On The Organic Trail…Chicago

By Rose Spinelli / September 14, 2011

Thank Mayor Richard M. Daley. He has been systematically recasting himself from a gritty blue-collar populist to a squeaky-clean green-collar advocate since he began a tree-planting crusade. Today the new-growth count is upwards of 500,000. Ritchie, otherwise known as “Da Boss,” is known to be as tough as his father Richard J., from whom the mayoral mantle was passed in 1989. Even with his propensity for amusing malapropisms and a prickly tone, however, these days Daley the younger has been tagged the tree-hugging “Martha Stewart of mayors.” (Comfortingly, his idiosyncratic traits still remain in force.)

Under his watch, and through the Department of the Environment, the Chicago Center for Green Technology (CCGT) sprouted. It was the first municipal building in the U.S. to be awarded LEED Platinum status; and the only one renovated of an existing building, which, in this case was located on a former illegal dump. Tenants at the CCGT provide environmental products and services, and it is an educational and resource center where developers, architects, homeowners, and community gardeners can learn about the latest green technologies, such as rooftop gardening. Leading that charge, in 2001 Mayor Daley installed a green roof atop City Hall where the sunburst pattern is visible from above to 33 taller Chicago buildings.

These days most of Daley’s strong-arming comes in the form of award programs, grants, and permits. Those committed to green construction can expect to sail through the process and reap the support of that other green stuff: money.

Spas and Salons

Salon Echo

Ultra-modern Salon Echo happens to be located in Chicago’s Bryn Mawr Historical District where meticulous care has been taken to restore the bygone neighborhood to its original splendor of the 1920s and ‘30s. Lanterns and lampposts with a green patina dot the avenue, and several lakefront landmarks like the Edgewater Beach Hotel, known by the locals as the “pink building” for its Miami-inspired hue, are visible to the east.

Likewise, Maria Sigman, owner of Chicago’s first eco-aware salon, which opened in 2005, is meticulous in her use of predominantly recyclable materials. LOHAS (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability) was part of her design scheme, from the business plan to the natural products lines. To research her spa, Sigman traveled the world, and her menu reflects that. Besides specializing in hair, botanical-inspired facials, and mani-pedis, offerings skew to the exotic. (Thai reflexology, 60 minutes, $60, and Reiki, 60 minutes, $75.) A believer in observing body language for signs of customer satisfaction, Sigman’s therapists and technicians have each other’s backs. “We tend to watch each other,” she says, because customers don’t always speak up. “You’d be amazed on how grateful people are that someone noticed.” 1134 W. Bryn Mawr, 773-989-2358, www.salonecho.com

Allyu Spa

In the pre-Spaniard Andean culture of the Quechua, the word for “community” is Allyu. By choosing it as their name, the spa is telegraphing its belief that it’s possible to create community even as the modern strains of our urban condition march on. “We want to partner with you in the midst of your hectic schedule.” Words that inspire a calming sigh. They use nature-based services and botanicals—right down to beeswax for hair removal (eyebrows, $20; Brazilian, $60). The spa is set in a sustainable environment. Allyu has crafted floors from local, reclaimed barn wood and walls from Wisconsin fieldstones. Behold the meditation center, where you will settle for pre- and post-treatment reflection. The internal shape represents the Chakana, an Andean symbol representing respect for the Earth, and balance, of which you will be in greater supply when you walk back out onto Chicago Avenue. 600 W. Chicago Avenue, 312-755-1313, www.allyuspa.com/space

Ruby Room

Normally a statement like the following by owner Kate Leydon might sound overly ambitious, even hyperbolic. “Our mission is to positively affect the energy and spirit of those we touch by providing quality services and products which promote healing from the inside out.” Yet Ruby Room, located in the heart of Wicker Park, delivers such an array of choices within the realm of the healing arts that we feel confident you’ll alight upon something you love. Body treatments such as the signature Enerssage energy-cleaning massage (60 minutes, $100) incorporates organic Red Flower essential oils. But if you’re feeling up for some cosmic expansion, head to the Crystal Bar for the Crystal Energy healing. There you will get schooled on stones that resonate with your unique energy system and how to incorporate them for daily protection and healing (30 minutes, $60). 1743-45 W. Division Street, 773-235-2323, www.rubyroom.com


Keep An Eye Out For…


As a former practicing plastic surgeon in her native Belgrade, Dr. Lillian Ostojich’s knows well that, “the skin is an active organ” and therefore absorbs chemicals and toxins. Zoetica, named for the Greek word for “life,” is slated to be Chicago’s first USDA-certified organic spa, located in a LEED-certified space. 1250 N. LaSalle, 312-927-2381



Kimpton Hotels

The Kimpton Hotels group prides itself in upholding a “preservation ethic,” and Chicago is fortunate to host three of the chain’s 40 hotels that span the country. All “boutique” hotels, Kimpton arrived and breathed new life into these architectural gems, preserving their structural and design integrity while giving them a particularly modern facelift and an auspicious second act. The hotels were recently cited as Chicago’s greenest.

