Be honest. When you get city-branded gifts like an “I Love NYC” t-shirt or a “Chicago Rocks” coffee mug, you just want to roll your eyes and exclaim in exasperation, “Gee, thanks so much for thinking of me.”
But, of course, it’s the thought that counts, so you don’t want to appear ungrateful. You also don’t want to be that person who gave such an impersonal gift, but you do want to show off a little Windy City pride.
You can do it with our fantastic guide of uniquely Chicago gifts. From a Lego kit of the Sears Tower to bottled cocktails from the number one bartender in Chicago—and the country—here are our top picks for every personality on your list.
For the art lover. The Art Institute of Chicago’s Modern Wing was a big deal when it debuted in 2009. The expansion showcases contemporary paintings and sculptures, photography, multi-media exhibitions, architecture, design and more. The Modern Wing: Renzo Piano and the Art Institute of Chicago ($60 for hardcover) serves as a glossy coffee table book with 160 pages of the history of the Modern Wing’s structure and what to expect as a visitor.
For the cocktail enthusiast. Chicago’s The Aviary won a James Beard award for “best bar program” in 2013. Its beverage director, Charles Joly, was named “best bartender in America” at Tales of the Cocktail —the country’s top bartenders’ convention, also in 2013. Those who cannot make it to his bar may now indulge at home with Crafthouse, bottled, hand-crafted cocktails. They’re gluten-free, made with all-natural ingredients, and are based on three different classic drinks: the Moscow Mule, Paloma and South Side. Joly’s done all the hard work, so just pour in a glass and enjoy.
For the fashionista. A beautiful piece of jewelry brightens up the simplest outfit, so you cannot go wrong getting this hand-made brass circle necklace by local artist Laura Lombardi, whose studio is in Fulton Market. She was named one of the top Chicago jewelry designers by Chicago Magazine in 2013. The necklace is $40 but this jewelry designer has many, many other chic and modern pieces at lauratlombardi.com.
For the environmentalist. With so many commercial and residential buildings utilizing reclaimed materials, businesses like ReBuilding Exchange are in high demand. Not only does the company create various products from the reclaimed materials salvaged from across the city, but consumers may also attend workshops to learn how to do it properly. There’s also a retail warehouse if you’re looking for something for the DIYer. It carries reclaimed lumber, doors, cabinets, windows, lighting, plumbing fixtures and more.
For the locavore. River North sensation NAHA only sells its signature honey once a year, so this is the time to jump on an incredible opportunity. If you're in need of a great hostess gift, the fragrant honey is only $15 a jar. It originates from NAHA's hives at Prairie Fruits Farm in Elburn, Ill.
For the foodie. Chicago Gourmet doesn’t roll around again until next fall, but you can get a jumpstart on it by purchasing discounted, pre-sale tickets through Dec. 25. The event happens Sept. 27-28, 2014, highlighting more than 150 local celebrated chefs, restaurateurs, sommeliers and bartenders. Ticket prices are $125 for a daylong ticket (regularly $170) and $225 for a weekend pass (regularly $275).
For the gourmand. Steak lovers will appreciate owning a set of custom-designed knives from one of Chicago’s top steakhouses. Chicago Cut Steakhouse’s knives ($100 for a set of four) are engraved with the restaurant’s logo and its sleek edges deliver clean cuts to the meat so it retains juiciness.
For the home chef. More love for those who eat well at home is this Quartino; risotto spoon that’s branded with Executive Chef John Coletta’s signature and the restaurant’s logo. It’s made of Beachwood and sold at the restaurant for $10.
For the socialite. Make a spectacle of gifting a nice piece of jewelry at Tavern at the Park and order the Cloudgate martini ($175). It’s inspired by Millennium Park’s “Bean” sculpture, and the celebratory sipper is made with Grey Goose La Poire, homemade sour mix, pineapple juice and a splash of sparkling wine. The pièce de résistance arrives in a blue Tiffany box: a sterling silver Elsa Peretti “bean” necklace.
For the sports nut. Your favorite sports enthusiast can relive all those magic moments from the Chicago Blackhawks’ 2013 winning season with the One Goal II Championship Book ($49.99). The inside story includes behind-the-scene photos, features by legendary sports reporter Bob Verdi and more.
For the hipster. Chicago Made is a website featuring all things "made in, that promote or reflect the interests of Chicagoans." The site is a virtual treasure trove of finds. Grab a candle, body scrub by Lulu Blossom or even a refurbished Schwinn orginally made in Chicago decades ago.
For the techie. Who doesn’t love a good stocking stuffer? One unexpected goodie is the Chicago-focused iPhone cover ($25), which may be found at Arts & Artisans (321 N. Michigan Ave.). Iconic landmarks from the Chicago River to Wrigley Field are just some of the choices for 4s and 5s models.
For the traditionalist. Those who refuse to call Chicago’s most imposing skyscraper by its new name will appreciate a 69-piece Lego kit of the Sears Tower ($25.99). The collectible comes with a full-color booklet with architectural data, building instructions and historic photos. It should look good in an office—especially if it offers a view of the Willis Tower.
For the wannabe-photographer. You’ll find a host of historic tidbits inside the new Langham Hotel Chicago, including a tribute to the great architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (This was his final Chicago project). Each guest room comes alive with vintage Chicago photos in black and white by Hedrich Blessing’s famed architectural photographers. Since you cannot take them off the walls and wrap them up, you’ll be happy to know that the hotel’s gift shop sells them for $150-$350. Classic shots range from the May Residence to Marina City (pictured) and are a part of the Chicago Historical Society Collection.