Chicago sure has gone downhill since my last visit.
As I looked out the windows of the Trump International Hotel’s health club, a scene of mayhem unfolded 14 stories below on Wacker Drive and Michigan Avenue, one of the city’s busiest intersections.
A charred, smoldering city bus, with all of its windows blown out, had skidded onto the sidewalk. A dozen smashed, burned cars and taxi cabs were piled on top of one another at grotesque angles. Huge pieces of concrete from a building’s façade had crumbled on the pavement. Suddenly, an explosion rang out between the skyscrapers. It looked like a giant, sideways fireworks display.
But don’t scratch the Windy City from your vacation itinerary. The destruction was all for the cameras of Transformers 3, the latest edition of the action-film franchise about massive alien robots on a rampage.
Director Michael Bay and his crew have been filming on location in Chicago for weeks. I didn’t see any robots—they’ll be computer-generated later—nor did I spot cast members Shia LaBeouf, Patrick Dempsey, John Malkovich or Josh Duhamel. But for three days I had a literal bird’s-eye view of the filming of several action sequences, involving what I assume were stunt doubles for the leading men.
To get permission to film in the heart of the Chicago, Paramount Studios must have paid millions in fees to make it worth it to city officials. Several city blocks were closed to traffic, and a bridge that spans the Chicago River was up for hours one afternoon while a chase scene was filmed.
One fancy Wacker Drive restaurant, McCormick & Schmick’s, must have gotten a nice check, for it was closed to customers for two nights, with burnt-out cabs and piles of concrete stacked at its entrance.
The carnage outside McCormick & Schmick's.
As fascinating as the filming was, I got jaded by the third day, and began to resent the detours and being ordered to move along quickly by crew members with crackling radios. Luckily, the Trump was a splendid oasis amidst the madness. The readers of Travel & Leisure magazine just voted the Trump the best big-city hotel in the United States. I can see why. The slender, 92-story building (the top half of the structure is reserved for condos) has quickly become a Chicago landmark. And for a building named for Donald Trump, its public spaces and spacious rooms are elegant and tastefully understated, rather than glitzy. The staff is the friendliest I’ve encountered anywhere, without a hint of attitude.
My favorite spot was the 16th-floor Terrace, the most spectacular rooftop drinking and dining spot in town, according to Chicago magazine. The view is amazing, as the clock tower on the Wrigley Building looks close enough to touch, and tour boats glide by on the river below. I didn’t research the menu closely enough, however. Two glasses of wine, a root beer, and a shrimp appetizer cost us $70!
My friend Abby on the high-priced Terrace.
The waitress told us the Terrace was going to be closed for the next two nights for the filming of a Transformers 3 scene. With prices designed for a movie star’s bank account, that seemed only appropriate.