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Trip Ideas

12 Hottest Spots in Chicago Now

This summer, experience Chi-Town like the locals do. Skip the crowded Chicago River boat cruise and Wrigley Field tour— we know a hip rooftop bar and bustling Japanese restaurant with your name on it. Elaine Glusac gives us the lowdown on the 12 Windy City spots whose time is now.

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Expat

When summer hits Chi-town, it’s all about the outdoor cocktails. And nobody does them better than the team behind Nellcôte, whose sidewalk-only Expat just opened in the West Loop. Grab a table, a glass of rose, or a boozy snow cone paired with delights like raw oysters, crudos and smoked bluefish dip.

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Freehand Chicago

Thrift-shop-cool comes to Chicago in the form of the hip hostel Freehand, an affordable hot spot in River North. The innovative Roman and Williams design team strike again, giving both shared and private rooms a vintage feel with dark wood wall panels and grommet-laced curtains as bedspreads. A young, trendy crowd gravitates to the tiki-accented bar, Broken Shaker, which offers a menu of creative concoctions like seared octopus with caraway and black sesame brittle, charred ramp salsa verde and sunflower seeds.

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Les Nereides

Glam girls bedazzled head-to-toe stock up on colorful baubles at the ritzy Les Néréides, a branch of the Paris-based jewelry company at the Block Thirty Seven mall. The whimsical designs include drop earrings with metallic lavender blooms and pendants of butterflies or oranges. Vintage-inspired furnishings and the shop’s signature perfume give this boutique a pop of French-inspired chic.

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The 606

Join the hordes of cycle enthusiasts, runners and strollers along the 2.7-mile Bloomingdale Trail, an elevated railroad walkway that’s the centerpiece for the new 606 Park. Named after the first three digits of each Chicago zip code, this $95 million project weaves through four charming greens in some of the hippest hoods on the near northwest side, including Bucktown, Wicker Park and Logan Square.

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Chicago Athletic Association

Designed by Henry Ives Cobb in the 19th century, the Chicago Athletic Association was for decades a landmark social club that attracted a who’s who of Chicago’s sweater set. Its latest incarnation is a slick hotel reboot by design duo Roman and Williams that blends historic touches from the original building (stained glass, mosaic floors), with contemporary features like a Shake Shack outpost and buzzy rooftop bar, Cindy’s. Come for the killer Chi-Town views, creative cocktails and heaping plates of seafood.

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Ramen Takeya

Ramen fever has gripped the city, and no one does it better than newcomer Ramen Takeya. The space channels a Tokyo back alley, with vintage Japanese signs, rough wood-clad walls, and a bustling dining counter. Queue up for Chicken Paitan Ramen, a creamy noodle dish akin to tonkotsu that uses chicken instead of pork broth.

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Cerise, Virgin Hotels Chicago

On the 29th floor of Richard Branson’ s Virgin Hotel Chicago, there's the just opened rooftop bar Cerise. The spacious terrace is done up in large plush couches which extend to the indoor lounge, with its mod swinger den-like vibe and recessed nooks perfect for cuddling up. Sip spiked punch while munching on Japanese chicken wings from the izakaya-inspired menu.

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Lollapalooza

Lollapalooza. It’s where the nation’s music-obsessed hipsters flock en masse for the mega-fest of the summer. Crowds will pack the 115 acres of grassy lawn in Grant Park from July 31 to August 2 to hear nightly headliners — Florence + the Machine, Paul McCartney and, Metallica — along with up-and-coming acts on the side stages, including The War on Drugs, Elle King and Wild Belle.

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Formento’s

Old-school Italian meets contemporary cuisine at trendy Formento’s in the West Loop. Tuck into classic comfort foods like chicken parm and red-sauced pasta, or opt for more upscale gluttonous dishes like quail saltimbocca with prosciutto, hazelnut and smoked cauliflower. The convivial room, with tufted red banquettes, white linen tablecloths and tin ceilings add an elegant touch to the Italian osteria.

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Chicago Riverwalk

Jonesing for a new city-center hangout? The expanding Chicago Riverwalk just opened a second section between State and Clark Streets, offering an expansive Chicago-River-level promenade at the base of a series of soaring skyscrapers. This six-block space, packed to the curb with Instagram-snappers and mimosa-drinkers, houses quaint indoor-outdoor cafes, a water taxi stop and kayak rental service.

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Shinola

Chicago’s new Shinola shop brings a sophisticated edge to the artsy Wicker Park and Bucktown ‘hoods. The Detroit-based brand, built on the made-in-America ethos, deals Shinola’s original bold-face watches, as well as bikes, leather accessories and even, in homage to the product after which it’s named, shoe polish.

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Lookingglass Theatre

The inventive Lookingglass Theatre, in the iconic Water Tower Works building on the Magnificent Mile, is set to tackle an original adaptation of Moby Dick (June 10 to August 9). Produced in association with the circus-focused Actors Gymnasium, the play will include thrilling acrobatics and mesmerizing sets to recreate the epic tale.