The Loop, as it's officially known to Chicagoans, or Chicago Loop as it's known to the rest of the world, is one of 77 officially designated neighborhoods in Chicago. It is the historic commercial center of Downtown Chicago as well as the seat of government for Chicago and Cook County. The Loop is also the main theater and shopping district.
In addition to these attractions, The Loop also is home to Grant Park and one of the largest art museums in the United States, the Art Institute of Chicago. Other major cultural institutions that call The Loop home are the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, The Goodman Theatre, the Joffrey Ballet, the central public Harold Washington Library, and the Chicago Cultural Center.
Origin of the Name
The first settlement in the area by the United States was Fort Dearborn, erected in 1803 on the southern banks of the Chicago River. The original fort constructed by the U.S. Army was The Loop, which is on the southern banks of the Chicago River, near today's Michigan Avenue Bridge.
It is believed the origin of the term “loop” is derived from the cable car turning loops in the central business district, and especially those of two lines that shared a loop, constructed in 1882, bounded by Madison, Wabash, State and Lake. Others believe that "the Loop" was not used as a proper noun until after the 1895–97 construction of the Union elevated railway loop...known affectionately as “The L.”
Loop architecture has been dominated by high-rises since early in its history. Notable buildings include the Home Insurance Building, considered the first skyscraper (demolished in 1931); the Chicago Board of Trade Building, a National Historic Landmark; and Willis Tower, the tallest building in the United States, soon to be eclipsed by the World Trade Center in New York. Some of the historic buildings in this district were instrumental in the development of high-rises. Chicago's street numbering system—dividing addresses into North, South, East and West quadrants, originates in the Loop at the intersection of State Street and Madison Street.
This area abounds in shopping opportunities, including the Loop Retail Historic District, although it competes with the more upscale Magnificent Mile area to the north, and with suburban shopping malls.
The Famous Skyline
Chicago has a famous skyline which features many of the tallest buildings in the world as well as the Chicago Landmark Historic Michigan Boulevard District. Chicago's skyline is spaced out throughout the downtown area, giving it a graceful bridge-like appearance. The Willis Tower, formerly known as the Sears Tower, the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, stands in the western Loop in the heart of the city's financial district, along with other buildings, such as 311 South Wacker Drive and the AT&T Corporate Center.
The Loop is along the shores of Lake Michigan; the shoreline is mostly parkland and is home to Grant Park where you can see the famed Buckingham Fountain. Also in the park is the Petrillo Bandshell, where the Grant Park Symphony performs free concerts throughout the summer. Also in the summer why not check out Chicago's annual two-week food festival, the Taste of Chicago? More than three million people try foods from dozens of vendors. A recent addition to Grant Park is the architecturally-forward Millennium Park, which opened in the summer of 2004, featuring Frank Gehry's Jay Pritzker Pavilion, Jaume Plensa's Crown Fountain and Anish Kapoor's Cloud Gate sculpture.
The Chicago River, which is one of the other boundaries of The Loop, turns green once a year with the annual dyeing of the river in honor of St. Patrick's Day. You can also take a boat trip down the Chicago River—one of the best tours is the architectural tour. You'll be able to see Chicago from an entirely new point of view.
Walk along Dearborn Street from Jackson to Washington Street and enjoy Calder's "Flamingo," flanked by government buildings designed by famed German-American architect Mies Van Der Rohe; Chagall's "The Four Seasons," near the base of Chase Tower; and the Chicago Picasso—call it what you will—in the Daley Center. Joan Miro's sculpture, "Moon, Sun, and One Star (Miss Chicago)," is in a plaza on Washington west of Dearborn, right across from the Picasso.
First, there are the great old movie palaces on Randolph Street, restored to their original brilliance—the Cadillac Palace and the Oriental (a.k.a. the Ford Center for the Performing Arts). On Dearborn, the Goodman Theatre has retained the facades of the Selwyn and Harris Theatres. Finally, there is the queen of theaters, the Chicago (1921), with its iconic marquee, its exterior designed to resemble Paris' Arc de Triomphe and its interior the stuff of dreams. If you can't catch a show there, take a tour.
For Food Lovers
The city's oldest restaurant, the Berghoff (1898), a German classic on Adams Street, was closed briefly by the family in 2006, then after a change of heart reopened. It is still owned by the Berghoffs with a few changes in its operations. On Monroe Street, the Italian Village, Chicago's oldest Italian restaurant, opened in 1927, and its three dining rooms remain favorites. Under the L tracks on Waabash Avenue, Miller's Pub dates to 1935, and its moderately-priced meals and lively bar have lured sports figures and celebrities for decades. Poag Mahome's, on Jackson, has been a saloon with food since 1911, with a reluctant break for prohibition. When it opened in 1963, Ronny's Steakhouse sold steaks for $1.09; prices are still reasonable and the place—at Lake and Clark Streets—is nothing fancy, but its fans swear by it.
To many, Everest—Jean Joho's signature French restaurant atop a LaSalle Street office building—is among the best in the city. Trattoria No. 10, on Dearborn near the theaters, has drawn raves for its authentic Italian fare since it opened more than 20 years ago. On Adams near Symphony Hall, Russian Tea Time and Rhapsody couldn't be more different, but both make beautiful music. Seafood lovers have made Catch 35, on Wacker Drive, a solid choice. The original Heaven on Seven, on Wabash, has been around for 30 years now, retaining its format (mostly lunch, rare dinner hours) and a following for its Cajun-Creole specialties. The Rosebud Empire, born in the Little Italy neighborhood, is up to four Loop locations. And Petterino's shares space with the Goodman, which is good news for theatergoers—if they made reservations.
And don't forget: The L—as much as the Lyric and the CSO, represents the sound of the city. Listen to it. Wave at it as the cars go by. Ride it. Treasure it. The Loop will have you circling back for more.
Liam P. Cusack is associated editor of The Chicagoland Cooperator.