Survival Guide: Windy City winners

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WEATHER

With its scrumptious early-October weather, when breezes waft in from Lake Michigan, trees dazzle in full fall glory and eatery aromas tantalize, it's truly "golden time" in Chicago. The mean temperature in October is the low 50s. Festivalgoers should pack for all weather, with temperatures possibly ranging from the 40s to the 80s. It's the Windy City; fittingly, a windbreaker is a must. The best stroll during the time of the festival is the Magnificent Mile, aka North Michigan Avenue: from the Chicago River past the gothic Tribune Towers, the Wrigley Building, Neiman-Marcus, Cartier, Saks, the Water Tower and the Drake Hotel -- you can't beat it.

PARTY SCENE

Festival parties and must-sees abound. For a funky night, there's Old Town, home of the famed Second City. The comedy club's walls are packed with a who's-who of comedians who launched there: John Belushi, Bill Murray, Mike Myers, Gilda Radner and assorted other class clowns. Old Town's numerous ethnic eateries include Orso's, with its regional pizzas. For fans of "duh Bears," you can amble eastward on Chestnut to Mike Ditka's Restaurant: thick steaks, big cigars and straight-up drinks.

Choice restaurants abound, including such festival party sites as Blackbird, La Scarola, Avec, R L and Reza's. The festival's hospitality also takes in such eclectic eateries as DeLaCosta, Angelina's, Dinotto Ristorante, Giordano's Pizza and Primehouse.

Downtown in the Loop there's the famous Pump Room, with French cuisine. The Green at Grant Park is the new place to see and be seen: With its garden-patio setting, its food and view are both straight on, with Midwest dishes and a postcard vantage of the panoramic Michigan Avenue skyline. Chicago's also deep, as in deep-dish pizza at Gino's East. For those who wonder where's the beef, there's the Chicago Chop House on Ontario: Thick steaks and walls crammed with photos of the broad-shouldered gents (Sears, Roebuck, Wrigley, McCormick, "Duh Mare," Comiskey) who built Chicago, including such nonsavory sorts as John Dillinger and Al Capone.

Along Rush Street, it's continental, from the Tavern on Rush with its sidewalk dining to the jazzy nearby sounds of the Back Room. Head a bit west and you're on Clark Street, home to great juke joints and blues clubs.

LODGING

For the best of all worlds, stay on Michigan Avenue. The grand Drake perches on the North, while the Park Hyatt Chicago graces Water Tower Park. Nearby is the Hotel Indigo, a European-style hotel with old-world charm. Top accommodations in the thick of festival things also include the Seneca, the Talbott Hotel and the Millennium Knickerbocker.
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