fit it all in, coupled with endless walking from place to place, kept me from gaining any weight).
But what surprised me the most was how much I loved exploring the hotels. When else would you ever get a chance to compare, back to back, dozens of hotels in one city? (More on that below, under unusual aspects).


How can visitors get off the tourist track and explore Chicago like a local?

Get away from the Loop and explore the neighborhoods. Chicago is called the City of Neighborhoods for a reason. Each area has its own flair. You can find an artsy, up-and-coming scene in Pilsen; old money and posh restaurants and shopping in the Gold Coast and Old Town; clubs, heels and bathroom attendants in River North; hipsters, second-hand boutiques, used book stores and a veritable cyclist highway in Wicker Park…and the list goes on. Put on your walking shoes, pick a neighborhood, hop on the El and explore until you're exhausted. That will introduce you to the real Chicago.


What are some of the most unusual aspects of Chicago that visitors should seek out?

One thing that I find pretty funny is the skyscraper attraction wars that are going on. Yes, skyscrapers are one-upping each other to draw people in and see who can get our palms sweating and hearts thumping more.
A few years ago, the Skydeck at Willis Tower opened, inviting people to stand on a glass box 103 floors above street level. A few months ago, the John Hancock Center, recently rebranded as 360 Chicago, ante'd up with the opening of an attraction called Tilt, which is a glass and steel enclosed box on the 94th floor that slowly but surely tilts 30 degrees towards Michigan Avenue below. I'm not irrationally afraid of height, and I still found it terrifying.        
I was also pretty amazed by the somewhat wacky--and extravagant-- hotel amenities. The Langham really takes the cake. Guests at the Club level can take advantage of the hotel's team of eight butlers, who are at their beck and call via email, phone or text, 24/7. One of their services is actually a butler-drawn bath. I spoke with the head butler at the property and he admitted this could get pretty awkward. A lot of guests will make it less so by letting the butler know they're going to the gym for an hour and requesting a bath be drawn at a certain time, just before they return to the room. The butlers can also unpack your luggage or press your clothes.
At Trump, you can leave your workout clothes and gym shoes at home, because the staff will outfit you from head to foot in borrowed gear, thanks to a partnership with UnderArmour. At Hotel Monaco and other Kimpton properties, you can literally sleep with the fishes with their Guppy Love program, which places a goldfish in your room for the night. And at the Hard Rock you can borrow a guitar or DJ equipment and practice your musical skills.


Do you have some tips for travelers, on how to best get around and experience the diversity of Chicago?

Leave the car behind and walk, ride a bike (Divvy is the name for our powder blue bike share system), and ride the El around the city. Explore the neighborhoods. Pick a cuisine you've never tried and look up where to find it (for something truly unique, I recommend sampling Macanese food at Fat Rice and trying the horseradish vodka at Russian Tea Time).


What's up next for you?

Over the last few months, I've been working on a book about a winery in Napa. It will be my third book (not counting the guidebooks), some of which have been ghostwritten, and I'd love to continue in that direction. As a trained journalist, it's been satisfying to really sink myself into a single topic, for a change.  


Is there anything else you'd like to share?

I just want to emphasize, again, how rich and walkable Chicago is. My boyfriend and I recently decided to do the "world's slowest marathon," in which we walked 26.2 miles around the city, choosing our path as we went along. Despite the fact that I've lived here for years, and have written a guidebook on the city, we still discovered many spots for the first time, eating our way around the city and checking out art galleries as we went along. It may not be practical for everyone to walk 26.2 miles (it took us 11 hours and 56 minutes), but even a half marathon walk or a 5K will give you the best views of the Windy City you could ask for, at a pace that you control.  





Note: We received a review copy of Frommer's EasyGuide to Chicago from the publisher - thank you!

All photos courtesy and copyright Kate Silver/Frommer's