Kimpton, which won the Corporate Citizen Award, boasts 40 eco-friendly products and practices through its Earthcare program. They installed low-flow toilets, sinks, and shower heads, which save an estimated 15,000 to 30,000 gallons of water per year; phased in LED lighting; and use strictly non-toxic cleaners, which prevents yearly banishment of approximately 50,000 gallons of toxic wastes from the water system.

Hotel Allegro

Built in 1924, the Hotel Allegro, all brushed velvet, richly colored, and dripping with swank, was once an Art Deco hotspot. After its recent makeover the elegant 19-story hotel is back in the saddle again. Hotel Allegro recently became the recipient of Mayor Daley’s Greenworks Award, not least of which is for their organic mini-bar snacks, fair-trade coffee, and in-room spa specializing in the use of wild-crafted ingredients.

The Allegro is located in Chicago’s theater district. Get your dose of culture at the famed Cadillac Palace Theater. Housed within the building, and with its 2,500 seats, it’s the closest thing to Broadway without getting on a plane. 171 W. Randolph Street, 312-236-0123, www.allegrochicago.com

Hotel Burnham

Hotel Burnham was designed by three of Chicago’s gonzo architects. Daniel Burnham, John Root, and Charles Atwood made such radical use of steel and glass that when it was built, simply put, the building ushered in a new era. Completed in 1895, the design predated what would one day be called the skyscraper and later came to be known as the “Chicago style” of architecture. It is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Just three blocks from Millennium Park, a more modern take on radicalism and heady design, the two structures are intriguing complements. The Park is a great place to take in some nature, but not before exploring the hotel and its 14 floors of meticulously reconstructed architectural detail. The walls and ceilings are lined in marble, the floors terrazzo, and there’s a two-story mural of the 1893 Columbian Expedition. 1 W. Washington Street, 312-782-1111, www.burnhamhotel.com/green-hotel.html

Hotel Monaco

Yes, it’s a four-star hotel, but Condè Nast Traveler one year inducted Hotel Monaco as the “best value” around. When you’re in the mood for a splurge, however, make a reservation at their Tranquility Suite designed from the KN Karen Neuburger collection. Enter the doorway through a delicately hanging scrim. You’ll find the natural stone water fountain has an immediate lulling effect— as do the natural cotton/bamboo sheets and the meditative window seating area where you can look down onto the city and reflect upon the “Cultural Mile.” You will see Grant Park, named for Ulysses S., and representing the post-Chicago Fire of 1871. It exemplifies the city’s unstoppable grit and Chicago’s procession into the future. 225 N. Wabash Avenue, 312-960-8500, www.monaco-chicago.com


Food & Drink

North Pond Café

One of the greatest surprises is the way North Pond Café is tucked quietly within Lincoln Park, overlooking a tranquil pond. Maybe it’s because you’ve been busy looking at the dramatic Chicago Skyline that rests on the horizon, but it’s such an unexpected thrill to see the Arts and Crafts building, once but a lowly shelter for intrepid turn-of-the-century ice skaters. It’s always exciting to eat at North Pond Café. The building has remained studiously true to its original design concept and Chef Bruce Sherman has crafted a cuisine that complements its authenticity.

One of the forerunner chefs to hold up a green culinary philosophy as his ideal, you can often see Sherman tromping Green City Farmers Market, trolling for the freshest ingredients for that night’s meal. The menu, which features products raised in their native environment and offered at their seasonal peak, is deceptively simple. But make no mistake: a lot of time and thought goes into his preparations and pairings, and it’s worth the price of admission. 2610 N. Cannon Drive, 773-477-5845, www.northpondrestaurant.com

The Balanced Kitchen

“The Balanced Kitchen was always going to be a family business,” says Zachary Bellow, executive chef and husband to co-owner Betty Alper. They met at New York’s CIA (Culinary Institute of America) and both had culinary ambitions. Then disaster hit. Alper developed Celiac disease, which makes gluten and grains intolerable. Her dad has it, too. But that didn’t stop her from realizing her dreams. Alper enlisted her family, of which Bellow became a member when the two married, to shape it. Bellows didn’t think it was right to continue cooking with meat, so he started to shop locally and focused his energy on creations that are gluten-free and vegan. The daily menu, described as “global and seasonal,” is based on availability and whimsy. Today, a healthier Alper is the pastry chef and mom is the co-owner while dad does the books. Her uncle and grandfather needed a job. Because they are architects, they were enlisted to work with green design firm 2 Point Perspective to create their LEED Silver-certified space where 100 percent of the store’s electricity will be purchased from renewable sources for the first two years. Family balance restored. 6263 N. McCormick Boulevard, 773-463-1085, www.gfreev.com/balancedkitchen.html


Keep An Eye Out For…

Lakeside Café

At this fully vegetarian and vegan-friendly organic restaurant you’ll not only find award-winning healthy fare—the restaurant was Chicago’s Best Vegetarian Restaurant three years in a row—but housed within you’ll also find a way of life. Inner Metamorphosis University is a focal point for yoga classes, inspirational films showings, and a gathering place for seminars, meditations, and retreats. 1418 W. Howard, 773-262-9503, www.lake-side-café.com



