13 Best Things to Do in Chicago This Summer
It's summertime in the Windy City, and with it comes a host of new restaurants, contemporary art galleries, clubby rooftop bars, country music festivals.... we could go on and on.
3 Greens Market
Restaurateur Brendan Sodikoff’s new market in River North is a combination of his greatest hits. You'll find the foods that made him famous (think: Small Cheval burgers, Dillman's pastrami, Green Street Smoked Meats brisket, Doughnut Vault doughnuts and Bavette's bread) as well as an 18-foot salad bar that would put Whole Foods to shame. The retro-chic space doubles as an adult playground with a putting green, lounge area (for movie screenings and games of chess or scrabble) and coffee bar, which serves spiked drinks like bourbon iced tea, pink vodka lemonade and coconut painkiller.
Raised: An Urban Rooftop Bar
Nothing quite says summer like sipping cocktails at a rooftop bar. And the newest indoor-outdoor deck at Renaissance Chicago Downtown Hotel will not disappoint. Kick back by the fire pits on the third-floor wraparound terrace or at the greenhouse-like lounge. Inside, the style is shabby chic with reclaimed wood, iron detailing, and retro furniture in a funky palette of chartreuse, teal and mustard yellow.
From the team that brought us Alinea, Next and The Aviary comes their most recent venture, Roister. The just-opened hotspot, helmed by chef Grant Archatz, is the group's first foray into casual dining, but that doesn't mean it isn't up to par with their other lauded restaurants. Trading over-the-top tasting menus for healthy a la carte dishes, the menu includes plates like aged cheddar rillettes with truffle and cauliflower; beef broth with tongue in cheek (literally), soft cooked egg and noodles; and a whole chicken with chamomile and sunchokes. For dessert, the foie gras with black walnuts, pretzel and marshmallow is a must. The best part? All tables face the open kitchen, so you'll have a front-row seat to all the action.
The New Contemporary Exhibit
As if the original Art Institute of Chicago wasn't impressive enough, the museum recently reopened its contemporary wing after adding a collection of 44 paintings, sculptures and photographs. The New Contemporary exhibit showcases 20th-century works from the Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art movements. Expect to see masterpieces from the hands of icons like Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Jasper Johns.
Duck Duck Goat
When star chef Stephanie Izard announced her plans for a third restaurant, we knew it’d be one of the hottest openings of the season. She’s proved her culinary chops not once, but twice, between the James Beard award-winning The Girl & The Goat and the laid-back diner Little Goat. Her latest endeavor, Duck Duck Goat, is a Chinese-inspired joint at Fulton Market. We can't stop drooling over the xiao long bao (pork and crab soup dumplings) and the beef slap noodles (short rib ragu and luobo radish).
Leña Brava + Cruz Blanca Cervecería
Rick Bayless has finally revealed his dual projects — the seafood restaurant and mezcal bar Leña Brava and the brewpub and taqueria Cruz Blanca — in the West Loop. The 75-seat Leña Brava serves favorites like sashimi-grade Baja California opah in a habanero-lime broth with lemongrass, Asian pear, roasted garlic chive oil and mint, while Cruz Blanca Cervecería pours six homemade beers, including the Smoke Alley, a dry-hopped wheat ale with peppery flavor.
A 1923 beaux arts landmark is making a major statement in the Windy City. After three years of redevelopment, it has transformed into a 452-room luxury hotel on Michigan Avenue. Blending classic architecture with modern design, the original structure is connected to the Mather Tower via a new 22-story glass building. Simeone Deary dreamed up the 1920s-style interiors while chef Riley Huddleston (of Aviary and Godfrey) takes charge in the kitchen. But the main attraction is the tri-level rooftop, which has a buzzy bar, sleek lounge, manicured green space and an al fresco cupola, all overlooking the Chicago River, Magnificent Mile and Lake Michigan.
Don’t let the location fool you — on the 18th floor of the Northwestern Memorial Hospital is one of the best lounges in town. A collaboration between Danny Meyer and the team behind popular NYC watering hole, The Dead Rabbit, comes GreenRiver, a swanky Irish-American bar. Head mixologist and Aviary alum Julia Momose pours creative concoctions — try the Hellcat with Swedish wheat vodka, apricot eau de vie, chocolate, macadamia, lemon, grapefruit and bitters — and chef Aaron Lirette (of Celeste and Acadia) whips up dinner items like saffron spaghetti with uni sauce, clam and shishito pepper. Bonus: On the second floor is the just-opened Annex bar, a sultry, leather-clad extension of GreenRiver that has an impressive drink menu, including Japanese whisky and Indian-inspired cocktails.
The Cotton Duck
This art gallery and BYOB restaurant hybrid by acclaimed chef Dominic Zumpano is hands down the coolest concept of the summer. Seasonal menus are crafted after the rotating art exhibits, both of which change every three months. On display (and on dishes) through July is Forage: a series of landscape paintings by Lindy Bishop depicting forests and wildlife; the nature theme is echoed in meat-centric meals like Kung Pao duck hearts with charred rapini, kohlrabi and soy cashews, and wild rack of boar with amaranth, ramp agrodolce and rhubarb barbeque.
Though the three-day country music festival technically debuted in 2015, it didn't really hit it big until this year. Jason Aldean, Lady Antebellum, Tim McGraw, Kacey Musgraves and Thomas Rhett are just a few of the headliners to take to the stage. In fact, the star-studded lineup is so impressive that CMT has declared LakeShake the concert of the summer and is taping an inaugural TV special of the live performances and behind-the-scenes action.
Tucked in a remote alley in the West Loop, the 28-seat Oriole is the very definition of a hidden gem. Just ask head chef Noah Sandoval, who left the Michelin-starred Senza to craft his own fine-dining fare there. The $175 tasting menu features innovative plates like Santa Barbara sea urchin with yuzu kosho and genmai, and Hudson Valley foie gras with sunflower, ginger lime and white soy.
Northerly Island Park
When summer rolls around, city-goers escape the concrete jungle by seeking shady refuge in the local lawns. And while Millennium Park will always be Chicago’s go-to greenery, there’s a new lakefront park worth checking out. Northerly Island Park, once a private airstrip just east of Soldier Field, is now a 40-acre recreational area with a five-acre lagoon, a mile-long bike path and sweeping views of the Chicago skyline. Also located on the peninsula is the FirstMerit Bank Pavilion, where you can see shows like the Windy City LakeShake Festival, as well as bands like Modest Mouse, Heart, AWOLNATION and more.
Saved by the Max
Talk about a blast from the past. A Saved by the Bell-inspired pop-up just moved into Wicker Park, giving diners a serious dose of 90s nostalgia. The restaurant, which will run until August 31, is a spot-on replica of The Max cafeteria from the teen sitcom (there's even a jukebox and payphone!). The menu also honors the Bayside crew with cheeky names like A.C. Sliders (pulled pork and Jameson BBQ sauce) and Tori's Fried Chicken (Goose Island 312 beer-battered Korean fried chicken on a roasted scallion waffle with spiced syrup), cooked by chef Brian Fisher from the Michelin-starred Schwa. Don't miss daily events like 80s and 90s-themed costume contests, TV-karaoke, trivia, Zack Attack cover bands and even meet-and-greets with the cast.