Updated Feb 19, 2024 - Culture

What Chicago's official smell should be

Illustration of the Daley Plaza Picasso statue in Chicago smelling something.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

When you think of Chicago, what do you smell?

The big picture: Several Axios cities have recently asked readers what their official scent should be. Denver: Weed. Seattle: Coffee. D.C.: Tourists.

Zoom in: Surely there's a fragrance that could define our city, so we put Axios readers to the test. Dozens sent in suggestions for Chicago's signature smell, which we narrowed down for a vote.

The nominees

The Lake: Many chose the Lake Michigan breeze, while others went more negative and nominated rotting fish.

Breweries/beer: Chicago has birthed several breweries over the years, including Goose Island, but some chose this scent based on the musty vibes of taverns and bars.

Garrett Popcorn: Our signature fragrance of cheese, caramel and corn perfumes locations downtown and around the world.

Meat: We're just going to make meat the category, but it encompasses several nominations for sausages, hot dogs and Italian beef.

Onions: This fits the city's namesake, which means "wild onion," but also the delicious grilled onions on top of a Maxwell Street Polish.

Bread: A salute to Turano, Gonnella, S. Rosen's and several artisan shops that delight the city's nostrils.

Chocolate: This aroma from Blommer Chocolate factory in River North could be one of the best parts of taking a downtown walk on a windy day.

Exhaust: Chicago ranked 5th in the nation for time spent in traffic last year, so no wonder this odor ranked high on your list.

The winner

Chart: Axios Visuals
Chart: Axios Visuals

Our poll to select Chicago's signature smell got over 2,700 responses. The winner: Lake Michigan!

The big picture: Lake Michigan has all the smells, good and bad.

  • It was neck and neck until the final day, where Lake Michigan got a substantial push to win (hey, it's Chicago).

What's next: We are going to take this highly scientific poll to Chicago's City Council to see what kind of proclamation can be had. We demand an official scent!

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