Action walk: Downtown
The American film industry was actually born and raised in Chicago, and didn't move on to Hollywood until the waning years of the silent era. In fact, Charlie Chaplin once called the Windy City home, producing early films such as The Tramp at Uptown's Essanay Studios. But you don't care about ancient-history stuff: This walk includes scenes and trivia about your favorite action films-from the Blues Brothers to the forthcoming Transformers 3.
START Lower Wacker Drive END Roof at The Wit DISTANCE 1.5 miles TIME 45 minutes
If the Chicago of the silver screen has a secret epicenter, it is the feared underground maze known as Lower Wacker Drive. Start your walk there, at the northeast corner of South Water and Michigan Avenue. It’s the main reason director Christopher Nolan transplanted Gotham City from New York to Chicago for The Dark Knight. It’s also served as a background to sundry car chases and homicides in The Blues Brothers, Batman Begins and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. But the air’s bad down there, the atmosphere is dank, the scenery’s monotonous, plus there are CHUDS. For this reason, we recommend cutting kitty-corner to quickly exit the labyrinth at the southwest corner.
Now walk a few paces south on Michigan and you’ll be standing in front of Daniel and Hubert Burnham’s Carbide & Carbon Building (230 N Michigan Ave, 312-345-1000)—now the Hard Rock Hotel. Allegedly designed to resemble a foil-wrapped Champagne bottle, it lent its Art Deco grace to the violent opening sequence of 2008’s Wanted, starring Angelina Jolie, James McAvoy and Morgan Freeman. The observation deck where the shoot-out took place is closed to the public, but you can still get a good gander at the lobby and its gorgeous gilded elevators.
Now walk one block north to the Michigan Avenue Bridge (but don’t cross) and you’ll experience the stretch of the Mag Mile that was recently piled high with twisted, wrecked cars and debris for an action-packed sequence of Michael Bay’s upcoming robot rumpus Transformers 3.
For more robots in disguise, look northwest across the river at the gleaming, 92-story Trump International Hotel & Tower (401 N Wabash Ave, 312-588-8000), which is just the kind of gaudy eyesore Bay would be perpetrating if he were an architect rather than a filmmaker. It’s no surprise, therefore, that the camera crews for Transformers 3 have been drawn to the silver spire this summer like iron filings around a magnet, or that Bay would have chosen it as the place from which to hurl a hardworking pair of BASE-jumping stuntmen into a pile of rubble over and over again amid smoke and fake gunfire as rubbernecking office workers oohed and ahhed.
Next, descend the stairs to the river walk and head west. Reemerge on Wacker Drive at Wabash. Now look northwest across the river and hope Optimus Prime and company don’t destroy the pleasingly corncob-shaped towers of neighboring Marina City (300 N State St, 312-222-1111), where the climactic car chase of Steve McQueen’s final picture, The Hunter (1980), was shot. That’s the one in which McQueen sends the bad guy in a sedan plummeting 20 stories into the Chicago River. Jet Li also went zipping up Marina City’s parkour-friendly facade in Cradle 2 the Grave (2003).
Next, zig two blocks south on Wabash to Lake Street, then turn left and treat yourself to a falafel or a fruit smoothie from Brian’s Juice Bar & Deli (80 E Lake St, 312-332-3435), favored purveyor of sustaining snacks to Chicago’s film-critic community. It’s enjoyed that status for more than a decade because it’s right next door to 70 East Lake, whose 16th floor houses the “secret” screening room where Ebert and the boys gather to see films ahead of their general release. Admission is invitation only, but at least now you know where the elite meet to make or break dramas of the street.
Now scoot west on Lake back to Wabash and turn south to get to 171 North Wabash, where you’ll feast your eyes on the parking lot where bounty hunter Robert De Niro shot it out with the bad guys in Midnight Run rather than surrender embezzling mob accountant Charles Grodin to his erstwhile captors.
Zig south two blocks and zag two blocks west on Washington to Daley Plaza (Dearborn and Washington Sts, 312-443-5500) while racking your brain trying to remember what movie it and its famous Picasso sculpture have not been in. Notable credits include The Fugitive, Batman Begins and its iconic star turn in The Blues Brothers, in the course of which Jake and Elwood crash their Bluesmobile through the plate-glass foyer of the Richard J. Daley Center.
Now trot east one block on Washington and south on State to get to Cibo Matto in theWit hotel (201 N State St, 312-239-9500). It was here that, according to the Chicago Tribune’s gossip blog, Transformers 3 star Josh Duhamel and his wife, Black Eyed Peas singer Fergie, recently chowed down on squid-ink spaghetti alla chitarra with lump crab (not for nothing does Cibo Matto translate as “crazy food”). Follow the pair’s path up the elevator for a cocktail at the alfresco Roof bar, whose awesome view of the Chicago skyline is doubtless the best vantage point from which to kibbitz giant robots at war.
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