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A Splendid Past

CHICAGO is a minx. She draws you in with her sleek architecture, gastro-fab food, and up-to-the-minute fashion. Then, in the blink of an eye, she delivers a new perspective, one steeped in the Carl Sandburg style of old-school tradition and integrity. To really appreciate the Third Coast, you have to delve into the historic nooks and crannies that speak to the charm of a bygone era.


Travel
Diners, Delis, and Dogs (and One Bar)

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At Manny’s Coffee Shop & Deli, politicians, cops, and A-list noshers wait in line for heaping delicatessen sandwiches doled out cafeteria style. Famous for corned beef, brisket, pastrami, crispy potato pancakes, and stuffed cabbage, Manny’s has remained virtually unchanged since 1942. 1141 South Jefferson Street, (312) 939-2855, www.mannysdeli.com

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The drive-in hot-dog joint Superdawg is as old-school as it gets. Orders are brought out to the car, à la Happy Days. Winking, 12-foot hot-dog figures beckon hungry passersby from the roof. And the original menu -- malts, burgers, and dogs -- hasn’t changed.

Of course, the backstory is as tasty as the grub. In 1948, Maurie and Florence Berman married and then opened a hot-dog shop inspired by superhero comics of the 1940s. The shop was located at the end of the streetcar line and across the street from a public pool, so there was a built-in customer base of families and cruising teens. The building received a bit of a neon face-lift in the late ’90s, but the 1940s charm remains. 6363 North Milwaukee Avenue, (773) 478-7800, www.superdawg.com

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A Contemporary Eatery (with Vintage Cachet): Room 21
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Since 1982, restaurateur Jerry Kleiner has been sniffing out remote architectural gems and reworking them into twenty-first-century hotspots. His latest success story is that of resurrecting Al Capone’s Prohibition-era liquor warehouse and speakeasy (the site of Eliot Ness’s career-boosting beer bust in 1930) as a restaurant. The restaurant’s name -- Room 21 -- sprang from the discovery of a secret escape tunnel during construction. The narrow brick alley, still intact, now leads upstairs to a private dining alcove. Kleiner’s passion for using objects in a nontraditional manner helps communicate the building’s grand bordello history. Lush red walls, sexy chandeliers, and 1930s street-sweeper bristles hung as wall art are this Chicago pioneer’s toast to the Windy City’s splendid past. 2110 South Wabash, (312) 328-1198
Famous as the second establishment in the city to score a liquor license after Prohibition, Coq D’or at the Drake Hotel is a vintage boîte frozen in time. Red-leather booths, wood-paneled walls, and an old-time crooner belting out cabaret tunes on the piano elevate the status of a classic martini. 140 East Walton Place, (312) 787-2200, www.thedrakehotel.com

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Original Rainbow Cone might be a hike from downtown, but it’s worth it. The family-run shop on Chicago’s South Side serves dreamy ice cream with a side of history. Since 1926, throngs of locals have waited in line for the infamous five-flavor rainbow cone, which boasts layers of chocolate, pistachio, strawberry, and Palmer House (cherry-nut) ice cream topped with orange sherbet. Now run by the granddaughter of founder Joseph Sapp, the shop emanates vintage integrity and has increased its offerings to include sundaes, floats, and draft root beer. 9233 South Western Avenue, (773) 238-7075


Putting the Lounge in Cocktail
Opened in 1907, the Green Mill Cocktail Lounge is one of the oldest jazz clubs in the country. Leased to Al Capone’s gang in the 1920s, the club became a speakeasy with a glamorous blend of jazz (Billie Holiday and Anita O’Day), gangsters, celebrities (Charlie Chaplin and Gloria Swanson), and elegantly attired ladies. During Prohibition, bootleg whiskey was brought in through a trapdoor (which still exists) near the bar.

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Nightly jazz and the time-capsule feel -- dusty velvet drapes, upholstered booths, art nouveau light fixtures, bizarre sculptures of goddesses -- are manna for history buffs and jazz enthusiasts. 4802 North Broadway, (773) 878-5552, www.greenmilljazz.com

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Zebra Lounge, a tiny yet tony piano bar filled with kitschy zebra-themed memorabilia, is tucked into the shadows of stately Gold Coast brownstones. Opened the day Prohibition ended -- December 5, 1933 -- the quirky watering hole has hard-core martinis and a rollicking roster of piano standards, making it perfect for a nightcap. 1220 North State Parkway, (312) 642-5140

Worth a Visit
For a truly splendid splash, hit the art deco pool at the Intercontinental Hotel (originally the Medinah Athletic Club), a historic landmark. The grand pool -- a masterpiece of Spanish majolica tiles and Roman-style arches -- was built just before the stock-market crash of 1929. $16 a day, 505 North Michigan, (312) 944-4100, www.icchicagohotel.com

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Collect your car speakers and settle in for a $9 double feature at the Cascade Drive-in (opened in 1961) in West Chicago. It’s a true Grease-era movie experience. You’ll be channeling Sandy and Danny in no time. Box office opens at seven p.m. daily, March through mid- November. 1100 East North Avenue, (630) 231-3150, www.cascadedrivein.com