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16 Great Midwest Places to Play, Eat and Stay

Hot off the minds of travel writers across the region: your definitive guide on where to play, eat, drink and stay now.

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National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum, Milwaukee We challenge you to keep from bobbing along at the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum in Milwaukee’s Walker’s Point neighborhood. The world’s largest collection of pop culture nodders (6,500-plus) opened this year, starring Babe Ruth, Flo the Progressive insurance saleswoman, and a rockin’ party of politicians and religious figures from across history. How’s that for a cross-cultural spectacle?

Aire Ancient Baths​, Chicago Step one: Stow away your phone. At Aire Ancient Baths in Chicago’s River West warehouse district, staff take relaxation seriously. The subterranean space that was once a paint factory has walls so thick that even the car horns on West Superior Street can’t wedge their way between you and some serious ancient Roman bliss.

Pronounced AYE-ray (for “air”), Aire re-creates the cavernous candlelit bathhouses of the Greek, Roman and Ottoman empires—with a few updates. Swimsuits are mandatory, for example, and the exfoliation area has pink Himalayan salt, not metal instruments.

The Ancient Thermal Bath Experience is the standard for many first-timers. Starting at $84, it includes 90 minutes to indulge in all eight pools and two steam rooms. For the wish list? The Red Wine Experience for Two (starting at $800) includes a wine soak in an antique Venetian well and a full body massage.

Aire Ancient Baths

Photo courtesy of Aire Ancient Baths

The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago The institute launched a dynamic two-year series this year. Through spring 2021, Iterations will feature seven artists from around the world, each presenting commissioned work anchored in sound, spoken word, choreography and other performance practices. Turkish artist and musician Cevdet Erek kicked off the series in February with his obscurely titled chiçiçiçichiciçi, featuring a fence structure, a sound installation and a graphic score.

Iterations will feature exhibitions throughout the museum’s galleries and public spaces. Next up: Swiss artist Alexandra Bachzetsis will use choreography, music and voice to explore the aesthetic of the uncanny in Chasing a Ghost. Bachzetsis’ performances, October 31–November 2, will take place in the ornate Chicago Stock Exchange Trading Room.

Art Institute

Photo courtesy of The Art Institute of Chicago.

Major League Quidditch, Minneapolis That fictional flying sport from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series has landed in Minneapolis. In the spectator-friendly Major League Quidditch semipro league, PVC pipes sub in for brooms, nobody flies (for long) and teams score points with a volleyball—but you can still call it a quaffle if you’d like.

The Minneapolis Monarchs launched this year, joining 14 MLQ teams in the United States and Canada. In the Midwest, you can catch the Cleveland Riff, Detroit Innovators, Indianapolis Intensity and Kansas City Stampede, along with the Monarchs. 

The competition is chaotic, physical and fun to watch. Show up in person or tune into the action on Facebook Live at mlquidditch.com.

The Lanes, Oshkosh, Wisconsin Leave Dad’s league shirt in the closet because Oshkosh’s new 10-lane bowling alley may just inspire you to slip into a flapper dress. The Lanes is tucked in the basement of a historic Tudor Revival event space called The Howard. Cushy armchairs and couches, chandeliers, and a menu of speakeasy-esque cocktails evoke a hangout from the pages of The Great Gatsby. Reserve a bowling lane in advance, then sip on a Greenpoint Manhattan while you bowl. Crack 200 on the score sheet? Order a round of brandy ice cream sundaes.

Minnesota Orchestra's Sommerfest, Minneapolis By the time the Minnesota Orchestra’s Sommerfest series begins in Peavey Plaza in July, the sunken park’s fountains should be splashing again. That’s no small feat. The 2-acre downtown plaza was built in 1974 and earned National Register of Historic Places recognition in 2012 for its modernist architectural design. But it had fallen into significant disrepair, so a $10 million overhaul promises a full face-lift. The stainless-steel fountains will be restored among a new water feature adding a shallow basin of water. Ramps make the space more accessible. And new trees will wash it all in green.

The Peavey isn’t downtown Minneapolis’ only revamped public space. The Nicollet pedestrian mall next door completed its own two-year restoration in 2017, with new public art, walkways, LED lighting, hundreds of trees and the impressive $30 million Douglas Dayton YMCA.

Make Time Farm, Beloit, Wisconsin One Sunday a month, Vanessa Herald invites other creatives to join her for a working hangout on her rural Wisconsin property. At Make Time Farm, you can show up with a book project, guitars or that baby quilt you’ve been trying to finish for two years. The one-day retreats start by dropping your cell phone into a basket. For the price of a small donation ($5–$20 suggested), you’ll have six hours and all the sky you can contemplate on the 15-acre property just 1.5 hours southwest of Milwaukee.

