There’s no doubt about the origins of Bonnie Hunt. All you have to do is catch her sitcom, Life with Bonnie, where she juggles the roles of wife, mother, and host of the talk show Morning Chicago, and it’s clear that she’s from the Windy City. Growing up in a family of seven siblings in one of the city’s blue-collar neighborhoods, Bonnie worked as a nurse’s aide in high school and, later, as a nurse at Northwestern University Hospital. She must have kept her patients laughing, because she was soon a star in Chicago’s renowned Second City comedy troupe. She made her film debut as the toothpick-dropping waitress in Rain Man opposite Dustin Hoffman, and went on to star with Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire, Tom Hanks in The Green Mile, and Harrison Ford in Random Hearts. She now lives in L.A. with her investment banker husband, but her heart remains rooted in Chicago. We asked her to tell us some of her favorite haunts and hangouts.
You’re our Chicago tour guide. First, where should we stay?
“The Four Seasons. They’re all about luxury and service there. They’ll run out and get you a Snickers bar in the middle of the night without batting an eye. There’s also the Ambassador East, which has a lot of history. When you stay there, you feel like you’ve woken up in a time capsule. I had my wedding at the Ambassador.”
What great restaurants should we try?
“Topo Gigio’s, an Italian restaurant. A gentleman from Rome named Lilo used to be a waiter in the restaurant that was across the street from Second City when I worked there. Now he co-owns Topo Gigio’s. We’ve both kind of climbed the stairs together. So whenever I’m home, I take friends to his restaurant, or if I’m shooting a movie there, I make sure all of the actors go there. The food is unbelievable. It’s the closest thing to being in Rome, because he takes great pride in every ingredient. Rosebud is another great Italian restaurant. It’s so dark, you can’t tell what time of day it is in there.”
What about some great late-night haunts?
“In college, especially when you were dating, Second City was the place to go. The improv set was free. So you could wait in line and go in and see the cast improvise for an hour. That was a great date night. You could go to Topo Gigio’s or Kamehachi, a sushi joint, beforehand. Most of the Second City people would go to the Ale House. It’s still there on North Avenue.”
Which place best conveys what Chicago is all about?
“I love Buckingham Fountain, which is just such great beauty in the middle of this incredible city. You feel like you’re in another place. That’s what Chicago is — so many different countries in one city. Ethnically, it’s so diverse. You can’t top the warmth of the working-class crowds mingling and sharing childhood memories of Wrigley Field, riding the ‘L’ for the first time, having lunch at the Walnut Room in Marshall Field’s during the Christmas season, getting splashed by Buckingham Fountain when the wind blows, the beautiful tulips lining Michigan Avenue in the spring. When we were kids, we used to go to Foster Beach all the time. In summer, Lakeshore Drive is just a sea of people on the beach. It’s so great because you look to the right and there’s a sea of people on the beach and you look to the left and there’s an entire city in action. It’s New York and Saint-Tropez all in one mile.”
What can you tell us about the people of Chicago?
“One day, I was driving down Irving Park Road in bumper-to-bumper traffic. I was with some other actors and we were going someplace to shoot a title sequence for one of my TV series. We were late, and most of the people in the car were from L.A. I was the only Chicago person. Nobody had a cell phone. I said, ‘Oh, we’ll just ask somebody for one.’ They said, ‘What?’ I rolled down the window, and a couple cars went by. One got close to us, and I said, ‘Do you have a cell phone? We’re late and we have to call someone.’ And the guy’s like, ‘Yeah.’ And he handed us the phone through the car window. We’re inching through traffic, and we made the call, and we gave it back. The people in the car from L.A. were amazed. But that’s just what you do in Chicago. You take care of each other. That’s how you get through those winters. Every year in Chicago, you’re reminded that you need each other. Everybody’s gotta help get each other’s car out of the snow. On Michigan Avenue, they put the ropes in the street so that the wind doesn’t knock you over. So when you cross the street, you hang onto the rope. The winter is an equalizer. It gives you a strong sense of community.”
How about those Cubbies?
“I haven’t missed a Cubs opening day since 1978. Wrigley Field is, to me, a place to go and relax. The ivy on the wall, all the people up on the rooftops. My brother always arranges the tickets, and everybody from the neighborhood goes. We have to get to Wrigley in time for the national anthem, so we always meet early, like 10 a.m. We get something to eat and then go get sunburned at the ballpark.”
Where should we go to grab a bite before the game?
“Mr K’s is a little diner in this busy strip on Harlem Avenue. The cook comes out and talks to all the kids. He’ll make pancakes and put the butter on so it makes a smiley face. It’s a steak and egger really, but we go there all the time. Then there’s Wiener’s Circle. You better be ready to order. The people behind the counter don’t want to waste anybody’s time and they don’t want anybody looking at the menu. If you even glance at the board, they won’t take your order. You have to know going in. Everybody’s screaming and yelling. When it’s freezing out, everybody’s still standing there eating their hot dogs and burgers. There are 16 stools and four picnic tables and 60 people waiting in line.”
