Chicago 48 Hours: Five compelling experiences in Chi-town


by Sujoy Dhar

IBNS: During my last visit to Chicago, my go-to city in the US, I was wondering what new things I could experience. Choose Chicago, the official tourism body of Chi-town, was forthcoming with ideas for me, someone who has already covered over years all the “been-there-done-that” places of the city that I can never get enough of. If you are not a first timer to Chicago (well, you can be a first timer too) and have just a day or two to encounter something really invigorating, that range from immersive cultural experience to some easy-going fun, here is the list beyond the river cruise and Skydeck thrills of the Willis Tower. 

Mozart Immersive: Discover the soul of a genius

As an Indian who musically wants to go back in a time machine to the Bollywood songs of 1950s and 1960s churned out by a genius Indian composer named Salil Chowdhury, Mozart found passage to our ears and hearts rather unknowingly through its Indianized versions (a blend of Mozart’s Fortieth Symphony with classical Indian music) created by this musician.

So it was like revisiting some of our own Bollywood numbers’ origin too when I decided to step inside Mozart Immersive and explore one of the greatest of all musical minds. Mozart Immersive: The Soul of a Genius opened at Lighthouse ArtSpace Chicago in March 2023.  It is from the creators of Chicago’s Immersive Van Gogh.

For the very first time, Massimiliano Siccardi, the immersive art installation pioneer, uses state-of-the-art Artificial Intelligence as inspiration to craft astonishing visuals – inspired by the 18th-century destinations of Mozart’s world.

With video direction by Vittorio Guidotti, legendary dancer and actor Mikhail Baryshnikov’s tortured portrayal of Leopold, Mozart’s father, the whole experience is enthralling.

For this audio-centric immersive experience, Luca Longobardi re-arranged and recomposed 17 selected works from Mozart’s repertoire.

The eclectic soundtrack, also featuring exclusive music from the Italian composer, was recorded by a 45-piece symphonic orchestra and conducted by four-time Grammy-nominated Constantine Orbelian.

As a famous reviewer writes in the Chicago Tribune: “Proceeding chronologically, creator Massimiliano Siccardi’s latest creation begins with a dreamy prologue, scored to Mozartian themes floating in a dreamy, high-end-massage soundscape. We see artifacts of an impish genius’s childhood projected on the 35-foot walls all around the largest of the gallery’s rooms: a slingshot, soap bubbles resembling Pandora’s life forms, a wooden puppet leaping through the air.”

It adds: “Moving through his life and environs, ‘Mozart Immersive’ depicts the composer as a boy genius marionette, struggling to break free from the expectations of court life, his father Leopold’s shadow and his own mortality. Strains of his ‘Don Giovanni,’ ‘The Magic Flute’ and other greatest-hits glories fill the room…”

This indeed was a captivating, surreal journey into the mind of one of history’s most legendary composers. This is “experience culture” at its best celebrating classical music.

Where: Lighthouse ArtSpace Chicago Carl Sandburg Village Condominium 108 W Germania Pl, Chicago, IL 60610

Chicago Magic Lounge

Is there anyone from our generation of Indians (we are called Generation X being born between 1965 and 1980), who did not grow up in the pre-social media and pre-Internet world and had not been left spellbound by a magic show as a child? But the wonderment of a magic show and the long wait for some famous magician to perform in your town or city slowly faded with the advent of a digital world in our palmtop.

So it was interesting for me to see how magic shows are being reinvented in Chicago to draw crowds in the Netflix age of virtual entertainment with almost no attention span of people young and not so young  for a scientific art like magic.

This show at the Chicago Magic Lounge with magicians performing like standup comedians and going from table to table like a cabaret dancer to personalise it is worth experiencing. Magic with food, drinks, laughter and applause… up, close and personal. A great business model too I thought.

Open 7-nights-a-week, the Chicago Magic Lounge features performances by the best magicians working today. From their talented House Magicians to guest entertainers, their magic shows promise an exciting evening.

The entry to the show and the theatre is super cool and for once I thought I was making an entry through a wrong gate or door. You actually enter through the laundry and be transported out of the everyday and into a mysterious, magical experience.