Merz Apothecary

Nestled in the old Swedish neighborhood of Lincoln Square, Peter Merz opened his apothecary in 1875. It catered to a European clientele that favored pharmaceutical offerings like homeopathic tinctures and herbal remedies. Fast-forward three generations, a slump in the 1960s and ‘70s when Western medicine became unassailable, and the shop was set to close. Thankfully, it was bought by a disenchanted pharmacist, natural-healer proponent, and Small Flower co-owner, Abdul Qaiyum. Merz moved to a larger location but retained all the Old World charm albeit with a retro twist. Today, with its dark wood and personal service, the shop is like stepping into a time capsule. It’s a virtual playground for those interested in natural remedies and supplements, organic skin care, and aromatherapy. With a nod to the future, the Qaiyums instituted their own family tradition when son Anthony founded smallflower.com. To accommodate the overflow, they added a second location at Macy’s in downtown Chicago. 4716 N. Lincoln Ave, 773-989-0900, www.merzapothecary.com

Verde Design Studio

No matter where you look today, you’ll find a bumper crop of green shops from which to choose. Three years ago, when Michelle Fitzpatrick opened Verde, which means “green” in multiple romance languages, hers was an early-adapter love affair. Fitzpatrick’s personal design aesthetic skews to Mid-Century Modern, but her sleek Bucktown shop caters to a variety of styles and media. In her bid to support local artists, Verde is accented with the works of Chicago’s emerging and established visual artists, like her impresario husband Tony Fitzpatrick and the large-scale paintings of Wesley Kimler. Fitzpatrick, who curated the interior of the Museum of Science and Industry’s eco-friendly installation called “Smart Home” (on exhibit through January 2009) is on a mission to increase the pool of those who have “dedicated their lives to natural resources” by conversion. “I go to conferences all the time and ask speakers why they’re not doing more to meet environmental standards.” The response she often hears is that designers are not demanding it. Maybe next time they will. 2100 W. Armitage Avenue, 773-486-7750, www.verdedesignstudio.net


Keep An Eye Out For…

Brigid’s Bags

An avid thrift-store shopper from way back, when Brigid Murphy got a hold of her departed father-in-law’s bowling bag, a lightbulb went on and Brigid’s Bags was created. The vintage gems span eras from the 20th century: Classic bowlers from the 1950s, hand-tooled bowlers from the 1960s, or doctor’s bags from the 1930s. They’re all fashionably relined and ready for their encore. www.brigidsbags.com


Green Living

Sharchitecture, Inc.

Jacob Shapiro doesn’t cut the typical figure of a blue-collar contractor because he’s not; he’s part of an idealistic movement in which careers are shaped by shared values. Not that the 26-year-old Princeton grad set out to run a green operation. His social network became his calling card. Shapiro, who studied architecture, is still young enough to be informed by his college years. “My senior year in college I became increasingly disillusioned by all the high theory. I left sort of shaking my fists at the establishment.” Now he heads up a “design-build cooperative” and will soon be opening an eco-furniture fabrication studio. He was recently featured on NBC’s “House Smarts” where he made great use of the Japanese sorghum-based Kirei. Most of all, Shapiro watches with delight as those actively engaged in the green agenda enlist his services. They, in turn, are thrilled at how he encourages their involvement. As they say, build it and they will come. www.sharchitecturedesignbuild.com

Flashpoint Academy

As any computer-wielding kid will affirm, digital everything is here to stay. In the arts and entertainment industry the momentum is so unrelenting that building a school to teach advanced techniques in film, sound, animation, and gaming in a nontraditional way was an idea waiting to be realized. In 2007 Flashpoint Academy became the first college-level media-arts school to open its doors in Chicago in 50 years. The curriculum is focused, accelerated, and thanks to forward thinking, the school is on its way to LEED Silver certification. Located in the historic Burnham Center, Flashpoint was designed by the architectural firm of Valerio Dewalt Train Associates. It has been outfitted with some LED light fixtures, automatic reduction of ventilation and cooling rates in unoccupied rooms, and advanced lighting and mechanical controls—not altogether easily achieved when you’re working with specialized media production equipment. Low-flow plumbing fixtures aren’t ideal in commercial spaces because of user-education concerns. But this is a school, and the students are savvy.

In a case of art imitating life, Sound Design student Kieran Dennis likes the idea that Flashpoint promotes working smart and efficiently. “This place is not about wasting time. When I’m here I’m usually running around and working hard.” Growing up in a time with electricity being readily available, Dennis doesn’t profess to comprehend it as a waning resource. “But I am energized by the aesthetic behind the technology. If the building is efficient you’re going to be efficient yourself.” 28 N. Clark Street, 312-332-0707, www.flashpointacademy.com


Keep An Eye Out For…

Morse Theater

The fact that this grand building will be repurposed instead of razed is a green victory in itself. Built in 1912, the former Nickelodeon’s original terra-cotta facade has been granted a stay of execution. Inside a team of experts, lead by Greene & Proppe Design, is bringing the 18,000-square- foot theater to LEED Silver certification. www.themorse.com/cms/node/2

Rose Spinelli
Rose Spinelli

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