Eat and Drink

Flour House Bakery and Coffee, Princeton, Illinois On your next trip across Interstate-80, skip the Dairy Queen or gas station coffee and hop off at the Princeton exit in north-central Illinois. One mile south of the interstate and the typical restaurant chains, Flour House Bakery and Coffee awaits on North Main street.

Beyond the striped awning, owners Sallee Zearing and her mom, Terri (who taught her pretty much everything she knows about baking), promise fresh coffee and baked goods. Check Facebook for their daily schedule of specialty bagels and breads, sweet scones, and flourless treats, such as monster cookies.

If Sallee and Terri are there—and they usually are—ask them about the building’s many iterations. It’s been in their family for four generations.

Flour House Bakery and Coffee

Flour House Bakery and Coffee

Bibliophile, Chicago Michael and Fabiana Carter wanted their new Hyde Park restaurant to wrap guests in comfort. For them, that meant books, so they spun college memories of English libraries and manor houses into the eclectic Bibliophile, which opened in October just down the street from their popular Fabiana’s Bakery. Bartenders here inspire spirited conversation with literary-themed cocktails like Great Expectations, made with butter-washed bourbon. You can also snack on caviar, bone marrow with brioche toast or Kentucky Bourbon Cake and Amaretto Pie.

See an interesting title on the bookshelves? Pull it down to take a look—or add it to your bar tab and take it home.

Omakase restaurants, Chicago Going out for sushi in Chicago just got more interesting. At the city’s Japanese omakase restaurants (loose translation: “I’ll leave it up to you”), you eat what the chef sets before you. And, making the experience even more of a trust fall, a meal will set you back more than $100. But if you’ve got an eye for art, you’ll appreciate these beautiful bites—up to 18 of them—created with seafood from Japan and marinated Edomae-style in soy sauce, salt or vinegar.

Ready to take the plunge? You can try it at Omakase Yume in the West Loop ($125), Omakase Takeya in Fulton Market ($130) or Kyōten in Logan Square ($220).

Omakase Takeya

Photo courtesy of Omakase Takeya

The Neely House, Muncie, Indiana Go ahead—snoop around the Greek Revival house on East Adams Street. The 1852 home opened late last year as The Neely House restaurant. Hoosier restaurateur Russell Irving opened it to the public after living in the home and directing a major renovation to restore its original design. Russell drew guidance from 41 years of diaries penned by original homeowner Thomas S. Neely. That research, for example, inspired an orchard that provides fresh peaches, plums and cherries for the restaurant kitchen. The menu includes dishes such as Smoked Fried Chicken, topped with a spicy-sweet apricot and Fresno chili sauce and served with bacon collard greens and cornbread pudding.

Stay

Camp Northerly at Humboldt Park, Chicago Forget getting away from it all. Book a spot to pitch a tent right in the Windy City during Camp Northerly at Humboldt Park, August 16–17. Use a provided tent or bring your own for a discount. Either way, proceeds go to the Chicago Parks Foundation. Past years’ highlights have included canoes filled with Goose Island brews, hyper-local neighborhood eats and nature walks in restored prairie. Instead of Northerly Island, this year’s tent party moves to 200-acre Humboldt Park, 8 miles west. The Northerly Island spot was already claimed for an interactive Hamilton exhibition this summer. (Yep, put that one on your calendar, too.)

Camp

Photo Courtesy of Camp Northerly.

 

The Brewery Lodge, Michigan City, Indiana The ultimate crash pad has finally arrived to complement a night at the brew pub. Or, make that many brew pubs. The Brewery Lodge in Michigan City opened last year, a boutique hotel conveniently close to a smattering of mircrobreweries that have cropped up like dune grass in northwest Indiana and southwest Michigan.

Capitalizing on good vibes (and good water), the owners of Zorn Brew Works and Shady Creek Winery partnered to transform a 1930s inn. The hotel’s Brew Bus Tour ($50) travels to Michigan’s Harbor Country for wineries and breweries, such as Greenbush Brewing and Tapestry Brewery.

Back at the lodge, sink into your primo bed for a good night’s sleep. Just don’t leave your door open or you might wake up with kisses from Zeus, the friendly resident Great Dane.

Saint Kate, Milwaukee Next time you visit Milwaukee, consider parking yourself in the artsy East Town neighborhood. The InterContinental Hotel is reopening this summer as the art-themed Saint Kate. Explore a big first-floor gallery before heading to your room, where creations by Wisconsin artists await. The funky shower curtains come from high school art teacher and designer Kelly Frederick Mizer. Time your trip with one of these upcoming art events: Sculpture Milwaukee, now through October 21, Gallery Night and Day, July 19–20, and Third Ward Art Festival, August 31–September 1.

 

Comments (1)

barbara4882867 wrote:
Going to Chicago? stay 45 minutes southeast of the city and take a day away from the hustle and bustle to visit the Dunes National Park and stay at Songbird Prairie Inn and Spa. https://www.songbirdprairie.com/

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