The Chicago Magic Lounge offers craft cocktails and small plates, and a generous dose of magic.

I had access to the mainstage performance in the Harry Blackstone Cabaret Theater and prioritized on the waitlist for the additional close-up performance directly after the mainstage show in the 43-seat close-up theater, The 654 Club.

In between magician visits you will have time to socialize, order food and drink, and enjoy the ambiance. The table magic is followed by a 60-minute stage show.

Where: Chicago Magic Lounge 5050 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60640 (312) 366-4500

Be colourfully slimy at Sloomoo Institute Chicago

This is the colourful world of slime and sensory play- of sound, scent and sight. Well we are talking about the Sloomoo Institute Chicago where you go berserk in a world of vivid color, the sense of scent, tactile compounds, and captivating visuals and sounds. 

Sloomoo Institute was launched in October of 2019 with an interactive 12,000 square-foot experiential space in SoHo, NYC, where hand-crafted, artisanal slime (think dozens of textures and the most delicious scents), soothing ASMR, and wondrous delights converge with glossy, sophisticated design and contemporary art. Now Sloomoo has expanded to Chicago and Atlanta (since the winter of 2022). Whether you’re a kid or a kid at heart, Sloomoo visit is fun.

The word Sloomoo came from a funny, viral trend noticed in the slime community in 2017. Slimers captioned their posts with this saying, “replace the vowels of your name with ‘oo’ and that’s your new slime name.”

A mix of science and magic, the space is full of compounds from slime to kinetic sand to new innovations that entertain, soothe and surprise, otherworldly CGI videos, kaleidoscopic glow-in-the-dark moments, a 150-foot DIY bar to design your own slime (there are 4,320,000 unique combinations), and more. Every element of the experience was created to awaken your spirit with creative fun.

Where: Sloomoo Institute Chicago 820 N Orleans St, Chicago, IL 60610

Blue Man Group: Cobalt, bald and burlesque 

In August of 2021 when the Blue Man Group, a resident at the Briar Street Theatre on Chicago’s North Side since 1987, returned after the pandemic induced break, Chicago Tribune wrote: “After a long pandemic pause, the cobalt trio of quizzical drummers, pain splatters and marshmallow crunchers has returned”.

I had heard about them from friends in the US, but this time I actually watched their riveting performance on stage.

Blue Man Group is best known for its award-winning theatrical productions which critics have described as “ground-breaking,” “hilarious,” “visually stunning” and “musically powerful.”

These performances feature three enigmatic bald and blue characters who take the audience through a multi-sensory experience that combines theatre, percussive music, art, science and vaudeville into a form of entertainment that is like nothing else.

This is one show where the audience plays a participatory role and the immersive interactions with the audience at times are unbelievable.

As the roller coaster show ended, I was left mesmerised. Blue Man Show is experimental theatre at its craziest best and it should not be missed if you are in Chicago.

Where: Blue Man Group Chicago Briar Street Theatre 3133 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60657

Dig in at Time Out Market

Time Out Market, a dining-and-culture experience curated and vetted by the editors of Time Out, a 50-year-old media company, is where you get the best of the city under one roof.

It’s a concept the Time Out Portugal team created in 2014, then launched inside the city’s historic market, Mercado da Ribeira. With eight bars, a dozen shops, a high-end music venue and 24 restaurants—from the best burger spot and the top steak joint to the tastiest sushi sensation—Lisbon’s finest eateries are all represented.

This unique mix of traditional and trendy is something you’ll find only at Time Out Market Lisbon.

Across the Atlantic, Time Out Market Chicago picks up the baton and introduces the Second City to its own version of this tried-and-true concept right in the heart of the historic Fulton Market District.

Spread across 50,000 square feet, the curated dining destination packs 18 eateries, three bars, a demo kitchen, a rooftop terrace and a video-installation wall into one space that encompasses the best food, drinks and culture that Chicago has to offer.

A meal at Time Out Market Chicago means you’re truly digging your fork into the city’s most delicious dishes, cooked by some of the most decorated chefs in the Midwest.

Where: 916 W Fulton Market, Chicago, IL 60607

Text and Images: Sujoy Dhar