Couples + Family

Navigating Chicago: Mathew Chapman on Family Fun in the Windy City

Marriott Concierge Mathew Chapman (Photo: Dartise Photography)

Mathew Chapman may be from South Florida, but it didn’t take him much time to fall in love with the city of Chicago. Mathew is a concierge at the Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile (and will soon take the helm as a concierge at the JW Marriott Chicago) and has been in Chicago since 2009. He loves helping visitors navigate the city whether it be choosing a restaurant, exploring the outdoors or checking out a new neighborhood.

How did you learn the ropes of all things Chicago?

Chicago rebounded from the Great Fire of 1871 by building a very well designed city. It is a city that can be relatively easily maneuvered once a few rules are learned. That being said, when I joined the concierge desk at the Chicago Marriott, I had some great teammates to show me the way! I have learned the most by answering questions and solving the problems my guests face everyday.

What inspires your work?

I feel as though in some ways I have always been a concierge. I love maps, food, theater, music, and having a good time, but I also enjoy doing the little things that can put a guest at ease by making them feel at home. Trying to think like someone who is out of their element, the little details that can make, say, taking the Red Line to the Cell (U.S. Cellular Field) or Wrigley for the first time seem familiar.

What’s your most memorable family outing experience in Chicago?

After an Architecture Cruise, I took my aunt, uncle and cousins out to dinner in Lincoln Park, and then to listen to some blues at the Kingston Mines. Everyone was dancing and having a good time — I think we were the last ones there!

What’s your favorite place to take the family in Chicago, and why?

I love to put together a picnic at Eataly or Pastoral and take my family to hear music or see movies outside at places like the Frank Gehry designed Pritzker Pavilion or the summer long Ravinia Music Festival, where there is a musical instrument petting zoo.

What’s your best advice for first-timers with families in Chicago?

Definitely try and get familiar with the city before you arrive and have an agenda, but do not forget to leave some time in your trip for spontaneous fun like a neighborhood street festival or SummerDance!

What are some of your favorite family-friendly dining destinations?

I love to visit RJ Grunts after a day at Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago Q for amazing BBQ, and either Harry Caray’s or Ditka’s for some classic Chicago fare.

What are three can’t miss Chicago attractions?

The lakefront is amazing to me. Whether it’s visiting one of the city’s many beaches with a view of the skyscrapers or taking advantage of the trail that spans the entire city’s coastline on foot or by bike. Seeing a live performance should not be missed. Chicago is a city of over 200 theater companies and a rich history of live music — there is something for everyone! Also make sure to catch a game at Wrigley, now 101 years old. Wrigley Field is a hallowed temple of baseball.

What’s the one thing that would surprise people who don’t live here?

The city is only about 20 miles long! It blows my mind to think in some places I’ve lived, exits on the highway are 20 miles apart.

If I only had a weekend in the city I would…

Rent a bike and see as many neighborhoods as I could. I’d also try to spend as much time on patios as possible.

And now for your best of…

Best Chicago Style Pizza: Pizano’s

Best Chicago Neighborhood: Ukrainian Village and Pilsen

Best Cheap Eats: Big & Littles

Best Hidden Gem in the City: The Cultural Center

Best Outdoor activity: Biking or walking the 606

Best date night activity: Fireworks Cruise

Best brunch spot: In the winter: Dove’s Luncheonette and The Publican. Summer: Bridge House Tavern and Red Door.