Chicago is often known as the Windy City, a designation born of its cold lakefront gusts (and windbag politicians). But to score points in the Fulton Market District, use Pulitzer Prize-winning Chicago poet Carl Sandburg's term for the city: "Hog Butcher for the World." The Union Stockyards once dominated these streets and, yes, the world. Maharajas visited the unlikely tourist destination. So did Henry Ford.
After decades of decline, though, the Yards closed in 1971, leaving the area to seafood and meat wholesalers - and an underground warehouse party scene that raged on until the 1990s. That's when a few restaurateurs parachuted in, opening upscale eateries (such as Vivo and Marché) on Randolph Street, then an industrial wasteland.
The introduction of glamour to grit generated explosive creative energy in the neighbourhood. Purveyors and practitioners of design, fine art and progressive fashion followed, setting up ateliers, galleries and shops. Today, "Restaurant Row" on Randolph is an embarrassment of culinary riches. Feel like chilled oysters? Done. Tapas? Turn right. And when you ask for molecular gastronomy, you have options, as both Moto and its sibling restaurant Otom fit that bill.
But the area, including Fulton Market Street and adjacent blocks in the West Loop, still feels a bit like the industrial Wild West. As if to reinforce the point, an independent coffee shop called The Jupiter Outpost caps off the neighbourhood at one end - serving what seems to be your final cappuccino before you reach the edge of the world.
And industry churns on here, as it's wont to do in Chicago, Sandburg's "Stormy, husky, brawling,/ City of the Big Shoulders." The newest residents live and work beside white-coated meatpackers, fishmongers, forklift operators and a group of floaters known as lumpers.
Ignoring the "No Lumpers" signs, these drifters loiter until truckers roll in at dawn. Hoping to help unload cargo for cash, they jump on the trucks' sides, holding on with white knuckles. Just as they start negotiating their terms, the last of the nightlifers begin heading home. And the day begins anew.
Know the skoros Friends weren't sure if Kristen Skordilis was pioneering or crazy when she opened the first boutique on an otherwise desolate block. Now, they know. Clients flock to Koros to peruse women's wear on the vanguard, including hot but harder-to-find Chicago labels such as Serpico. 1039 W. Lake St.; 312-738-0155; www.korosartandstyle.com
High off the hog Inspired by banquet halls of 16th-century Europe, The Publican's ever-changing menu centres on Trappist beer, seafood and pork. You'll sit at long, communal tables, sharing farmhouse-style dishes such as boudin blanc with kale and apple-horseradish sauce. 837 W. Fulton Market; 312-733-9555; www.thepublicanrestaurant.com.
Avec plaisir Yes, executive chef Paul Kahan's Avec is "lively" (also known as crowded). But its sharable, small plates will obliterate the memory of your wait. The crowd favourite: chorizo-stuffed medjool dates. Go early, say around 3:30 p.m.; Avec doesn't take reservations. 615 W. Randolph St.; 312-377-2002; www.avecrestaurant.com
Head to Pinto Since American first lady Michelle Obama wore a Maria Pinto dress, the designer has been high-fashion's It Girl in Chicago and beyond. For spring, 2010, she's rolling out sculptural garments of taffeta and organza, for instance, in shades like "purring peony." Meow. 135 N. Jefferson St.; 312-648-1350; www.mariapinto.com
Bright spot Lumen distinguishes itself from your average nightlife establishment with state-of-the-art lighting effects, the better to trance by. The minimalist, bamboo-clad interior becomes a blank canvas on which LED patterns, textures and colours continuously shift, changing the atmosphere of the space at will. Talented turntablists - including special guests such as Timbuk2, recently celebrated by VH1 - keep the house moving. 839 W. Fulton Market; 312-733-2222; www.lumen-chicago.com
Catch as catch Cantu Homaro Cantu, the city's king of molecular gastronomy, fuses art, mischief and tanks full of liquid nitrogen to upend culinary norms at Moto (and at Otom, next door). So when your waiter brings you a fat Cuban cigar, don't light up. It's Cantu's interpretation of a Cuban pulled pork sandwich - served in an ashtray. 945 W. Fulton Market; 312-491-0058; www.motorestaurant.com
Getting in temptation's way As Oscar Wilde once put it, the only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it. Here's your chance. At Morlen Sinoway, custom and limited-edition contemporary furniture, including Sinoway's own, whisper "Take me" as you walk by. German-made vases by Guaxs (www.guaxs.de) and French handbags by Deux Filles en Fil (www.deuxfillesenfil.fr) beg to be caressed. 1052 W. Fulton Market; 312-432-0100; www.morlensinoway.com
Feed your habit Fix offers the kind of cutting-edge, progressive fashion without which hipster closets experience withdrawal. The mix of merchandise, for both men and women, includes well-known brands (Splendid, Vince, Nightcap) and up-and-comers such as Aether and Corpus. 1101 W. Fulton; 312-226-4565; www.shopfixchicago.com
Lounge act Conversation is easy at the chic but laid-back Fulton Lounge, designed to look and feel like an upscale living room, complete with bookshelves, a fireplace and plush sofas. Try a classic Champagne Cocktail, with Angostura bitters and a single cube of sugar. 955 W. Fulton Market; 312-942-9500; www.fultonlounge.com
Art Martians In 1988, partners Barbara Gazdik and Peter Mars opened Mars Gallery in the century-old warehouse building that once housed famed punk venue Space Place. Since then, Mars has been as provocative as punk itself, specializing in contemporary pop and outsider art. 139 W. Fulton Market; 312-226-7808; www.marsgallery.com
Special to The Globe and Mail