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Road Show: Sondra Radvanovsky in Chicago

The Illinois-born SOPRANO offers a hometown girl’s look at the SECOND CITY. by Eric Myers. 

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Radvanovsky in the Kevin Newbury production of Norma at SFO, 2014
© Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera
Chicago Picks

RESTAURANTS  

GT FISH AND OYSTER
531 N. Wells St., 
(312) 929-3501; 
www.gtoyster.com

GRANGE HALL BURGER BAR
844 W. Randolph St.,
(312) 491-0844; 
www.grangehallburgerbar.com

COCO PAZZO
300 W. Hubbard St.,
(312) 836-0900;
www.cocopazzochicago.com 

SPEAKEASIES 

THE VIOLET HOUR
1520 N. Damen, 
(773) 252-1500; 
www.theviolethour.com

ROOM 13
(in The Old Chicago Inn)
3222 N. Sheffield Ave., 
(773) 472-2278; 
www.oldchicagoinn.com/rooms/room13.shtml

DOUBLE A
108 W. Kinzie St., 
(312) 329-9555; 
www.doubleachicago.com 

HOTELS  

THE FAIRMONT MILLENNIUM PARK
200 N. Columbus Dr.,
(312) 565-8000;
www.themillenniumparkhotel.com 

THE MONACO CHICAGO
(A Kimpton Hotel)
225 N. Wabash Ave.,
(312) 960-8500; 
www.monaco-chicago.com 
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The Art Institute of Chicago
© Jon Hicks/Corbis
Road Show GT Restaurant sm 1215
GT Fish and Oyster
© Eric Kleinberg

“MY KINDA TOWN, Chicago is my kinda town,” croons Sondra Radvanovsky over the phone. I don’t have to ask her twice which city she most enjoys spending time in. Born and raised in the Chicago area, Radvanovsky knows it well, and her mother and brothers still live there, so she gets in plenty of family time when she’s guesting at Lyric Opera. “I have quite a few contracts coming up there in the next few years,” she says. “One of them will be Kevin Newbury’s production of Norma, which I did in San Francisco and Barcelona. We’ll be bringing it to Chicago in January and February of 2017.”

Radvanovsky has great fondness for the Loop and the general downtown area of Chicago. “My grandmother would bring me there, because we lived in the suburbs, out in St. Charles. We’d come in on the train, get off at Michigan Avenue and, especially at Christmastime, we would just walk. We’d look at all the Christmas decorations in the window at Marshall Field, and she’d take me for lunch in the Walnut Room there. So State Street still has such an allure for me, because it opened my eyes to so much when I was a kid. We would also go to the Art Institute—that’s another area that brings me back to my childhood, especially when I see the lions in front of it. I learned so much about culture and art there, because they had great children’s programs. And the Museum of Science and Industry, for me, was my favorite museum when I was a kid. We would go there two or three times a year. My parents were really into hands-on cultural and educational experiences.” She also loves strolling through the city’s dense patchwork of neighborhoods and visiting Navy Pier on the lake. “It’s touristy,” she says, “but it’s a fun thing to do.” 

In recent years, Chicago has developed into a mecca for foodies, with good reason. “If you look in the Zagat Guide, or any food guide, some of the best restaurants—not only in the United States but in North America—are in Chicago,” says Radvanovsky. “So many internationally-known chefs started their careers in Chicago and still have their best restaurants in Chicago. Whenever you’re there, it is so tempting to just eat and eat and eat. You’re in the heart of farming country, and of course, there’s also great meat to be had. And in a typical Chicago winter, you need good fuel to get through it.” 

Radvanovsky recommends a fine fish restaurant called GT Fish and Oyster. “I absolutely love the menu! And the chef, Giuseppe Tentori, has such interesting plates and food combinations. I think that’s why it’s a Michelin-starred restaurant—for the creative food. It’s also a super-fun place to go with groups of people, as they have shared plates. There’s an interesting drink menu and, if you don’t eat fish, a great selection of nonfish plates. The place has a very cool atmosphere—there’s always something new and interesting to look at on the walls.”

For Sunday brunch, she enjoys the Grange Hall Burger Bar, in the West Loop, a newly hip area that used to be primarily warehouses. “The menu is mostly organic, and it has super-friendly servers. I have been gluten-free for many years now, and they also cater to that, which is not always a given wherever you go. In addition to a great vibe and a terrific menu, they have some very interesting beers and wines that they make themselves.” After a performance, she and her fellow cast members will often show up for a late Italian dinner at Coco Pazzo. “It’s such a nice place,” she says, “and if what you want is not on the menu, they’ll make it for you.” For drinks, she’s fond of hitting the town’s speakeasies—a retro trend that has taken hold in several major cities. Among her favorites are The Violet Hour, Room 13 and Double A.

There was a time when Radvanovsky bunked at her mother’s home in St. Charles, a suburb about forty miles west of Chicago. These days, however, when she’s working at Lyric, she prefers to stay downtown and favors the Monaco and Fairmont hotels. Her mother makes the trek from St. Charles for all of Radvanovksy’s shows at Lyric. 

Radvanovsky calls Chicago “the city that has everything. Besides the great food, and the great culture, the people are so real and honest. Maybe it’s the Midwestern values, and what I’m used to from being brought up there, but I feel like everybody is always so welcoming. You stop someone to ask for directions on the street, and you wind up having a half-hour conversation with them. You’re in the elevator, and people will actually talk to you. You get such a homey feeling.” spacer 

Eric Myers has contributed articles to Playbill, Time Out New York and The New York Times Magazine and Arts and Leisure section. 

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