Poet Carl Sandburg's "city of the big shoulders" is a no-nonsense town where people roll up their sleeves and do an honest day's work. Although the massive cattle yards that once dominated the landscape are long gone (along with the foul odors that came with them), Chicago remains a down-to-earth megalopolis.
With its thriving port, the confluence of several railway lines, the world's second-busiest airport and the nation's most important futures exchange, Chicago is a world city whose ethnic neighborhoods are small towns unto themselves. As the birthplace of modern skyscraper architecture, the Loop, as the bustling central business district is known, contains iconic buildings designed by legendary architects like Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright, who grew up in suburban Oak Park. Towering over them all is Willis Tower, more popularly known as the Sears Tower.
Sprawling alongside Lake Michigan, the residential towers of Lake Shore Drive exude power and wealth. But just south ofthe Loop, jazz and blues clubs reflect the city's importance as the home to distinctly American music. Further south once stood the Warehouse, the underground gay club where DJ Frankie Knuckles created the form of dance music named for its original home, House.
Also on the South Side is Hyde Park, a hub of intellectual ferment centered thanks to the University of Chicago, one of the world's premier research institutions that has given birth to several influential "Chicago Schools," such as the Chicago School of economics, of literary criticism, of religion, and higher education.
For visitors to this site, however, the action is definitely north of the Loop. Boystown — the only gayborhood to receive a major city's official recognition — has long since overgrown its original boundaries. Although North Halstead Avenue remains its heart, Boystown has expanded far into adjoining areas like Andersonville and Lakeview. What distinguishes Boystown from other major urban gayborhoods is not only its size but the friendliness of its residents, many of whom are immigrants from the Midwest and Great Plains.
Chicago is known as the Second City, but its cultural attractions are second to none. They include the Chicago Symphony, Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Joffrey Ballet, the Art Institute of Chicago (with the finest Impressionist collection outside of France) and the Museum of Science and Industry. A sports-mad town, Chicago has a team in every major league with two baseball teams.
In recent years, local and imported star chefs have transformed the city's gastronomic scene. While retaining its reputation as home to the best steaks in the U.S., even a vegan has plenty of dining options. And while you're here, be sure to venture into some of ethnic enclaves to sample their national cuisines.
If you're looking for nightlife — and if you're not, check your pulse — there's more than enough to do in and around Boystown. There are bars to suit every taste, although leather is definitely more popular here than elsewhere. Add the gay big-room clubs and all those frisky, friendly, fresh-faced, corn-fed guys, and you'll understand what Sandburg meant about "big shoulders."