March 28, 2017

Burlington, Iowa: charming Mississippi River town

A performing engagement took me to this Iowa town with church spires and graceful architecture nestled on the hills overlooking the Mississippi River. Some of the most impressive homes are situated on the bluffs over-looking downtown and the river valley.

The Bart Howard Foundation was the entity that hired me to perform a program which included the song “Fly Me To the Moon” and other songs connected to the Burlington native-son Howard. Fans of cabaret may want to make a stop to see the Bart Howard Room in the Des Moines County Historical Society. Photos and memorabilia of Bart and friends dot this jewel-box room. A grand piano and cafe tables are put to good use when the occasional performer is brought in to present a cabaret class or program.

Martini’s fine dining restaurant provided excellent steaks and seafood with a million dollar view of the sunset washing over downtown Burlington and the river.  Big Muddy’s was literally river-side with excellent casual food such as burgers, a nice salad bar and a dinner buffet. For entertainment, The Washington nightclub downtown books a wide variety of music including jazz and blues in a cozy setting with bar and table seating.

I was pleasantly surprised at my lovely hotel room in the Catfish Bend Casino and Pzazz Hotel. The venue name conjured up images of rustic digs that were a far cry from the plush bed, spa bathroom, fleecy bathrobe and flat screen TV that I encountered. A daily generous breakfast buffet was included in the room rate. Staff members were friendly and helpful. I would visit this hotel again in a snap.

Hosts Bob McCannon and Sandy Miller from the Foundation made sure that I got the cook’s tour of the area with visits to the West Jefferson Street Historic District, a glimpse of the vertiginous Snake Alley and a stop to see wonderful water color paintings in the Arts For Living Center. We even made it to Mosquito Park to view a panoramic vista of the town and river. As opposed to my Iowa expectations, I saw not one corn field.

Des Moines County Historical Museum and Bart Howard Room
http://www.dmchs.org/

Martini’s Grille
http://www.martinisgrille.com

The Washington Nightclub
http://www.thewashingtonmusic.com/home-page#!__home-page

Pzazz Inn and Spa
http://www.catfishbendcasino.com

Tea Time at the Langham Hotel

If you want to feel like a sophisticate in a highly civilized setting, you may want to consider tea at the Langham Hotel. More than one person has asked where the hotel is located. The former riverside IBM building designed by the revered Mies an der Rohe, is situated to the west of the Trump International Hotel and to the east of Marina Towers. The luxury Langham Hotel is using the first 13 floors of this 52-story landmark building.

The decor is modern and serene with furniture that looks like Mies van der Rohe reproductions. Phaidon art books adorn the coffee tables on the second level where the dining and drinking take place. Travelle is their upscale bar and restaurant, but afternoon tea is served in the brighter area called Pavillion near the hotel reception with the color scheme being a nod to Mies van der Rohe’s German building for the 1929 International Exposition in Barcelona.

Service is impeccable with constant attention that never feels smothering. Our tiffin tea started  out with a server offering us chilled still or bubbly water followed by a description of the unique teas offered. I don’t drink caffeine and was pleasantly surprised to find three or four options for me, a fruity and delicious “children’s tea” being my selection. We proceeded to little tea sandwiches that must be described as “darling” with ingredients like thinly shaved cucumber, wild field flowers, shrimp and brioche. My favorite course came next with two kinds of warm scones (one version had raisins soaked in tea) to be slathered with Devon clotted cream and raspberry jam. I was in carb heaven.  Little desserts ended the afternoon tea experience and while pretty to look at, they were a bit disappointing in taste, a miniature lavender eclair being the exception.

Pleasant recorded piano music was piped into the area. The view of the river and Chicago skyline was an added benefit to the feeling of luxury and relaxation.

Seatings are at 3 PM and 4 PM. Reservations are recommended; a credit card number is required with a 24-hour cancellation policy. The basic menu is $40 per person; adding prosecco is a little more.

330 N. Wabash Avenue, Chicago, IL 60611
312-923-9988
http://chicago.langhamhotels.com/restaurants/chicago-hotel-pavilion.htm

French “auberge” in Wisconsin

While touring with French song specialist Claudia Hommel, we had the great good fortune to become acquainted with Château De Père near Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Actually in the town of De Père (the natives pronounce it “ duh pier”), this 36 room inn boasts spa-like bathrooms, gas fireplaces and large flat screen TVs as well as a restaurant/bar named Cafe Chanson open for lunch and dinner. Right next door is the idyllic Voyageur Park running along the Fox River, perfect for dining al fresco. The next time you want to see the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field, consider booking a room at this conveniently located and very French lodging option in the Green Bay environs.
http://chateaudepere.com/beta/the-hotel/

The Aqua Building: Shades of Gaudi

Have you noticed the ripply building visible from Lake Shore Drive just north of Randolph Street and Millenium Park? I immediately thought of Antonio Gaudi, the Spanish architect whose buildings give Barcelona much of its distinctive curvy architectural glamour.

In an earlier blog post, you may remember my mention of Studio Gang, the architectural firm that designed the intriguing white structure near the Lincoln Park Farm in the Zoo. Jeanne Gang, of Studio Gang is the brilliant architectural genius behind Aqua, touted as the tallest building in the U. S. designed by a woman.

As part of Aqua, Radisson Blu, a luxury hotel has 334 rooms in the building’s mix of residences, condos and apartments. I only walked through the stunning hotel lobby and caught a glimpse of the restaurant Filini, but I plan to be back to sample more of this elegant interior.

 

Not to be missed is the mini-art gallery just above lobby level featuring Chicago artists.