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A Parisian in Chicago, the Paris of America

Chicago Skyline by Erica Simone

LEED rating per capitaLEED rating per capita



Paris of America guidebook to Chicago

Caillebotte Paris Street; Rainy DayCaillebotte- Paris Street; Rainy Day

Edward Hopper NighthawksEdward Hopper – Nighthawks

American Gothic

Miniature Art InstituteMiniature Art Institute installations

Miniature Art Institute installations

Margies CandiesMargie’s Candies

Vivian Maier

It’s really strange to feel like a Parisian in America, but that’s what happens when immersed back into my own native culture after having been gone so long. It all seems strangely foreign.

Chicago has surprised me as one seriously beautiful city. The architecture is drop-dead stunning as is the Lake Front. It’s clean, lush with new foliage after its usual harsh winter and the people are really friendly — they clearly love their city in spite of its winter weather. Of course, the abundance of pot holes will kill you and your car and one wonders why the politicians can’t manage to invest some of those high property taxes into improving the roads.

We took Chicago’s First Lady Cruise in bright warm sun, blue skies dotted by clouds. Sponsored by the Chicago Architecture Foundation, it was led by a docent who earns nothing from the 1.5 hours she spends telling us all about the buildings and the history of the city we see from the river. Our guide was very knowledgeable and we learned a lot about the city’s history, the architecture, the architects and the results of which loomed above us.

What struck me most is how, ‘thanks’ to the Great Chicago fire of October 1871, which killed up to 300 people and destroyed 3.3 square miles of the city, lessons were learned and the city took on a different view point to building practices. For this reason, architects poured into the city to begin its reconstruction and Chicago developed on of the country’s best fire-fighting forces.

In a recent article by, the Big D (Dallas) is giving the Big Apple (New York) and Second City (Chicago) a run for its money on best architecture. It argues that “Dallas actually has the best architecture per square mile of any American city.” We’re headed to Dallas tomorrow morning for our Beerman family reunion over the weekend and a speaking engagement at a 13,000 square foot mansion in Old Preston Hollow tomorrow evening. We’ll have a chance to see for ourselves how Dallas compares, but so far, I’d say Chicago is tough to beat. (If you’d like to attend the event and haven’t yet reserved your spot, be sure to do so immediately by emailing Jon Anderson at [email protected])

According to the LEED rating system (it’s a funny coincidence with my name, right?), the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) ranked the space certified per capita with Illinois ‘leading’ (or should I say “Leeding”) the race. A chart shows this year’s list in its order ranked by square footage certified per capita, if not for number of architects per capita.

One thing that one cannot help but notice while on the cruise, or from just about anywhere downtown is the two-story-high TRUMP name on his tower (20 feet to be exact). Designed by Adrian Smith (another name coincidence), its 98 stories and is seriously beautiful, with the exception of it’s grossly over-stated labeling that caused all sorts of controversy. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and other city residents couldn’t do much about it, but try to propose an ordinance with size restrictions for such ‘unsightly’ signs. Whether one is a fan of Donald Trump or not, the sign is imposing, much like the man, and kind of ‘trumps’ the beautiful landscape. (Are we surprised?)

Before the “Fool Me Twice, Déjà Vu” show at the famous comedy club, Second City, we went for a sushi dinner at Kamehachi just down the street. All those loud mouths with their piercing, screeching voices, seated at the table next to us, were at the back table, too, and again at the table in the front of the restaurant, making it impossible to have our own conversation. No, it wasn’t Paris where American voices stand out among the whispering French. We couldn’t ask them to lower their voices — they were just being themselves, oblivious to how they imposed themselves on everyone around them. It’s something I may never get used to, but at least the sushi was divine.

Second City was well worth a special trip. The team of six comedians are as professional and funny as it gets. The improv theater troupe is the birth of so many others, including Saturday Night Live and Boom Chicago in Amsterdam. Put this high on the must-do list when visiting the city that one guide book calls “The Paris of America.”

A visit to Chicago would not have been complete without a few hours at the Art Institute. Of course, there are certain famous works that when seen in real life can put a real lump in your throat…such as Caillebotte’s “Paris Street; Rainy Day, 1877,” Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks” and Grant Wood’s “American Gothic.” But what we loved most of all were the 68 Thorne Miniature Rooms — elements of European interiors from the late 13th-century to the 1930s and American furnishings from the 17th-century to the 1930s painstakingly constructed on a scale of one inch to one foot by Mrs. James Ward Thorne and constructed by master craftsmen according to her specifications. It is hard to believe the rooms are not real — you just want to walk right in and sit yourself down.

A group of our favorite Franco-Chicago friends met us for dinner one night at Cafe Baba Reeba in Lincoln Park for exceptional tapas. We also had the opportunity to visit other areas of the city, such as the hipster neighborhood Logan Square, where Tom Marquardt has an office and home. Along the way we stopped at Margie’s Candies, a Chicago institution making homemade sundaes, shakes and hand-dipped candies for more than 90 years. I doubt many tourists get to see such Chicago delights so off the beaten track. What luck to be with so many of our Chicago friends who are so proud to show off their Paris of America.

Today, our last day in the Windy City, we will visit the Chicago History Museum to see “Vivian Maier’s Chicago” — Chicago through the eyes of photographer Vivian Maier who settled in Chicago in 1956 where she remained until her death in 2009. She spent her adult life as a nanny to a series of North Shore families — familiar to my friend, Barb Westfield, as the ‘crazy French lady’ who used to yell at her when she was a kid there.

Au revoir, Chicago…Monday I’ll be back in Paris where you’ll hear all about our Big D adventure. Stay tuned!

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds - with Erica on the river cruise

Adrian Leeds
The Adrian Leeds Group

(with Erica on the river cruise)

Respond to Adrian

Brian Dunhill

P.S. FREE FINANCIAL FORUM! Thursday, July 7, 2016. Join us with Brian Dunhill for an in-depth look at how American citizens deal with the ever changing regulatory environment and financial challenges. Details available on our Conferences & Events page. Be sure to register in advance at


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