A “Nutcracker” Dancer’s Guide to the Best of Holiday Chicago

The best (and dancer-approved!) spa services and cheat meals in the Windy City

December 9, 2022 6:30 am
Jeraldine Mendoza and Dylan Gutierrez in "The Nutcracker"
Jeraldine Mendoza and Dylan Gutierrez in "The Nutcracker"
Cheryl Mann

Dylan Gutierrez danced his way into Chicago from California by way of London, and he hasn’t stopped moving ever since landing (gently) in the Windy City. When he’s not performing The Nutcracker with the Joffrey Ballet, he and his wife, fellow dancer Jeraldine Mendoza-Gutierrez, are busy checking out the Chi-Town scene. Here, his festive-season picks, from Christmas tree vendors to holiday bars. 

InsideHook: What’s your must-see holiday stop in Chicago?

Dylan Gutierrez: Ivy’s Christmas Trees on Sheffield and Roscoe. My wife, Jeraldine, and I get our tree from them every year. They are extremely helpful, and seem to always be in the Christmas mood, which is a great way to start off our holiday season.

What’s your favorite holiday restaurant?

Formento’s is always a perfect spot for dinner. We usually don’t get to be with family for the holidays since we are performing so much, so to have a delicious meal inspired by the recipes of owner John Ross’s Nonna and Italian family, and to enjoy the beautiful interiors of the restaurant, gives us a warm feeling of home.

And what’s your go-to spot for a cocktail?

Jeraldine and I really enjoy The Victor Bar on North Damen Ave. and Irving Park. They have a really beautiful Parisian vibe inside, and they made some of the best cocktails you can get in the city.

What’s the best holiday production in Chicago (aside from The Nutcracker)?

Something I would recommend that everyone do is to go see the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. If you’ve never been, like with ballet, their holiday offerings like Merry Merry Chicago, or Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone are a good way to get acquainted with them and remind yourself that one of the best orchestras in the world is located right here in Chicago.

And if you’re in the mood to just totally chill?

First, visit the Christkindlmarket at Wrigley Field, and then make your way down Clark to enjoy the full Christmas-themed Santa Baby Bar. It’s definitely on the kitschy side, but if you embrace the campiness, it’s a blast.

You must be so sore from all those twirls. Where do you go to relax?

Aire Ancient Baths. No matter what time of year, self-care is important. The Nutcracker season is grueling for dancers since we do about 30 performances in the month. We love to use the different baths, and also schedule a massage during our visit. It’s a perfect way to unwind, and it’s very therapeutic. 

Where are your go-to spots to run out and grab a quick meal before or after your shows?

During shows can be tough because we don’t have a lot of time in between. Luckily, downtown, Luke’s Lobster is open all weekend. It’s delicious, and I usually get a crab roll on their brioche bun and a clam chowder. Also, Blue Bottle Coffee is very close to the Lyric Opera House, and I’ll make the walk up there for a delicious pour-over. Also, perfect late-night spots after an evening show are Chicago classics: Quartino Ristorante or Gibson’s Steakhouse. They’re open late, and the food and drink never disappoint.

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