Chicago’s Ritz Hotel concierge shares his family-friendly picks

Jon Winke’s had more than his share of unusual requests during his 30 years as chef concierge at the Ritz-Carlton Chicago.

He recalls the grandparents babysitting their grandchildren at the hotel while the parents enjoyed a night out. “The grandma called and said, ‘My grandchild is used to being rocked to sleep. Can you get me a rocking chair?'” Winke called around to find a rental rocking chair, but the price of delivery alone was $50, plus the rental cost. “I had a rocking chair at home, so I called my wife and asked her to bring it in.”

Then there was the dad of a 15-year-old boy so enamored of one of the female actresses in the theater production of “All Shook Up,” he just had to meet her. Winke arranged to have flowers sent to the actress, asking if she’d be the family’s guest at lunch the next day. “She called and we worked it out,” Winke says. “The dad said it’s something they would never forget.”

Most of Winke’s job, though, involves helping families find their way around the city with kids. “It’s more, ‘What’s at the museum?’ or ‘Where can I go dine that’s child-friendly?'”

Winke draws on his vast knowledge of the city, along with his experience raising six children in the Chicago area. He also takes advantage of invitations to see new shows and restaurants so he knows firsthand what’s hot and what’s not. He unabashedly loves the city, and he relishes the chance to help families experience his hometown.

“I could help promote Chicago and make a difference in a guest’s stay.”

Jon Winke recommends…

Three hidden gems

1. The Butterfly Haven at the Notebaert Nature Museum. It’s spectacular.

2. Noble Horse Equestrian Center. It’s in Old Town and you can go there for dinner and theater. They have live horse performances every week.

3. Scoozi. On Sunday evenings, they let kids don chef hats and aprons and make their own pizzas with the chefs … then enjoy eating their own creations.

Four kid-friendly restaurants

1. Mity Nice Grill in Water Tower Place

2. Foodlife in Water Tower Place

3. Cheesecake Factory, 875 N. Michigan Ave.

4. Deca in the Ritz

Top five family destinations

1. Navy Pier

2. Shedd Aquarium

3. Museum of Science and Industry

4. Field Museum

5. Magnificent Mile

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