What about after the game?
“Go to Cubby Bear for a drink, and then go eat at Cullen’s on Southport, a packed Irish pub next to the Mercury Theater.”
Where should we take the kids?
“The Museum of Science and Industry was the big thing when we were kids. That was the yearly field trip. Your mom would make you a lunch, and you’d just spend the whole day walking through the heart. They have a big human heart. There’s also The Art Institute of Chicago. The walk up Lakeshore Drive to it is so magnificent.”
Where would you send us on a Saturday night?
“I’ve been going to the Twin Anchors for years. It’s family owned and run. We were fortunate enough to film Return to Me at Twin Anchors. It’s a Chicago staple, a warm, cozy, always-packed bar with delicious barbecued ribs and burgers. Gibson’s is a steakhouse. It’s more of the special go-out-for-dinner kind of place. It’s got all of the celebrities’ pictures in the lobby. It feels like a cigar club, a place where the guys go. I will go if my husband is in town with me. Then it’s off to the jazz clubs. There’s the Checkerboard Lounge on the Southside. On Ontario Street there’s The Redhead Piano Bar, and on State Parkway is The Zebra Lounge, a great piano bar in an apartment building. You can still find a lounge in Chicago. You can still go into a place where people are enjoying Gershwin and Cole Porter, and as the night gets later, patrons get up and start to play and sing. There are so many clubs like that in Chicago.”
Where should we go the morning after?
“Nookies on Wells Street. That’s where everybody goes. It’s a diner, and every year they knock out another wall because they just need to get one more table in there. Every weekend, everybody’s lined up waiting to go in. Everybody’s splitting up a paper. It’s simple food and it’s a meeting place. It’s funny after you live in L.A. and go back to Chicago and order an egg-white omelet with just vegetables. They always just turn their head. ‘What? No cheese?’”
Of course, we can’t leave without buying some souvenirs. Where should we go?
“I love Water Tower Place, the home of good old Marshall Field’s. Armitage Avenue in Lincoln Park has great stores, and Bucktown has that, too. Wells Street has Barbara’s Bookstore, which is great. The antithesis of a big chain. The people who work there know every single book in the store. You feel smart just standing inside there.”
here are bonnie’s best bets in chi-town.
four seasons hotel chicago
very expensive; (312) 280-8800
omni ambassador east
expensive; (312) 787-7200
gibson’s bar and steakhouse
topo gigio ristorante
twin anchors restaurant & tavern
walnut room at marshall field’s
hot dogs and hamburgers
the cubby bear
cullen’s bar & grill
old town ale house
the redhead piano bar
the zebra lounge
water tower place
the art institute of chicago
museum of science and industry
bonnie had some great chicago recommendations, but we have a few of our own.
inexpensive; (312) 787-4030.
the hotel itself may be a little outdated, but the rooms are clean, the staff is friendly, and the price, especially for a downtown location, simply can’t be beat.
moderate; (800) 621-6909.
visitors keep coming back for the essex’s central locale, newly renovated rooms, city views, business center, fitness area, and swimming pool with retractable glass roof.
expensive; (312) 346-7100.
flair meets function at this 39-story tower originally designed in 1958 as condominiums (which may explain the oversize rooms). a new bar and restaurant opens in november.
house of blues hotel
expensive; (312) 245-0333.
while visiting the city that brought you muddy waters, john lee hooker, and other great blues artists, why not stay at the house of blues hotel? the colorfully eclectic rooms feature, you guessed it, cd players and a library of recordings.
moderate; (773) 281-9101.
looking for a romantic dinner spot? geja’s lures lovers with flavorful fondue and flamenco music.
inexpensive; (773) 394-2066.
a great, cheap, cool place for what the chef calls upscale bar food with a twist. and it’s good for an outdoor hang.
murphy’s is the place to go after a game at wrigley.
pops for champagne
live jazz and romantic candlelight complement the scene in this sophisticated yet cozy club featuring appetizers, desserts, and, best of all, more than 100 champagnes and wines.
truefitt & hill
in addition to hot-lather shaves, haircuts, and shoeshines, this old-style barbershop proffers a full line of shaving, fragrance, and bath products for men.
need a souvenir for the kiddos? look no further than this one-of-a-kind shop featuring toys and treasures from around the world.
the third-largest great lake provides a fabulous urban escape. we recommend you get there via — what else? — lakeshore drive.
vlincoln park zoo
(312) 742-2000. everybody knows lincoln park zoo is one of the top attractions in town, but how many know that admission is absolutely, positively free?